There's a vast amount of research on the harmful effects of pornography, and it's important that this information is accessible to the public. Weekly, we highlight a research study that sheds light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn's harms. These studies cover a wide range of topics, from the sociological implications of pornography to the neurological effects of porn-consumption.

The full study can be accessed here.

Clinicians’ Beliefs, Observations, and Treatment Effectiveness Regarding Clients’ Sexual Addiction and Internet Pornography Use

Authors: Mary B. Short, Chad T. Wetterneck, Steven L. Bistricky, Tim Shutter, and Tannah E. Chase
Published: June 2016

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Community Ment Health J (2016) 52:1070–1081

Background

Sexual activity is a normal and healthy part of intimate romantic relationships. However, for some individuals, sexual behavior can be problematic when specific aspects of these behaviors disrupt or impair important areas of functioning. Sex addiction is conceptualized as a chronic disorder characterized by recurrent sexual urges, thoughts, and behaviors that cause significant distress and persist despite negative consequences, including impairment to interpersonal and occupational functioning, and even physical health in some cases. In addition, sex addiction also is marked by continuous, but unsuccessful, attempts to escape unpleasant emotional states and reduce or control sexual thoughts or compulsions.

Given the difficulties related to problematic sexual behaviors and the facilitation of these behaviors by widespread increasing online activity, mental health therapists seem increasingly likely to see clients presenting with these problematic sexual behaviors. A few studies have examined the prevalence of problematic sexual behavior and internet pornography use among clientele observed by therapists; however, information about these therapist’s age, professional disciplines, levels of training, and areas of specialization—variables that could impact problem presentation and treatment—has been lacking. In one large-scale study therapists reported that use of pornography was the most frequently reported presenting problem for both youth and adult clients seeking mental health care for problematic internet experiences (Mitchell and Wells 2007). In another large study, 56% of clinicians reported problems associated with internet pornography use within their clientele (Mitchell et al. 2005).

The current study seeks to increase understanding by surveying therapists regarding how sex addiction and internet pornography issues present among their clientele. The present study also assessed therapists attitudes and beliefs regarding these issues, as well as the methods of treatment they choose to utilize.

Methods

Participants were 183 therapists, of which 84.7% were licensed. Those unlicensed were either in the process of gaining licensure or were currently involved in an internship or practicum program through an affiliated university. Two participants had never practiced and were eliminated from analyses. Of the participants who had practiced, the mean number of years in practice was 10.9 (SD=10.8). The majority (67.1%) practiced full-time, with the remainder practicing part-time. Licensure data indicated that the predominant group was master’s level counselors trained in counseling or clinical psychology. The next largest groups were school psychologists and marriage and family therapists.

The study was conducted over a 15-month period. Participants were recruited for the study in three ways: face-to-face through the community, online recruitment posting, and online word-of-mouth (snowballing). For face-to-face recruitment, investigators attended local continuing education conferences and meetings that targeted practitioners in the community. These participants included professionals working in the local community, and most were licensed or license-eligible at a master’s or doctoral level (see Table 1 for license and education information). Participants recruited through the community were asked to complete the questionnaire during the meeting or conference. Online recruitment involved posting the link to the survey on list-serves, forums, and websites that target practitioners. After giving consent, the participants completed the survey, which took approximately 30 min.

Results

This study was conducted to increase understanding about how sex addiction and internet pornography use-related problems present to various mental health therapists, and how therapists conceptualize and treat these issues. A sample of mostly mid-career therapists were surveyed about their areas of professional focus, their experiences, beliefs, observations, and chosen therapeutic methods. In general, this study found that a large proportion of MHPs see clients with sexually problematic behaviors, consistent with previous research.  Specifically, nearly half of the sample (48.8%) reported that they had seen clients presenting with problematic internet pornography use, and 26.2% reported that are currently seeing clients with problematic pornography.

Comparing how these problems present with respect to professional discipline and specialization yielded multiple findings. First, therapists specializing in sexual disorders were more likely than non-specialists to have seen a client for sex addiction (70.1 vs. 37.1%) and were more likely to be currently seeing clients with sex addiction (50 vs. 19.6%) or problematic pornography (60.0 vs. 24.4%).  Second, and closely related, Marriage and Family Therapists specializing in sexual disorders were more likely than non-specialists to have to have seen a client for sex addiction (75.0 vs. 34.1%) or problematic pornography use (71.4 vs. 45.6%) and were more likely to be currently seeing clients with sex addiction (40 vs. 18.5%). Third, therapists who specialize in substance abuse were more likely than non-specialists to have seen clients with problematic pornography use, as well as to have seen and currently be seeing clients for sex addiction.

Additionally, the majority of the full sample also endorsed that problematic pornography use should be categorized as a sexual addiction (68.3%), a belief that did not vary significantly by specialty area. Therapists were also asked to rate the likelihood that various factors influence the development of sex addiction or IP use (see Table 2). Overall, therapists believed there are a variety of contributory factors related to sexual addiction and problematic pornography use, with self-esteem issues and relationship problems being most frequently endorsed as somewhat likely or most likely.

Therapists were also asked about their observations of problems and characteristics commonly related to sex addiction or problematic pornography use in clientele.  Overall, therapists reported that sexual addiction and problematic pornography use were associated with several problems, which occurred often or very often. The most frequently associated problems included interference with relationships, preoccupation with sexual activity, and failure to control sexual behaviors, including continued sexual behaviors despite negative consequences.

The full study can be accessed here.

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