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January 7, 2010

Finally, some clarity

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:07 am

For some time now, I have been bothered by a cultural aspect of the religious group many of my family members and friends belong to.  As many religions do, this one denounces porn rather vehemently and has clear rules on what sexual practices are allowed.  The thing that annoys me is the discourse that arises around violations of these rules.  Church members are very apt to use terms like addiction to describe the aberrant behaviors of folks who don’t keep the rules.

The use of the term addition in this context is problematic for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, it is redefining a term with a specific clinical meaning into something else entirely.  In so doing, the redefiners seek to graft the full gravitas of the clinical definition onto a different concept entirely, thus denigrating the real problem of addition.  People might have serious problems even dysfunctions, but addiction is something else entirely.  I have been in congregations where folks have claimed that 30% of the attendees have pornography addictions.  While I have no data to prove this, I suspect claims of this type are not uncommon among this cultural group.

I might be more inclined to pass this off as me getting cranky about the misuse of an ivory tower term by the unwashed masses who just don’t know what they are talking about.  Regular readers will know I have an unpleasant tendency to such thinking.  However, in this case, I actually have a point worth listening to.  This misapplication of a term is meaningful because it redefines sin as a sickness.

These parishioners are clearly having a hard time reaching the goals their religion teaches.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The mistake is in claiming that your sin is a disease.  In my anecdotal observation, the overwhelming majority of these diagnoses are issued by the sinner themselves, their spouses/families, other folks in 12 step programs, or ecclesiastic leaders (who are not trained in diagnosing actual addiction).   In every conversation I have had with folks who have had more than two years of para-professional training in mental health disciplines, 100% have agreed that addiction is misapplied in this context.

I am quite aware that my narrative above is quite low in substantive proof, so I shall link some here.  In addition, I leave you with this quote which I hope you will find persuasive:

Addiction – at the start of the noughties pretty much nobody had heard of sex addiction, and when it was mentioned it was done so with a snigger. But with the efforts of a minority of ‘therapists’ the idea gained popularity – particularly among conservative countries, sex negative organisations/practitioners, and the media. Celebrity indiscretions provided ample case studies for the addiction label to be applied. Rather than sexual problems being down to coercive, abusive, controlling or thoughtless behaviour we reframed sexual behaviour we didn’t like (including masturbation, using sex toys, being unfaithful, or having sex before marriage) as ‘addiction’. We even shifted our view of porn as a cause of violence (the general view in the 80s and 90s) to an indicator of sex addiction. Of course people do experience problems with sex which are distressing, but this is not to say anyone who is unfaithful or looks at porn is a sex addict.

3 Comments

  1. “These parishioners are clearly having a hard time reaching the goals their religion teaches. There’s nothing wrong with that. The mistake is in claiming that your sin is a disease.”

    Bingo. I think it’s a motivated belief. Porn is so accessible now that Mormons are probably using it at levels close to usage levels outside the church. A stake president I know told me that porn usage is almost a given among adolescent and young adult males. And of course when you’re failing so miserably at some goal, you can hardly avoid the belief that your demon is no ordinary demon.

    Comment by P — January 7, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

  2. On a different note I do have to say that I believe porn use CAN become a bona fide addiction. But the same is true of Facebook, World of Warcraft and work. Pick any commonplace pleasurable activity you can think of and there are certainly a couple of people (or more) in the world who have thoroughly ruined their lives with it.

    What bothers me about the conservative Christian framing of the issue is that it’s dishonest. Yes, using porn, Red Bull and marijuana is risky, especially among young people who don’t have fully developed self-control circuitry. But very few people ruin their lives with any of these products.

    Comment by P — January 7, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

  3. katy and i were just arguing over whether or not alcoholism is any more of an illness than other addictions. in fact, i don’t like calling alcoholism an illness at all, but doing so seems to be widely accepted. what makes one addiction an illness and not another?

    Comment by joe — January 8, 2010 @ 4:07 am

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