Pornography Is Alcohol, Not Cocaine: A Critical Review of “Fight The New Drug”
By David Metcalfe
March 27, 2019
The Unliveable Cocaine Nation
Cocaine is a hard drug known for its addictive properties and horrendous symptoms among long term users, including depression, anxiety, erratic or violent behaviour, psychosis, and a myriad of physical health problems such as heart attacks, respiratory failures and nausea (APA, 2019). While people who try cocaine just once have a 17% chance of becoming addicted, both psychological and physical addiction results in essentially 100% of people who have been using it regularly for at least one year (Recovery Village, 2017). This addiction often causes the person to become obsessed with the drug, seeking to get it by any means possible and losing interest in other, important things (stealing money, skipping work, neglecting hygiene, etc.) (Cocaine Abuse Disorder, 2019).
In United States, about 1.5 million people currently use cocaine at least once a month (0.6% of the population). Among 18 to 25 year olds, it is about 1.4% (NIH, 2016). Now, I want you to imagine that this number increased suddenly and dramatically, up to, say, 90%. In the event that 90% of Americans were using cocaine at least once per month, what kinds of effects do you think that would have on society?
Because of the clearly devastating effects we see from the current 0.6% of regular users, if 90% of Americans suddenly became addicted to cocaine in the year 2020, we can safely assume that America would be either a third world country or failed state by the year 2040.
The Liveable Pornography Nation
But in real, modern day America, we do have a population where 90% of the population is addicted to cocaine; that is, according to “Fight The New Drug”. They not only insinuate, but constantly and overtly claim that pornography is as bad as cocaine. One of many examples is section #2 in this article: https://fightthenewdrug.org/40-reasons-you-should-quit-watching-porn-today/.
By reading “Fight The New Drug”, you would think that everyone who looks at porn is an addict, that it severely impairs their life, and that it is destroying society (causing rape, sexual slavery, divorce, etc.). Now, for anyone who has ever looked at pornography before (literally all of us to at least some extent), you might be quite surprised to discover that you are in the same state as someone who did cocaine. You would be surprised, because, well, it’s so blatantly and obviously not true.
One easy way to tell that pornography usage is not destroying the world is to look at the sheer prevalence of it. Estimates have quite a range based on age, gender, and location, but monthly usage of pornography is somewhere in the range of 85% among men and 50% among women aged 18-30. Beyond actual pornography, online and film media is saturated with soft core pornography, to the extent that most people will come across it throughout their regular day to day. It’s difficult to know the exact amounts that pornography usage has increased in the last 20 years due to the advent of internet pornography (thus enabling much easier access), but we know it has increased some. “Pacific Standard” quotes a study from BYU suggesting that pornography consumption is 16% higher among young men in the 2000s than it was in the 1970s (Jacobs, 2015).
If pornography is as bad as cocaine, how can America even function when majority of its population is using it on a regular basis? In addition, shouldn’t we see society get noticeably worse based on increases in pornography consumption?
As Dr. Milton Diamond correctly notes in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, the increase in pornography consumption is actually associated with a slight decrease in sex crimes among everywhere that has been studied (Diamond, 2009). The Washington Post mentions that divorce rates are decreasing among millennials (Swanson, 2015). There is no doubt that some pornography is produced by sex workers, and that some sex workers are slave workers. However, there is no evidence to suggest that pornography consumption is increasing the number of people who are sex trafficked (at least from what I’ve seen thus far).
A nation where 90% of people use cocaine would be devastated. A nation where 90% of people use pornography is fine; we know this because we basically live in one where this is the case.
The (Mostly) Liveable Alcohol Nation
So, is pornography harmful to society and the individual? I would say, to some extent, yes. It is quite comparable to alcohol.
In one survey cited by VeryWell Mind, among adults 18 years and older, about 86% have consumed alcohol in their lives, 70% have had at least one drink in the last year, and 56% have drank within the last month. 27% have binge drank in the last month (5 drinks or more same day), and around 7% would be considered to have an alcohol abuse disorder.
The prevalence is extremely similar to the best estimates of pornography usage. In addition to the prevalence of usage is the prevalence of associated disorders. The Psychology Today article on “hypersexuality” suggests that between 3 and 10% of adults have a sex addiction (which includes both pornography and actual sex). This matches the prevalence of alcoholics nearly exactly (estimated at 7%).
Alcohol usage is extremely common, but is it harmful to society? Well, sort of. About 88,000 deaths every year in America are related to alcohol consumption. 10,000 of those are due to drunk driving (Buddy, 2018). About 55% of domestic violence occurs under the influence of alcohol (WHO, 2006). About 13% of college students engage in consistent heavy drinking, which is negatively correlated to their academic success (Buddy, 2018).
In addition, alcohol is not healthy for the individual. In small amounts, it has no significant long term effects, but in large amounts, it damages the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, weakens the immune system, and increases risk of cancer, erectile dysfunction, and many other things (NIH, 2019).
So too, pornography usage really does contribute to many divorces, sexual disorders, and non-consensual sexual exploitation. The exact statistics are too convoluted with other factors to show much importance, but nonetheless, we may say that it is similar to alcohol in that regard.
So, should we say alcohol is evil and ban it? Well, not necessarily. If 56% of Americans adults are drinking it on a regular basis, that means that about 130 million people are consuming alcohol regularly, and the vast majority (88%) are using it in moderation. If alcohol was extremely terrible for everyone, we should expect much more prevalence of alcohol related deaths and disorders. But the fact is, in moderation among mentally healthy people, alcohol is not a serious problem.
As Psychology Today notes, “Alcohol is commonly used to celebrate, relax, or socialize with others, and drinking in moderation is typically seen as a reasonable behavior. When someone drinks in excess, however, or drinks as a way to cope with stressors or avoid problems, it can lead to physical, behavioral, or emotional risks.” (Alcohol Use Disorder, 2019).
The same can be said of pornography. When pornography is used as a coping mechanism or in excess, it can become very bad for the individual. In addition, sexual compulsive disorder is a real thing that many people deal with (around 7%). Pornography may contribute to this to some extent, but it is certainly one aspect by which sexually compulsive behavior is expressed. Many of the claims made by “Fight The New Drug” seem to insinuate that everyone who looks at pornography has some kind of disorder. Trying to find an actual psychologist that believes that would be quite difficult, if not impossible. Most alcohol consumers do so in moderation, without significant negative consequences. So too, most porn users do so in moderation, without significant negative consequences.
Other Corrections for “Fight The New Drug”
“Fight The New Drug” claims that people will see things in porn and try them in real life. Yeah, because every time people watch an action movie they want to go actually kill people…? Or, if people watch too much NASCAR, there are an increase in speeding violations…? That is not really the case. Mentally competent adults can tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
Majority of the claims made by “Fight The New Drug” show an assumption that correlation is the same as causation. They say that people who watch more porn show differences in their brain’s response to rewards. But how do you know that their already existing difference in brain response was not the reason they engaged in more porn usage in the first place? Well, you don’t, unless you are able to monitor people’s brains before long term porn usage and then after long term porn usage, which none of their cited studies actually do.
The excessive demonization of pornography may not be doing them any favours. While they might be able to pull the odd story here and there of someone whose life has been wrecked by pornography, what about the much higher number of stories that are lived out and written about where pornography usage did not ruin someone’s life? What happens when a person who believes the claims of “Fight The New Drug” actually uses pornography themselves and discovers that they do not seek more stimulation with each usage, and that it doesn’t take away from their relationships?
The likely scenario is that excess demonization ends up being discovered for what it is: propaganda. There are specifically chosen facts, interpreted in specific ways, with partial truths and a lack of consideration for the other side.
Cocaine is devastating to both the individual and society; pornography is not. But that doesn’t mean pornography is a good thing. It is sometimes harmful to relationships, exploits people sexually, and causes distorted ideas of sex for the individual who uses it.
Pornography is kind of like alcohol, because it’s used by the majority of people and only abused by a minority. Trying to characterize all users as the minority is a tool of propaganda and not one that serves an anti-porn group well.
In my personal life, I try my best to avoid both alcohol and pornography. Although I realize they are not likely to destroy my life, I recognize that they offer me no real benefit. In fact, they may very well detract from my life. The usage of anything is largely determined by the context. Drinking alcohol is not bad if you have a glass of wine with a meal, or a beer while watching the football game. It is quite bad if you are 10 years old, or driving a car, or drinking too many. So too, I think that sex is quite a good thing when you couple it with sincere love and commitment. A marriage works as a great social facilitator of that, in my opinion, and I would think it to be quite a bad thing to view pornography when you have a spouse. But for a single person like myself who is heterosexually inclined, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to avoid pornography entirely. I recognize that viewing soft core pornography in small bits here and there is not going to ruin my life or keep me from having a successful marriage in the future, but I suppose it is a matter of personal virtue that I seek to avoid it. And, as such, I leave that up to each person to figure out for themselves.
It is in our best interest as a society to seek to uphold laws and present ideas in the pursuit of truth rather than the pursuit of our own agenda. Although I, and many other people, have other convictions that presuppose us to be against pornography usage (religious, feminist, etc.), it does not mean we can taint the facts through our own lens. We must deal with reality as best we can as the facts bear themselves out. What I see from psychologists and sociologists in the field is a general acceptance of some pornography usage in moderation, and we need to acknowledge that the research thus far has been consistent with that.
Alcohol Use Disorder. (2019). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/alcohol-use-disorder
Buddy, T. (2018). Prevalence of Alcoholism in the United States. VeryWell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/prevalence-of-alcoholism-in-the-united-states-67876
Cocaine Use Disorder. (2019). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/cocaine-use-disorderhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/cocaine-use-disorder
Diamond, M. (2009). Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: a review. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.06.004
Fight The New Drug. (2019). Porn Harms In Three Ways. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/overview/
Jacobs, T. (2015) Pornography consumption on the rise. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/environment/surprise-we-all-love-porn
NIH. (2019). Alcohol’s effects on the body. National Insitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
Recovery Village. (2017) Cocaine Addiction and Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/cocaine-addiction/#gref
World Health Organization. (2006). Intimate partner violence and alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/fs_intimate.pdf