New Research on Porn Addiction and Accountability

by John Y. Lee

I still remember the first time I watched a pornographic video thanks to the Internet—it was an electrifying sensation that I cannot readily forget. That scene was immediately burned into my memory, and as I progressed through my college years I harbored what I thought was a shameful secret. Ironically enough, it was at a seminary, among other Christian leaders-in-training, where I learned that I was not alone. After becoming ordained as a pastor and working at a church as a youth minister for six years, I discovered that this affliction was more widespread than I had thought and painfully difficult to kick.

As I began my studies to become a psychologist and began considering topics for my dissertation, I naturally gravitated toward pornography. I searched the entire literature and was shocked and appalled to find only two empirical studies that evaluated formal treatments for pornography addictions. As a result, I set out to create my own. For my dissertation, I adapted concepts from Motivational Interviewing (MI) and applied it to pornography consumption.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

MI is a collaborative conversation to strengthen a person’s own motivation for and commitment to change. Originally designed for problem drinkers, MI focuses on exploring and resolving a person’s own ambivalence regarding a problem behavior and has been shown to be effective for a variety of conditions. For my dissertation, I created an MI intervention designed to help someone cut down their cyberporn use, and provided personalized feedback that was based on information that the participant submitted. The feedback contained statistics of porn use, calculated the weekly and monthly total number of hours dedicated to watching porn, and described the negative effects associated with viewing porn. The goal of the intervention was to allow individuals to become more aware of the amount of porn they are watching, in addition to informing them of the documented negative effects associated with pornography consumption.

Covenant Eyes graciously agreed to partner with me in this cutting edge research. As part of the research, they offered free of charge their service to randomly selected participants of the study. Other participants were randomly selected to receive the MI intervention, and still others were given both. To serve as a control, other participants were placed on a wait-list where they did not initially receive either Covenant Eyes or the MI, but eventually were given the option of receiving both interventions. All participants were asked to complete an initial survey that questions, such as the number of times porn was viewed in the previous four weeks. They were then given either CE or MI, and after a four-week period were asked how many times after receiving an intervention had they viewed porn.

Results of the Study

The results were promising! Individuals who received the MI intervention reported a 39% decrease in number of times porn was viewed (or relapse episodes), and individuals who received CE as their intervention reported a 44% decrease. Individuals who received both MI and CE reported a 66% decrease in relapse episodes in the four weeks after receiving the interventions, compared to the four weeks prior to entering the research study. Although the results are not statistically significant, they provide some profound implications regarding treatment of excessive pornography use.

First, not only can both CE and MI be effective in reducing the frequency of pornography use, many participants in the study were able to completely eliminate porn use after entering the study and reported zero relapse episodes! Second, CE and MI, when used together, appear to contain much promise in helping people really make a change in their pornography use patterns. Finally, another important finding was regarding the role of perceived confidence of one’s own ability to cease looking at porn. Participants entering the study reported low levels of confidence in ceasing porn use, but after participating in the study and generally experiencing some success in decreasing porn use, confidence levels rose dramatically (and statistically significantly).

A key to helping people who are having trouble decreasing their porn use might be raising their confidence (high motivation and believing that it is important to stop using porn does not seem to be enough to quit). Also, this research suggests that recruiting the support of friends or family members and having full online accountability (such as through the services of CE) is an effective tool against porn.

Do not dismay! Help is definitely possible if you are willing to allow others to assist you in this battlethis is one fight that does not have to done alone.

If you would like more information regarding this research, please contact me at jawnwily@gmail.com.