The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model


The addiction model is rarely used to describe high-frequency use of visual sexual stimuli (VSS) in research, yet common in media and clinical practice. The theory and research behind ‘pornography addiction’ is hindered by poor experimental designs, limited methodological rigor, and lack of model specification. The history and limitations of addiction models are reviewed, including how VSS fails to meet standards of addiction. These include how VSS use can reduce health-risk behaviors. Proposed negative effects, including erectile problems, difficulty regulating sexual feelings, and neuroadaptations are discussed as non-pathological evidence of learning. Individuals reporting ‘addictive’ use of VSS could be better conceptualized by considering issues such as gender, sexual orientation, libido, desire for sensation, with internal and external conflicts influenced by religiosity and desire discrepancy. Since a large, lucrative industry has promised treatments for pornography addiction despite this poor evidence, scientific psychologists are called to declare the emperor (treatment industry) has no clothes (supporting evidence). When faced with such complaints, clinicians are encouraged to address behaviors without conjuring addiction labels.

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Conflict of Interest

David Ley has received royalties from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, is a paid blogger/writer for Psychology Today, and has had travel expenses covered by various media outlets for appearances on television shows.

Nicole Prause and Peter Finn declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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Correspondence to David Ley.

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Ley, D., Prause, N. & Finn, P. The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model. Curr Sex Health Rep 6, 94–105 (2014).

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  • Pornography addiction
  • Pornography addiction model
  • Visual sexual stimulus (VSS)
  • Libido
  • Sensation-seeking
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Addiction model
  • Impulsivity
  • Compulsivity