David Ley Attacks the NoFap Movement (May 2015)

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Comments: This was written in response to David Ley's blog post attacking nofap. It serves a bigger purpose: 1) to expose that the so-called science contradicting porn addiction is smoke and mirrors, and 2) the papers claiming to refute porn addiction come from two individuals who often team up - Nicole Prause & David Ley.


David Ley's blog post The NoFap Phenomenon is packed full of straw men, mischaracterizations and lies. Note that Ley's post contains no references to back his claims. Also note that Ley closed comments, which is very unusual for Psychology Today blog posts. In essence, Ley's post borders on libel with no support for his allegations or claims.

Ley is the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction. He has written 20 or so blog posts attacking and dismissing NoFap, porn addiction and porn-induced ED. He states that porn use is harmless and if someone develops problems it's because they had "other issues". TV shows, magazines, websites too often turn to Ley as an "authority" on porn addiction and porn's effects because the medical researchers - who would give an accurate picture of the state of internet addiction research - generally aren't focused on internet porn specifically. Nor are they as readily available as eager Dr. Ley. He therefore gets to shape the debate in the media despite his utter lack of education in the neuroscience of addiction and sexual conditioning.

As stated, David Ley has a history of attacking Nofap, Pornfree, RebootNation, etc. in blog posts and on Twitter. While the vitriol of his rhetoric has increased, he no longer allows rebuttal. Ley closes comments on all porn-related blog posts. He has done so because comments on his post calling porn-induced ED a myth didn't go his way. Specifically, the following comments under that post, by two experts who took him to task, led to his eventual ban on commenting.

Ask yourself: How ethical is it for a psychologist to attack self-help groups such as Nofap? If he has a problem with the concept of internet porn addiction, shouldn't he attack the scientists who are doing the research rather than people who are struggling to recover? What would you think of a "scientist" who didn't believe in cancer, but instead of going after oncologists, went after cancer patients struggling to regain their health?

And how ethical is it to mischaracterize and libel these groups quitting porn and sharing their experiences - yet allow them no recourse because you closed comments? I could go line-by-line through Ley's post, but here are a few examples of unsupported claims from his post attacking Nofap:

"An interesting note is that no one in the r/NoFap movement is actually a scientist who does research on neurophysiology and function."

Ley is claiming to know the occupations of all 170,000+ members of Nofap. Really? Actually, Nofap includes neuroscientists, psychologists, and several MD's who identify as such. Here are a few MD's who recovered (PIED). Here's a young psychiatrist, who had PIED, whom I interviewed on my radio show. Ley thinks nothing of making up crap that fits his prejudices on this subject:

"Instead, they are enthusiastic amateurs, who've learned enough about brain science to be dangerous, as they see what they expect to see, and interpret brain science to support their assumptions."

Of course he gives no examples, no citations, just vague accusations. It must be noted that Ley has absolutely no background in neurobiology. This is the same claim made in many of Ley's other porn-related posts. But what is the reality?

Reality

First, there are 17 "brain studies", 17 neuropsychology studies, and 12 reviews of the literature published on porn users: Without exception every study and review lends support for the porn addiction model. See this page Brain Studies on Porn Users - for an up to date list. These are not "enthusiastic amateurs" or "just YBOP" saying porn causes addiction-related brain changes. (That is what Ley tells journalists who contact him.) Top neuroscientists at Cambridge University, Yale University, and Germany's Max Planck Institute are saying porn use alters the brain.

Again, that's 100%. These brain studies must be considered in a larger context as well. In the last few years over 210 internet addiction brain studies have arrived, all showing the same fundamental brain changes as seen in drug addiction. Many include porn users, and all point to the ability of internet-based stimuli to cause pathological learning (in this case, addiction).

The internet addiction studies must be considered in the context of decades of addiction neuroscience, which informs us that all addictions share the same fundamental brain changes and mechanisms. In line with the preponderance of evidence, The American Society of Addiction Medicine published a "new definition of addiction" in 2011. ASAM stated that behavioral addictions exist, including sexual behavior addictions, and they are as real as drug addictions.

ASAM's 3000 medical doctors are the real addiction experts, not Ley or other vocal sexologists who claim that internet porn has no more impact on the human brain than stick figures on cave walls. ASAM's members include many of the world's top addiction neuroscientists. Read Ley's blog posts carefully. He does not cite a single addiction neuroscientist. What "science" does Ley use to back his claims? Mainly the research papers he and his sidekick Nicole Prause produce, rubber-stamped by their sexology cronies. These papers would simply not pass peer-review by addiction neuroscience experts.

Where's Ley's evidence?

Surprisingly, most of Ley's "science" relies on only two people, himself & Nicole Prause, and these two papers:

  • First paper: "Sexual desire, not hypersexuality, is related to neurophysiological responses elicited by sexual images" (2013). Nicole Prause was the main author
  • Second paper: "The Emperor Has No Clothes: A review of the 'Pornography Addiction' model" (2014). David Ley & Nicole Prause were the main authors.

Ley & Prause not only teamed up to write paper #2, but they also teamed up to write a Psychology Today blog post about paper #1. The blog post showed up 5 months before Prause's paper was formally published (so no one could refute it). You may have seen Ley's blog post with the oh-so-catchy title: Your Brain on Porn - It's NOT Addictive. Put simply, most of the noise emanates from two people who teamed up to write and publicize two papers. Neither paper is what it claims to be, nor what the headlines imply.

First paper - The Prause EEG study (Steele et al., 2013)

This Nicole Prause EEG study study is listed on Brain Studies on Porn Users because it actually supports porn addiction (the first of the two papers just discussed). While Prause made several unfounded, contrary claims in her press interviews about it, her study actually reported higher EEG readings when porn users were exposed to cues. This is exactly what occurs when addicts are exposed to cues related to their addiction. Thus, Prause's results found evidence consistent with porn addiction - even as she claimed the opposite. In addition, the study reported greater cue-reactivity for porn correlating to less desire for partnered sex. Put simply: The study found greater brain activation for porn and less desire for sex (but not less desire for masturbation). Not exactly what the headlines claimed.

Please read this Psychology Today Prause interview about her EEG study. Then read the 2 comments under the interview of Prause by Psychology professor John A. Johnson:

"My mind still boggles at the Prause claim that her subjects' brains did not respond to sexual images like drug addicts' brains respond to their drug, given that she reports higher P300 readings for the sexual images. Just like addicts who show P300 spikes when presented with their drug of choice. How could she draw a conclusion that is the opposite of the actual results? I think it could be due to her preconceptions--what she expected to find."

Then read this comment - John Johnson continues.

You can also read these 5 peer-reviewed analyses Prause's EEG study. All support Johnson's claims that Prause's study actually aligns with the "addiction model" (that she and Ley irresponsibly disparage).

  1. ‘High Desire’, or ‘Merely’ An Addiction? A Response to Steele et al. (2014), by Donald L. Hilton, Jr., MD
  2. The first Cambridge study - Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours (2014), by Valerie Voon, Thomas B. Mole, Paula Banca, Laura Porter, Laurel Morris, Simon Mitchell, Tatyana R. Lapa, Judy Karr, Neil A. Harrison, Marc N. Potenza, and Michael Irvine. Note that 11 addiction neuroscientists discuss Prause's EEG study starting with this sentence:  "Our findings suggest dACC activity reflects the role of sexual desire, which may have similarities to a study on the P300 in CSB subjects correlating with desire [25]." In other words, they were politely telling Prause that she didn't understand her own results, which were consistent with an addiction finding.
  3. Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update (2015), by Todd Love, Christian Laier, Matthias Brand, Linda Hatch & Raju Hajela
  4. Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports (2016), by Brian Y. Park, Gary Wilson , Jonathan Berger, Matthew Christman, Bryn Reina, Frank Bishop, Warren P. Klam and Andrew P. Doan
  5. Conscious and Non-Conscious Measures of Emotion: Do They Vary with Frequency of Pornography Use? (2017) by Sajeev Kunaharan, Sean Halpin, Thiagarajan Sitharthan, Shannon Bosshard, and Peter Walla

You can also read this full critique, documenting what the Prause EEG study really found, and how the claims in the press do not align with the actual findings. I suggest reading the short version. 

Second paper - The Ley & Prause "review"

The second paper is not a study at all. Instead, it claims to be a "review of the literature" on porn addiction and porn's effects. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The following is a very long analysis, which goes line-by-line, showing all the shenanigans Ley & Prause pulled - The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Fractured Fairytale Posing As A Review  It completely dismantles the so-called review, and documents dozens of misrepresentations of the research they cited.

The most shocking aspect of the Ley review is that it omitted ALL the studies that found negative effects/evidence of porn use. Yes, you read that right. While purporting to write an "objective" review, these two sexologists justified omitting these studies on the grounds that these were correlational studies. Guess what? All studies on porn are correlational. There are, and pretty much will be, only correlational studies, because researchers have no way to find "porn virgins" or keep subjects off of porn for extended periods in order compare effects. (Thousands of guys are quitting porn voluntarily on various forums, however, and their results suggest that internet porn is the key variable in their symptoms and recoveries.)

A few examples of what Ley & Prause pulled:

  1. As stated, they did not allow any studies showing ill effects from porn use on the grounds that they are "merely" correlational, and then proceeded to cite as support for their pet theories various correlational studies.
  2. They cherry-picked random, misleading lines from within studies, failing to report the researchers' actual opposing conclusions.
  3. They cited as support numerous studies that are entirely irrelevant to the text and the claims made.
  4. They defended their dismissal of behavioral addiction on the basis of studies that are as much as 25 years old, ignoring recent, far more numerous, contradictory studies/reviews that reflect the current consensus of addiction experts.
  5. They did not acknowledge (or analyze) dozens of brain studies on internet addicts.
  6. They ignored the two publicized brain-scan studies performed on porn users at Cambridge University and Max Planck, which dismantle the Ley/Prause conclusions.

Incidentally, their pro-porn editors Michael Perelman, Charles Moser and Peggy Kleinplatz resuscitated a defunct sexology journal called Current Sexual Health Reports (which hadn't published in many years) in order to foist this "review" on the unsuspecting public! I suspect Ley made history: this may be the first time ever that a literature review was authored by someone who 1) has never published before 2) has no expertise in the field (addiction).

Bottom line: When you see a link to an article that says porn addiction has been dismantled, follow the source. I can almost guarantee you will discover one of these 2 easily refutable, and irresponsible papers behind the claims.

What about Porn-Induced ED?

Ley & Prause claim PIED is a myth. More propaganda. First, this page links to about 70 experts, including several urology professors, who recognize and treat PIED - Porn-Induced ED in the Media: Experts who recognize PIED.

(Update - Porn-induced ED presented at the American Urologic Association Conference, May 6-10, 2016: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Second, all the recent studies on sexual function in young men have found unbelievably high rates of ED and low sexual desire: ED rates from 27% - 33%; low sexual desire from 24 -37% (so far). See: Research confirms enormous rise in youthful ED.

The only major ED study on American men was done just before the internet became widely available. It reported a 5% rate of ED in men ages 18-59. This was based on data from 1992, and note that one third of the men were over 40. (Historically older men reported the highest rates of ED.)

Until one can explain an 1000% jump in sexual problems in the last 15 years in young men, it's wise to assume that the above experts may be right about PIED, and that sexologists with an agenda are likely untrustworthy.

Finally, we have over a dozen studies that link porn use or porn addiction to sexual dysfunctions and lower brain activation to sexual stimuli. Many more studies link porn to lower sexual satisfaction. Link to the list of studies. Here are just a few examples:

1) Cambridge University study, which reported Porn-Induced ED in 60% of the porn addicts they scanned. From the study:

"[porn addicts] compared to healthy volunteers had significantly more difficulty with sexual arousal and experienced more erectile difficulties in intimate sexual relationships but not to sexually explicit material.”

2) The Max Planck study on porn users which found that the more porn consumed the less activity in their brains' reward centers when exposed to sexual images. From the study:

"This is in line with the hypothesis that intense exposure to pornographic stimuli results in a downregulation of the natural neural response to sexual stimuli."

Lead author Simone Kühn told journalists – “That could mean that regular consumption of pornography more or less wears out your reward system.” And  That would fit perfectly the hypothesis that their reward systems need growing stimulation.

3) Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men (2016) - This Belgian study from a leading research university found problematic Internet porn use was associated with reduced erectile function and reduced overall sexual satisfaction. Yet problematic porn users experienced greater cravings. The study appears to report escalation, as 49% of the men viewed porn that "was not previously interesting to them or that they considered disgusting." Excerpts:

"This study is the first to directly investigate the relationships between sexual dysfunctions and problematic involvement in OSAs. Results indicated that higher sexual desire, lower overall sexual satisfaction, and lower erectile function were associated with problematic OSAs (online sexual activities).


Addendum: NoFap.com member addresses David Ley's post

Update: It should be noted that both David Ley and Nicole Prause profit from denying sex and porn addiction. For example, both now offer "expert" testimony against sex addiction fee.  At the end of this Psychology Today blog post Ley states:

"Disclosure: David Ley has provided testimony in legal cases involving claims of sex addiction."

Ley also makes money selling two books which deny sex and porn addiction ("The Myth of Sex Addiction", 2012 and "Ethical Porn for Dicks", 2016). Pornhub is one of the four Amazon.com endorsements listed for Ley's 2016 book. Finally, David Ley makes money via CEU seminars, where he promotes the ideas presented in his two books.

From her Liberos website (page since removed - see WayBack Machine):

“Sex addiction” is increasingly being used as a defense in legal proceedings, but its scientific status is poor. We have provided expert testimony to describe the current state of the science and acted as legal consultants to help teams understand the current state of the science in this area to successfully represent their client.

Legal consultations and testimony are generally are [sic] billed on an hourly rate.