Clay Olsen, Gary Wilson, Jill Manning, Candice Christiansen, & Donald Hilton
The importance of supporting youth as they navigate an increasingly sexualized world is something virtually everyone can agree upon. How to best accomplish this in homes, schools and communities—with many different complementary approaches available—is a conversation bound to involve some meaningful differences in perspective.
In an op-ed last weekend, the authors portrayed our own public health efforts at Fight the New Drug (FTND) in a manner that misrepresented in significant ways who we are and what we do. We appreciate the opportunity to respond as researchers, therapists and professionals associated with or supportive of FTND.
1. SCHOOLS. FTND does not, and has never attempted to provide, substitute or circumvent sex education curricula in schools. Like other guest speakers brought in by schools, FTND presentations are independent of the important work of ongoing health and sexual education classes.
The Utah state resolution about pornography emphasizes different levels of public education as part of the solution. In addition to being grounded in hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, the content of various FTND school and community presentations gets regularly reviewed, updated and approved by a team of therapists and researchers to ensure it is age-appropriate for different audiences.
Most of the 500+ presentations given all over the country and internationally have been at the request of school officials, civic leaders or parents, who arrange and secure all appropriate permissions. We are committed to following all district and school policies, and would never give a presentation if we believed we were acting against a statute or guideline of any kind. In Utah, FTND has also met with and received approval and support from the Board of the State Superintendents Association, the Utah PTA, and hundreds of school principals, counselors, and faculty—who have subsequently provided overwhelmingly positive feedback about the outcome with students.
2. SCIENCE. While showcasing a single neuroscience study, the authors neglected to mention 25 neurological studies and 10 reviews of the literature from institutions such as Cambridge University, Yale University, and the Max Planck Institute—all of which confirm the addictive potential of pornography. They also failed to mention the 4 published critiques of the 2013 study used to support their main argument, as well as the 15 studies linking pornography to a wide-range of sexual issues and the 30 studies linking porn to decreased relationship & sexual satisfaction.
Several diagnostic codes to describe compulsive sexual behavior are in the ICD-10 (the primary diagnostic resource in the U.S.) and they have existed in the DSM since 1980. Chapters on the neurobiology of sex and pornography addiction are also now appearing in updated psychiatry textbooks written by and for physicians.
Could all of this attention and data be merely a byproduct of cultural attitudes reflecting “moral disapproval” alone? Perhaps the authors could ask this question to the hundreds of thousands of men, women and youth from different countries, religions, and backgrounds we’ve heard from in the last decade—sharing personal struggles and family trauma they see as strongly influenced by compulsive pornography use.
3. MISSION. From the outset, FTND has been a secular organization, employing a diverse team spanning the political spectrum and comprising multiple faiths (and no faith). To suggest that the involvement of Mormons in FTND’s leadership somehow makes it an “LDS organization” seems a disingenuous (and inaccurate) attempt to raise public suspicion by implying improper religious influence.
FTND was established precisely to challenge the notion that pornography concerns are merely “religious worries” and to explore what would happen if public discussion about pornography took place on its scientific and public health merits alone.
To date, people spanning virtually every demographic have joined the conversation—across nearly every country and continent. This isn’t to say important questions and disagreements don’t remain.
Let’s talk about them—without forgetting the significant common ground that also exists. For instance, recent national polls indicate that American adults see internet safety as the fourth biggest problem facing our youth, with the vast majority (90%) concerned with underage access to pornography.
So what are we going to do about it?
Clay Olsen is CEO and co-founder of Fight the New Drug, and the founder, lead developer and artistic director of Fortify, an educational support community for those facing compulsive pornography issues.
Gary Wilson is the creator and director of YourBrainOnPorn.com and the the author of “Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.”
Jill Manning, PhD is a licensed marital and family therapist, researcher and author based in Colorado. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Enough is Enough, a non-profit organization dedicated to making the Internet safer for children and families.
Candice Christiansen, CMHC, CSAT-S, is the founder of Namasté Center for Healing and The Prevention Project.™ She is a researcher, author, and forensic evaluator specializing in non-contact problematic sexual behavior.
Donald Hilton, MD, is an adjunct associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio – and a fellow of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.