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Catholic News Agency

As study claims benefits to porn, atheist author raises questions on methodology

Washington D.C., Jul 14, 2018 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A study has claimed porn as necessary to men’s health, but author of Your Brain on Porn and self-proclaimed atheist Gary Wilson said the statistical system used in many of these surveys is inaccurate.

“The abstract tells you what is completely crazy: if you are not using porn it is having a negative effect in your life,” he told CNA. However, the same studies claim “that more porn-use leads to greater positive and greater negative effects.”

“How can that be?” he asked. “Is every study published in the last 25 years wrong or is there something wrong with the PCES?”

Wilson dissected the errors of the Porn Consumption Effect Scale (PCES) – a self-perceived measurement of 47 questions used to study the health effects of pornography. This includes a study conducted in the July edition of Psychology of Men and Masculinity, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by the American Psychological Association.

Titled “Self-perceived effects of pornography consumption among heterosexual men,” the study asked men in countries like the U.S. and Australia to survey the perceived effects of porn in their life. The study used the smaller version of the PCES with 14 question.

It analyzed the positive and negative effects porn has on sex life, attitudes towards sex, views on the opposite gender, sexual knowledge, and overall life. The survey also analyzed a participant’s religious background and level of religiosity.

The study concluded that a higher rate of use in pornography and masturbation to a more positive lifestyle and that negative results are more often tied to the infrequent and religious porn-users. It determined that religiosity did not affect the users’ quantity, but it did result in fewer perceived positive effects.

The PCES is 47-item questionnaire first used by Gert Hald and Neil Malamuth in 2008. Each question is organized into positive or negative categories and measured by the impact of the result on a Likert Scale of 1-7, with one being the least stimulating.

Wilson began fighting against porn after men in 2006 expressed concern on his wife's blog about pornography’s effects, including erectile dysfunction.

He said the PCES has repetitively demonstrated that greater pornography leads to more positive results while, at the same time, showing that more porn leads to more negative results. It contradicts itself and numerous other studies, he said, because men report on a decrease of sexual and relational satisfaction.

“When you go to the 55 studies on sexual and relationship satisfaction….all the ones on males say more porn use leads to poorer relationship and sexual satisfaction.”

Having previously been a pathology and physiology professor, Wilson said the test does not take into the account the biological components of addiction. Rather, it follows a biased view of religion and porn from Joshua Grubbs.

A teacher at Bowling Green State University, Grubbs created the Perceived Pornography Addiction Questionnaire, which religious people tend to score higher on because a majority of the questions involve shame. The survey sought to prove that the addictive aspects of pornography are not results of the substance, but shame and guilt.

However, Wilson said, “it’s just a biological effect.” He said the negative effects of pornography become more noticeable two to three weeks out from the last session. Because religious porn-users often try to stop looking at porn, he said, the effects are more apparent than regular users who have not tried to take a break.

“When you remove the addictive substance, food or drug, the brain starts to change and the level of changing it actually sprouts more connections that occur about two weeks out from your last use…[And] it makes the cravings greater and it also leads to higher levels of binging.”

Wilson also highlighted two areas of the PCES that lead to a less accurate study: self-perception mixed with false equivalencies and an irrelevantly determined categories of positive or negative.

The PCES determines the substance of each question to be equivalent when they are not equal, he said, noting how “learning about anal sex” does not balance the negative “problems in your sex life.”  

“You can’t take the average of a one to seven over on the good side and a one to seven over on the so-called negative side, and then say they got higher on this side. They are not equivalent.”

The manner by which the questions were organized into positive and negative also appears to be arbitrary, he said, noting the researchers made assumptions they did not validate.

“If you look at their current study they have 2.62 on the positive effect of life in general. …But just step back a little bit, what is the highest you can get on that? Seven that is the highest average. So what does a 2.62 even mean?”

In an example from the questionnaire, the survey ranked “Has made you less sexually liberal” a negative question and “Has made you experiment more in your sex life” a positive question, but Wilson expressed doubt that everyone would agree with either of the determined charges.  

Wilson said the questionnaire mathematically lean towards a positive result because the survey includes a greater quantity of positive questions.

“In other words, more questions that show a positive effect of porn than a negative effect of porn. So it’s actually mathematically leaning that way and you don’t have any counters to sexual knowledge.”

Psychologist John Johnson referred to PCES as a “psychometric nightmare,” and expressed doubt on survey’s accuracy.

"If I had been a reviewer on this manuscript, I would have probably rejected it on the basis of inadequate statistical methodology as well as various conceptual problems...It is impossible, given the nature of the data, to draw firm conclusions.”

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