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The Porn Trap is a guide for people who feel that their use of pornography is causing them problems and want to solve those problems. Wendy and Larry Maltz are therapists, and they say that they see increasing numbers of problems due to pornography use in their practices, largely due to the rise of the Internet, making porn easily accessible in great variety, often in extreme forms. They offer an analysis of the problem and a guide to its solution. They include quotations from many women and men they interviews who have struggled with pornography use, and they base their recommendations on their own therapeutic experience as well as the ideas of other therapists and researchers. While the book has only a short list of resources at the end, there is a list of academic references available on Wendy Maltz's Healthy Sex website.
The basic ideas in the book have intuitive appeal. It would not be at all surprising if there were a correlation between people spending many hours a day viewing porn and having problems in their marriages or romantic relationships. It is plausible that a good way to solve the problem is to seek help from someone with some experience of helping other people, such as a therapist or pastor. It makes sense that one of the essential steps in solving the problems is to reduce or stop porn use, and that often this is difficult to do, and requires sustained effort and support.
The book is written in clear language with lots of examples from real life use to illustrate what it is saying. The analysis and the recommendations are broken down into simple elements so it is easy to understand them. The attitude of the authors is sympathetic toward people who have problems with using porn, and does not make moral judgments about them. It speaks favorably of spiritual or even religious approaches to dealing with the problem, but it is open to other ways of getting help and it makes no fundamentally religious claims. It is not even against porn use in itself, recognizing that some people can use porn without problem. It merely offers help to those for whom porn has become a problem.
Since porn use does seem like it might be a growing problem for people who have such ready access to it, not only by computer but even through their cell phones, and this is one of the few books put out by a reputable publisher addressing the problem, it seems like it could be helpful to people. Yet at the same time, The Porn Trap has many problems with it.
The central problem is that the authors present no strong evidence that their methods for helping people are actually helpful. The book is bascially anecdotal. There are a number of references from scholarly sources on the nature of the problem, such as the connection between porn use and relationship problems: one would need to be an expert in the area to assess how strong is the evidence they refer to in their online list. The realm of sexology has not always been the most scientifically rigorous practice, and so one might view the evidence cited as better than nothing rather then definitive proof. However, the heart of the book is in chapters 5-9, and there are no references whatsoever for the methods set out there.
One question that will be particularly pressing to most porn users is to what extent they should tell other people about their problems, especially those they are in romantic or sexual relationships with. The Maltz's say in Chapter 10 that it is best to fully disclose. Why is this better than to just ending the use of porn without disclosing?
Nonetheless, research suggests that when disclosing sexually-addictive behavior in a relationship, it’s better to fully disclose everything, regardless of how initially difficult it may be, than to reveal additional information in a “drip and drag” manner over time. Partially disclosing a porn problem, while intentionally hiding or lying about the rest of it, can damage a relationship even further because this behavior can reignite a partner’s suspicions and can easily intensify feelings of betrayal and distrust. . . Most experts agree that an intimate partner has to know enough to make informed decisions about what she now needs from the relationship and be able to be realistic in her expectations of the recovery
The argument seems to be that it is morally better to disclose because it gives the other partner the ability to make a good choice. They cite 3 references for this claim, one of which is a non-scholarly book published by an obscure press. It's far from clear that people should make decisions that could wreck their relationships based on such thin evidence.
Similarly the authors recommend that people with problems with porn should start attending Sex Addicts Anonymous groups and they make many claims that suggest they are sympathetic to approaching the problem in ways that parallel Alcoholics Anonyous. But again they give no evidence that this is an effective solution. There's great controversy over whether attending AA is any better than doing nothing or whether it might even be harmful, and one can easily imagine that spending time with other "sex addicts" could cause more problems than it solves.
While the authors do not make any dramatic claims about porn addiction being a disease, they do at one point say that using porn changes your brain chemistry. Yet their references are mostly to very general sources on the relation between brain chemistry and sex, and there are only a couple of references on the effects of sexually stimulating images on brains, neither of which seems to address the differences between normals and people who are chronic users of porn. So the claim here seems vague and pretty speculative.
One the whole then readers should not treat The Porn Trap as an authoritiative guide, but rather as something that could be helpful to them in solving their problems. As with much of the other literature in this area, it presents itself as offering well tested solutions when it really is not. Indeed, as with most cases of behavioral "addictions" and even substance addictions, there simply is not much knowledge about how to solve the problems, which are indeed often very serious and intractable. The authors' suggestions may be worth trying, but readers should be aware that not only is there no guarantee the ideas in the book will help, but they might also make things worse, so it is worth looking before leaping.
Link: Wendy Maltz's website
© 2010 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York