We are often asked the question: is my child an addict or are they merely engaging in inappropriate behavior? In these modern times it’s hard to distinguish between the two.  Especially when it comes to pornography and masturbation.

The difficulty lies in society’s disagreement over what constitutes the needs of the “natural man.” For example, some people see masturbation as a purely healthy stress reliever, as noted by clinical sexologist Gloria Brame, who stated in a recent Men’s Health article,  "We are programmed, as best we know, to need orgasms. It's a fundamental aspect of men's health, right up there with brushing your teeth."

Just type “is masturbation okay” on Google and you’ll find a whole slew of pro-masturbation articles written by professionals. These same people often don’t see the danger of viewing a little pornography either. If it’s fun, why not do it? If it feels good, why not binge?

The argument against pornography continues to build steam, and is best summed up in this quote from LDS Church apostle Dallin H. Oaks:

“Pornographic or erotic stories and pictures are worse than filthy or polluted food. The body has defenses to rid itself of unwholesome food. With a few fatal exceptions, bad food will only make you sick but do no permanent harm. In contrast, a person who feasts upon filthy stories or pornographic or erotic pictures and literature records them in this marvelous retrieval system we call a brain. The brain won’t vomit back filth. Once recorded, it will always remain subject to recall, flashing its perverted images across your mind and drawing you away from the wholesome things in life.”

Herein lies the problem. One side claims pornography is perfectly natural. The other claims it’s a disease. So which side is right? More importantly, which side do you listen to? And how do you know if someone you love needs help?

Listed below are earmarks of addictive behavior to help differentiate between addiction and a bad habit. Keep in mind, sexual desires, thoughts, and actions are perfectly natural. It’s when we begin to lose control over those passions that a problem arises — a notion the “Eat drink and be merry” crowd doesn’t concern itself with. 

Frequency – refers to how often the young person engages in the behavior. If viewing pornography only occurs a few times per year, the behavior is not likely an addiction, although the behavior is clearly inappropriate. If the person views pornography three or four times per week, the presence of an addiction is much more likely.

Duration – Duration refers to how long the problem has persisted. Persistent use of pornography over extended periods of time often reflects the young person’s inability to stop viewing.   A recurring problem may indicate that problem-solving skills by the young person have been inadequate or insufficient. The longer a problem has continued, the more it may require professional assistance. Some problems require more time and expertise than family members and Church leaders can provide.

Intensity – Intensity refers to the nature of the material viewed. While all pornographic images and content are inappropriate, some types of material are significantly more intense. Media that depict sexual acts are more intense and graphic than media of individuals wearing little or no clothing. The viewing of hard-core, intense pornography increases the likelihood of an addiction.

Risk Taking – Another primary factor of addiction is the level of risk-taking behaviors presented by a young person. The stronger the addiction, the more the young person is willing to take risks to satisfy the addiction. Risk-taking activities in youth may include escalating immoral behavior, skipping school, sexual abuse, lying to parents and church leaders and any unlawful or covert behavior.