Friday, October 21, 2005

The addiction of child pornography

Guest opinion by Dennis Davis, M.D.

Dr. Dennis Davis is a former Sun Valley resident who now resides in Boise. He was sentenced last month to five years in prison for buying child pornography from undercover agents.


Within days I leave for a federal prison to serve a five-year sentence for possession of child pornography. While I question the appropriateness and severity of the sentence, my purpose today is to share my story, to provide much needed public education. I hope my story will help others before they "hit bottom", as I did, and have to pay the price I have paid.

I have been secretly addicted to adult pornography for 30 years. Until I "hit bottom," I didn't know this was an addiction. I didn't understand that it, like alcohol, drug, gambling, food and other addictions, is a disease. I did know how shameful it was. I thought I was alone with this problem. I didn't know help was available. Now, I know differently. Pornography addiction is like other addictions—a conditioned behavioral response to pain, shame and lack of self-esteem. Addicts are powerless to stop their behavior and almost always require intervention. Like many addictions, mine escalated in its later stages, and I began viewing child pornography. The Internet poured "gasoline on the fire." Its mesmerizing process, access to anything and the ability to easily batch download large quantities of images fanned the flames. My addiction was not about sex or children. It was about crazier and riskier behavior. It was probably a subconscious desire to get caught, to stop the craziness. While the law focuses on child pornography, I now understand that all pornography use can be extremely destructive not only to its victims, but also to the user and his/her family.

Experts suggest that, while Internet pornography use among American males is very common, around 5-10 percent of the U.S. population have a true pornography addiction or another sexual addiction. With the prevalence of and easy access to Internet pornography, that number is likely to escalate. It is also estimated that over 50 percent of sexual offenders have a sexual addiction. Indeed, we need to be concerned about violent and other predatory sexual offenders. We also need to be able to differentiate between those sex offenders who are child molesters or rapists and the increasing number of individuals, like myself, whom our system labels as sex offenders but who have only used pornography and have never had inappropriate contact of any kind with a child or adult and have no desire to do so.

We must understand that sexual addiction of any kind, legal or illegal, is a disease. For those who recognize a problem in themselves or a loved one, know that you are not alone. Help is available. An online search under pornography addiction or sexual addiction will identify useful resources. Some therapists are trained in addictions or sexual addictions. Several sexually oriented 12-step programs exist and provide excellent support. Intensive inpatient therapy programs are available in some states.

Finally, we must understand that easy access to pornography on the Internet means that many of our children are finding their way into illegal as well as legal pornography. Most are unaware they are breaking the law. Many do not realize that they are on the path to addiction.

Since my arrest, I have learned a tremendous amount about this addiction and myself. This learning doesn't excuse my behavior, but it helps me to understand it. I will continue my personal and spiritual growth in prison. I am a healthier and happier person today because of having escaped the "prison" of addiction. I intend to emerge in a few years a yet healthier and happier person. I am committed to providing community service to educate people—individuals, families and professionals—on this difficult set of issues.

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