USU study produces encouraging results in problematic pornography treatment


LOGAN – A recently-completed Utah State University clinical trial based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy produced encouraging results in treating problematic pornography viewing, but because it is not recognized as a medical or mental disorder, continued funding for research and implementation may be a problem.

Utah State University professor Michael Twohig, who is not originally from Utah, noticed a difference in culture and attitude to pornography after arriving in the state. It was he and his former student Jesse Crosby who carried out the study.

Twohig, who said he has spent his career researching Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, set out with Crosby to do a study on Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Searching for participants, they put up fliers mentioning “unwanted, repetitive thoughts” that could include “immoral thoughts.” It wasn’t much later that people began responding wanting help with pornography.

“I wasn’t really familiar with it, the communities I’ve been in haven’t really talked about it much,” Twohig said. “So it seemed interesting and worthwhile and something we would probably be decent at.”

Twohig applied the same treatment normally used for OCD and saw big results. According to the USU press release, of the 28 participants, 92 percent reduced the amount of viewing while 35 percent stopped completely after three months. At least a 70 percent in reduction was reported by 74 percent of the participants. The pre-treatment amount of viewing varied greatly between participants. Of the 28, 27 were members of the LDS church.

“They are just a population who are incredibly motivated to get this under control,” Twohig said.

According to Twohig, other researchers have done work in the area of problematic pornography viewing, but no one has done Treatment Outcome Research, which makes this study the first of its kind.

“We’ve looked in the literature, there are no treatment studies out there,” he said. “People are just sort of doing what they understand to be the most logical and the best thing.”

There is the issue of funding. Twohig said problematic pornography viewing isn’t listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the National institute of Health won’t get into it.

“This one is not like that,” he said. “You can’t write a grant to the National Institute of Mental Health to get money to pursue this line of work. You really almost have to do it out of the goodness of your heart. I think that is the reason there is no work done. If this was in the DSM, I think there would be a lot of people working on it.”

But Twohig has noticed it is different in Utah. He said many people in the state, especially those of the LDS culture, want to find an answer to it.

“If we really do want to further this work, we has a group are going to have to find other means to do this,” he said. “It’s an issue that is outside of the medical, psychological world in the sense that no one is ever going to pick it up. I get funding all the time for anxiety disorders, but I can’t get any for this. It’s a weird thing. It’s a big social problem, but nobody wants to touch it. It’s a weird place to be. We put up a flier and we get tons of people, but we can’t get a nickel through any funding organization.”

According to the press release, Twohig and Crosby said the benefits could extend outside LDS and religious communities and recommended continuing the study with women, as well as different races, regions and beliefs.

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