“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” ― Pope John Paul II
Pornography is a phenomenon not many people are talking about, despite the epidemic running wild within the lives of our young men and women. The truth is, the majority of young people watch porn, yet few of us talk about it. Porn exists in a parallel universe, a shadowy otherworld. When anything is forced into the shadows and underground, it becomes much easier for bad things to happen, and much harder for good things to happen. The statistics within the shadow of pornography are shocking. If we take time to let them soak in, it becomes more and more clear relationships are in desperate need of saving.
Pornography is easy, accessible, impersonal, and “safe” because there is no vulnerability, love, or fear of getting hurt. However, pornography is responsible for diminishing real romantic relationships. It is no secret pornography is responsible for wrecking marriages and families, but the saddest part is if we decide not to give pornography power, it would have none. Pornography is in such vast supply because we demand it so much. A heart change is needed to tackle this epidemic. At the root of the pornography problem lies a tragic misunderstanding of who we were created to be and what relationships are supposed to be.
Pornography is defined as: “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic feelings.” You may be sitting reading this thinking... “This problem doesn’t apply to me” or “this lady is wack, there’s nothing wrong with looking at porn… everyone does it!” or “Crap. Here we go, talking about one of my deepest struggles that nobody knows about.”
If you think that porn is not a problem, the facts say differently. Research shows that pornography consumption is linked to unstable relationships, increased risk of infidelity, and greater likelihood of divorce. While this applies to men and women, studies have found that men who are exposed to porn find their partner less sexually attractive and rate themselves as less in love with their partner. A recent study* tracked couples over a six year period from 2006 to 2012 to see what factors influenced the quality of their marriage and their satisfaction with their sex lives. The researchers found of all the factors considered, porn use was the second strongest indicator that marriage would suffer.
Pornography is much more common than we think it is. It is everywhere, and many times it pops up when you least expect it. Most TV shows have at least some type of pornographic content, and many have scenes that full-on classify as pornography. The average age during which a person encounters a pornographic image is age 11 — basically as a child — and recent reports are stating that age may be dropping to eight years old.Statistically and scientifically, pornography is very different than what you have been told. I get a clear picture of this when I go into high schools to teach sexual education in health classes (dream job, am I right?). It is in that space where I see what the majority of teenagers believe about their sexuality and their relationships. When it comes to pornography, here is a snapshot of what we are up against:
- 12% of websites on the internet are pornographic – that’s 24,644,172 sites.
- 1 in 3 porn viewers are women. It’s not just a male problem.
- Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined each month.
- Watching porn diminishes relationship commitment. Porn increased marital infidelity by 300%. A few studies reported in Psychology Today show that people who watched porn were more likely to engage in flirting (and more) outside their relationships and were more likely to cheat and hook-up.
- 50% of all adults do not think porn is wrong – and most teenagers are encouraging, neutral, or indifferent about opinions of pornography. They say it’s “not a big deal.”
- Porn is a $97 billion-dollar industry worldwide - $12 billion-dollar industry in the US. That’s larger than all the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises AND more than CBS, NBC, and ABC combined.
- A pastor in Cincinnati, Ohio polled all the 7th graders in his church and 100% of those 11-year-old’s admitted to having exposure to pornography.
- 50% of Christian men are addicted to pornography, despite knowing and believing that it is dehumanizing.
In summary: porn is running rampant in our society. If you want to get it, you could get it anytime, anywhere.
The Impact of Pornography on Men
Habitual porn consumption causes significant loneliness and depression in men. A male with a porn habit starts to withdraw emotionally from the people around him, especially with a real-life romantic partner. Because porn does not explore ideas like the emotional give and take of love, men can also put up barriers with a partner because they feel unsure of how to connect. A sense of self-loathing, shame, and embarrassment develops. Because of the solitary online nature of porn, a male can hide it, and this pattern of self-concealment — repeatedly doing something he is ashamed of but hiding it from friends and family — fosters deep isolation in him. Christian men especially have a hard time talking about this problem with other Christian men, even if they are in an accountability partnership with them and trust their judgment. Pornography is extremely shameful to men who do not want anything to do with it, yet seem to be shackled to it.
Fight the New Drug is a movement dedicated to raising awareness of the pornography epidemic.
They focus on three categories of human and cultural development pornography effects:
- Porn affects the brain - porn use is related to increased anxiety, depression, stress, and social problems.
- Porn affects your relationships - porn use has been found to influence some users’ sexual preferences, leaving them wanting what they’ve seen on screen and significantly less satisfied with sex in real life.
- Porn affects the world - among the effects of the use of pornography are an increased negative attitude toward women, decreased empathy for victims of sexual violence and an increase in sexually imposing behavior.
Like most addictions, pornography is not an act that just affects the person who is addicted. That person’s relationships and the world around us are being shaped by pornography - and instead of talking about it and learning how we can fix it before the damage is done, we are ignoring the problem completely and refusing to even call it a problem.
The Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children both recognize that pornography is an element which adds to the serious problem of sex trafficking — an act that demeans human life to its core. Among the effects of the use of pornography are “an increased negative attitude toward women, decreased empathy for victims of sexual violence, and an increase in dominating sexually imposing behavior” (“Fight The New Drug”). If we look at reports of Planned Parenthood covering up sexual abuse and child trafficking, we see that the connection between demeaning human life and a poor outlook of sex/relationships/personhood is clearly linked.
Pornography addiction is a slippery slope; at first, it does not seem like a big deal to just pull up something on your phone with a group of friends because you are curious. Then, though, you probably will find yourself lying in bed at night when nobody knows what you are doing, and you convince yourself that one time will not hurt. Before you know it, it is an everyday thing. You plan your life around when you can disappear for 20 minutes and have a sexual release. It is a slippery slope into addiction, but that is exactly what pornography is.
The sad reality is that I have talked to so many men and women who are convinced that pornography will go away once they get married. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. Your pornography addiction will not just disappear just because you get married and you are having sex with your husband or wife. Think about it, no human will ever be able to love you perfectly. No matter how great they are or how in love with them you are, there will be times when they fail. When that happens, when you do not feel loved or treated well by your husband or wife, you will run to pornography out of habit.
Why? Because through research, scientists have proven that pornography affects the brain in the same way drugs do. Watching porn literally will neurologically rewire your brain. Pornography has a profound impact from the first time it is viewed, and eventually it causes a build up a tolerance to the graphic material being watched, developing into a craving for more and more graphic types of pornography. Users also become desensitized to real sex. After a while, all sex is interpreted as porn and for a man, all women as porn stars, not as people created by God in his image. The more someone uses this pathway, the more intense their longing for it will be. After a while, they will long for more frequent and higher levels of stimulation. Consistent and reliable evidence shows exposure to pornography is related to male sexual aggression against women.
The Impact of Pornography on Women
Women who view porn have similar pathways form in their brain; they will begin to accept that they are just objects to be used for sexual objectification and devalue themselves to fit the image of female porn stars.
Another important point is that not all porn is visual. For many women, reading books with explicit sexual descriptions can be destructive to our view of sexuality and the expectations of relationships. At one unfortunate end of the spectrum, you have some books glorifying sexual violence, brokenness, and victimhood instead of integrity and any kind of selfless, disciplined love. On the other end, women tend to turn to fictional love stories to fulfill our craving for romance because we are discouraged in our own love life and feel like “real love stories” do not exist.
There is a danger in this, though. Romance novels portray perfect guys. You know, the man that is sensitive, but also masculine. The guy who is just the right amount of protective over you, but also does not cling to you like dog fur. The guy that never checks out other girls and gets jealous when another guy flirts with you. Oh, and on top of that killer personality, he looks like a Greek god. A lot of these books have similar plots. It goes like this…girl meets hot guy, he’s rebellious, free-spirited, and falls madly in love with her, they get into a serious relationship, and suddenly he changes his ways; he becomes a sweet, sensitive guy who never glances at other women. Newsflash ladies: that is not how real-life works. The habits that a person has before you start dating them will carry into your dating relationship and then your marriage.
So, how does the innocent glance at an image or writing or video turn into a destructive addiction? Pornography addiction results from the attempt to receive intimacy without risking rejection. There is zero vulnerability, and to many, porn offers them the safest form of a relationship. Many of us deeply fear the rejection that could come with being known by another person. If someone sees all our flaws, we fear that we will not be loved. This is where pornography becomes so tempting. It offers us a way to satisfy our desire for intimacy without any of the risk.
In reality though, the shame which comes from porn fuels isolation and drives us further away from the true intimacy we are searching for. Porn teaches a lifestyle of selfishness – it gives nothing and takes everything. The best way to describe it is as a “counterfeit intimacy.” Our culture is under this deceptive impression that we can be fully known and fully loved by social media, and pornography alone is the culprit of diminishing real relationships.
More than ever, there is a deep need for sexual restoration, healing, and change in our world.
Pornography is a dehumanizing act within itself, and when you see the science behind it, the psychology that backs it, and the impact it has on real people, I do not know how we can keep saying “pornography isn’t really that big of a deal.”
Porn revenue exceeds that of the NFL, MLB, and NBA combined. It also exceeds the revenue of television networks CBS, NBC, and ABC combined. Child porn generates three billion dollars annually and the number one searched type of porn on the internet is “teen.” You say that that is no big deal? Seems like a big deal to me. So now the question — Why should you care?
If you are a parent, you should care because most likely, by the age of 11, your child will be exposed to pornography, or, sadly, may be objectified in the mind of another. If you are a spouse, you should care about what pornography could do to your partner and the impact it could have on your marriage. If you do not want to date a guy or girl that will view you as a sum of body parts instead of a person with a soul that yearns to be cared for with emotional intimacy, you should care. And if you watch porn, you should know and care what the consequences are, realizing that you are doing yourself and your relationships an immense disservice.
Basically, if you want to build a less violent world and respect your fellow human beings, the answer is simple: start taking steps to stop watching pornography and investing in real intimacy, instead of counterfeit intimacy. If you’re looking for some ideas on accountability and support, here are a few:
- The Fortify App from Fight the New Drug - According to their site, 88% of users report a decrease in porn usage long-term. It allows you to track areas of vulnerability, connect with others online who are on the same journey, and point you to resources specific to your situation. Plus, for every subscription, they donate money to helping teens break free from the chains of pornography - which is AWESOME! You can view a video of how the app works here: https://www.joinfortify.com/.
- Invest in a relationship with a mentor who you can confide in - We know that the majority of us struggle with porn, or are in relationship with someone who struggles with pornography, yet very few of us discuss it because it cuts us deeply.
- Covenant Eyes - With a monthly subscription, you are able to monitor your electronic devices and what they are streaming. Every week, the website sends a report of your activity to a previously selected trusted friend. This encourages ongoing conversations with trusted friends and invests in real relationships.
- The Novus Project or Harvest USA - For parents struggling to talk about pornography with their children, both of these platforms have resources that have been developed
To be fully known and fully loved will NEVER happen through the screen of a computer - and if you are under the impression that it will, you are chasing the wind and slowly being destroyed by your pursuit. Your relationships, love life, and sex life deserve better than any temporary pleasure that pornography whispers it can offer you.
*Source: [*] Olmstead, S. B., Negash, S., Pasley, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). Emerging Adults’ Expectations For Pornography Use In The Context Of Future Committed Romantic Relationships. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 42, 625-635. Doi:10.1007/S10508-012-9986-7; Mitchell, K. J., Becker-Blease, K. A., & Finkelhor, D. (2005). Inventory Of Problematic Internet Experiences Encountered In Clinical Practice. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice, 36, 498-509. Doi:10.1037/0735-7028.36.5.498
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.