I took some extra breaks between reading sessions this week. I needed time to let what I read settle in. I had to digest it slowly before diving back into evaluating the shocking and horrendous material of, The Harmful Effects of Pornography, by Fight The New Drug. What I read was a compilation of results from research on pornography.
The results are in. They are consistent, loud, and clear. Pornography is a drug. It destroys relationships and it makes you a lousy lover.
Despite its negative impact, use of pornography is rampant, mainstream, and a cultural norm. Over 40% of men have viewed pornography in the last week and 9% of women. For twenty-something year olds, the numbers go over 50% for men and 20% for women. Pornography sites are also popular for children and teenagers. It's everywhere. So what does this mean?
Pornography is a drug
Viewing pornography has the same effect on the brain as any other dopamine stimulating drug, like heroin or cocaine. However, pornography has an edge that other drugs don't. It activates our natural reward system. Sex is a natural drive that our bodies are primed to respond to. Thank goodness for this, otherwise our species would begin to fail. However, when our sex drives are high-jacked by novelty, surprise, and the anxiety-producing experiences that pornography lures us into, our brains begin to suffer.
Imaging shows that brains that view moderate amounts of pornography have less grey matter, the cells needed for planning, thinking, and organizing. These pornography viewing brains are under-active in the areas that make us more human, the areas where we have the power to choose. The same brains are over-active in the reward system areas, those primal, selfish areas that are always seeking for the next high, just like the brains of substance addicts. Sadly, it doesn't take long for the brain to get hooked on pornography and to start changing.
The good news is the brain damage caused by pornography or heavy internet use, can slowly reverse itself by simply refraining. However, for many addicts, ceasing pornography can be extremely challenging. Support groups, accountability systems, and counseling may be needed.
Seek help if needed. There is hope for recovery.
Effects on Teen Brains
Teenagers are especially vulnerable to the effects of pornography. Their developing brains respond much more quickly to addictions than mature brains do. Addictions developed in adolescence can be harder to end. It is also the time when sexual preferences are formed. Themes in pornography are aggressive, male-entitled, and exaggerated. When one is aroused while viewing these images, the brain learns to pair pleasure with the images, leading to lifelong sexual fetishes. Males often try to convince their partners to re-enact aggressive, humiliating, or distasteful sexual acts because that is the only way they know how to get satisfaction. Today, more girls are offering anal sex and emotionally detached sex to boys than ever before. This is an effort to win attention or to live up to standards set by pornography. Girls feel in competition with pornography for the affection of their boyfriends, and they are woefully disappointed in their non-porn star bodies.
Overall, online porn lowers academic performance and increases impulsiveness, restlessness, and sexually aggressive behaviors.
Effects on Relationships
Pornography makes violence appear sexy. Even soft-core porn is correlated with using verbal coercion or drugs and alcohol to sexually coerce women. All types of pornography are correlated with a future likelihood of raping a woman. Group sex and date rape is normalized and supported by pornography users. From my point of view as a trauma therapist, this is a terrible cultural shift for both women and men in the next generation.
Porn users also become lousy lovers. Normal life is just not simulating enough. Multiple studies have found a sharp increase (from 5% to 30%) in erectile dysfunction for 18-25 year olds since the widespread use of pornography began. That means 1/3 of hormonally-robust young men cannot keep an erection! Another study in 2010 showed 36% of teen boys had no interest in sex, nearly a 19% jump from 3 years earlier. Men are losing interest in romantic relationships and finding less value in pursuing monogamous relationships.
Nearly two-thirds of attorneys have seen a sudden rise in divorces related to the internet. Approximately 62% of divorces are blamed on internet use. Men are using pornography and their women are angry. Thirty-four percent of women say any involvement in pornography is infidelity. Women blame their men's porn use for causing mistrust, lack of intimacy, anxiety, and sometimes trauma. Men complain that their real sex lives do not measure up to their imaginary online sex, leading to a decrease in monogamous behaviors. With lack of sexual interest with partners, an increase in erectile dysfunction, and increased desire for variety, marriage is falling apart. Viewing pornography also increases sexual aggression in marriage.
Typical progression goes as follows: 1) The consumer gets hooked. He goes back for more, more, more in search of that first high. 2) Next, there is an escalation effect. The user requires rougher, more explicit, or more deviant material to get his or her high. 3) Desensitization occurs so that originally shocking or repulsive material comes to be seen as acceptable and commonplace. 4) There is an increased tendency to act out sexual behaviors viewed in pornography, including frequenting massage parlors.
Effects on Families
If someone in your family struggles with a pornography addiction, you are probably highly aware of all the subtle and insidious ways it affects your family. Men who use porn are disconnected emotionally and physically from their family. They ignore their children to provide more online time. Men who view porn are less child-centered and are particularly disinterested in having female children. Pamela Paul wrote, "Countless men have described to me how, while using pornography, they have lost the ability to relate to or be close to women... They found the way they looked at women in real life was warping to fit the pornography fantasies they consumed onscreen. Their daily interactions with women became pornified, Their relationships soured. They had trouble relating to women as individual human beings. They worried about the way they saw their daughters and girls their daughters' age."
There is little support for porn addicts and their partners. Most try to deal with it on their own, avoiding talking about it even with their closest friends. There is so much shame surrounding sexual addictions that many suffer in silence. Fight the New Drug is a great online resource for information and help. There are also counselors who specialize in this sexual addictions who can help.
This post is just a sample of the research that speaks out to the horrors of pornography. The amount of data I discovered displaying the disintegration of love and families was heartbreaking.
Wise up, check out the facts, commit to love not porn, and speak out. The health of our humanity is at stake.
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
San Luis Obispo, CA