Right off the bat, we want to make it clear that the purpose of this article is not to infer that those who watch porn will become violent criminals. There is simply no way to know if watching pornography will give someone the motivation to rape, murder, or anything else for that matter. The purpose of this article to talk about what we do know, and to talk about what science and research is telling us.

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Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair was a decorated combat veteran of the United States Army. A former deputy commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Sinclair was a rising star. He was powerful, successful, and respected. However, all this came to a screeching halt when a subordinate officer accused him of forcible sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Then, investigators discovered over 8,500 pornographic photos and 600 sexually explicit videos on Sinclair’s personal electronic devices. He was found guilty of the accusations and suffered a humiliating demotion and forced retirement as a result.

Unfortunately, Sinclair’s crimes are not an outlier; in fact, they demonstrate a growing problem in our military’s culture. In 2013, the United States Armed Forces found itself in the midst of somewhat of a crisis. This wasn’t a crisis of politics or warfare, rather, they found that many of their soldiers, like Sinclair, were being crippled by rampant pornography habits and sexual assaults. In response, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights conducted a report investigating this increasingly significant problem.

Included in the report were the results from a 2013 investigation at more than 100 Air Force installations. The Air Force found 631 instances of pornography (magazines, calendars, pictures, videos that intentionally displayed nudity or depicted acts of sexual activity) and and 27,598 instances of inappropriate or offensive items (suggestive items, magazines, posters, pictures, calendars, vulgarity, graffiti). And that was just one singular service-wide health and welfare inspection event that was completed in an effort to emphasize an environment of respect, trust and professionalism in the workplace.

Related: 5 Twisted Ideas Porn Teaches About Sexuality

Also, through anonymous surveys and statistical estimations, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights study concluded that there were over 26,000 sexual assaults among service members in 2012 alone. They found that only 46% of these sexual assaults are reported to the proper authorities, and that, of the victims that report, over 90% were involuntarily discharged from the armed forces. Most shocking of all, they found that 1 in 4 women in the armed forces had been sexually assaulted, while 4 in 5 had been sexually harassed. To put that in context, this means that a woman in the armed forces is more likely to be sexually assaulted than she is to die in combat.

What’s adding fuel to the fire?

You may be wondering, what could be causing this culture of victim shaming and sexual assault? It could be possible that one potential factor that’s adding fuel to the already-burning fire is pornography. It is not uncommon for military members to come home from a deployment, addicted to pornography. Military spouses often complain about these devastating addictions post-deployment. In fact, in an interview with the Military Times, Navy Lt. Michael Howard, a licensed therapist and military chaplain, believes that at least 20 percent of the military struggles with some kind of compulsive use or addiction to online pornography.

For porn viewers, even those that manage to avoid violent material, it’s difficult not to be influenced. Study after study has found that watching even non-violent porn can be correlated with the viewer being more likely to use verbal coercion, drugs, and alcohol to push women into sex. [1] And those who consistently look at even non-violent porn are more likely to support statements that promote abuse and sexual aggression of both women and girls. [2] Much of non-violent porn portrays a power difference between partners where men are in charge and women are submissive and obedient. Viewing this type of dehumanizing submission makes dominance seem normal and can set the stage for eventual acceptance of verbal and physical aggression. [3]

Related: This Disturbing ‘Border Patrol’ Porn Site Fantasizes The Real Rape Problem Among Mexican Immigrants

An analysis of 33 different studies found that exposure to non-violent porn measurably increased aggressive behavior, and that viewing violent porn increased even further. These effects include having violent sexual fantasies which can lead to actually committing violent assaults.On top of that, a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Communication is showing concrete evidence that viewing pornography increases the likelihood of physical and verbal sexual aggression. From the combined results of 22 studies in 7 countries, it concluded that viewing pornography strongly increased the likelihood of both verbal and physical sexual assault.

If you’re wondering how sitting in a chair watching porn can actually change what a person thinks and does, the answer stems from how porn changes the brain (See Porn Changes the Brain). Our brains have what scientists call “mirror neurons”—brain cells that fire not only when we do things ourselves, but also when we watch other people do things. [4] This is why movies can make us cry or get scared; or why some people can get so emotionally involved in watching a football game on TV. When a person is watching porn, their brain is busy wiring together whatever is happening on the screen to sexual arousal—in many ways just like if a person was actually doing what they are watching. [5] So if they’re watching a woman get kicked around and called names while feeling aroused, they’re more likely to associate that kind of violence with being sexy. [6] Even when porn isn’t violent, viewers are learning to see other people as nothing more than objects made to be used for sexual pleasure. [7]

The effects are personal

Many among our worldwide supporters are members of the Armed Forces, and they’ve experienced this porn problem firsthand. They’ve reached out to us to share their stories, hoping to create change. This first account is from the wife of a U.S. Marine:

“When my husband was in the Marines, pornography was like a sickness. It was everywhere! Everyone watched it, shared it, and even made homemade videos. I remember one time a couple was having sex where they weren’t supposed to, and, instead of reporting them, the person decided to film the act and share it with everyone. The poor girl was humiliated! She ended up getting in trouble, not the person who filmed and shared it. There were many times my husband would be in a class and one of his higher ups would look up videos to watch while they were waiting for someone. Right there on the projector for everyone to watch together. My husband would put his head down, close his eyes, do what he had to do to not engage because obviously he couldn’t leave the room. His buddies would walk up to him and say. “Check out this video/picture” and then shove their phone in his face. He would push it away and tell them to stop. He got made fun of for it! He was bullied and teased and mocked for not engaging in pornography. He learned the hard way to not let someone borrow his laptop because, the one time he did, they looked up pornography and almost ruined our laptop with viruses. Fellow Marines were constantly sharing naked pictures of girls. Some would even share naked pictures of their wives! No one stopped it. I guarantee it’s the same in every branch of the military. It’s disgusting how it’s accepted and EXPECTED in the military! They pound into their heads not to drink, not to smoke, be careful with their money, eat healthy, exercise etc. Why aren’t the dangers of pornography also talked about it? Its not and it should be!”

Here’s another personal account, this time from a member of the U.S. Army. He describes the experiences he had while deployed in Afghanistan and the porn struggle that he eventually developed after repeated exposure to pornography:

“Being in a remote location, thousands of miles away from home with only guys next to you for about 6-8 months takes a lot out of a person. We would share thumb drives, laptops, and magazines filled with pornographic material. My best friend’s porn was labeled with something that sounded harmless so his wife wouldn’t suspect anything. If you didn’t watch any of this you were considered awkward, and when you are engaged in combat, feeling isolated is not the best feeling. Many times during the day, you get so bored that all there is to do is go to a port-a-potty in 120 degree weather and watch porn on your iPod. Stories are passed around between guys about their sexual encounters; I would only laugh, but the stories were stuck on my mind which led to imagination, which led to watching porn.

It almost became a routine, a ritual, to go away for a while, watch porn while everyone knew what you were doing, and nothing at all is wrong with it. Trading porn was as common and normal as playing cards. Then came other stories that made me further objectify women. Some guys would have sex with the females back at the main base, other stories surfaced of “gang bangs” going on as well with a particular person. So I would of course imagine it, look for the person when we finally got back to the main base, capture the moment retire to somewhere I knew I would be alone and indulge in porn once more. This was a common theme for all my deployments, one would think that this kind of conduct is impossible in a combat zone, but it is not so; at least not at big high security base.”

Even with these shocking and unsettling messages, we’ve also received messages from those in the Armed Forces who are taking a stand while they serve. A U.S. soldier returning from Afghanistan sent us this pic from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Someone had placed a sticker from one of our FTND sticker packs on the side of a building on base.

Why this matters

As stated at the beginning of this article, no one is able to say that behind every violent sex crime in the military there is a pornography problem. Clearly, violent sexual crimes existed long before dirty magazines and porn sites came into the picture, even in our armed forces. The purpose of this article is to address the concerning misinformation that many pro-porn defenders promote by saying that pornography is harmless or by saying that we lack the necessary  “conclusive scientific data” that pornography can fuel sex crimes even further. (We have heard countless people even argue that pornography is helpful because it allows people to view their deviant sexual fantasies, rather than practicing them on another person.) These pro-porn people contend that pornography actually decreases instances of rape because it is an acceptable sexual outlet. To them, in this specific case, we ask why the Department of Defense would ban pornographic material from bases if it were so “harmless” to soldiers? Is there no connection whatsoever between Sinclair’s thousands of pornographic photos or videos and his sexual assaults? The truth is, there is enough evidence of a causal link between porn and sex crimes to make a claim that pornography is harmful and can fuel the issue of sexual assault further, instead of deterring it.

There’s a saying passed around military barracks, that “what happens on deployment, stays on deployment,” as if the consequences of one’s behavior don’t follow you home. Frankly, this is simply not true— the harmful effects of sexual assault and a pornography habit are unavoidable, and not only is it unhealthy for our armed forces, it’s harmful to our society. We’re here to raise awareness on the fact that porn is anything but harmless entertainment, and urge civilians as well as enlisted military to consider the effects before clicking on porn. Fight for and choose real love, instead.

What YOU Can Do

It is clear that porn in the military has become a huge issue, and is likely contributing to harmful behavior. SHARE this article to add your voice to this conversation and spread the word on the harms of pornography.

– Support the cause, rep the movement. Grab a tee to fight for real love:

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Citations
[1] Boeringer, S. B. (1994). Pornography And Sexual Aggression: Associations Of Violent And Nonviolent Depictions With Rape And Rape Proclivity. Deviant Behavior 15, 3: 289–304; Check, J. And Guloien, T. (1989). The Effects Of Repeated Exposure To Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, And Erotica. In D. Zillmann And J. Bryant (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances And Policy Considerations (Pp. 159–84). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; Marshall, W. L. (1988). The Use Of Sexually Explicit Stimuli By Rapists, Child Molesters, And Non-Offenders. Journal Of Sex Research 25, 2: 267–88.
[2] Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., And Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography And Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting The Relationship In Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression And Behavior 36, 1: 14–20; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., And Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, And Spirituality As Predictors Of Domestic Violence Attitudes In White College Students. Journal Of College Student Development 45:119–131; Zillmann, D. (2004). Pornografie. In R. Mangold, P. Vorderer, And G. Bente (Eds.) Lehrbuch Der Medienpsychologie (Pp.565–85). Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe Verlag; Zillmann, D. (1989). Effects Of Prolonged Consumption Of Pornography. In D. Zillmann And J. Bryant (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances And Policy Considerations (P. 155). Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.
[3] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., And Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, And Spirituality As Predictors Of Domestic Violence Attitudes In White College Students. Journal Of College Student Development 45:119–131; Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., And Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure To Pornography And Acceptance Of The Rape Myth. Journal Of Communication 45, 1: 5–26.

[4] Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., And Giery, M. A.  (1995). Exposure To Pornography And Acceptance Of The Rape Myth. Journal Of Communication 45, 1: 5–26.
[5] Rizzolatti, G. And Craighero, L. (2004). The Mirror-Neuron System. Annual Review Of Neuroscience, 27, 169–192.
[6] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered In The Context Of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 101.

[7] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books; Malamuth, N. M. (1981). Rape Fantasies As A Function Of Exposure To Violent Sexual Stimuli. Archives Of Sexual Behavior 10, 1: 33–47.

[8] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, And Our Families. New York: Henry Hold And Co., 80; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., And Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, And Spirituality As Predictors Of Domestic Violence Attitudes In White College Students. Journal Of College Student Development 45:119–131.

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