In porn, everything from the way people look to how and why they have sex is a lie. Porn users often get so obsessed with chasing something that isn’t real that they miss out on actual relationships.

Back in the 1950s, two researchers, Dr. Nikolaas Tinbergen and Dr. D. Magnus, played a trick on butterflies. [1] After figuring out which marks on female butterfly wings were most eye-catching to their mates, they created their own cardboard butterflies and painted them to look like super-females. Their wing patterns were based on the wings of normal butterflies, but with more exciting marks than would ever be found in nature.

And the butterflies fell for it. Even though real female butterflies were around and available, the males kept trying to partner with the cardboard versions. It wasn’t getting them what they wanted—which was the chance to mate—but they had been tricked, so they ignored the real females and kept trying to charm the decoys.

Any of this sound familiar?

In porn, everything from the way people look to how and why they have sex is no more real than Tinbergen’s cardboard wings. And just like the butterflies that got duped, porn users often get so obsessed with chasing something that isn’t real that they miss out on actual relationships.

Thanks to teams of plastic surgeons and some help from Photoshop, the women in porn don’t offer anything close to a realistic picture of what women in real life look like—particularly since we all get older, but pornographic images never age. [2] As a result, people that are regularly exposed to porn are more likely than others to feel poorly about how they look. [3] And after looking at even softcore porn, users feel worse about how their partner looks. [4]

And the fiction is more than skin deep. In most porn, a person is only worth the sum of their body parts; [5] it doesn’t matter whether they’re funny or smart, kind or interesting. All they are is a tool for sex. It shouldn’t be a big surprise then that when teens watch or see sexual media, both boys and girls have stronger notions of women being sex objects. [6]

Even sex itself gets completely warped. A typical 45 minute porn flick takes three days of filming to produce, but leaves the viewer with the impression that everything they just watched happened without a break. [7] Porn also makes it look like no matter what a man does, the woman he’s with is thrilled, even though the majority of sexual acts shown are degrading or violent. [8]

It can be tempting to think that porn is just one kind of sexual experience, not better or worse than any other sexual experience. After all, it can feel pretty similar. But our senses can be deceiving.

Let’s say, for example, that you just got done with a 10 mile run on a hot day. You come inside and there are two glasses of water on the kitchen table. One is regular water from the tap; the other is salt water. Both look the same. Both are water. But while one glass will hydrate your body, the other will leave you more dehydrated than before. And over time, while regular water will keep you alive, drinking only salt water would kill you faster than if you drank nothing at all. [9]

It’s the same with real relationships and porn. Why? Because porn is chock full of ideas and beliefs that are completely opposite of what real relationships, real sex, and real love are like. Healthy relationships are built on equality, honesty, respect, and love. But in porn, it’s the reverse; interactions are based on domination, disrespect, abuse, violence, and detachment. [10]

Even the experience of using porn is the opposite of what real romantic relationships are like. A real romantic relationship is about being with a person and falling in love with them; it’s about emotional connection and trust. In real relationships you can feel a person there, you can smell them and hear them laugh. The physical pleasure of sex is connected to sharing a whole relationship. With porn, however, sex is about being alone, watching other people do things. It’s about constantly searching for something new, constantly being shocked and surprised. [11]

The more a person buys into the porn experience and its ideas, the harder it will be for them to have a real loving relationship (See Porn Kills Love)—or even a real sex life (See Porn Ruins Your Sex Life).

Just like the butterflies learned, porn is not only deceiving, but it can also keep us from having the real relationships porn is trying to imitate (See Porn Kills Love). Turns out dating a piece of cardboard isn’t all that great.

Click For Citations

[1] Magnus, D. B. E. (1958). Experimental analysis of some ‘over-optimal’ sign-stimuli in the mating behavior of the fritillary butterfly. Argynnis paphia. Proceedings of the 10th International Congress on Entomology, 2, 405-418; Tinbergen, N. (1951). The study of instinct. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
[2] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction—a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 20767; Paul, Pamela. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 145.
[3] Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health 27, 2, 41-44.
[4] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Bergner, R. and Bridges, A. (2002). The significance of heavy pornography involvement for romantic partners: research and clinical implications. Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 3, 193-206; Zillmann, D. and Bryant, J. (1988). Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 5, 438-53.
[5] 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, Pamela. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 80.
[6] Ward, L. M. and Friedman, K. (2006). Using TV as a guide: associations between television viewing and adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of Research on Adolescents, 16, 1. 133-56.
[7] Interview with Jason Carroll, Ph. D., Aug. 2013.
[8] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E. Chyng, S., & Liberman, R. (2010) Aggression and sexual behavior in best selling pornography videos: A content analysis update. Violence against Women, 16, 10. 1065-1085; Mosher, D. and MacIan, P. (1994). College men and women respond to x-rated videos intended for male or female audiences: gender and sexual scripts. Journal of Sex Research, 31, 2. 99-112.
[9] Dean, S. (2013). Why Can’t You Drink Saltwater? Bon Appetit, March 20.
[10] 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.
 [11] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 75; Caro, M. (2004). The New Skin Trade. Chicago Tribune, September 19; Brosius, H. B., et al. (1993). Exploring the Social and Sexual “Reality” of Contemporary Pornography. Journal of Sex Research 30, 2: 161–70. 

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