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Let’s Talk About Porn. Is It As Harmless As Society Says It Is?

Considering an estimated 91.5% of men and 60.2% of women consume porn, let’s examine how porn may be affecting consumers, relationships, and our society.

By October 25, 2021No Comments

Did you know that the average internet user spends over 40% of their waking hours online?DataReportal. (2020). Digital 2020 global digital overview. ( No. 1). Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/DataReportal/digital-2020-global-digital-overview-january-2020-v01-226017535COPY  40%! That’s a lot of time on the internet.

Whether streaming a new Netflix series, scrolling through social media, or sending memes to friends, everything we consume communicates a message. So, does the media we consume online actually have an effect on us, or is it passively consumed and then quickly forgotten?

Countless researchers have been asking similar questions since the dawn of the internet, and according to their findings, the short answer is “yes”—our internet consumption has an effect on the way we think and behave. From poorer mental healthHökby, S., Hadlaczky, G., Westerlund, J., Wasserman, D., Balazs, J., Germanavicius, A., Machín, N., Meszaros, G., Sarchiapone, M., Värnik, A., Varnik, P., Westerlund, M., & Carli, V. (2016). Are Mental Health Effects of Internet Use Attributable to the Web-Based Content or Perceived Consequences of Usage? A Longitudinal Study of European Adolescents. JMIR mental health, 3(3), e31. https://doi.org/10.2196/mental.5925COPY  to more negative body image,Fardouly, J., & Vartanian, L. R. (2016). Social media and body image concerns: Current research and future directions. Current Opinion in Psychology, 9, 1-5. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.09.005COPY Aparicio-Martinez, P., Perea-Moreno, A. J., Martinez-Jimenez, M. P., Redel-Macías, M. D., Pagliari, C., & Vaquero-Abellan, M. (2019). Social Media, Thin-Ideal, Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Attitudes: An Exploratory Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(21), 4177. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16214177COPY  studies are increasingly clear that what people consume online has the potential to affect them—both positively, and negatively.

So, with that in mind, considering that an estimated 91.5% of men and 60.2% of women consume porn, let’s take a few moments to examine how porn may be affecting its consumers.Solano, I., Eaton, N. R., & O'Leary, K. D. (2020). Pornography Consumption, Modality and Function in a Large Internet Sample. Journal of sex research, 57(1), 92–103. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1532488COPY 

How Porn Can Impact Consumers’ Brains

Decades of studies from respected academic institutions have demonstrated porn’s harms to those who consume it. Let’s dive into a few neurological and psychological components of porn’s impacts on consumers.

Why Porn Can Be Difficult to Quit

When it comes to the topic of porn, one of the most common questions is whether porn can actually be addictive. The short answer is yes—it absolutely can be. While it’s important to remember that most porn consumers—even many who may find it very difficult to quit porn—do not qualify as “addicts” in a clinically diagnosable sense,Willoughby, B. J., Young-Petersen, B., & Leonhardt, N. D. (2018). Exploring Trajectories of Pornography Use Through Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. Journal of sex research, 55(3), 297–309. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1368977COPY  many addiction experts and specialists agree that pornography addiction is, in fact, very real.Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 5(3), 388–433. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs5030388COPY Stark R., Klucken T. (2017) Neuroscientific Approaches to (Online) Pornography Addiction. In: Montag C., Reuter M. (eds) Internet Addiction. Studies in Neuroscience, Psychology and Behavioral Economics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-46276-9_7COPY De Sousa, A., & Lodha, P. (2017). Neurobiology of Pornography Addiction - A clinical review. Telangana Journal of Psychiatry, 3(2), 66-70. doi:10.18231/2455-8559.2017.0016COPY 

Because so much of addiction happens neurologically, some experts have determined four major brain changes common to addicted brains: sensitization, desensitization, hypofrontality, and a malfunctioning stress system.Volkow, N. D., Koob, G. F., & McLellan, A. T. (2016). Neurobiologic advances from the brain disease model of addiction. N Engl J Med, 374(4), 363-371. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1511480COPY  Spoiler alert: research confirms that each of these brain changes can be found in cases of pornography consumption. Sensitization, in particular, can make porn difficult to quit.

Dozens of studies have exhibited sensitization’s role in problematic porn consumption.Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., Lapa, T. R., Karr, J., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419COPY Snagowski, J., Wegmann, E., Pekal, J., Laier, C., & Brand, M. (2015). Implicit associations in cybersex addiction: Adaption of an Implicit Association Test with pornographic pictures. Addictive behaviors, 49, 7–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.05.009COPY Gola, M., Wordecha, M., Sescousse, G., Lew-Starowicz, M., Kossowski, B., Wypych, M., Makeig, S., Potenza, M. N., & Marchewka, A. (2017). Can Pornography be Addictive? An fMRI Study of Men Seeking Treatment for Problematic Pornography Use. Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 42(10), 2021–2031. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2017.78COPY  In everyday conversation, we sometimes refer to sensitization as the feeling of being “triggered.” For example, when an addict experiences specific cues related to their addictive behavior—such as related images, certain locations, or even a specific time of day—they may experience sudden urges which can be incredibly difficult to resist.

How Porn Can Affect the Brain Like a Drug

Deep inside the brain, there’s something called a reward center. The reward center’s job is to release dopamine into our brains in response to behaviors our brain perceives as positive, like eating tasty food, getting in a good workout, or enjoying a kiss. While the reward center is largely responsible for wanting, it’s our prefrontal cortex that is largely responsible for putting the brakes on those wants when needed.

Under normal circumstances, your prefrontal cortex would disrupt unhealthy patterns such as substance use or an escalating porn habit—and for many people, it does. But with addiction, the prefrontal cortex’s “braking system” starts to wear out, making it more difficult to keep addictive behaviors in check.Hilton, D. L., & Watts, C. (2011). Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective. Surgical neurology international, 2, 19. https://doi.org/10.4103/2152-7806.76977COPY 

This impaired decision-making ability is known as hypofrontality—another one of the four major brain changes involved in addiction. And, you guessed it, just as with substance addiction, research demonstrates hypofrontality in porn consumers.Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption: The brain on porn. JAMA psychiatry, 71(7), 827–834. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93COPY Negash, S., Sheppard, N. V., Lambert, N. M., & Fincham, F. D. (2016). Trading Later Rewards for Current Pleasure: Pornography Consumption and Delay Discounting. Journal of sex research, 53(6), 689–700. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2015.1025123COPY 

Get The Facts

How Porn Can Change the Brain

Did you know that thanks to a process called neuroplasticity, our brains are constantly changing? When we engage in an activity—particularly a pleasurable activity, and particularly if it involves repetition and intense focus—our brains alter themselves so that they’ll be better and more efficient at doing that activity the next time.

But this brain process can also be overwhelmed by what’s referred to as a supernormal stimulus—an exaggerated form of what’s normal. Pornography, for example, can take our brains’ natural stimuli—our desire for intimacy and connection—and give us more quantity, more exaggerated, and more “supernormal” versions of that desire.Hilton D. L., Jr (2013). Pornography addiction - a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective neuroscience & psychology, 3, 20767. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767COPY  Through the neuroplastic process, porn can change what we perceive as normal, warp what we find exciting, and make real intimacy seem less interesting by comparison.Voon, V., et al. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviors, PLoS ONE, 9(7), e102419. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102419COPY 

These changes in our expectations can have tremendous implications for how we view others and how we view relationships.

How Porn Can Become an Escalating Behavior

A third brain change shown in addiction is desensitization, which refers to a numbed pleasure response, or the inability for a consumer to achieve the same “high” they once did. Research shows that porn consumers can become desensitized to porn, often needing to consume more porn, more extreme forms of porn, or consume porn more often in order to get the same response they once did.Albery, I. P., Lowry, J., Frings, D., Johnson, H. L., Hogan, C., & Moss, A. C. (2017). Exploring the Relationship between Sexual Compulsivity and Attentional Bias to Sex-Related Words in a Cohort of Sexually Active Individuals. European addiction research, 23(1), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1159/000448732COPY Banca, P., Morris, L. S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Voon, V. (2016). Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards. Journal of psychiatric research, 72, 91–101. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.10.017COPY 

In fact, according to one 2016 study, researchers found that 46.9% of respondents reported that, over time, they began watching pornography that had previously disinterested or even disgusted them.Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.046COPY 

How Porn Can Contribute to an Unhealthy Cycle of Stress

While stress can actually be a healthy motivator in moderation, addiction experts consider a malfunctioning stress system to be another brain change common to all addictions.Volkow, N. D., Koob, G. F., & McLellan, A. T. (2016). Neurobiologic advances from the brain disease model of addiction. N Engl J Med, 374(4), 363-371. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1511480COPY 

In short, when a person is suffering from addiction, their stress response and their addiction become intertwined in unhealthy ways. Instead of driving them to respond appropriately to life’s challenges, stress will instead drive them further into their addiction. Likewise, anytime they’re cut off from their addiction, they will experience intense feelings of stress and anxiety (also known as withdrawal), creating an unhealthy cycle. In other words, for those suffering from addiction, stress and anxiety don’t spur growth or positive action—they just fuel the addictive cycle.

While this is the aspect of pornography addiction least studied by researchers, studies do exhibit the existence of malfunctioning stress systems in porn consumers,Jokinen, J., Chatzittofis, A., Nordström, P., & Arver, S. (2016). The role of neuroinflammation in the pathophysiology of hypersexual disorder. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 71, 55. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.07.144COPY Jokinen, J., Flanagan, J., Chatzittofis, A., Öberg, K., & Arver, S. (2019). High Plasma Oxytocin Levels in Men With Hypersexual Disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44, 114–114. Retrieved from http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-168967COPY Chatzittofis, A., Arver, S., Öberg, K., Hallberg, J., Nordström, P., & Jokinen, J. (2016). HPA axis dysregulation in men with hypersexual disorder. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 63, 247–253. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.10.002COPY  showing that all four addiction-related brain changes have been found in cases of porn consumption.

How Porn Can Impact Relationships

Decades of studies from respected academic institutions have demonstrated porn’s harms to relationships, romantic and otherwise. Let’s dive into a few psychological and relational components of porn’s impacts on people’s connections to each other.

How Porn Can Impact Mental Health and Fuel Loneliness

Many porn consumers use porn as an escape mechanism or self-soothing technique, turning to porn when they’re feeling lonely or depressed. But research actually indicates that those who consume pornography to avoid uncomfortable emotions have some of the lowest reports of emotional and mental wellbeing.Brown, C. C., Durtschi, J. A., Carroll, J. S., & Willoughby, B. J. (2017). Understanding and predicting classes of college students who use pornography. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 114-121.COPY 

In fact, a number of peer-reviewed studies have found a link between pornography consumption and mental health outcomes like depression,Harper, C., & Hodgins, D. C. (2016). Examining Correlates of Problematic Internet Pornography Use Among University Students. Journal of behavioral addictions, 5(2), 179–191. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.5.2016.022COPY  anxiety,Wordecha, M., Wilk, M., Kowalewska, E., Skorko, M., Łapiński, A., & Gola, M. (2018). 'Pornographic binges' as a key characteristic of males seeking treatment for compulsive sexual behaviors: Qualitative and quantitative 10-week-long diary assessment. Journal of behavioral addictions, 7(2), 433–444. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.33COPY  loneliness,Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B. (2018). Pornography Use and Loneliness: A Bidirectional Recursive Model and Pilot Investigation. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 44(2), 127–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2017.1321601COPY  lower life satisfaction,Willoughby, B. J., Young-Petersen, B., & Leonhardt, N. D. (2018). Exploring trajectories of pornography use through adolescence and emerging adulthood.55(3), 297-309. doi:10.1080/00224499.2017.1368977COPY  and poorer self-esteem and overall mental health.Koletić G. (2017). Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents' attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies. Journal of adolescence, 57, 119–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.006COPY 

These studies have found that these links are particularly strong when pornography is consumed to try to escape negative emotions, and also when pornography consumption becomes heavy and compulsive.Levin, M. E., Lillis, J., & Hayes, S. C. (2012). When is online pornography viewing problematic among college males? Examining the moderating role of experiential avoidance.19(3), 168-180. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.657150COPY 

How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

Sexual objectification occurs when people perceive others as sex objects, rather than complex human beings deserving of dignity and respect, and is considered by experts to be the “common thread” that connects different forms of sexual violence.Gervais, S. J., & Eagan, S. (2017). Sexual objectification: The common thread connecting myriad forms of sexual violence against women. The American journal of orthopsychiatry, 87(3), 226–232. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000257COPY  This is especially concerning considering that research shows that when someone is watching porn, they are likely participating in sexual objectification.Cikara, M., Eberhardt, J. L., & Fiske, S. T. (2011). From agents to objects: sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 23(3), 540–551. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2010.21497COPY Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? Media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198COPY 

When porn consumers develop habits of objectifying others, it can also harm their partners and relationships.

According to a 2015 study, previous partners’ pornography consumption predicted women’s levels of feeling sexually objectified, higher levels of body shame, and even lead to increased eating disorder symptomatology. The researchers of the study concluded, “…these women reported feeling that their male partner transferred the objectifying treatment of women in pornography onto them.”Tylka, T. L., & Van Diest, A. M. K. (2015). You looking at her “hot” body may not be “cool” for me: Integrating male partners’ pornography use into objectification theory for women. Psychology of Women Quarterly,39, 67–84. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784COPY 

How Porn Can Harm Consumers’ Sex Lives

When someone regularly consumes porn, they can become accustomed to being aroused by the imagery and endless novelty found in porn.Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603COPY Hilton D. L., Jr (2013). Pornography addiction - a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective neuroscience & psychology, 3, 20767. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767COPY  Pretty soon, natural turn-ons and real relationships may not seem like “enough,” and many porn consumers find they can’t become fully aroused by anything but porn.

Ironically, despite porn’s promise of improving consumers’ sex lives, there is growing evidence that porn consumption is linked to sexual dysfunction.

Research indicates that compulsive pornography consumption is directly related to erectile dysfunction,Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017COPY  sexual dysfunction for both men and women,Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603COPY  problems with arousal and sexual performance,Sun, C., Bridges, A., Johnson, J. A., & Ezzell, M. B. (2016). Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption and Sexual Relations. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 983–994. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0391-2COPY  difficulty reaching orgasm,Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603COPY  and decreased sexual satisfaction.Szymanski, D. M., & Stewart-Richardson, D. N. (2014). Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Correlates of Pornography Use on Young Adult Heterosexual Men in Romantic Relationships. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 22(1), 64–82. https://doi.org/10.3149/jms.2201.64COPY 

How Porn Can Hurt a Consumer’s Partner

For people whose partners consume porn, feelings of rejection, loneliness, anger, and shame are unfortunately common.Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784COPY  According to research, porn consumption can complicate relationships by introducing shame, isolation, and mistrust into a relationship.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4COPY  Additionally, porn has been shown to foster unrealistic expectations that partners feel they can never live up to in a real relationship.Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784COPY 

The pain caused by a partner’s porn consumption can go far beyond a bad experience in the bedroom, as many partners internalize their shame and confusion, asking themselves why they aren’t “enough.”Szymanski, D. M., Feltman, C. E., & Dunn, T. L. (2015). Male partners’ perceived pornography use and Women’s relational and psychological health: The roles of trust, attitudes, and investment. Sex Roles, 73(5), 187-199. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0518-5COPY  In fact, one study found that the frequency of an individual’s porn consumption was negatively correlated with their partner’s sense of self-esteem, level of relationship quality, and sexual satisfaction.Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784COPY 

How Porn Can Negatively Impact Love and Intimacy

Dozens of studies have repeatedly shown that porn consumers tend to have lower relationship satisfaction and lower relationship quality.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography consumption and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 43(3), 315-343. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/hcre.12108COPY Perry S. L. (2020). Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality in 30 National Surveys. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1199–1213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01616-7COPY Perry, S. (2017). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence From Longitudinal Data. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. Doi: 10.1007/S10508-016-0770-YCOPY  Porn consumers tend to experience more negative communication with their partners, feel less dedicated to their relationships, have a more difficult time making adjustments in their relationships, are less sexually satisfied, and commit more infidelity.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing sexually-explicit materials alone or together: associations with relationship quality. Archives of sexual behavior, 40(2), 441–448. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4COPY 

Research also shows that porn consumers tend to become less committed to their partners,Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The Effects Of Sexually Explicit Material Use On Romantic Relationship Dynamics. Journal Of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. Doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078COPY Lambert, N. M., Negash, S., Stillman, T. F., Olmstead, S. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). A love that doesn't last: Pornography consumption and weakened commitment to one's romantic partner. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31(4), 410-438. doi:10.1521/jscp.2012.31.4.410COPY  less satisfied in their relationships,Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography consumption and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 43(3), 315-343. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/hcre.12108COPY  and more accepting of cheating.Rasmussen, K. (2016). A Historical and Empirical Review of Pornography and Romantic Relationships: Implications for Family Researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141COPY 

Reports consistently show that porn consumers are twice as likely to later report experiencing a divorce or breakup—even after controlling for marital happiness, sexual satisfaction, and other relevant factors.Perry, S. L. (2018). Pornography use and marital separation: Evidence from two-wave panel data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(6), 1869-1880. doi:10.1007/s10508-017-1080-8COPY Perry, S. L., & Davis, J. T. (2017). Are pornography users more likely to experience a romantic breakup? Evidence from longitudinal data. Sexuality & Culture, 21(4), 1157-1176. doi:10.1007/s12119-017-9444-8COPY Perry, S. L., & Schleifer, C. (2018). Till porn do us part? A longitudinal examination of pornography use and divorce. 55(3), 284-296. doi:10.1080/00224499.2017.1317709COPY 

One study, for example, tracked couples over a six-year period to see what factors influenced the quality of their marriage and their sexual satisfaction. The researchers found that of all the factors considered, porn consumption was the second strongest indicator that a marriage would suffer.

Not only that, but the marriages that were harmed the most were those of individuals who viewed porn the most.Perry, S. (2017). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence From Longitudinal Data. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. Doi: 10.1007/S10508-016-0770-YCOPY 

How Porn Is Impacting Our Culture and World

Decades of studies from respected academic institutions have demonstrated porn’s harms to our greater culture and society. Let’s dive into a few sociological components of porn and the porn industry’s impacts on our world.

Why Today’s Internet Porn is Unlike Anything the World Has Ever Seen

The argument that porn is nothing new—that it’s been around forever and never caused any great harm—seems pretty naive when you think about how different today’s internet porn is from anything that existed before.

Porn is incomparably more accessible and more extreme than anything before seen, even a generation ago—a couple of ratty old centerfold magazines found in the park are nothing compared to the hardcore, high-definition videos that minors have access to today.Price, J., Patterson, R., Regnerus, M., & Walley, J. (2016). How much more XXX is generation X consuming? evidence of changing attitudes and behaviors related to pornography since 1973.53(1), 12-20. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.1003773COPY 

Today, porn sites receive more website traffic in the U.S. than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, and LinkedIn combined.Semrush Blog. (2021). Top 100: The Most Visited websites in the US—2021 Top websites edition. Accessed on 24 May, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.semrush.com/blog/most-visited-websites/COPY  Pornhub, one of the leading porn sites in the world, claimed that in 2019 they had 42 billion visitors with 39 billion searches performed. That’s 115 million a day—almost 5 million an hour, and almost 80,000 a minute—and that’s just one site.Pornhub Insights. (2019). The 2019 year in review. Retrieved from https://www.pornhub.com/insights/2019-year-in-reviewCOPY 

Together, the top five porn websites in the world account for more than 6 billion visits per month, nearly one a month for every person on Earth.Castleman, M. (2018). Surprising new data from the World’s most popular porn site. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-sex/201803/surprising-new-data-the-world-s-most-popular-porn-siteCOPY 

How the Porn Industry Profits From Nonconsensual Content and Abuse

How can you know whether the porn you’re watching is truly consensual? Well, the unfortunate truth is that in the porn industry, there is no guarantee.

Because of the brave survivors who have shared their stories in recent years, more light is being shed on the abusive practices of the porn industry, including their history of profiting from nonconsensual content.Mohan, M. (2020). ‘I was raped at 14, and the video ended up on a porn site’. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-51391981COPY 

Most major porn sites do not verify the age or consent of all participants involved in the content uploaded to their platforms, making it incredibly easy to upload image-based abuse (sometimes referred to as “revenge porn”) or even child sexual abuse material (also known as “child pornography”).Kristof, N. (2021). Why do we let corporations profit from rape videos? New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/16/opinion/sunday/companies-online-rape-videos.htmlCOPY 

And unfortunately, even with adults who consent to be in porn, many performers are abused or taken advantage of on-set.Lange, A. (2018). This woman says authorities doubted her sexual assault claim because she does porn. Buzzfeed News. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/arianelange/nikki-benz-porn-defamation-lawsuit-metoo#.ldPVz1Yg0YCOPY  At the end of the day, it is virtually impossible to know whether any piece of pornographic content is truly consensual, ethical, or even legal.

BHW - General

How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding of Healthy Sex

Survey research suggests that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY 

And according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84.4% of 14 to 18-year-old boys and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old girls have viewed pornography.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 1-8. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980COPY  That means that most young people are getting at least some of their education about sex from porn, whether they mean to or not. In fact, one study shows that approximately 45% of teens who consumed porn did so in part to learn about sex.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  Similarly, survey results also show one in four 18 to 24-year-olds (24.5%) listed pornography as the most helpful source to learn how to have sex.Rothman, E. F., Beckmeyer, J. J., Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2021). The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 629–646. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7COPY 

Survey results also revealed that over half of 11 to 16-year-old boys (53%) and over a third of 11 to 16-year-old girls (39%) reported believing that pornography was a realistic depiction of sex.Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J. R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R., & Horvath, M. A. H. (2016). 'I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it'. London: NSPCC. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2016/i-wasn-t-sure-it-was-normal-to-watch-itCOPY 

In fact, 44% of boys who watched porn reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try.Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J. R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R., & Horvath, M. A. H. (2016). 'I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it'. London: NSPCC. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2016/i-wasn-t-sure-it-was-normal-to-watch-itCOPY 

This is especially concerning considering how wildly unrealistic and toxic porn can be. In fact, according to a 2021 study, 1 out of every 8 porn titles shown to first-time visitors to porn sites described acts of sexual violence.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY  In addition to the sexual violence shown in porn, porn also promotes sexist narratives, racist tropes, and other harmful ideas about sex and consent. What type of message does that send to young people who turn to porn to learn about sex?

How Porn Can Fuel Sex Trafficking

Of all the ways pornography and sex trafficking overlap, one of the most surprising elements of all might be this: even in the production of mainstream porn with popular performers, sex trafficking can still occur—and it happens more regularly than most people think.Lange, A. (2018). This woman says authorities doubted her sexual assault claim because she does porn. Buzzfeed News. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/arianelange/nikki-benz-porn-defamation-lawsuit-metoo#.ldPVz1Yg0YCOPY 

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, sex trafficking is defined as a situation in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(a), 114 Stat. 1464. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-106hr3244enr/pdf/BILLS-106hr3244enr.pdfCOPY  That means that sex trafficking doesn’t require kidnapping or threats of violence—if there is any level of force, fraud, or coercion involved in the production of porn, it legally counts as sex trafficking.

Additionally, the consumption of pornography can help fuel the demand for sex trafficking. Showing porn to victims is a common grooming tactic used by abusers or traffickers to help normalize sexual abuse.Lanning, K. V. (2010). Child molesters: A behavioral analysis for professionals investigating the sexual exploitation of children. (No. 5). National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Retrieved from https://www.missingkids.org/content/dam/missingkids/pdfs/publications/nc70.pdfCOPY International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. (2017). Online grooming of children for sexual purposes: Model legislation & global review. ( No. 1). Retrieved from https://www.icmec.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Online-Grooming-of-Children_FINAL_9-18-17.pdfCOPY  In fact, porn can be so effective at desensitizing consumers to toxic narratives that some evidence suggests that the desensitization of consumers can manifest in more willingness to buy sex, which increases the demand for individuals being trafficked for sex.Demand Abolition. (2018). Who buys sex? understanding and disrupting illicit market demand. Retrieved from https://www.demandabolition.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Demand-Buyer-Report-July-2019.pdfCOPY Herrington, R., & McEachern, P. (2018). “Breaking her spirit” through objectification, fragmentation, and consumption: A conceptual framework for understanding domestic sex trafficking. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 27, 1-14. doi:10.1080/10926771.2017.1420723COPY 

As long as there’s a demand for porn—especially porn that is extreme, abusive, or degrading—the porn industry will continue to exploit vulnerable people to meet that demand.

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How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

According to a number of studies analyzing the content of popular porn videos, as few as 1 in 3 and as many as 9 in 10 porn videos depict sexual violence or aggression.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY  And as each of these studies agreed, women were almost always the targets—about 97% of the time.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY 

While the amount of violence shown in porn is troubling, what is perhaps even more disturbing is the portrayed reactions to that violence. One study found that 95% of the targets of violence or aggression in porn appeared either neutral or appeared to respond with pleasure.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY  In other words, porn is sending the message that sexual violence is just a part of sexual pleasure.

By watching scene after scene of dehumanizing or violent content, it can start to seem normal.Daneback, K., Ševčíková, A., & Ježek, S. (2018). Exposure to online sexual materials in adolescence and desensitization to sexual content. Sexologies, 27(3), e71-e76. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sexol.2018.04.001COPY 

In fact, research indicates that porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify others,Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY  more likely to express an intent to rape,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY  less likely to intervene during a sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097COPY  more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097COPY  more likely to support violence against women,Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2016). Men's Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 955–964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8COPY Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? Media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198COPY  more likely to forward sexts without consent,van Oosten, J., & Vandenbosch, L. (2020). Predicting the Willingness to Engage in Non-Consensual Forwarding of Sexts: The Role of Pornography and Instrumental Notions of Sex. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1121–1132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01580-2COPY  and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201COPY Rostad, W. L., Gittins-Stone, D., Huntington, C., Rizzo, C. J., Pearlman, D., & Orchowski, L. (2019). The association between exposure to violent pornography and teen dating violence in grade 10 high school students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2137-2147. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1435-4COPY Goodson, A., Franklin, C. A., & Bouffard, L. A. (2021). Male peer support and sexual assault: The relation between high-profile, high school sports participation and sexually predatory behaviour. 27(1), 64-80. doi:10.1080/13552600.2020.1733111COPY Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY 

Conclusion

Porn is not harmless. Decades of research and hundreds upon hundreds of studies indicate that porn can have serious negative consequences for individuals, relationships, and society as a whole.

While the multi-billion dollar porn industry may try to sell porn as harmless entertainment, the preponderance of evidence suggests otherwise. Help build a healthier world by rejecting porn and its toxic narratives.

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