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3 Reasons Why You Don’t Need to Be In a Relationship to See How Porn is Harmful

The harms of porn don’t discriminate based on your relationship status. Porn has the potential to affect mental health, and it promotes objectification.

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If you’re reading this, you have a brain. And if you care about your mental health and ending sex trafficking, you have reasons to care about porn, regardless of what your relationship status is.

We are Fight The New Drug, a non-religious and non-legislative nonprofit, and we educate on the harmful effects of pornography by using only facts, scientific research, and personal accounts. Decades of studies from academic institutions demonstrate significant impacts of porn consumption for individuals, relationships, and society.

But, while our educational resources focus so much on love, sex, and healthy relationships, we know not everyone is in a romantic relationship, and not everyone is looking for one. For some, it simply isn’t in the cards right now, or they’re not interested, and that’s completely okay.

So how do you fight against porn and fight for love if all that romantic love stuff doesn’t really apply to you?

Related: The Problem With Saying “I Watch Porn Because I’m Single/Can’t Get A Relationship”

Here’s the good news: porn isn’t an issue only those in romantic relationships can care about—it’s an everyone problem, regardless of relationship status.

Porn can strongly affect individuals and their non-romantic relationships, and it is heavily linked to sex trafficking. So even if you’re currently solo, you have reasons to fight against an exploitive industry that’s toxic for our society.

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Porn can hurt your mental health

What does porn have to do with loneliness?

Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with people struggling with unwanted porn habits for the last 30 years, explains that, “Anytime [a person] spends much time with the usual pornography usage cycle, it can’t help but be a depressing, demeaning, self-loathing kind of experience.”Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.COPY 

The worse people feel about themselves, the more they seek comfort wherever they can get it. Normally, they would be able to rely on the people closest to them to help them through their difficult times—a partner, friend, or family member. But many porn consumers aren’t exactly excited to tell anyone about their porn habits, least of all their partner. So they turn to the easiest source of “comfort” available: more porn.

As some porn consumers find themselves further down this cycle, an isolating porn habit can lead them to skip out on interacting with friends, participating in hobbies, or connecting with the people in their lives.Volkow, N. D., Koob, G. F., & Mclellan, A. T. (2016). Neurobiological Advances From The Brain Disease Model Of Addiction. New England Journal Of Medicine, 374, 363-371. doi:10.1056/Nejmra1511480COPY 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 

Although it’s fairly common for consumers to use porn as an escape mechanism or self-soothing technique, research indicates that those who consumed pornography to avoid uncomfortable emotions had 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  Another study examined the relationship between the frequency of online pornography consumption and mental health problems, particularly in the context of “experiential avoidance” or trying to avoid negative emotions. The study found that frequent pornography consumption was significantly related to greater depression, anxiety, and stress as well as poorer social functioning.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. Journal Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 19 (3), 168-180.COPY 

Related: 5 Ways Your Porn Habit May Be Harming Your Mental Health

And in yet another study, researchers at Columbia University, Yale University, and UCLA, found a link between compulsive pornography consumption and poorer mental health, low self-esteem, and poor attachment in relationships. The authors concluded,

“In this paper, we propose that pornography use has the potential to become addictive and might be conceptualized as a behavioral addiction… individuals who scored higher on the Problematic Pornography Use Scale reported poorer mental health and self-esteem, and more insecure close relationships than those who scored lower, illustrating the negative emotional correlates of problematic pornography use.”Kor, A., Zilcha-Mano, S., Fogel, Y. A., Mikulincer, M., Reid, R. C., & Potenza, M. N. (2014). Psychometric development of the Problematic Pornography Use Scale. Addictive behaviors, 39(5), 861–868. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2014.01.027COPY 

But wait, all of these issues sound like they come from people who feel shame about their porn habits. Does shame create all of the harms we see studies finding related to pornography use? No. If we were to get rid of the shame, that would get rid of the issues, right? No, again.

The best studies show us that while shame can intensify the negative effects of porn, it doesn’t create or explain all of those effects. For example, in one study, researchers found that shame accounted for only 33% of the predictive variance in compulsive porn use levels.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A., (2011). The Roles of Shame and Guilt in Hypersexual Behavior, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 18, 12-29. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10720162.2011.551182COPY  In another study, researchers at UCLA, found that shame was not a significant predictor of compulsive pornography use on its own. Rather, anxiety and depression was a significant mediator. But, even when shame and depression were included together, this study found that they could only predict 37% of the variance in compulsive porn use levels. These studies suggest that there is much more going on with harmful porn consumption patterns than just shame.Reid, R. C., Stein, J. A., & Carpenter, B. N. (2011). Understanding the Roles of Shame and Neuroticism in a Patient Sample of Hypersexual Men. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 199 (4), 263-267. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0b013e3182125b96COPY 

Shame clearly makes things worse, but it doesn’t explain all that is going on for people who struggle with porn. Porn is harmful to the consumer even apart from shame, regardless of their relationship status.

Related: 6 Reasons Why People Who Don’t Watch Porn Are More Satisfied With Life

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The dark reality of porn

One common argument in defense of porn is that professional performers are all “consenting adults” who “love their jobs.”

But do they? Do we know for sure that anyone in any porn content gave their consent? Unfortunately, that is virtually impossible to guarantee, even from mainstream performers.

In the porn industry, the lines between abuse and consent are so blurred, that there’s no viable way to tell the difference. Performers can be coerced into participating and into lying about their experiences on set, and consumers wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell the difference even if they were watching something nonconsensual. Is it any wonder that if a performer has already been abused or pushed too far during filming, they might be afraid of inciting further abuse or industry scorn by speaking out?

The unfortunate truth is that the porn industry has an extensive history of profiting from nonconsensual content and abuse, often ignoring victims’ pleas to remove abusive content.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 Kristof, N. (2020). The children of Pornhub. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/sunday/pornhub-rape-trafficking.htmlCOPY 

Porn is a powerful, multi-billion dollar industry. Three porn sites—XVideos, XNXX, and Pornhub—all rank among the top 20 most trafficked websites in the world.Similarweb. (2021). Top websites ranking. Retrieved from https://www.similarweb.com/top-websites/COPY  And while Pornhub has received the most scrutiny as of late, it’s important to remember that virtually every major porn site has had issues with nonconsensual content and abuse.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 Burgess, M. (2020). Deepfake porn is now mainstream. and major sites are cashing in. Retrieved from https://www.wired.co.uk/article/deepfake-porn-websites-videos-lawCOPY Kristof, N. (2020). The children of Pornhub. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/sunday/pornhub-rape-trafficking.htmlCOPY Meineck, S., & Alfering, Y. (2020). We went undercover in xHamster's unpaid content moderation team. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en/article/akdzdp/inside-xhamsters-unpaid-content-moderation-teamCOPY 

Related: How The Porn Industry Profits From Nonconsensual Content And Abuse

It’s no wonder, then, that many victims feel powerless when confronting such a powerful industry. Mainstream porn performers can also be abused or taken advantage of in the industry with their abusers facing little to no repercussions. As more people begin to recognize the exploitative nature of the porn industry, however, many are calling for greater accountability and transparency.Kristof, N. (2020). The children of Pornhub. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/sunday/pornhub-rape-trafficking.htmlCOPY Reynolds, C. (2021). Survivors, NGOs call for criminal investigation of porn giant MindGeek. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/calls-for-criminal-investigation-mindgeek-1.5937117COPY 

But is there a viable way to completely guarantee that the porn you’re watching is truly consensual and abuse-free?

The point is, when you consume porn, there’s no way to know what kind of “consent” the actors have given. You can’t assume, just because someone appears in a porn video, that they knew beforehand exactly what would happen or that they had a real choice or the ability to stop what was being done.

Of course, we’re not claiming that all porn contains abuse or nonconsensual content. But in order for consumers to make informed decisions regarding porn, we think it’s important to point out that some pornographic content isn’t consensual—and it’s virtually impossible to guarantee which is which.

Related: When I Realize Porn Is Tied To Sex Trafficking, I Had To Stop Watching

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Porn changes how you see people

Research indicates that consuming porn can normalize sexual objectification, which can have profound consequences in the ways porn consumers view and treat others.

Not long ago, Princeton and Stanford psychologists performed a study showing a group of men two sets of pictures, some of fully-clothed women and others of women who had been sexualized and were barely clothed. The psychologists monitored their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is the part of the brain involved in recognizing human faces and distinguishing one person from another.

For the most part, the mPFC part of the brain was activated with each picture. However, when the subjects of the study were shown the pictures of sexualized women, this part of the brain was not activated. Basically, the automatic reaction in their brains suggested that they didn’t perceive the sexualized women as fully human, rather they saw them as objects, focusing on their bodies and body parts. The researchers concluded, “sexualized women were perceived as having the least control over their own lives” and “this suggests that sexualized women are more closely associated with being the objects, not the agents, of action as compared to clothed women.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 

Related: Can Porn Change The Way You Experience Healthy Human Connections?

Pornography promotes what is often referred to as the “objectifying gaze.”

As researchers Tracy Tylka and Ashley Kroon Van Diest note, “women in pornography are presented as the object of this sexual gaze, and they are defined according to how they will bring pleasure to the observer.”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 

The people in pornography are often explicitly presented as objects, and porn videos are listed and labeled with the specific acts they perform or physical attributes they possess so the observer can “order” porn that fits their exact expectations. With so many people consuming pornography, is it any wonder that many are developing attitudes of sexual entitlement and objectification? Reducing people to physical terms and self-serving labels is the exact type of sexual objectification that sets the stage for 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 

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Why This Matters

The effects of pornography are everywhere; it affects all of us, whether we are in a relationship or not.

Porn has the potential to negatively affect mental health, perpetuate sexual exploitation, and promote objectification. The harms of porn don’t discriminate based on what’s going on in your love life.

Related: 6 Ways Ditching Porn Can Improve Your Dating Potential

Whether your relationship status is single or not, you have a reason to fight against the toxic industry in our society. Will you join us?

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your compulsive behavior, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

Fight the New Drug may receive financial support from purchases made using affiliate links.

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