When you ask people whether or not they use the internet these days, chances are high you are going to get an emphatic “yes” from everyone from grade school kids to senior citizens. But not all internet sites are created equal: some are incredibly popular and highly trafficked. Apparently, there’s this little internet site you might want to check out called Twitter. Somewhere around 160 million people visit Twitter.com every month, and I must admit I’m a frequent visitor and so are most of my friends. If you are in the mood to do a little shopping, Amazon has pretty much taken over the internet with about 110 million visitors every month. Of course, no discussion about popular websites is complete without a mention of Netflix, the site that could singlehandedly put cable TV companies out of business with over 46 million monthly visitors. But let me give you a statistic that might completely shock you: Porn sites trump Twitter, Amazon, and Netflix combined with over 450 million visitors per month. In fact, Internet sex sites are responsible for close to 30% of all the bandwidth consumed on the internet on any given day. Is that crazy or what? And it isn’t just a small percentage of the population that is watching sex. Somewhere around 65-70% of men reading this article, and 30% of women, look at porn. I don’t have space in this article to address the wide ranging effect pornography is having on our adolescents, but I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves: Research shows that almost 70% of boys have had some exposure to pornography by the time they reach 11 years old and 97% of girls have viewed pornography by age 16.
The interesting thing about our culture is that many people are under the impression that pornography is benign in the effect that it has on our relationships. “It doesn’t hurt anyone” or even “It’s a healthy thing for me” are common responses I get from people when questioned about their pornography use. Unfortunately, just because you don’t believe something is harmful doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful. The government gave soldiers as many cigarettes as they could smoke during the Second World War. Now you can hardly find a place to smoke in public. News flash: Cigarettes are bad for you. So is pornography.
Let me give you a quick snapshot of what I’ve learned about the negative effects of pornography through an examination of the research and my own experience of watching how pornography has affected my clients in the clinical office.
- Pornography makes you less appreciative of your partner
Every time you watch pornography, you are in school. Here are the lessons you are learning. A real body isn’t good enough. One body isn’t good enough. Your partner’s body isn’t good enough. The research shows essentially that pornography affects how satisfied an individual is with their partner and greatly impacts how much they appreciate and enjoy sex with their partner. People who watch pornography regularly are less satisfied with their partner’s appearance and sexual behavior. One study even shows that women whose committed partners watched porn led to a decrease in the amount of real-life sex they had. The men were even found to be more self-focused, more dominating, and less attentive toward their partners.
- Pornography affects commitment
Exposure to pornography creates this sense in people that they are missing out on something sexually, and it essentially decreases their commitment to their partner. The research supports this fact very clearly, with both men and women reporting lower levels of commitment than those who don’t view porn. Other studies show that individuals who don’t watch pornography had lower levels of negative communication with their partners, were more committed to their relationships, and had higher levels of sexual satisfaction. And here’s the deal-breaker stat for anyone who believes porn is benign in nature: the rate of infidelity among those who don’t watch porn is more than half of those who do watch porn. Enough said.
- Pornography can become addictive
We see people in the clinical office every day who have become such chronic regular users of pornography that they meet the classic criteria for addiction. Brain scans indicate that pornography activates the pleasure control centers of the brain, just like cocaine or heroin or gambling or any other activity that can become addictive. When this happens many times over the course of weeks or months, you can build a tolerance to the pornography and will need to watch for longer periods of time or will seek out more deviant depictions of sexuality to get the same kind of stimulation. Some individuals also suffer withdrawal symptoms, and might get extremely nervous or agitated when they don’t have access to pornography.
The bottom line is this: even though pornography is often accepted as a normal part of our culture, the research is becoming clear that it is bad for you and your relationships. In some cases it can turn into a highly addictive compulsive problem. My hope is that we can all begin a conversation about pornography and whether or not we have become callous to the effect it might be having on our relationships and our families. My challenge to you is to start the conversations. If you are in a relationship, ask you partner about their perspective on porn and the role it should play in your life together. And please, if you have children don’t be afraid to discuss it openly and honestly. I’m sure their friends are not hesitating to give opinions about pornography and sex! Finally, if you or someone you love has crossed the line from the occasional use of pornography to a more habitual addictive process it is important to seek professional help now.