At a recent press conference at the National Press Club, scholars from Princeton’s Witherspoon Institute sounded an alarm telling the nation that pornography is more prevalent and more harmful than most people realize. Their findings contradict the current attitude that pornography is harmless entertainment. They also exposed the fact that pornography has moved out of the sleazy dives into our homes through 24-hour-a-day, easy Internet access. Actually, the data shows that porn has taken over much of the nation’s entertainment; it is addictive, it’s pervasive, and it’s harmful.
Americans rent 800 million pornographic videos every year – that’s one in five of all video rentals. One in four women worry that their partner’s pornography habit is “out of control.” More than two-thirds (66 percent) of men ages 18 to 34 years of age visit one or more of the 40,000-plus pornography websites every month.The pornography industry produces 11,000 new porn movies annually – far more than Hollywood’s annual output of 400 mainstream movies.
These movies are more than the “skin flicks” of old; they are far more violent with hard-core degradation and sexual exploitation. There is a total absence of sexual and/or emotional attachment; instead there is a sad and often horrific objectification of girls and women. Mary Ann Layden, psychologist and scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, described a client who she said is typical of the hundreds of porn addicts that she counsels: “He had a beautiful and eager wife waiting in bed for him; but instead of a ‘real’ sex partner, he preferred to go online.” Dr. Layden cited studies indicating that men who consume porn typically find real women less attractive and often become impotent or less satisfied with their partners than those who avoid pornography. She said that the more porn a man watches, the less satisfied he is in the bedroom.
Pamela Paul, author of Pornified: How Pornography is Damaging our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families, explained the effect on men who consume pornography, “Pornography touches all aspects of their existence. Their work days become interrupted, their hobbies were tossed aside, and their family lives were disrupted. Some men even lost their jobs, their wives, and their children.” Dr. Layden added, “The marriage relationship is traumatically damaged and decreased in terms of the emotional intimacy, which is actually the cornerstone of the marriage.”
In the preface to her book, Miss Paul comments that the use of sexually explicit language and crudity – especially as it relates to terms referring to girls and women – illustrates the ways that pornography has changed our culture. Pornography is “contaminating all our relationships between men and women,” said Dr. Layden.
A study conducted by Phil and Vickie Burress at Citizens for Community Values found that the age when children are introduced to pornography has dropped from 11 years of age to nine. All the experts agree that the longer a person is exposed to porn the more hard-core the material they crave. Over the years, they begin to seek more and more obscene, crude, and violent images. Many of the addicts begin acting out what they have seen on the screen. Research shows that pornography addicts are six times more likely to rape. In fact, porn addiction doubles the likelihood that a man will sexually assault his partner. Of the rapists and child molesters who are incarcerated, 83 percent of the rapists and 67 percent of the child molesters consume high rates of pornography.
In a recent Pediatrics article (February 2, 2007, Vol. 119, No. 2, pp. 247-257), Jamis Wolak and David Finkelhor reported on their survey of 1,500 youth Internet users aged 10-17 years to determine the extent of these boys’ and girls’ exposure to online pornography. They found that 42 percent of them had been exposed to online pornography over the past year with 66 percent saying the exposure was unwanted. Alarmingly, they found that youths with certain vulnerabilities (depression, delinquency tendencies, and interpersonal victimization) were more likely to be exposed to pornography.
Such exposure by young people is troubling because William Struthers, a neuroscientist, psychology professor at Wheaton College, and author of Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, shows that pornography alters the anatomy and physiology of the brain. He says that pornography results in an “anatomical rewiring of the brain,” suggesting that “Internet porn is the crack cocaine of sexual addiction.” A simple explanation is that the brain becomes neurochemically dependent or addicted – that is, it will crave activities (such as looking at pornography) that elevate those neurochemicals to produce the feelings and sensations that result.
Our colleagues at Focus on the Family have a website to help those who are addicted to pornography (www.pureintimacy.org). The 12-step ministry, Faithful and True, has a website to help sex addicts and their families (www.helpandhope.org).
While these programs are helpful for those already in the grip of pornography, it is up to all of us to help parents and others who interact with the nation’s young people to recognize and warn about the potential consequences of pornography before more of our young people become exposed and risk a porn addiction. There is a wealth of important scholarly and research articles on pornography available at a website provided by the Washington, D.C.-based coalition with which I work (www.PornHarms.com).