say the least, pornography is a controversial and confusing subject.
Researchers, politicians, pornography producers, pornography consumers, those
acquainted with consumers, and those passively exposed to erotic media (through
everyday movies, advertisements, and internet pop-ups) have differing opinions
and values toward pornography.
of pornography argue, "It's my choice and my right. People have been doing this
for centuries - it's just what people do. It's all in good fun, and I'm not
hurting anyone. So what could be the harm in using it?" Some think of
pornography as sinful and immoral, while others think it can bring couples
together. Politicians bicker about it. Pornography-producers, movie-makers, and
owners of various franchises depend on mild to highly erotic images to sell
their products. With an obvious motive for promoting a no-harm image, such
businessmen minimize the negative effects of pornography to consumers. Those
trying to understand the role of pornography, can be left feeling confused and
remainder of this article will briefly look at the meaning and prevalence of
pornography as well as a more in depth look at the harmful effects of
should be known that it is not the author's intent to put down or degrade those
who use pornography, but rather to build understanding and compassion between
family members who otherwise may be feeling ashamed, confused, and alone.
Meaning of Pornography
addictions specialist, Dr. Victor Cline (2002), describes the origin and
meaning of the word "pornography":
The word 'pornography' comes from the Greek
words 'porno' and 'graphic' meaning 'depictions of the activities of whores'.... In
common parlance [or, phraseology], it usually means 'material that is sexually
explicit and intended primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal....' (¶ 4)
Rory Reid, sexual compulsions specialist,
extends this meaning: "Pornography is any visual or written medium created with
the intent to sexually stimulate. If the work was not intended to stimulate but
nevertheless causes sexual arousal in an individual, it constitutes pornography
for that person. If you find yourself asking whether a work is pornographic,
the question itself suggests the material makes you uncomfortable. That should
be enough to tell you to avoid it" (2005, 47).
Birch (2002), a director of a Christian-based
therapeutic and educational agency for families, remarks: "our culture is
filled with images of sexuality. Some of these images portray healthy
sexuality. Many, however, depict inappropriate, obscene and sometimes perverse
perspectives on sexuality, depictions that are commonly regarded as
pornography" (p. 18).
of Pornography Use
a day where sexually explicit images are easy to access through home computers,
cable stations, 900 numbers, the near-by gas station, or the next door
neighbor, it is naive to assume a friend or loved one has never had experience
with, or been tempted by, some kind of pornography.
Dr. Laaser (2000), executive director of the Christian Alliance for Sexual
Recovery, reported during a U.S. Congressional hearing that the average age a
person in the U.S. is first exposed to pornography is approximately five years
Zogby International and Focus on the Family conducted a nationwide
survey of 1,031 adults and found that "...20 percent of American adults - as many as
40 million - click on sexually oriented websites. Eighteen percent of
respondents who are married visit such sites. Almost the same percentage who
called themselves born-again Christians told Zogby they indulge in online
pornography" (Walker, 2002, ¶ 3).
is Pornography Harmful?
York, former editor in Public Policy for Focus on the Family (a pro-family
political and educational organization) as well as writer and researcher on
pornography, and Jan LaRue, Chief Counsel, Concerned Women for America, assert,
"The most common damage, the one that affects everyone who views porn, is that
it warps the person's perception of people, relationships, and sex" (2002, p.
14). Pornography teaches unrealistic and inappropriate sexual expectations,
decreases satisfaction with monogamy and lowers family loyalties, objectifies
and degrades women, links sex with violence and children, encourages
promiscuity, and increases susceptibility to sexually acting out in ways
harmful to others (Cline, 2002).
R. Brooks (1995), psychologist and assistant chief of the psychology service at
the Department of Veteran Affairs in Temple, Texas, calls the affect of pornography
on people's perceptions "The Centerfold Syndrome." In his book, The
Centerfold Syndrome, Dr. Brooks (1995) explains that pornography alters
people's perceptions in the following ways:
- Voyeurism. Pornography
teaches its users to focus on looking at people instead of forming real
- Objectification. Men, women, and
children are portrayed as sexual objects, whose worth lies in the size and
shape of their body parts.
repeatedly seeing people in an idealized form, pornography users begin to
judge people's worth by their physical attractiveness. They feel masculine
or feminine only when they are with beautiful people, and are less likely
to be committed when their partner goes through life-changes (age,
childbearing, etc.) that decrease their youthfulness or good looks.
- Trophyism. Romantic
partners are trophies to be displayed and owned, not to be treated as real
of true intimacy. Because people portrayed in pornographic pictures
have no demands or expectations beyond sexual-arousal and pleasure,
pornography users do not learn how to form real relationships with others.
They do not learn how to be selfless, sacrificing, and committed; thus,
they come to fear true intimacy that requires them to relate emotionally
sexual promiscuity encouraged by pornography also increases out-of wedlock
pregnancies and the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as
human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Teens are particularly vulnerable to this.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education
(2001): "Adolescents have the highest STD rates.
Approximately one fourth of sexually active adolescents become infected with an
STD each year, accounting for 3 million cases, and people under the age of 25
account for two thirds of all STDs in the United States" (¶ 2).
pornography use can develop into a compulsion. A compulsion is the intense urge
to do a certain behavior regardless of negative consequences. Compulsions can
be so powerful that people often feel helpless to deny them.
researchers, clinicians and organizations think of compulsive pornography use
as an addiction. Like a cocaine addict is driven to use cocaine at any cost, so
will a pornography addict seek out sexual material despite feelings of guilt,
destruction of family relationships, divorce, overwhelming debt, and legal
consequences (like jail time) for illegal activities associated with pornography
(such as downloading or transmitting child porn over the internet). Pornography
compulsions are very difficult to break, but it can be done. Learning to
overcome compulsions usually takes a long time and often requires the help of a
these kinds of consequences, parents, spouses, and children need to be educated
on the harmful effects of pornography. Parents and spouses should learn how to
detect signs of pornography use in the home, how to protect their family from
pornography before it becomes a problem, and how to handle the problem should
they learn a loved one has become involved with pornography.
Al Cooper (1998), formerly the clinical director of the San Jose Marital and Sexuality Center, conducted one of the largest studies of internet sexuality to date. He
surveyed 9,300 respondents on a 59-item survey on the MSNBC website and found
that 83% of pornography consumers were male and 17% were female. Some
researchers have commented that the ratio of male to female users has changed
over the last four years, with greater numbers of women consuming pornography
has shown that men and women are generally interested in different kinds of
sexually-arousing material. Dr. Cooper (1998) found that men were much more
visually stimulated and tended to prefer websites with pornographic pictures.
On the other hand, women were stimulated by romance and emotional connection.
So they generally favored sexual chat rooms where they could interact and
may try to convince ourselves that pornography is just harmless fun, but
research and experience are showing us otherwise. Pornography has both subtle
and blatant negative consequences. People who claim to use pornography for fun
may want to consider the following questions:
are the subtle ways pornography is changing me and my approach to
relationships? Is it drawing me closer to others or pulling me away?
is pornography teaching me about sexual relationships and about the worth
of people in general?
does my pornography use affect my partner?
it really possible to separate what I repetitively and regularly see in a
pornographic movie, website, or chat room from the way I look at and treat
a genuinely intimate relationship with a pornographic relationship is like
comparing a diamond to a stone. One is infinitely more lovely, satisfying, and
valuable than the other. So, why would someone be willing to give up a brilliant
diamond for a dull stone?
often than not, regular pornography use is about trying to fill unmet needs.
You may ask yourself, what is lacking in this person's life that he or she is
trying to replace through using pornography?
they fear being in an intimate relationship?
they lacking the opportunity or skills to form a close relationship?
they trying to calm some inner anxiety?
Many resources are available to those seeking to learn more about pornography. For an extensive list of resources, see the article, "Helpful Resources for Pornography Addictions and Other Problematic Sexual Behaviors" found at this website.
by Dr. Harry Schaumburg
of the Shadows by
Dr. Patrick Carnes
Love by Dr. Patrick Carnes
by Amber Brewer and Rachel Jamieson, Research Assistants, and edited by Jill C.
Manning and Rory C. Reid, Sexual Addiction Therapists in Private Practice, and
Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education (2001). Sexuality,
contraception, and the media. Retrieved on June 15, 2004.
Birch, P. J. (2002). Pornography use: Consequences and cures. Marriage and Families, 18-25. Retrieved June 15, 2004.
V. B. (2002). Pornography's effects
on adults and children. Retrieved June 15, 2004.
Cooper, A. (1998). Sexuality and the Internet: Surfing into the
new millennium. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 1(2), 181-187.
Laaser, M. (2000). The availability of obscene material on the
internet. Hearing of Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection
Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee, May 23.
Morahan-Martin, J. (1998). The gender gap in Internet use: Why men
use the internet more than women|A literary review. CyberPsychology &
Behavior, 1, 3-10.
Reid, R. C.
(2005, February). The
road back: Abandoning pornography. Ensign, 47. Retrieved March 17,
Walker, K. (2002). Internet pornography frequented
by 20% of U.S. adults, studies show. Retrieved August 3, 2004.
York, F. & LaRue, J. (2002). Protecting your child in an
x-rated world: What you need to know to make a difference. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.