Forever Families
Mail to Friend

Use and Harms of Pornography

AConfusing World

Tosay the least, pornography is a controversial and confusing subject.Researchers, politicians, pornography producers, pornography consumers, thoseacquainted with consumers, and those passively exposed to erotic media (througheveryday movies, advertisements, and internet pop-ups) have differing opinionsand values toward pornography.

Supportersof pornography argue, "It's my choice and my right. People have been doing thisfor centuries - it's just what people do. It's all in good fun, and I'm nothurting anyone. So what could be the harm in using it?" Some think ofpornography as sinful and immoral, while others think it can bring couplestogether. Politicians bicker about it. Pornography-producers, movie-makers, andowners of various franchises depend on mild to highly erotic images to selltheir products. With an obvious motive for promoting a no-harm image, suchbusinessmen minimize the negative effects of pornography to consumers. Thosetrying to understand the role of pornography, can be left feeling confused andlost.

Theremainder of this article will briefly look at the meaning and prevalence ofpornography as well as a more in depth look at the harmful effects ofpornography use.

Itshould be known that it is not the author's intent to put down or degrade thosewho use pornography, but rather to build understanding and compassion betweenfamily members who otherwise may be feeling ashamed, confused, and alone.

TheMeaning of Pornography

Sexualaddictions specialist, Dr. Victor Cline (2002), describes the origin andmeaning of the word "pornography":

The word 'pornography' comes from the Greekwords 'porno' and 'graphic' meaning 'depictions of the activities of whores'.... Incommon parlance [or, phraseology], it usually means 'material that is sexuallyexplicit 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 withthe intent to sexually stimulate. If the work was not intended to stimulate butnevertheless causes sexual arousal in an individual, it constitutes pornographyfor that person. If you find yourself asking whether a work is pornographic,the question itself suggests the material makes you uncomfortable. That shouldbe enough to tell you to avoid it" (2005, 47).

Birch (2002), a director of a Christian-basedtherapeutic and educational agency for families, remarks: "our culture isfilled with images of sexuality. Some of these images portray healthysexuality. Many, however, depict inappropriate, obscene and sometimes perverseperspectives on sexuality, depictions that are commonly regarded aspornography" (p. 18).

Prevalenceof Pornography Use

Ina day where sexually explicit images are easy to access through home computers,cable stations, 900 numbers, the near-by gas station, or the next doorneighbor, it is naive to assume a friend or loved one has never had experiencewith, or been tempted by, some kind of pornography.Dr. Laaser (2000), executive director of the Christian Alliance for SexualRecovery, reported during a U.S. Congressional hearing that the average age aperson in the U.S. is first exposed to pornography is approximately five yearsold.

Zogby International and Focus on the Family conducted a nationwidesurvey of 1,031 adults and found that "...20 percent of American adults - as many as40 million - click on sexually oriented websites. Eighteen percent ofrespondents who are married visit such sites. Almost the same percentage whocalled themselves born-again Christians told Zogby they indulge in onlinepornography" (Walker, 2002, ¶ 3).

Howis Pornography Harmful?

FrankYork, former editor in Public Policy for Focus on the Family (a pro-familypolitical and educational organization) as well as writer and researcher onpornography, and Jan LaRue, Chief Counsel, Concerned Women for America, assert,"The most common damage, the one that affects everyone who views porn, is thatit 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, objectifiesand degrades women, links sex with violence and children, encouragespromiscuity, and increases susceptibility to sexually acting out in waysharmful to others (Cline, 2002).

GaryR. Brooks (1995), psychologist and assistant chief of the psychology service atthe Department of Veteran Affairs in Temple, Texas, calls the affect of pornographyon people's perceptions "The Centerfold Syndrome." In his book, TheCenterfold Syndrome, Dr. Brooks (1995) explains that pornography alterspeople's perceptions in the following ways:

  • Voyeurism. Pornography teaches its users to focus on looking at people instead of forming real relationships.
  • Objectification. Men, women, and children are portrayed as sexual objects, whose worth lies in the size and shape of their body parts.
  • Validation. After 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 people.
  • Fear 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 and spiritually.

Thesexual promiscuity encouraged by pornography also increases out-of wedlockpregnancies and the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such ashuman 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 anSTD each year, accounting for 3 million cases, and people under the age of 25account for two thirds of all STDs in the United States" (¶ 2).

Lastly,pornography use can develop into a compulsion. A compulsion is the intense urgeto do a certain behavior regardless of negative consequences. Compulsions canbe so powerful that people often feel helpless to deny them.

Manyresearchers, clinicians and organizations think of compulsive pornography useas an addiction. Like a cocaine addict is driven to use cocaine at any cost, sowill a pornography addict seek out sexual material despite feelings of guilt,destruction of family relationships, divorce, overwhelming debt, and legalconsequences (like jail time) for illegal activities associated with pornography(such as downloading or transmitting child porn over the internet). Pornographycompulsions are very difficult to break, but it can be done. Learning toovercome compulsions usually takes a long time and often requires the help of aqualified therapist.

Withthese kinds of consequences, parents, spouses, and children need to be educatedon the harmful effects of pornography. Parents and spouses should learn how todetect signs of pornography use in the home, how to protect their family frompornography before it becomes a problem, and how to handle the problem shouldthey learn a loved one has become involved with pornography.


Dr.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. Hesurveyed 9,300 respondents on a 59-item survey on the MSNBC website and foundthat 83% of pornography consumers were male and 17% were female. Someresearchers have commented that the ratio of male to female users has changedover the last four years, with greater numbers of women consuming pornography(Morahan-Martin, 1998).

Researchhas shown that men and women are generally interested in different kinds ofsexually-arousing material. Dr. Cooper (1998) found that men were much morevisually 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 anddevelop relationships.


Wemay try to convince ourselves that pornography is just harmless fun, butresearch and experience are showing us otherwise. Pornography has both subtleand blatant negative consequences. People who claim to use pornography for funmay want to consider the following questions:

  • What are the subtle ways pornography is changing me and my approach to relationships? Is it drawing me closer to others or pulling me away?
  • What is pornography teaching me about sexual relationships and about the worth of people in general?
  • How does my pornography use affect my partner?
  • Is 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 other people?  

Comparinga genuinely intimate relationship with a pornographic relationship is likecomparing a diamond to a stone. One is infinitely more lovely, satisfying, andvaluable than the other. So, why would someone be willing to give up a brilliantdiamond for a dull stone?

Moreoften 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 istrying to replace through using pornography?

  • Are they lonely?
  • Do they fear being in an intimate relationship?
  • Are they lacking the opportunity or skills to form a close relationship?
  • Are 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.

Otherresources are:


  • False Intimacy by Dr. Harry Schaumburg
  • Out of the Shadows by Dr. Patrick Carnes
  • Don't Call It Love by Dr. Patrick Carnes


Writtenby Amber Brewer and Rachel Jamieson, Research Assistants, and edited by Jill C.Manning and Rory C. Reid, Sexual Addiction Therapists in Private Practice, andStephen 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.

Cline,V. B. (2002). Pornography's effectson adults and children. Retrieved June 15, 2004.

Cooper, A. (1998). Sexuality and the Internet: Surfing into thenew millennium. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 1(2), 181-187.

Laaser, M. (2000).  The availability of obscene material on theinternet. Hearing of Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer ProtectionSubcommittee of the House Commerce Committee, May 23.

Morahan-Martin, J. (1998). The gender gap in Internet use: Why menuse the internet more than women|A literary review. CyberPsychology &Behavior, 1, 3-10.

Reid, R. C.(2005, February).  Theroad back: Abandoning pornography. Ensign, 47.  Retrieved March 17,2005

Walker, K. (2002). Internet pornography frequentedby 20% of U.S. adults, studies show. Retrieved August 3, 2004.

York, F. & LaRue, J. (2002). Protecting your child in anx-rated world: What you need to know to make a difference.  Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.