There is this pervasive and deceptive myth among our culture today that porn doesn’t hurt anyone. Some even go so far as to claim that premarital sex, as long as it is consensual and “safe” is perfectly harmless as well.
I disagree with these claims. I believe porn is a huge problem. It’s a personal problem for many and a cultural problem for all. You may think that you have not been affected negatively by porn, but even if you yourself have never watched it, you have definitely been affected because it’s embedded in the surrounding culture. The staggering size of the pornography industry, its influence upon the media, and the acceleration of technology, paired with the accessibility, anonymity, and affordability of porn all contribute to its increasing impact upon the culture. Not to mention its dark links to the sexual slave trade…
It is an absolute myth, an incredibly false insinuation that porn won’t affect your relationships. The sad truth is that more and more men, and even many women, are viewing porn regularly; it cannot help but shape sexual market dynamics. And studies have shown that the tandem of porn and masturbation actually reduces the value of intercourse because it is much more physiologically satisfying than masturbation alone. Porn becomes easier to view and access, and so must women (and men).
Pornography actually deeply affects you whether you’ve ever viewed it or not, and it is helpful to understand some of its negative effects, whether you are a man or woman, struggling with watching it, outright watching it without a care, have a significant other who watches it, or you’re simply a mom or dad with a son or daughter who may potentially watch it. There is a plethora of research on the detrimental effects of pornography (and I do not think that what follows are necessarily the worst of them, and is certainly not an exhaustive list), but here are seven negative effects of porn upon men and women:
1. Porn contributes to social and psychological problems with men (and women).
It has been noted by extensive research that young men who become addicted to porn, “neglect their schoolwork, spend huge amounts of money they don’t have, become isolated from others, and often suffer depression.” Dr. William Struthers, who has a PhD in biopsychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, confirms some of these and adds more, finding that men who use porn become controlling, highly introverted, have high anxiety, narcissistic, curious, have low self-esteem, depressed, dissociative, distractible, and discontent. Ironically, while viewing porn creates momentary intensely pleasurable experiences, it ends up leading to several negative lingering psychological experiences.
2. Porn rewrites the male brain (and female brain).
Dr. Struthers elaborates that as men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on pornographic images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with woman are routed… They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image. They fail to see women as the beautiful, valuable, soul-having, wonderful coequal partners they are.
In a similar vein regarding porn’s effect upon the brain, an article entitled, “The Porn Myth,” argues that pornography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: “It is Pavlovian.” An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros and enhance it, but rather dilutes it.
Porn honestly becomes like an addictive drug. It gives you a high, but it never actually delivers what you really want, or need. Because of this, statistics show that viewing porn and/or masterbation becomes an addictive behavior, used to cope with times of stress and conflict. It also leads to darker and more perverse things for those who continue to watch porn, as what used to satisfy them has become boring and is no longer stimulating enough.
3. Porn turns sex into nothing more than masturbation with some help.
Sex becomes self-serving. It becomes about your pleasure and not the self-giving, mutually reciprocating intimacy that it was designed for. We become lonely, angry, empty, discontent, and frustrated. Because all frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations; and porn creates unreal, unhealthy, and unattainable expectations on sex.
4. Porn demeans and objectifies women (and men).
This occurs from hard-core to soft-core pornography. In the book ‘Pornified,’ the author quotes the research of one psychologist who has researched pornography at Texas A&M, the research states “Soft-core pornography has a very negative effect on men as well. The problem with soft-core pornography is that it’s voyeurism teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings.” According to the author, pornography gives men the false impression that sex and pleasure are entirely divorced from relationships. In other words, pornography is inherently self-centered (something a man does by himself, for himself) by using another women as the means to pleasure, as yet another product to consume.
The author goes on to reference one experiment that revealed a rather shocking further effect of porn: “men and women who were exposed to large amounts of pornography were significantly less likely to want daughters than those who had not indulged in viewing porn. Who would want their own little girl to be treated that way?” Also, how does a father who habitually looks at porn relate normally and healthily to his teenage to young-20’s-year-old daughter, or her friends?
Again, it needs to be emphasized, that this is not an effect that only rests upon those who have viewed porn. The massive consumption of porn and the the size of the porn industry has hypersexualized the entire culture. Men and women are born into a pornified culture, and women are the biggest losers of this tragedy. This book continues, “By inundating girls and women with the message that their most worthy attribute is their sexual hotness and crowding out other messages, pop culture is grooming them just like an individual perpetrator would. It is slowly chipping away at their self-esteem, stripping them of a sense of themselves as whole human beings, and providing them with an identity that emphasizes sex and de-emphasizes every other human attribute.”
5. Porn squashes the beauty of a real naked woman (and men too).
“For most of human history, the erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” (Wired for Intimacy) But this unfortunate fact has been widely noted and observed by many others.
Similar to how the philosopher Plato didn’t want the artists in the city, because of how they could distort or aggrandize things to cause people to seek a hyper-reality that doesn’t exist… porn is a cheap, deceptive “art” that robs us of being able to know and appreciate true beauty.
6. Porn has a numbing effect upon reality.
It makes real sex and even the real world boring in comparison. It gives us a distorted sense of a hyper-reality, and false expectations that will never be met in the real world. It particularly anesthetizes the emotional life of a man. Pornography leaves men desensitized to both outrage and to excitement, leading to an overall diminishment of feeling and eventually to dissatisfaction with the emotional tugs of everyday life… Eventually those who watch pornography are left with a confusing mix of super-sized expectations about sex and numbed emotions about women. When a man gets bored with pornography, both his fantasy and real worlds become imbued with indifference. The real world often gets really boring because it can’t compete with hyper-real things that don’t really exist.
7. Porn lies about what it means to be male and female.
The author of “Pornified,” records how porn tells a false story about men and women. In the story of porn, women are “one-dimensional” (they never say ‘no,’ never get pregnant, and can’t wait to have sex with any man and please them in whatever way imaginable, or even unimaginable). On the other hand, the story porn tells about men is that they are “soulless, unfeeling, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. These men demonstrated zero empathy, respect, or love for the women they have sex with…”
A five second orgasm not triggered directly by your spouse, significant other, or partner, even if it is self-induced, isn’t worth all of this… is it?
There is even a new movie coming out soon, that was written and directed by ￼Joseph Gordon-Levitt, called “Don Jon.” It’s about a New Jersey guy who is dedicated to his family, friends, and church; he develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn, begins to objectify everything, and becomes very dissatisfied with sex, relationships, and life. So he embarks on a journey to find a more gratifying sex life, and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.
If fullness of life could be found in sexual stimulation, or if it was just a matter of making babies, the “forget formality and just have sex” approach might temporarily satisfy cravings and cause enough conception. But God had much more in mind with romance than orgasms or even procreation, and so should we. So must we.
When people in the world are expecting less and less of each other in dating, God isn’t. So among those who are single and want to honor God’s design for marriage, we have to work harder in our “not-yet-married” relationships to preserve what marriage ought to picture and provide.
The vision of marriage we see in God’s Word (the beautiful, radical display of God’s infinite, gracious, persevering love for sinners) makes it worth it to date, and date well. The world’s approach by today’s cultural standards can provide fun and sex and children and eventually even some level of commitment, but it cannot lead to the life-giving Jesus, after whom our marriages are to take their cues.
So, what about in your past and/or present dating relationships? If you go somewhere secluded and you’re all alone, do you think through how that scenario might play out beforehand? If you guys end up making out, before you make out, when is the last time you prayed, begged, and pleaded with our Father to work in the relationship to bring about His purpose and His will, for both of you to get more of Jesus through your relationship. Have you sincerely pleaded with Christ to overwhelm you guys with the joy of His Spirit instead of feelings of pleasure from hormones and flesh. I would dare to contend that the most sober mind is the mind overwhelmed in awe and humble adoration of God’s holiness and glory. We should be begging for the weight of His infinite glory to take our breath away, not some momentary assurance, fleeting pleasure, or short-lived gratification from a fellow finite human being.
So please, take the time to think some of this through. Praise God for the amazing technology we have today, and pursue pleasure in holiness. Because our relationships, and marriage are not so much about our happiness, but rather our holiness through sanctification.
I would also like to recommend these related articles:
“The New Narcotic” by Morgan Bennett, JD candidate at Pepperdine University School of Law
“Pornography: The New Narcotic” by Desiring God
“Sexual Sin in the Ministry” by Harry Schaumburg
“I Hate Porn” by Desiring God
“Porn, Pride, and Praise: An Interview with Heath Lambert” Authors on the Line
Dear men: PORN IS AN AFFAIR. Just ask my ex-wife. by Donny Pauling
“9 Things You Should Know About Pornography & the Brain” by Joe Carter