Couples who believe that viewing pornography is morally acceptable, and who have even heard experts say limited porn use can be “fine” may now be interested in research showing how porn use negatively affects intimate relationships. The research is causing experts to change their recommendations and advise couples (and individuals) that pornography is harmful.
Laissez-fair attitudes about porn are changing, and some heavy hitters have recently voiced their concerns with how widespread porn use has affected modern culture. Following are a few summaries of these changing views and a brief explanation of what experts are learning about what they call “arousal addiction.”
Time Magazine’s April 2016 cover story “Porn and the Threat to Virility” is one mainstream example of how a culture that used to be accepting of porn use is now highlighting how its use can be harmful. Men who grew up using porn as teens have started a movement to expose the harm it has caused in their lives, starting with decreased virility and libido.
For a fairly entertaining explanation of the brain changes that occur with porn viewing, view this TED Talk by Gary Wilson called “The great porn experiment. Wilson explains the physical changes that occur in the brain with porn viewing and how they lead to “arousal addiction.” He also shares experiences from the new control group of men who have become ex-users as a result of widespread erectile dysfunction, depression, social anxiety and memory/focus problems that disappeared once they gave up porn. Pornography use can be more detrimental to teens because of the increased plasticity of their brains, says Wilson. In fact, older men improve their symptoms faster than younger men, but both of them can reverse the negative effects and often feel a “rebirth” after giving up porn, Wilson says.
Relationship experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman released an “Open Letter on Porn” in April that changes their stance on the acceptability of porn use. “Research on the effects of pornography use, especially one person viewing pornographic images online, shows that pornography can hurt a couple’s relationship,” say the Gottmans. Research suggests pornography can be a “supernormal stimulus” that causes interest to decrease in their normal sexual partner.
“Pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony,” the Gottmans conclude. Read their letter for further details; I will merely highlight a few points they make here:
- Use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.
- Porn use threatens a relationship’s intimacy by causing the partner using it to turn away from intimate interaction with their partner.
- Because the person watching porn is in total control of his or her sexual experience, that person may form the unrealistic expectation that sex with their partner will also be totally under their control.
- Porn sites often include violence toward women and perpetuate ideas that violence is acceptable.
- Porn use can become an addiction causing the same brain mechanism changes that occur with other addictions, such as gambling or drug use.
- Porn use can lead to a decrease in relationship trust and an increase in affairs.
In other (not as recent) research, a Journal of Neurosurgery and Neurosciences (Surgical Neurology International) published an article entitled “Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective” by Donald Hilton and Clark Watts, who outline the chemical changes and anatomical changes that occur in the brain with various types of addictions, including addiction to pornography use. They studied the physical changes that occur with porn use as compared with eating addictions, cocaine and opioid addiction, and others.
Some conclusions made in this scientific paper:
“In 2006 world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars, more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined. This is no casual, inconsequential phenomenon, yet there is a tendency to trivialize the possible social and biologic effects of pornography. The sex industry has successfully characterized any objection to pornography as being from the religious/moral perspective; they then dismiss these objections and First Amendment infringements. If pornography addiction is viewed objectively, evidence indicates that it does indeed cause harm in humans with regard to pair bonding.”
As with the conclusions by the Gottmans, Hilton and Watts also express concern that data demonstrates a strong correlation with regard to pornography inducing violent attitudes against women. They say it is irresponsible not to address this issue considering the current patterns of porn use. (In 2001 87% of college age men viewed porn, 50% weekly and 20% every day or two, 31% women viewing as well.)
The bottom line is that experts are now realizing porn use interferes with healthy intimacy between partners, changes the brain chemistry, negatively affects sexual performance, and can negatively affect performance in other areas of life.
Does this research change your views on pornography?
Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.