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How serious is the porn issue we face today, both for ourselves and for the next generation?

Should we be panicking, or is it all going to be okay? I say neither… but also kind of both?

All during the month of April, we’re going to be looking at the porn epidemic and try to get a handle on what the right response should be. Last week we started it off by looking at the effects of porn, and by reminding us that not all porn users are male. Today I want to help us get some perspective on the porn problem, so that we take it seriously, but we don’t make it bigger than it is–like I talked about in my podcast on how porn is like coronavirus. So I asked Connor to dig in to the research and write it up for me, and I’m going to turn it over to him in just a minute.

But first, I want to remind us of something. Yesterday was Easter, the day that we remember Jesus’ resurrection. Because of Him, we are no longer slaves to sin. Because of Him, we now have the Holy Spirit, and that means this:

 

For God did not give us a Spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Let’s remember that, as I turn this over to Connor.


Some people may know me as Sheila’s son-in-law (husband of Rebecca) or as editor and occasional voice on her podcast. Some of you may be aware that I am the technical director for the site, whatever that means (I know what it means, but the description of what I do is technical and boring to most). I have also previously written for Sheila on what to do if your husband is spending too much time playing video games (which has seen a sharp and inexplicable increase in readers during the quarantine). But today, Sheila has asked me to write a post about something different. Something serious. Something important.

So let’s talk about the research and how to put it into context.

To a Christian like me, the research on porn paints a bleak picture.

For years now, my studies and my work have required my becoming pretty familiar with the current landscape of research around issues like porn. It isn’t pretty. Some things have become pretty apparent over the last few decades: Porn is more easily accessible than ever before [1], it’s use is prevalent (especially in younger age groups) [1, 2], and it carries the risk of harmful side effects. And I am not just talking about side effects that are harmful by Christian spiritual and ethical standards, but also by secular standards. We are talking about sexual dysfunction, marital dysfunction, emotional impairment, and behavioural problems [3-7]. And a lot of the numbers are BIG…

… However, panic is not the solution. Firstly because panic is not actually a solution to anything, but secondly because there is hope.

It is not the end of the world

As humans, we are kind of rubbish at applying stats to our personal situations. Nevertheless, I want to try to put the research in context so that when we can use it to our benefit rather than let it cast us into a well of despair.

Find freedom from porn!

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Your marriage, and your thought life, do not need to be held captive to pornography.

There is freedom. 

Beat porn–together!

Exposure to porn does not automatically destroy someone or make them a monster.

When looking at research that reports effects such as increased sexual aggression and objectification of sexual partners, especially by males, as well as reduced marital, relational, and sexual satisfaction [8-12], it is tempting to conclude that you should avoid anyone who has consumed porn in the past, or who is still consuming it. But here is an important statistic to keep in mind: Over the last decade, random-sample surveys around the world have been reporting 80%-90% of people under the age of 50 have been exposed to porn through movies, magazines, or the internet.

“Wait, that number seems insanely high! How is that supposed to help us?”

Well, I hope it will do two things. The first is to make it clear that this is a pervasive issue that doesn’t just affect a small group of ‘deviants.’ But the second is to show that porn use does not totally define our worth. Our world isn’t 80% made up of rapists, sociopaths, and monsters. In fact, most marriages (including happy ones) will contain at least one partner who has been exposed to porn, and who has perhaps even intentionally sought it. But how can happy marriages with porn use exist when the research says so many negative things about porn’s effects?

Not all porn use is equal.

There are a number of different factors that researchers need to consider when they study porn use. They need to think about the age group of the porn users, the age of their first exposure to porn, previous sexual experiences, how frequently they seek porn, and what kind of porn they consume. Often, a study will focus on a group of people who are similar in one or more of these factors. That means many of the scary statistics about the effects of porn are specific to people with compulsive porn-seeking behaviours, or to people who experienced very violent porn at a young age, for example.

There are big differences between someone who accidentally came across a magazine one time at 16, someone who seeks porn several times a year, and someone who has been consuming hours of porn each week since they were 12.

Does that mean that porn use is okay in moderation? No, there are still plenty of side effects, including increased or decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, premature or delayed ejaculation, distorted expectations in sex or of sexual partners, etc. These side effects may or may not be present in your spouse if your are married to someone who uses or has used porn, which leads me to my next two points.

Porn does not automatically doom our marriages to failure.

One study in the US showed that 56% of divorce proceedings cite an “obsessive interest” in pornographic content as a contributing factor [14]. That’s another big scary number, and my knee-jerk reaction is to read that and freak out, but it is important to break down what that number actually means.

What it does NOT mean is that:

  • If you or your spouse has used porn there is a 56% chance you will divorce
  • 56% of marriages will end in divorce because of porn
  • Porn alone is responsible for 56% of divorce

These points seem obvious when we think about them, but often we simply don’t think about them. We see a big number and immediately think, “Wow, porn is the ‘Destroyer of Worlds.'” But remember, most marriages will have at least one partner with porn use in their history. That means it is unavoidable that there will be some degree of porn use in most divorced marriages, but also in most marriages that don’t end in divorce. Also, this study is not talking about SOME porn use. It is talking about EXTREME porn use, and even then, it is not the sole factor in many of these divorces. The divorces typically involve extreme porn use AND abuse, infidelity, drugs, gambling, or compulsive spending, among other things.

Stats like these should reinforce our idea that porn is a serious issue that can have serious consequences, but they are not necessarily relevant to our marriages in particular.

Your own situation is the one that matters the most.

I really want to get across the point that not all stats about porn are relevant to you or your marriage, even if you or your spouse have a history of porn use.

Say you discover that your husband (or your wife) has a history of porn use, whether you stumbled across the information yourself, or your spouse disclosed it voluntarily. Do not panic just because of what the stats say. Your spouse is not a stat. For example, if the stats say that based on his patterns of porn use he is more likely to seek violent or degrading sex, and to view you as an object, but he has only ever been tender and affectionate during sex, don’t fuss over that stat. It’s not relevant to you.

If, on the other hand, you are religious and come across a research that says porn use in adolescents reduces their religiosity over time and pushes them towards secularism (which it does [15]), and you have a young teen, that is relevant and concerning to you. (I will be writing a post next Monday that will address porn use in adolescents, so if you want some information on what to look out for and how to help your kids steer clear of porn, definitely check it out.)

Or say you are married to someone with a porn habit who shows concerning behaviours and side effects associated with their porn use, let the research be a comfort to you. If your husband uses porn and also pressures you into acts that you find uncomfortable or degrading, if he makes you feel unattractive and unappealing, if he blames you for his lack of satisfaction in bed, or if he pursues other women behind your back, it is not your fault. It is not about you. It is about his porn use and how he allows it to poison him and your relationship. You are not alone. There is scientific documentation that he is not the first to have been affected this way, and the cause is not you.

Porn is not forever.

Whether someone uses porn infrequently or on a daily basis, whether porn has caused them no visible ill effects yet or has completely changed their personality, help should be sought. Because here’s the thing: porn addiction can be treated. Previous porn exposure can be healed. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not too small to redeem us from sexual sin. Porn attempts to replace real intimacy with a shallow, poisonous imitation, but a dependence on porn can be overcome with help.

Porn use and its associated problems often stem from events or exposures in adolescence. There are plenty of counselors, both Christian and secular, who are trained and certified to help people recover from that, or from the damage caused by another’s porn use. Accountability groups can also help. One great tool we have long recommended on the site is Covenant Eyes. Rather than blocking sites, it sends a report of questionable internet usage to your accountability partners.

Maybe you or your spouse will be one of the people who can just quit cold turkey and never look back. Power to you. Perhaps outside help will be required. There is no shame in that. Maybe lots of help will be needed. Maybe it will take years. Maybe there will be relapses. Maybe there will be fights. Maybe it will seem like too much for one person to shoulder. Let God lend you strength. People can quit porn and undo its effects.

But only if they are willing.

Don’t expect porn to go away on its own.

Sometimes people do just stop. And the statistics show a decline in frequent porn use with age [16]. However once again, it is your specific situation that matters. If you have tried quitting cold turkey but keep relapsing and don’t make progress, it might be time get some help. Or if you are married to someone who has told you they are trying to quit, but who isn’t taking any measures toward that end, it may be time to have a conversation and even bring in a third party to support you in saying, “no more.” And if someone truly is uninterested in getting over their porn use, it is unlikely that any amount of counselling, accountability, or prevention measures will stop them from seeking out and consuming porn.

Wow, ending on kind of a bummer…

No, that was not my intention. I just want to help us understand that porn is preventable, treatable, and not the end of the world, buuuuuuut it is still a serious issue that needs to be addressed seriously if we want to beat it. And again, when you see stats or research about porn that scares you, don’t panic. Stats are general. You are specific. Take a breath, look critically at what it means overall, and ask yourself if it applies to your situation. If it does, decide what it means for you and what you should do with the information.

Finally, I would like to apologize to the spellchecker on this site for my Canadian spelling of behaviour, but I refuse to change.

Have you come across stats or research about porn that seemed terrifying at first? Are there any stats that still concern you? Let’s talk about them in the comments below.

How Widespread a Problem is Porn - Defeating Porn: Are We Creating Panic?

Sources

We hear so many stats about porn that aren’t necessarily taken from reputable studies. Here are some reputable ones that I have found if you want to take a look!

  1. Stavropoulos, Vasilis & Alexandraki, Kyriaki & Anderson, Emma & Latifi, Mohammad & Gomez, Rapson. (2018). Adolescent Pornography Use: A Systematic Review of Research Trends 2000-2017. Current Psychopharmacology. 07.10.2174/2211556007666180606073617.
  2. Bev Betkowski, “1 in 3 boys heavy porn users, study shows,” Eurekalert.org, Feb. 23, 2007. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-02/uoa-oit022307.php (accessed April 10, 2020).
  3. Poulsen, Franklin & Busby, Dean & Galovan, Adam. (2012). Pornography Use: Who Uses It and How It Is Associated with Couple Outcomes. Journal of sex research. 50. 10.1080/00224499.2011.648027.
  4. Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of massive exposure to pornography,” in Pornography and Sexual Aggression (New York: Academic Press, 1984); Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Shifting preferences in pornography consumption,” Communication Research 13 (1986); 560-578, Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 18 (1988): 438–453, Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography on Family Values,” Journal of Family Issues 9 (1988): 518-544.
  5. James Weaver, Jonathan Masland, and Dolf Zillmann, “Effect of erotica on young men’s aesthetic perception of their female sexual partners,” Perceptual and Motor Skills 58 (1984): 929-930.
  6. Anthony Mulac, Laura L. Jansma, and Daniel G. Linz, “Men’s Behavior Toward Women After Viewing Sexually-Explicit Films: Degradation Makes a Difference,” Communication Monographs 69 (2002): 311-328.
  7. Christina Rogala and Tanja Tydén, “Does pornography influence young women’s sexual behavior?” Women’s Health Issues 13 (2003): 39-43
  8. Brown, J. D., & L’Engle, K. L. Xrated sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with US early adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit media, 2009. Communication Research. 36 (1), 129151.
  9. Doornwaard, S. M., Bickham, D. S., Rich, M., Vanwesenbeeck, I., van den Eijnden, R. J., & Ter Bogt, T. F. Sexrelated online behaviors and adolescents’ body and sexual selfperceptions. Pediatrics, 2014. 134(6), 11031110. doi: 10.1542/peds.20140592
  10. Donevan, M., & Mattebo, M. The relationship between frequent pornography consumption, behaviours, and sexual preoccupancy among male adolescents in Sweden. Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare, 2017. 12, 8287. doi: 10.1016/j.srhc.2017.03.002
  11. Lo, V. H., & Wei, R. Exposure to Internet pornography and Taiwanese adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 2005. 49(2), 221237.
  12. Wei, R., Lo, V. H., & Wu, H. Internet Pornography and Teen Sexual Attitudes and Behavior. China Media Research, 2010. 6(3).
  13. Dolf Zillmann, “Influence of unrestrained access to erotica on adolescents’ and young adults’ dispositions toward sexuality,” Journal of Adolescent Health 27 (Aug. 2000): 41-44.
  14. Jonathan Dedmon, “Is the Internet bad for your marriage? Online affairs, pornographic sites playing greater role in divorces.” Press Release from The Dilenschneider Group, Inc., Nov. 14, 2002. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/is-the-internetbad-for-your-marriage-online-affairs-pornographic-sites-playing-greater-role-in-divorces-76826727.html (accessed June 10, 2020).
  15. Perry, S. L., & Hayward. Seeing is (not) believing: How viewing pornography shapes the religious lives of young Americans. Journal of Social Forces, 2017. 95(4), 17571788. doi: 10.1093/sf/sow106
  16. The Barna Group, 2014 Pornography Survey and Statistics. Proven Men Ministries. http://www.provenmen.org/2014pornsurvey/ (accessed June 7, 2018).