Using pornography changes people's attitudes, relationship commitment, sexuality, ability to think, and likelihood of acting aggressively towards women. The research, much of which is very recent, is making it clear that pornography has multiple negative effects on users.
This article will only discuss the effects of pornography on men. Women do use pornography to a lesser extent and the effects of this use are less clear.
Pornography has been show to negatively effect men's attitudes towards women. Pornography users have been shown to have less egalitarian views, but it is unclear whether pornography use is causing this difference or if it is just that less egalitarian men are more likely to use pornography.
However, a piece of research was conducted which had some randomly chosen men view pornography first and then measured where they landed on the "hostile sexism" scale. The men who watched pornography were higher on this scale than the men who didn't. This research suggests that pornography is causing men to become more sexist in their attitude.
Of course, there are many out there who would not be surprised by this research. Many view pornography as degrading and objectifying towards women. Generally speaking, people's beliefs will generally become consistent with their behaviour. So even if a non-sexist man begins using pornography he will generally begin to believe that it is right to objectify and degrade women.
Pornography use reduces relationship commitment. Men who use pornography are more likely to have an affair. It isn't just that cheating men are likely to use pornography, the pornography seems to cause the cheating.
In one experiment some randomly chosen men were shown pornography and, afterwards, these men were more likely to see other women as romantic alternatives. In another experiment a group of randomly chosen regular porn users stopped using pornography for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks these men were more committed to their relationship.
A number of other interesting experiments have been done looking at how porn users are different in relationships. For example, in one experiment porn users were found to be more likely to flirt when chatting online. In another experiment couples were asked to complete a task together and their interactions were videotaped. The couples' interactions were then rated by observers on how committed they seemed. The couples in which the man was using porn were rated lower on commitment than the non-porn couples.
Research has shown that male porn use predicts lower sex quality for both men and women. Men often report not being as attracted to their spouse when they use pornography and this may be part of the reason for the lowered quality. Sexuality, like any other behaviour, can be modified to an extent by reward and punishment. If a man is regularly having rewarding sexual experiences to pornography, he will begin to need that kind of stimulation to achieve orgasm.
Exposure to pornography has also been shown to predict adolescent uncertainty about sexual beliefs and sexual orientation. It is impossible to say if the pornography is causing this uncertainty or if it just that uncertain youth seek out pornography, but the connection is concerning. If you do find that your child is viewing pornography, it would be good to have a discussion about sexuality and pornography to help him or her manage potential feelings of uncertainty.
There is now research showing that pornography users have more difficulty with attention and working memory. These differences do not only occur during pornography use, but continue throughout the day. This seems to be supported by porn users indicating that they were able to think better after ending their porn use.
Pornography seems to cause men to be more physically punitive towards women. In a very interesting experiment some randomly chosen men were shown pornography and some were not. Both groups were brought back a week later and paired with a female who was part of the researchers team. At the beginning of their meeting the woman mildly rejected the man by saying that she wasn't attracted to him. They then played a guessing game and the man had the option of physically punishing the woman if she got the answer wrong. The men who had been exposed to pornography were more likely to punish the woman.
It has been suggested that pornography makes men more likely to act out violently against women. This type of research would be unethical, so it has never been proven.
Couples Therapy for Porn Addiction
For some couples pornography is an issue and for others it is not. When couples come for therapy because of a pornography issue therapists differ in how they approach the issue. Some will encourage the woman to accept the pornography and begin trying to help her with the issues the pornography is causing. Other therapists will accept the couple's assessment of the problem and begin treating the pornography usage. Often in these situations the porn usage has become an addiction. If it weren't an addiction, the man would likely have given up the porn usage when he realized it was an issue for his partner.
When pornography is an issue it can feel like an affair. If the female partner is not comfortable with pornography, porn usage will usually either stop or become secretive. When the usage continues in secret, the lying, the feeling of there being these "other women", the loss of intimacy, and the fact that the man is seeking comfort from another source makes the dynamics in the relationship very similar to those created by cheating. Sometimes the relationship between the pornography and the man can be stronger than the relationship between the couple. Couples therapy can help in these instances by helping the couple to unite as they work on the pornography addiction as a team.
There are many negative effects of pornography, but one of the most concerning aspects of pornography use is that users seem oblivious to how it is changing them. In fact pornography users often report feeling positively about their porn usage. Unfortunately, this leaves users as often the last to realize how pornography has damaged their relationships and their psyche. Pornography usage is growing every decade and wireless technology is making it more accessible to young people. As pornography grows it becomes even more important for society to understand the dangers that are associated with pornography so everyone can make decisions and take actions that are informed.
By Dr. Syras Derksen
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