The Science Behind Pornography Addiction

Dr. Mary Anne Layden gave this testimony at a US Senate Science, Technology, and Space Hearing in 2004. Dr. Layden is Co-Director, Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program, Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania…

Pornography, by its very nature, is an equal opportunity toxin. It damages the viewer, the performer, and the spouses and the children of the viewers and the performers. It is toxic mis-education about sex and relationships. It is more toxic the more you consume, the “harder” the variety you consume and the younger and more vulnerable the consumer.

The damage is both in the area of beliefs and behaviors. The belief damage may include Pornography Distortion, Permission-Giving Beliefs and the attitudes about what constitutes a healthy sexual and emotional relationship. The behavioral damage includes psychologically unhealthy behaviors, socially inappropriate behaviors and illegal behaviors.

Let me give some examples. Pornography Distortion is a set of beliefs based in pornographic imagery, sent to the viewer while they are aroused and reinforced by the orgasm. An example of Pornography Distortion would include beliefs such as “Sex is not about intimacy, procreation or marriage. Sex is about predatory self-gratification, casual recreation, body parts, violence, feces, strangers, children, animals and using women as entertainment.” All of these are messages regularly sent by pornography.

Permission-Giving Beliefs are a set of beliefs that imply that my behavior is normal, acceptable, common and/or doesn’t hurt anyone so I have permission to continue to behave in the way that I am. In all types of violence and addiction, Permission-Giving Beliefs are involved. Examples would include “All men go to prostitutes”, “Women like sex mixed with violence” and “Children enjoy sex with adults”. These particular Permission-Giving Beliefs are also common in pornography.

Both Pornography Distortion and Permission-Giving Beliefs increase the problem of mis-education about sexuality and relationships. For example, the myth that women are sexually aroused by engaging in behaviors that are actually sexually pleasuring to men is a particularly narcissistic invention of the pornography industry. This is sexual mis-education.

The consequences of all these distorted beliefs are varied. For the viewer, pornography increases the likelihood of sexual addiction and they respond in ways similar to other addicts. Sexual addicts develop tolerance and will need more and harder kinds of pornographic material. They have escalating compulsive sexual behavior becoming more out of control and also experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop the use of the sexual material. The executive who goes to his office and logs on to the Internet porn sites at 9:00 AM and logs off at 5:00 PM is out of control and risks a great deal. Research indicates that 70% of the hits on Internet sex sites occur between 9-5 on business computers. Research also indicates and my clinical experience supports that 40% of sex addicts will lose their spouse, 58% will suffer sever financial losses, and 27-40% will lose their job or profession. Those whose marriages don’t end, may find themselves increasing dissatisfied with their spouses appearance and sexual behavior and increasingly sexually acting out which leads to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Research indicates that even non-sex addicts will show brain reactions on PET scans while viewing pornography similar to cocaine addicts looking at images of people taking cocaine. This material is potent, addictive and permanently implanted in the brain.

Those who use pornography have also been shown to be more likely to engage in illegal behavior as well. Research indicates and my clinical experience supports that those who use pornography are more likely to go to prostitutes, engage in domestic violence, stranger rape, date rape, and incest. These behaviors should not be suprising since pornographic videos containing all of these themes are readily available and the permssion-giving beliefs of these pornographic videos reinforced by the orgasm say that all these behaviors are normal, acceptable, common and don’t hurt anyone.

I have also seen in my clinical experience that pornography damages the sexual performance of the viewers. Pornography viewers tend to have problems with premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. Having spent so much time in unnatural sexual experiences with paper, celluloid and cyberspace, they seem to find it difficult to have sex with a real human being. Pornography is raising their expectation and demand for types and amounts of sexual experiences at the same time it is reducing their ability to experience sex…

[Performers in the sex industry] have high rates of substance abuse, typically alcohol and cocaine, depression, borderline personality disorder which is a particularly serious disorder and dissociative identity disorder which used to be called multiple personality disorder. The experience I find most common among the performers is that they have to be drunk, high or dissociated in order to go to work. Their work environment is particularly toxic. One study on strippers indicated that they were likely to be punched, slapped, grabbed, called cunt and whore and to be followed home or stalked. Not surprisingly, these women often work with bodyguards. This live form of pornography causes violence and the customers receiving these Permission-Giving Beliefs become carriers of these beliefs back to their homes, onto their jobs, into the street, onto the school yard. There they encounter women and children who do not have bodyguards.

The terrible work life of the pornography performer is often followed by an equally terrible home life. They have an increased risk of sexually transmitted disease including HIV, domestic violence and have about a 25% chance of making a marriage that lasts as long as 3 years.

The viewers and the performers of pornography are the most direct victims. However, the children and the partners are also damaged by this industry. My clinical experience indicates that the spouses of porn viewers are often depressed, and are more likely to have eating disorders, body image disorders and low self-esteem. These wives can’t function in the fake sexual world in which their husbands live. The wives may try to please their spouse by engaging in sexual behaviors that they find degrading. The wife may think that they can increase the sexual energy in the relationship and satisfy her husband if she views the pornography with him. My clinical experience is that these wives often get a short-lived boost in sexual activity but soon she notices that when her husband is having sex with her, he is turning around to watch the porn on the TV screen. She then realizes that he isn’t having sex with her at all. He’s masturbating inside her body while he is having sex with the women on the screen…

The children also show the damage… In one report in Australia, children who had become sexual predators before the age of 12, all had experienced pornographic material on the Internet and large number believed that the only use of the Internet was for pornographic material.

Children who have porn-viewing fathers complain that when he looks at them it feels “creepy”. The parental gaze has now become the “porn gaze”. The child of the porn user finds that everything is now about sex.

There are no studies and no data that indicate a benefit from pornography use. If there were a benefit, then pornography users, pornography performers, their spouses and their children would show the most benefit. Just the opposite is true. The society is awash in pornography and so in fact the data is in. If pornography made us healthy, we would be healthy by now.

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– (added 2/8/07)

See also these items:

Jenna Jameson’s Tragic Backstory; Seeking Virgins with Paris Hilton

CNN: Anna Nicole Smith, 1967-2007

15 thoughts on “The Science Behind Pornography Addiction

  1. HEADING: “Guilt and Shame are an Imperfect Measure of a Society’s Idea of Acceptable Behavior, But Not of Ultimate Right and Wrong.”
    As a viewer of erotica and porn I found this article and your website in general very interesting and thought provoking. Furthermore I was pleased to see that you differentiate between porn and erotica, and that you recognize the difficult and broad gray area that lies between them. I am however concerned that you begin your “signs of unhealthy consumption of porn” with asking people to check if they “feel guilty, ashamed, alienated, sad, confused, unsatisfied, or angry after viewing porn” and if they are “afraid other people might discover what [they’re] watching”. This because, as a teenager I was made to feel ALL of these signs of severe guilt and shame over my desire and drive to explore my new found sexuality through masturbation; this to the point of intense inner anguish and self loathing. Fortunately I eventually learned that both guilt and shame are NOT cut and dry 100% accurate measures of right and wrong, but merely sometimes useful tools that help us keep our behavior within the bounds of the society in which we live.
    Give me a child for a just a few days and I could program them, through the powers of suggestion, to feel guilty about being friends with anybody of another racial group – just as the church I belonged to at the time made me feel the gut wrenching guilt over my own innocent and harmless masturbation.
    Put another way, I would, even today, ‘be afraid [that] other people might discover’ me even talking to a women in a public place – at least if that women happens to be an unaccompanied muslim in a fundamentalist islamic part of the world.
    Sincerely,
    Axel Sturmann

  2. Human emotions, especially ones like guilt and shame, are not foolproof indicators of right or wrong, and these emotions can be manipulated by others in unwise ways. Nevertheless, feeling guilty can be a valuable signal that you are doing something unhealthy, and should not be wholly discounted. It’s a sign that you should look deeply into yourself, consider the consequences of your actions, and perhaps seek counsel from people you think are wise.

    If you are routinely doing something you would not want others to find out, that’s another sign of a possibly unhealthy action. What we’re hoping for here is mindfulness and integrity at an individual level, not groupthink.

  3. Many homosexuals feel guilt for years over their sexual preferences. Do you advocate that they seek the councilling of the “ex-gay movement” to help them get rid of their “unhealthy” behavior?

  4. NO data or studies showing that there are benefits of porn?? Do a little more homework on that.If you opened your mind and your eyes,you would surely find such data.I have sent you research done on that but you immediatly dicredit it.To me that sounds like you are too close minded to except the fact that there actually are benefits to it.Wake up.

  5. Once again, porn advocates attempt misdirection to make the issue about sexual orientation. Porn exploits sexual orientations indiscriminately.

    Guilt is a warning sign that you’re doing something wrong, not proof. If after giving yourself an honest evaluation, and consulting with people who are wise, you still believe you are on the right track, you probably are.

  6. -The suggestion that porn conditions individuals to make the connection between casual recreation and sexual pleasure, rather than marital intimacy and sexual pleasure is inane. Porn doesn’t cause this connection, masturbation causes this connection, and masturbation (especially among males) is almost universal. This discussion is not about sexual “health” it is about morality, and a borderline, fringe morality at that.

    -Porn does not lead to bestiality. Living on a farm leads to bestiality. The prevalence of bestiality is thought to be significantly higher for rural teens than for those with less access to and less close contact with animals. Would you suggest that teens on farms have more access to porn?

    -The suggestion in this article that men expect that women take pleasure in sexually pleasuring them is dismissed as a “particularly narcissistic invention” and sexual “mis-education”. I’m curious what sort of sex a person would have, and what sort of relationship would be required if this wasn’t actually the case. In any mature and caring romantic (or purely sexual) relationship, an individual takes pleasure in their partner’s pleasure. Only in those rare cases wherein sex is seen as a means to an end (procreation, prostitution, etc.) is the pleasure of one’s partner irrelevant.

    -The fact that wives of porn viewers become depressed and feel that their husband isn’t attracted to them is more likely a function of societal conditioning that suggests that this is the appropriate response. Similarly, men feel ashamed, guilty, and compulsive about porn because they are told how wrong porn consumption is. Ironically, it is the anti-porn crusaders who spread these myths, and who effectively ruin the marriages of any couple they encounter in which either partner is attracted to porn or masturbation. These individuals would be far better off encountering a sex-positive marriage counselor. Dogma tends to be less helpful than Discussion.

    -I might also point out that nearly every credible psychologist and sexologist is at best ambivalent about whether or not porn and sex addictions even exist.

  7. I would like to see the evidence for your statements. For example, you assert that “nearly every credible psychologist and sexologist is at best ambivalent about whether or not porn and sex addictions even exist.” Have you taken a poll? If you are aware of “credible” psychologists who deny porn addiction, please cite them by name and tell me where I can find their presentations on the subject.

    If Victor Cline’s patients are not suffering from porn addiction, what is their actual malady?

    Talking about porn separately from masturbation makes no sense. Masturbation and orgasm reinforce porn’s messages by associating them with physical pleasure.

    Your argument that it’s the stigma of porn that causes social problems is the same as one used by promoters of incest to defend child molestation. Sometimes activities have stigma because they are genuinely harmful. They have been seen to lead to bad results.

    Logically, if a man is stimulating himself with images of other women, isn’t that going to divert his energies and attention from his partner? Wouldn’t it be natural for her to resent it? Let’s recall the words of this young New York woman, who certainly can be called no prude:

    “He was a lot more innocent when he was younger,” she says. “He was
    looking for love and companionship. Now he just wants a good lay. I’m
    sure he’s looking for some huge-breasted, tight-assed bitch…”
    These days, she feels “very jaded about love and sex,” but every so
    often, she finds her cynicism dissolving… “I think it will be really
    rare, and hopefully it will happen, that I can meet a guy who will be
    happy with only me.”

    We invite readers to judge for themselves whether Larry Flynt trivializes and promotes beastiality or not.

  8. Perhaps if women were more promiscuous men would be less inclined toward porn, as sex would be more readily available. Why should a woman’s desire for monogramy outweigh a man’s desire for multiple partners? Or perhaps, as a woman, you feel that you need a survey to prove a view you cannot internalize? Also, some have suggested the drastic decline in rape over the past decade and the increase in porn is related. Could it be possible that men fantasize about sex in ways different than women and their powerlessness is directly related to the dominant social mores that recapitulate Christian sexual repression? Just a hunch, though I haven’t done the research. Empirical data is not the only way to reason, Ms. Aristotle.

  9. Viewing pornography also has many potential negative effects on intimacy between couples.

    I wrote a blog about this very recently on my company’s blog: http://blogs.covenanteyes.com/2008/03/11/husbands-who-watch-porn-what-are-their-wives-saying/

    I believe that repeated use of pornography are a direct affront to the vows most say preparing for marriage (or at least the intention behind those vows). Perhaps this is why so many women feel “cheated” or “robbed” when their husbands frequently view pornography.

    I’d appreciate your thoughts.

    Luke Gilkerson
    Internet Community Manager
    Covenant Eyes
    http://www.covenanteyes.com

  10. Of course many facts are true, but regarding There are no studies and no data that indicate a benefit from pornography use you don’t need much just use your brain! Imagine if a youngster would have no information from noone and he would have a close relationship with a girl. If they won’t have an idea about sex it might come to a much bigger problem then just making “unwanted” kids. Of course by time they can align their sexual “apetites”. Imagine a guy living for a long time in a small village. He doesn’t have much possibilites of meeting girls, or he just can’t fit the right one. I would think it would be much more dangerous situation if he would meet by coincidence a girl and won’t know what to do or even may cause him to do something stupid because he might be full of sexual stress! To make it easy for the writer imagine you would be a dog with “no hands/interent/and in your case seems IQ”, what would you do if you would meet a perfect opposite in the woods? THATS WHY YOU ARE HUMAN and should be able to control your actions”! So I think this is the number one reason for everyone. The number one rule should be that no one should be forced to what he doesn’t want(especially in sex issues as this should be unexaptable in civilization)! Other than that of course some rules should aply, but don’t start from the end and first discussion then action from the top is needed!!!Definately there should be a better control over the internet because of small children so they are not affected too early(at least it should be harder for them to get to it as they will reach it easier than their parents today), but I hope no one tells you what you should be doing with your PARTNER!Also people watch horor movies and it doesnt mean they will be mureders, maybe thats why they watch a movie to have also some other virtual experience(it can bring also some positives for them).

  11. Many facts are true of course but regarding There are no studies and no data that indicate a benefit from pornography use- the author is totaly wrong. Imagine some guy meeting a girl with no information about sex. Do you think it would be “safer”? Except unwanted pregnancy many other complication could occur before he would grow up! Even worse scenario would be if “he” would live alone and won’t have a achance to meet or fit to a partner for a long time. What could be the consequence if he would meet a potencial partner in the “forest”? I think many things could go wrong if he is not socially prepared. Imagine how an animal would react in that case? Yes people have hands/internet,..and that’s what makes them human also in this way! First of all it helps keep the stress)(not just sexual) in control. Other than that its the information(good or bad) that can help in relationship as the partners will find what fits them both! I agree that this kind of content should be regulated or hard to access especially to children, but that has to be solved from top to bottom not as you are proclaiming and after a very big discussion. What is even more important that available should be only what’s legal or in other words no person involved wasn’t forced into it! People though have to have the possibility to do what they like as I can’t imagine telling PARTNERS what to do in private! Also its good to mention that its always good to know what is possibile and than filtrate what is good and bad as this always depends on the “partners”. People watch horor movies and it doesn’t mean they become murderers(it can also bring some positives to them as fear is also part of human charaktertics I suppose). Of course the intensity and danger is different to each of us, but this way maybe it’s easier to track these “interrests/deviations”. Definately it is better in virtual world then if it would happen for real(without internet,. it would be even harder what to expect from whom). Regarding the effect on partnerships>I think that today there are 50% divorced couples and I definately not because of internet itself. Blaming it on it just makes things worse, so maybe it would be good to think what might be the main reasons!

  12. Many facts are true of course but regarding There are no studies and no data that indicate a benefit from pornography use- the author is totaly wrong. Imagine some guy meeting a girl with no information about sex. Do you think it would be “safer”? Except unwanted pregnancy many other complication could occur before he would grow up! Even worse scenario would be if “he” would live alone and won’t have a achance to meet or fit to a partner for a long time. What could be the consequence if he would meet a potencial partner in the “forest”? I think many things could go wrong if he is not socially prepared. Imagine how an animal would react in that case? Yes people have hands/internet,..and that’s what makes them human also in this way! First of all it helps keep the stress)(not just sexual) in control. Other than that its the information(good or bad) that can help in relationship as the partners will find what fits them both! I agree that this kind of content should be regulated or hard to access especially to children, but that has to be solved from top to bottom not as you are proclaiming and after a very big discussion. What is even more important that available should be only what’s legal or in other words no person involved wasn’t forced into it! People though have to have the possibility to do what they like as I can’t imagine telling PARTNERS what to do in private! Also its good to mention that its always good to know what is possibile and than filtrate what is good and bad as this always depends on the “partners”. People watch horor movies and it doesn’t mean they become murderers(it can also bring some positives to them as fear is also part of human charaktertics I suppose). Of course the intensity and danger is different to each of us, but this way maybe it’s easier to track these “interrests/deviations”. Definately it is better in virtual world then if it would happen for real(without internet,. it would be even harder what to expect from whom). Regarding the effect on partnerships>I think that today there are 50% divorced couples and I definately not because of internet itself. Blaming it on it just makes things worse, so maybe it would be good to think what might be the main reasons!

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