The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research

Jill Manning
is a Social Sciences Fellow in Domestic Policy for the Heritage Foundation. She testified about the impact of porn to the US Senate in November 2005 (transcript). She summarizes her findings:

Since the advent of the Internet, the pornography industry has profited from an unprecedented proximity to the home, work and school environments. Consequently, couples, families, and individuals of all ages are being impacted by pornography in new and often devastating ways.

Although many parents work diligently to protect their family from sexually explicit material, research funded by Congress has shown Internet pornography to be “very intrusive.” Additionally, we know that a variety of fraudulent, illegal and unethical practices are used to attract new customers and eroticize attitudes that undermine public health and safety. This profit-driven assault jeopardizes the well-being of our youth and violates the privacy of those who wish not to be exposed.

Leading experts in the field of sexual addictions contend on-line sexual activity is “a hidden public health hazard exploding, in part because very few are recognizing it as such or taking it seriously.”

Research reveals many systemic effects of Internet pornography that are undermining an already vulnerable culture of marriage and family. Even more disturbing is the fact that the first Internet generations have not reached full-maturity, so the upper-limits of this impact have yet to be realized. Furthermore, the numerous negative effects research point to are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for individual citizens or families to combat on their own.

This testimony is not rooted in anecdotal accounts or personal views, but rather in findings from studies published in peer-reviewed research journals. I have submitted a review of this research to the Committee, and request that it be included in the record.

The marital relationship is a logical point of impact to examine because it is the foundational family unit and a sexual union easily destabilized by sexual influences outside the marital contract. Moreover, research indicates the majority of Internet users are married and the majority seeking help for problematic sexual behaviour online are married, heterosexual males. The research indicates pornography consumption is associated with the following six trends, among others:

  1. Increased marital distress, and risk of separation and divorce,
  2. Decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction,
  3. Infidelity
  4. Increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity associated with abusive, illegal or unsafe practices,
  5. Devaluation of monogamy, marriage and child rearing,
  6. An increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and addictive sexual behaviour.

These trends reflect a cluster of symptoms that undermine the foundation upon which successful marriages and families are established.

While the marital bond may be the most vulnerable relationship to Internet pornography, children and adolescents are the most vulnerable audience.

When a child lives in a home where an adult is consuming pornography, he or she encounters the following four risks:

  1. Decreased parental time and attention
  2. Increased risk of encountering pornographic material
  3. Increased risk of parental separation and divorce and
  4. Increased risk of parental job loss and financial strain

When a child or adolescent is directly exposed the following effects have been documented:

  1. Lasting negative or traumatic emotional responses,
  2. Earlier onset of first sexual intercourse, thereby increasing the risk of STD’s over the lifespan,
  3. The belief that superior sexual satisfaction is attainable without having affection for one’s partner, thereby reinforcing the commoditization of sex and the objectification of humans.
  4. The belief that being married or having a family are unattractive prospects;
  5. Increased risk for developing sexual compulsions and addictive behavior,
  6. Increased risk of exposure to incorrect information about human sexuality long before a minor is able to contextualize this information in ways an adult brain could.
  7. And, overestimating the prevalence of less common practices (e.g., group sex, bestiality, or sadomasochistic activity).
    Because the United States is ranked among the top producers and consumers of pornography globally, the federal government has a unique opportunity to take a lead in addressing this issue and the related harm.

This leadership could unfold in a variety of ways. For example, through:

  • Educating the public about the risks of pornography consumption,
  • Supporting research that examines aspects of Internet pornography currently unknown,
  • Allocating resources to enforce laws already in place, and lastly,
  • Legally implement technological solutions that separate Internet content, allowing consumers to choose the type of legal content they wish to have access to.

Manning elaborates in her research review, “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research” (August 2005, PDF). Here are selected excerpts. We have removed the footnote numbers for readability, but they are present in the original paper and are an excellent resource for those who want to investigate further:

Internet pornography is distinct from other forms of pornography because of the “Triple-A Engine” effect of accessibility, affordability and anonymity — a combination of traits unique to
the virtual square…

The “Triple-A Engine” effect, in particular, is widely accepted as the primary reason why
many pre-existing problems with other forms of pornography have been exacerbated in the last
decade, and why many individuals have been drawn into problematic pornography consumption
that otherwise would not been involved with this material prior to the advent of the Internet…

The other unprecedented characteristic of Internet pornography is the ease with which
children and adolescents have access to it – both solicited and unsolicited access…

Catherine Itzin is another researcher who argues pornography is associated with harm.
In her edited compilation Pornography: Women, Violence and Civil Liberties, Itzin points out
that papers by Einsiedel, Weaver, and Russell, review over 300 pieces of research and that
the majority of the studies reviewed provide support for pornography-related harm…

Mulac, Jansma, and Linz [2002]
studied 71 men interacting with women in problem-solving dyads after watching one of three
types of films: (1) sexually explicit and degrading to women, (2) sexually explicit but nondegrading,
and (3) non-sexual. Results showed that the men who viewed either of the sexually
explicit films displayed more dominance and anxiety, ignored the contributions of their partner
more often, touched their partner for longer periods of time, and averted gaze more than the
participants who had viewed the non-sexual film. The researchers concluded the impact of
sexually explicit material on behavior is more complex than is often assumed in pornography
research, but that a negative impact exists…

[In a meta-analysis of 46 studies published in various academic journals,] Oddone-Paolucci, Genuis, and Violato found that exposure to pornographic material puts
one at increased risk for developing sexually deviant tendencies [e.g., excessive or ritualistic
masturbation], committing sexual offenses,
experiencing difficulties in one’s intimate relationships, and accepting rape myths. In terms of the
degree of risk, the analysis revealed a 31 percent increase in the risk of sexual deviancy, a 22
percent increase in the risk of sexual perpetration, a 20 percent increase in the risk of
experiencing negative intimate relationships, and a 31 percent increase in the risk of believing
rape myths…

In North American culture, it is most common for people to select a marriage partner
according to romantic love as opposed to family arrangement or economic necessity. Research by
Roberts (1982), Davis and Todd (1982), Davis (1985), and Bergner (2000) is useful in
clarifying what romantic love entails from a social science perspective. They found that romantic
love embodies the following characteristics: (a) investment in the well-being of the beloved, (b)
respect, (c) admiration, (d) sexual desire, (e) intimacy, (f) commitment, (g) exclusivity, and (h)

…when there are violations to these
characteristics and the violations are sufficient in magnitude, partners will commonly conclude
that they are no longer loved as they once were and re-evaluates their place in their partners’
world. As Bergner and Bridges (2002) point out, many women who discover a partner’s intense
involvement with pornography engage in just such a reappraisal of their relationship…

Maurer found
three common traits that distinguish sexually satisfied couples from unsatisfied couples: (1)
acceptance of one’s own sexuality, (2) listening to one’s partner and being aware of a partner’s
likes and dislikes, and (3) open and honest communication.

Moreover, according to data from the General Social Survey in 2000 (N = 531), people
who report being happily married are 61 percent less likely to report using Internet pornography
compared to those who also used the Internet and who had completed the General Social Survey
in 2000…

following observations were made by [the 350 attendees of the November 2002
meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers] polled with regard to why the Internet had
played a role in divorces that year…56 percent of the divorce cases involved one party having an obsessive interest in
pornographic websites…

(2003) also found that both men and women perceive online sexual activity as an act of betrayal
that is as authentic and real as offline acts and that Internet pornography use correlated
significantly with emotional infidelity (N = 1,117; 468 males and 649 females)…

Many youth in Black, Dillon, and Carnes’ (2003) study experienced: (a) anger for the pain
caused to the family, (b) embarrassment, (c) fear of the financial ramifications, (d) guilt, (e)
confusion over the implications for their parent’s marriage and the family as a whole, or (f)
reached out emotionally to take care of the other parent. Other children found relief and
validation at having the problem formally disclosed to them because it validated the confusion,
anger, and mixed messages that they had lived with for so long…

…only 3 percent of pornographic websites require proof of age before granting
access to sexually explicit material… Although age verification measures are readily available through the
use of credit cards, adult access codes, and/or personal identification numbers, the pornography
industry has neglected to implement these measures even half-heartedly…

Studies have also shown that while there is an abundance of sexual content in the media,
little is shown regarding sexual responsibility and the consequences of risky sexual behaviors…

…researchers found that pornography-blocking software has a minimal impact on
one’s access to information about sexual and reproductive health. For example, they found
blocking software set at moderate settings blocked 90 percent of the pornographic content online
while blocking only 5 percent of health information…

While erotica has also been defined as literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire, it
is distinguished from pornography in that it is void of violence, illegal portrayals (e.g., children),
sexism, racism, and homophobia, and is respectful of the human beings involved. Although
definitions of erotica can be as subjective as definitions of pornography, for the purposes of this paper, they are treated as distinct genres of work, with erotica viewed as less severe in its
consequences, albeit less researched in the current body of data…

Although not all consumers of pornography struggle with a sexual addiction, it
is understood that the majority of sexual addictions include pornography consumption to some
degree, or did at some point in its etiology. This assumption is rooted in clinical observations by
mental health professionals, as well as the persistent theme of pornography use in the sexual
addiction research literature…

In terms of how many people struggle with this kind of problem, experts in the field of
sexual addictions estimate approximately 3 to 6 percent of the U.S. adult population has a diagnosable sexual addiction…

The distinction between healthy and addictive sexual behavior, as outlined in Table 3
from the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, is viewed as a concise and
informed paradigm for understanding the differences between these two types of behavior.

Table 3. Indicators of Healthy and Addictive Sexual Behaviors

Healthy Sexual Behavior
Mutual consent (free will)
Behavior is a want or desire
Fulfilling, enhancing, mood stabilizing
Personal interchange of emotion
Rare negative consequences
Enhanced self-worth
Sexual behavior is fulfilling, satiating
Balanced sexual behavior

Addictive Sexual Behavior
Coercion, victimization, and force
Behavior is a compulsion for instant gratification
Associated with severe mood shifts
Impersonal and emotional detachment
Negative consequences
Negative self-worth, shame, guilt
Lack of satiation, tolerance
Erratic sexual behaviors (excessive vs. anorexic)

…By eroticizing behaviors and values that are destabilizing to marriage, family,
and the social good (e.g., rape, incest, child abuse, and bestiality), pornography becomes a
powerful means through which maladaptive sexual behavior is normalized and learned…

Internet pornography is understood to be a potentially addictive delivery system and is
therefore understood within an addiction framework as opposed to a form of speech or
expression. Viewing Internet pornography as addictive is a distinction that neuroscience has
helped us clarify…

An anti-pornography position does not represent an anti-sex view. Claiming these two
perspectives are synonymous is viewed as a common tactic for avoiding the core issues related to
pornography. Because pornography contains fraudulent messages that can misinform children,
adolescents, and adults about human sexuality, an anti-pornography stance may be interpreted as
an effort to defend healthy human sexuality, as well as accurate information regarding it…

Internet pornography is distinguished from…shared consumption because it is almost always consumed in a solitary, secret fashion
and has a potential for compulsive or addictive elements to arise in the individual viewer…

In an attempt to present key findings in a fair manner, data regarding the benign and/or
positive impact of Internet pornography on marriage and family were sought. While research
exists to support children, adolescents, and adults having access to the Internet, no studies
could be found regarding the positive impact of Internet pornography specifically.

Added on May 30, 2007:

We appreciate that the Heritage Foundation is controversial in some circles. We don’t necessarily agree with them on all issues. We reiterate our support for gay marriage. We are trying to cherry pick the best thinking from a variety of sources. For example, while we feel that Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon have many valuable things to say about porn and women, we do not support all aspects of their approach (see Jendi Reiter’s review of Only Words).

In a debate, we understand the temptation to take the lazy route and try to discredit the source of information rather than sincerely engaging with arguments and evidence. We invite our opponents to meet us on the field of facts.

See also:

Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography on Family Values; Women’s Desire to Have Daughters Plummets
Enduring intimate relationships curtail personal freedoms to some
degree. Relationships that provide economic and emotional security are
based on responsibility, if not on sacrifice. And where, in such a
relationship, sexuality is vital and valued, partners tend to lay claim
to exclusive sexual access. Finally, the decision to have a child or
children, whether by a married couple or by persons otherwise
aggregated, is probably the greatest responsibility that human beings
accept. It amounts to restricted freedom, servitude, and to enormous
expenditures for a good portion of adult life. If sexuality is
considered part and parcel of such enduring
relationships, there can be no question that it comes at a forbidding
price. In terms of sheer recreational sexual joy, then, these
relationships compare poorly with the short-lived ones that are
continually exhibited in pornography–those that invariably show that
great pleasures can be had at next to no cost. Prolonged consumption of
entertainment with clear messages of this kind thus must be expected to
impact profoundly the perception and evaluation of sexuality and its
social institutions and arrangements…

Prolonged consumption of pornography fostered greater acceptance of
pre- and extramarital sexual relations for self and intimate partners.
Along with that, it fostered acceptance of sexually nonexclusive
relations with parters. Prolonged consumption also led to greater
acceptance of the myth of health risks from sexual repression.
Pornography apparently manages to convey the idea that unrestrained
sexuality is wholesome and healthy, and that any restraint poses
risks… Additionally, prolonged consumption of pornography was found
to counteract gender equality. For intimate relationships, male
dominance was favored over egalitarianism…

Pornography consumption had a most powerful effect on evaluations of
the desirability and viability of marriage. Endorsement of marriage as
an essential institution dropped from 60.0% in the control groups to
38.8% in the treatment groups…

…the desire of females for offspring of their own kind…after
consumption of pornography, shrank to one third of its normal

Dan Quayle Was Right
and out-of-wedlock childbirth are transforming the lives of American children.
In the postwar generation more than 80 percent of children grew up in a family
with two biological parents who were married to each other. By 1980 only 50 percent
could expect to spend their entire childhood in an intact family. If current trends
continue, less than half of all children born today will live continuously with
their own mother and father throughout child hood. Most American children will
spend several years in a single-mother family… [A]n increasing number of children
will experience family breakup two or even three times during childhood…

Contrary to popular belief, many children do not “bounce back” after
divorce or remarriage. Difficulties that are associated with family breakup often
persist into adulthood. Children who grow up in single-parent or stepparent families
are less successful as adults, particularly in the two domains of life—love and
work—that are most essential to happiness. Needless to say, not all children experience
such negative effects. However, research shows that many children from disrupted
families have a harder time achieving intimacy in a relationship, forming a stable
marriage, or even holding a steady job…

child well-being has declined, despite a decrease in the number of children per
family, an increase in the educational level of parents, and historically high
levels of public spending. After dropping in the 1960s and 1970s, the proportion
of children in poverty has increased dramatically, from 15 percent in 1970 to
20 percent in 1990, while the percentage of adult Americans in poverty has remained
roughly constant. The teen suicide rate has more than tripled…

Increasingly, political principles of individual rights
and choice shape our understanding of family commitment and solidarity. Family
relationships are viewed not as permanent or binding but as voluntary and easily
terminable. Moreover, under the sway of the regime effect the family loses its
central importance as an institution in the civil society, accomplishing certain
social goals such as raising children and caring for its members, and becomes
a means to achieving greater individual happiness–a lifestyle choice. Thus, Galston
says, what is happening to the American family reflects the “unfolding logic of
authoritative, deeply American moral-political principles.”

One benefit of
the regime effect is to create greater equality in adult family relationships.
Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, enjoy relationships far more egalitarian
than past relationships were, and most Americans prefer it that way. But the political
principles of the regime effect can threaten another kind of family relationship–that
between parent and child. Owing to their biological and developmental immaturity,
children are needy dependents. They are not able to express their choices according
to limited, easily terminable, voluntary agreements…

Adults have benefited from the changes in family life in important
ways, but the same cannot be said for children. Indeed, this is the first generation
in the nation’s history to do worse psychologically, socially, and economically
than its parents. Most poignantly, in survey after survey the children of broken
families confess deep longings for an intact family.

Now on Sale at (explicit language)


This DVD features a story-driven title
that mixes drama with hardcore sex. Wonderland tells the story of a man
obsessed with his stepdaughter’s friend when she visits during
Christmas break. Gary sacrifices everything in his traditional suburban
existence for a single moment of ecstasy with a femme fatale.

Deviant Housewives
In this world nothing lasts
forever and it looks like Kelly Erikson’s husband Van needs some space.
Kelly decides to invite all her friends going thru the same problems to
stay and support each other. But all of Kelly’s friends have an empty
void in their lives they need filled and it’s from a younger man!

Use Em’ Abuse Em’ and Lose Em’ #9
Ride along as we pick up ordinary young women fuck’em senseless and dump’em! It’s all good clean fun!

Housewives Unleashed #16
These fine ladies have
been locked away in their houses for far too long. With their husbands
away on business our housewives need crave and demand satisfaction. The
action gets hot and horny the moment their desires are finally

David and Jennifer have a marriage on the
rocks. In desperation they seek out a marriage counselor who proposes a
revolutionary new method of therapy. David and Jennifer have free reign
to cheat on each other for the next 24 hours. Their sexual inhibitions
are set free and their fantasies fulfilled as they visit The Dark Side.

Video Presentation: A Content Analysis of 50 of Today’s Top Selling Porn Films (explicit language)
Ana Bridges: “…I’m going to begin to talk about what it is that we
found after looking at these 304 scenes in these 50 top selling
pornographic films. In total in the 304 scenes we coded a total of
3,376 acts of aggression. That ends up averaging…to an aggressive act
every minute and a half. The scenes on average contained eleven and a
half acts of verbal or physical aggression…”

Bridges: “We also coded for, what…we’re calling loosely in this talk,
‘extreme acts’ (of sex acts). The only sexual sequence that we coded,
which is…when one thing follows another, was something called
ATM…’ass-to-mouth’. This literally involves anal penetration followed
by oral sex…she is literally eating her own shit. That occurred in
41% of the scenes that we coded…

Bridges: “So how many scenes didn’t contain aggression? About 10%.”

Porn Use Correlates with Infidelity, Prostitution, Aggression, Rape-Supportive Beliefs
In 2004, researchers also reported in Social Science Quarterly that “Individuals who have had an extramarital affair are 3.18 times more likely to have used Internet pornography than individuals who did not have affairs.”

in Minneapolis: “Pornography in the home is insidious. Girls pick up
the message, they act it out, they don’t know why they feel suicidal
and crazy.”

One example, for instance, was a young girl. By the age of four, she
saw her parents sitting on the couch together reading pornographic
magazines. When she tried to go join them, they were laughing and
happy. She said it was the only time she saw her father’s eyes light
up. He felt alive. When she would try to read, they said no, no, which
was confusing because they seemed happy reading this. By five years
old, this young woman, at that time a young girl, would bring boys from
the neighborhood, draw off her clothes the way she had seen in the
magazines, and let herself be abused sexually. This is by five years
old. This woman has gone through a great deal of work. She was
alcoholic, very ill. She is now a student. She is now working through
these things in therapy and is recovering, but she had never herself
made the connection to the pornography. All she felt about herself
[was], she was crazy, she was sick. How at five years old could I have
been doing this? Pornography in the home is insidious. Girls pick up
the message, they act it out, they don’t know why they feel suicidal
and crazy. I have seen this many, many times.

The Science Behind Pornography Addiction
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

Time to Explore the Links Between Porn, Testosterone, Sexual Behavior and Violence
…[T]estosterone is highly susceptible to environment. T levels can
rise and fall depending on external circumstances–short term and long
term. Testosterone is usually elevated in response to confrontational
situations — a street fight, a marital spat, a presidential debate–or
in highly charged sexual environments, like a strip bar or a pornographic Web site

[T]he more cellular memories (biological and physiological processes)
that pornographers can link their porn to throughout the male brain and
body, the greater chance they have of addicting their viewers. And the
more naturally occurring drugs/hormones (especially testosterone, but
also adrenaline, epinephrine, and others) flowing in the male mindbody
during viewing, the more narrow will be his focus, the more intense his
sexual/mindbody arousal, the more deeply the images will be imprinted
in his memory, and the greater his addiction.

Pornographers achieve this combination of a high number of mindbody
links and maximum drug/hormone release by mixing sexual images with
male dominance, aggression and violent images intended to shock and
stimulate simultaneously. Porn scenes ranging from simple “male in
control” to aggression, rape, torture and murder, abound in Internet
porn geared to the male viewer.

Schwyzer on Porn: “The pursuit of everlasting novelty is the enemy of actual relationship”
no one, no one, no one, can just “compartmentalize, disconnect, and come back.”
Many men think they do so with impunity, but it’s the consensus of both
the theologians and the marriage and family therapists that no good
life can be lived well in compartments. We are called to
wholeness, Ethan; men — all men, even in their late teens in the throes
of lust — are capable of matching their desires, their behavior, their
Is it easy? Heck no. But is it possible? Yes. Is it desirable? You bet it is…

“Spousal Use of Pornography and Its Clinical Significance for Asian-American Women”
Many female participants in the study by Bridges et al. (2003) noted a
diminution in their partner’s sexual desire for them and believed that
their partners had come to prefer the pornographic models to them…
They reported a decline in the intimacy of their relationship, a
diminished sense of their partner’s commitment to them, strong feelings
that their partners failed utterly to respect them or understand their
emotional distress concerning the pornography, and lastly, a sense that
they were living a shameful lie by presenting themselves to others as a
loving and committed couple… More often than not, the woman blames
herself for losing her partner to his pornographic interest. She
believes that if she were a ‘good’ enough woman, she would have been
able to keep her husband’s attentions and affections and her loss would
never have occurred…

Testimony from Northampton Shelter for Battered Women: Half of Abusers Use Pornography as a Part of the Abuse (explicit)
We have recently begun to formally ask the battered women who call us
whether the abuser uses pornography and from this we conservatively
estimate that at least 1/2 of the abusers use pornography as a part of
the abuse. Battering is based on an issue of power and control, with
the abuser using all kinds of methods to continually assert his power
and control over the woman. Throughout, he is persistently working to
deny her of her ability to make informed decisions about her life and
through threats, coercion, and continual terror succeeds at clearly
establishing himself as “in control”. We frequently hear a woman say
that she feels like a prisoner in her own home, and in fact, she is.

10 thoughts on “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research

  1. You know that the Heritage Foundation is the nation’s largest and best-funded conservative political think-tank, right? You know they’re not neutral, right? You know that, for example, they think it’s been “scientifically” proven that gay marriage will ruin regular marriage, right?

    Also, just to throw my $0.02 in, I think it would be terrific if you were to stage a protest in front of the Comcast store. I have no objection whatsoever. Knock yourself out.

  2. What does whether I object or not have to do with it? I just think that you spend a lot of time protesting a store that hasn’t opened yet you let the cable company off the hook when they provide much more pornography than an adult store could ever hope to sell.

  3. It is absolutely true that porn and porn money range widely through American media and business. There are so many appropriate candidates for our attention that we are forced to choose. Capital Video, which describes itself as “the largest adult retail chain in the nation,” is both a large and entirely appropriate target for anti-porn attention.

    That said, we are incubating several ideas to address the larger spread of porn. You might see some of them in the coming months and years. They may not all come in the form of protests in front of retail outlets.

  4. I guess that means you won’t be protesting against Comcast? I guess having a high-speed internet connection is really important to you.

    Who were you protesting before Capital Video wanted to open a store in Northampton? And even after they chose to open a store here, why target a store that hasn’t opened when Comcast is responsible for so much more porn being distributed in Northampton and elsewhere?

  5. I think that people should really take extra caution before they see adult materials as they are prone to become to what they watch. Two of my friends engaged in illicit sex with the same sex beccause they peek on adult sites.

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