Sexual Junk Food: Porn's Degrading Effects

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WASHINGTON -- A group of scholars, social scientists, and psychologists are sounding alarm bells that pornography is much more harmful to society than most people think.

The group recently revealed before the National Press Club startling new evidence of how widespread porn has become in the U.S.

For instance, take a look at these whopping stats:

  • Americans rent 800 million pornographic videos every year - that's one in five of all video rentals.
  • Sixty-six percent of men ages 18 to 34 years old visit one or more of the 40,000-plus porn Web sites every month.
  • One in four women worry their partner's pornography habit is "out of control."
  • The porn industry spits out 11,000 new porn movies every year, far more than Hollywood's annual output of 400 mainstream movies.

From Porn to Hard Core

The media impression is that porn is pretty much harmless, sexy, fun. But the experts gathered together by Princeton's Witherspoon Institute, have a different view. A large portion of today's porn is so much more hard-core now.

"This is definitely not your father's pornography," University of Virginia sociology professor Brad Wilcox said.

One research paper from the Witherspoon study, From Pornography to Porno to Porn, by Pamela Paul - said of today's porn is far more violent.

"Particularly on the Internet, where much of pornography today is consumed, the type of sexuality depicted often has more to do with violence, extreme fetishes, and mutual degradation than with fun, much less with sexual or emotional connection," Paul wrote.

"Harder and harder-core stuff, stuff that I cannot mention to you without blushing," Hoover Institution researcher Mary Eberstadt described it.

These experts and researchers have concluded that pornography has begun a widespread warping in many Americans' private lives.

Impact on Relationships

For instance, men consuming porn rate their partners much less attractive than do those who avoid porn. For many porn addicts, when it comes to a real partner, it renders them nearly impotent or much less satisfied with their partner.

"If they had to choose between an actual sex partner who is in the bed and waiting for them, and going online, they'd go online," University of Pennsylvania psychologist Mary Anne Layden said of porn addicts she's studied.

Couples where the man consumed high amounts of pornography reported much less satisfaction in the bedroom. Porn users cheat more and go to prostitutes more.

Discovering their men's porn use has left many women feeling betrayed and distrustful. Almost three-fourths say it's hurt their self-esteem.

"The marriage relationship is traumatically damaged and decreased in terms of the emotional intimacy, which is actually the cornerstone of the marriage," Layden said.

It's even causing divorces. A 2004 Elle/MSNBC.com poll indicated one out of four divorces had something to do with Internet pornography or online adult chat activity. And the rate has gone up since "it's up something like 20 percent in the last five years," Eberstadt said.

Addicts are now losing jobs because they couldn't stop surfing porn on computers at work. More are suffering from depression and stress caused by porn addiction. More are spending less time with their children because of that addiction.

Paul, who is also the author of "Pornified," has written about the porn addicts she interviewed.

"Pornography's effects rippled out, touching all aspects of their existence," she explained. "Their work days became interrupted, their hobbies were tossed aside, their family lives were disrupted. Some men even lost their jobs, their wives, and their children."

Not Just a Man's Problem

One 2004 poll found 41 percent of women had searched out or downloaded erotic materials, 13 percent had watched or taken part in a live sex Web cam.

"It is contaminating all our relationships between men and women that are sexual," Layden said about porn's effects.

Now children are getting exposed to these X-rated materials at younger and younger ages.

"The age when children are introduced to pornography has been reduced from 11 years down to nine years of age," said Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, author of "Children at Risk."

It's so widespread among teens, 65 percent of 16- and 17-year-old boys and 46 percent of 16- and 17-year-old girls admit they have friends who regularly download pornography. Research shows teen girls exposed to a high amount of porn have sex earlier, are more promiscuous, take more sexual risks, and engage in more anal and group sex. So do the boys.

"There are a number of reports about adolescents who have experimented first with pornography and then tried to do what they saw on the screen," Eberstadt said. "Their sexual behavior is much riskier."

Layden said study after study shows pornography is related to, "early sexual behavior, earlier pregnancy, the desire to get pregnant, more sexually transmitted diseases in these children."

And those exposed for years want harder and harder material over time.

"They want more vivid, they want more obscene, they want more really crude images," Crouse said.

Harder Porn = More Sexual Violence

The real-world effect of this? Those who work with sex abusers, like psychologist Layden does almost daily, find more and more that pornography is tied to sexual violence.

"After I'd done this work for about 10 years, I had a sudden realization that I hadn't treated one case of sexual violence that didn't involve pornography," she recalled.

The latest research shows heavy users of violent pornography are:

  • Six times more likely to rape
  • 83 percent of rapists and 67 percent of child molesters consume hard-core pornography at high rates
  • A man using porn nearly doubles the odds he'll sexually assault his partner.

All these numbers are likely to grow as the Internet now makes porn accessible 24 hours a day.

Some call Internet porn the new crack cocaine.

"Pornography is sexual junk food," Layden said.

These scholars, researchers, psychologists and philosophers gathered by the Witherspoon Institute agree that in order to do something about it, society's going to have to tackle pornography like it finally tackled and demonized smoking.

Layden summed it up, "These are problems, they're causing damages, we need to treat them, and we as a society need to wake up!"

*Original broadcast March 30, 2010. 

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.