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Is Pornography Addictive?

Part 1 – The Facts Are Sketchy, But the Picture is Clear

You’ve done everything you can. You filter your Internet connection. The V-chip is activated in your television. The parental lock is set on all your DVD players. And you keep an eye on video games and music coming through the door. But, even with all these precautions (which few families actually have put in place), there is still a reasonable chance your family will be affected by the influence of pornography.

Over the next few weeks, we will examine some of the latest research regarding pornography, and what we know and suspect about its influence on our families. Most of the information presented will be based on a hearing titled “The Science Behind Pornography Addiction,” presented to the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space on November 18, 2004.

To this point, there is little verified research available to confirm what the presenters at this hearing (and many of us) already suspect: That pornography has moved from being a lewd form of entertainment to a significant societal concern, which is breaking up families, destroying lives, and causing economic losses.

Regardless of the scanty of scientific studies, the discussion led by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) certainly revealed the presenters--all PhDs who have researched this area extensively--have had personal and professional experiences to convince them pornography is having a negative impact on our nation.

Setting the tone of the meeting, Senator Brownback declared, “Over the last few decades, the nature of, and access to, sexually explicit material in the marketplace has been radically transformed and expanded. With the advent of the Internet and video technology, the problem of addiction to sexually explicit material has grown exponentially in size and scope.”

Here are a few of the numbers he gathered on the issue:
--72 million users visit Internet pornography sites each year.
--One expert in cybersex addiction asserts that 15% of individuals visiting on-line porn sites develop sexual behavior that interferes with their lives. (Although he did not specifically name the expert, he attributed it to the same individual who coined the phrase, “The Internet is the crack cocaine of sexual addiction.”)
--One in five children, ages 10 to 17, have received a sexual solicitation over the Internet.
--Nine out of ten children, ages 8 to 16 who have Internet access, have visited porn websites, usually in the course of looking up information for homework.
-- According to the founder of the Center for Online Addiction, approximately 65% of people who visit their site, do so because of marital problems created by cyber pornography.

As an interesting side note, Sen. Brownback also shared this information:

“At a recent meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, two-thirds of the divorce lawyers who attended said excessive interest in online pornography played a significant role in divorces in the past year.”

Sen. Brownback quoted Richard Berry, President of the Academy, who said, “This is clearly related to the Internet. Pornography had an almost non-existent role in divorce just seven or eight years ago.”

The other researchers presenting their findings to the committee were, Dr. Jeffery Satinover, Dr. Mary Anne Layden, Dr. Judith Reisman, and Dr. James B. Weaver III.

Like his colleagues, Dr. Weaver recognized the lack of controlled scientific study in this area, explaining, “Unfortunately, research directly assessing the impact of pornography addiction on families and communities is limited.”

However, he offered evidence from the broader area of social science research he and others have compiled. These are some of his comments regarding the results of prolonged exposure to pornography:
--Initial reactions of discomfort and disgust dissipate rapidly with repeated exposure and are replaced by unadulterated reactions of enjoyment.
-- Prolonged use leads to many distorted perceptions, including the belief that promiscuous behavior is healthy, whereas sexual repression constitutes a health risk.
--Men create a sexual callousness toward women.
--Both women and men who use porn are more likely to trivialize rape and nonviolent forms of sexual abuse of children, as a criminal offense.
--It spawns doubts about the value of marriage as an essential social institution and about its future viability. It also diminishes the desire to have children. (The strongest effect of this kind concerns the aspiration of female viewers for female children.)
--It fosters sexual dissatisfaction among both men and women.

Dr. Mary Anne Layden, Co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania touched on economic losses from pornography.

“70% of the hits on Internet sex sites occur between 9 and 5 on business computers. Research also indicates, and my clinical experience supports, that 40% of sex addicts will lose their spouse, 58% will suffer severe financial losses, and 27% to 40% will lose their job or profession.”

If there is any doubt about pornography’s involvement with those who commit sex crimes, Dr. Judith Reisman of the California Protective Parents Association reminded the audience of a 1984 Senate Hearing at which John Rabun, now the head of the Department of Justice’s Missing and Abducted Children Center, testified. He was involved in researching sex crimes, and said during his testimony, “all, that is 100% of rapists, pedophiles, etc., in their study, possessed adult pornography.”

It’s important to remember these are observations as opposed to properly controlled studies. Yet, with these preliminary results coming in, it appears the tip of the iceberg has just been spotted. For your family, this may be the early warning you need to avoid a collision with tragic results.

Putting Internet filtering in place (along with the other measures mentioned at the beginning of this article) is a must, but parents need to be prepared to discuss pornography with their children when it happens (as opposed to if it will happen).

Here are just a few tips that seem common to many who are offering advice in this area:

Prevention:
--Talk to your children about the statistics you have learned in this column. Help them to understand how pornography lies to them about healthy sexual relationships, and how these lies can cause emotional, physical, and even economic distress in their lives.
--Frequently encourage open and honest communication between you and your children on all sexual subjects (along with drugs and any other “difficult” topics). It’s so much easier to address these issues prior to a “crisis” moment. Have a regular “date night” or time when you can privately discuss these issues one-on-one with your children.
--Keep any computers with Internet connections in the busiest areas of your home. This makes it difficult for users to “sneak a peek” at inappropriate material.
--Use some sort of Internet filtering. There are many options available.
--Activate your television’s V-Chip along with the parental controls on your DVD players and satellite receivers. But remember that all of this technology depends on volunteer rating systems, and you still need to keep a close eye on who is watching what.

If your child sees pornography...
--Don’t panic! This will discourage them from ever speaking to you again in the future.
--Let your child do most of the talking. Have them describe what they saw. Encourage them to use clinical terms for anatomical parts and actions.
--Where did they see it? Were other people present who may also be bothered by the incident?
--Ask them how they felt. What bothers you may not be as repulsive to them. Let them tell you about their feelings and objections to the experience.
--Discuss ways to avoid a reoccurrence.
--Gently remind them why you are concerned about pornography, but remember... they likely already know that, or they wouldn’t be talking with you.
--Follow up after a few days. Our imaginations often make images become worse. Be careful not to drag your child through the entire event again, but gently probe to find out if it’s still bothering them. If it is, discuss it further. Be reassuring, and help your child to have the confidence to know they can deal with this.

For further information, here’s a page on the Parents Television Council website regarding safe Internet use.

This page, authored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offers some great practical tips on Pornography and Internet Safety.

In Part 2 – The dangers of believing the messages embedded in pornographic media.

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