Is Pornography Addictive? (Part 2)

Part 2 – A “Natural Teacher” or “Irresponsible and Dangerous?”

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. The opening article can be read here.

I have a sophisticated email filtering system that causes me no end of hassles, yet I do it for the simple reason that I’m tired of sorting through 300-plus spam messages per day—most of which are promoting pornography.

Yet, a few still get through.

While researching this article, a press release flew under my spam radar, and landed in my inbox. “Porn Stars Want to Save Your Marriage!” blurted the subject line. In light of what I’m discussing in the second part of this series on pornography, the arrival of this email couldn’t have been timelier.

In the message, the producer of the new video enthusiastically plugs his product. “I felt porn stars are natural teachers for sex because they have no inhibitions about sex, they have lots of sex, with many different people, and as a result, their experience and knowledge can be invaluable to a couple that is struggling to bring some sizzle in their bedrooms.”

Just like any product looking for a market, the pornography industry is desperately working to convince America that porn is not only a recreational activity, but also a needed service—such as this attempt to help you have a better marriage. It also wants us to believe what we are seeing and hearing reflects reality.

But while some of us are being lulled into a sense of apathy over seeing legions of nearly-naked bodies everywhere we turn, a group of researchers are determined to bring the concerning aspects of pornography back to our consciousness, and debunk the notion that pornographic media is good for you or is based on any shred of truth.

Testifying in November 2004 in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space, Dr. Mary Anne Layton is co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania. In her testimony on The Science of Pornography Addiction, she identifies pornography as a “toxic mis-education about sex and relationships.” She says the toxicity of pornography increases based on the quantity, the “harder” the variety, and the younger and more vulnerable the consumer.

The damage done by this poison may include, what she calls, “Pornography Distortion” (believing sex is only about predatory self-gratification, casual recreation, and body parts), “Permission-Giving Beliefs” (thinking “women like sex mixed with violence,” “children enjoy sex with adults,” or “all men go to prostitutes”) and attitudes about what constitutes a healthy sexual and emotional relationship.

While some may balk at the lack of solid scientific evidence to support claims regarding pornography’s negative effects, Dr. Layton sees it in her professional practice every day… and often it’s the people secondary to the porn consumer who are hit the hardest.

“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.”

As for the advertisement in my inbox, Dr. Layton’s professional experiences speak otherwise.

“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,” says Layton. “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.”

Her testimony to the Senate subcommittee also illustrates the affect this industry is having on children.

“As pornography becomes ‘normalized,’ it is left around the house,” explains Layton. “Children can get exposed to it. This increases the likelihood of early sexual experience and with it, the increasing risk of pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases.”

However, according to Dr. Layden, the effects move beyond physical risks. “These children often think that all relationships are sexual. That sex is the core of their personalities and is the way in which you raise your self-esteem.”

It’s hardly surprising young children are coming to that conclusion, and certainly other media are contributing to that perception. If I was a visitor from another planet, and I landed in a major metropolitan area, I would be inundated with billboards, magazines, and every other sort of electronic display featuring partially clothed humans. Our society has become increasingly sexual in every aspect. It seems to be the only way we can sell, entertain, and inform.

But the danger comes when we begin believing these portrayals. All media is constructed and artificially built to make a point, but pornography and the many other forms of entertainment that come just short of qualifying as “adult,” seem to have the greatest propensity to lie to their audience.

Consider Dr. Layden’s descriptions of distorted messages when applied to mainstream television, movies, and music. Ever see a film where a woman is portrayed in a sensually violent way? Catwoman? Elektra? Our latest superheroes are leather-bound sensations, born from the male imagination, who send a potent message to young viewers about the role of women.

Then consider the many other movies and television shows where sex is the feature attraction and portrayed as nothing more than a recreational activity. These “soft” messages set up a perfect entry into the harder world of “adult” entertainment.

As for my email solicitation, I ventured to the opening page of the website, where I found pages of fine print I was asked to agree to before entering the site.

Near the end, two adjacent paragraphs held an interesting irony. The first reads: “The videos and images in this site are intended to be used by responsible adults as sexual aids, to provide sexual education.”

In the next I’m told this education may have other consequences: “The images and videos within this website depict real people and their behaviors when placed in fantasy situations. The behavior and actions within are intended only for the world of fantasy and it would be both irresponsible and dangerous to behave or act this way in the real world.”

Finally something on which the medical experts and the purveyors of pornography agree: Adult videos can be “irresponsible and dangerous.” Too bad that statement is buried in the fine print.

In Part 3 – The First Amendment. Does Pornography Deserve Protection?

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…