is a visual representation of sexuality which distorts an individual’s
concept of the nature of conjugal relations. This, in turn, alters
both sexual attitudes and behavior. It is a major threat to marriage,
to family, to children and to individual happiness. In undermining
marriage it is one of the factors in undermining social stability.
scientists, clinical psychologists, and biologists have begun to
clarify some of the social and psychological effects, and neurologists
are beginning to delineate the biological mechanisms through which
pornography produces its powerful negative effects.
Key Findings on the Effects of Pornography
The Family and Pornography
men who are involved in pornography feel less satisfied with their
conjugal relations and less emotionally attached to their wives. Wives
notice and are upset by the difference.
· Pornography use is a pathway to infidelity and divorce, and is frequently a major factor in these family disasters.
· Among couples affected by one spouse’s addiction, two-thirds experience a loss of interest in sexual intercourse.
· Both spouses perceive pornography viewing as tantamount to infidelity.
· Pornography viewing leads to a loss of interest in good family relations.
The Individual and Pornography
· Pornography is addictive, and neuroscientists are beginning to map the biological substrate of this addiction.
tend to become desensitized to the type of pornorgraphy they use,
become bored with it, and then seek more perverse forms of pornography.
who view pornography regularly have a higher tolerance for abnormal
sexuality, including rape, sexual aggression, and sexual promiscuity.
· Prolonged consumption of pornography by men produces stronger notions of women as commodities or as “sex objects.”
engenders greater sexual permissiveness, which in turn leads to a
greater risk of out-of-wedlock births and STDs. These, in turn, lead to
still more weaknesses and debilities.
· Child-sex offenders are more likely to view pornography regularly or to be involved in its distribution.
Other Effects of Pornography
adolescents who view pornography initially feel shame, diminished
self-confidence, and sexual uncertainty, but these feelings quickly
shift to unadulterated enjoyment with regular viewing.
presence of sexually oriented businesses significantly harms the
surrounding community, leading to increases in crime and decreases in
main defenses against pornography are close family life, a good
marriage and good relations between parents and children, coupled with
deliberate parental monitoring of Internet use. Traditionally,
government has kept a tight lid on sexual traffic and businesses, but
in matters of pornography that has waned almost completely, except
where child pornography is concerned. Given the massive, deleterious
individual, marital, family, and social effects of pornography, it is
time for citizens, communities, and government to reconsider their
The full paper can be accessed at http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF09K57.pdf
THE EFFECTS OF PORNOGRAPHY ON INDIVIDUALS, MARRIAGE, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
as a visual (mis)representation of sexuality, distorts an individual’s
concept of sexual relations by objectifying them, which, in turn,
alters both sexual attitudes and behavior. It is a major threat to
marriage, to family, to children, and to individual happiness.
scientists, clinical psychologists, and biologists have begun to
clarify some of the social and psychological effects of pornography,
and neurologists are beginning to delineate the biological mechanisms
through which pornography produces its powerful effects on people.
Pornography’s power to undermine individual and social functioning is powerful and deep.
· Effect on the Mind: Pornography
significantly distorts attitudes and perceptions about the nature of
sexual intercourse. Men who habitually look at pornography have a
higher tolerance for abnormal sexual behaviors, sexual aggression,
promiscuity, and even rape. In addition, men begin to view women and
even children as “sex objects,” commodities or instruments for their
pleasure, not as persons with their own inherent dignity.
· Effect on the Body: Pornography
is very addictive. The addictive aspect of pornography has a
biological substrate, with dopamine hormone release acting as one of
the mechanisms for forming the transmission pathway to pleasure centers
of the brain. Also, the increased sexual permissiveness engendered by
pornography increases the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted
disease or of being an unwitting parent in an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
· Effect on the Heart: Pornography
affects people’s emotional lives. Married men who are involved in
pornography feel less satisfied with their marital sexual relations and
less emotionally attached to their wives. Women married to men with a
pornography addiction report feelings of betrayal, mistrust, and anger.
Pornographic use may lead to infidelity and even divorce. Adolescents
who view pornography feel shame, diminished self-confidence, and sexual
conjugal act—the act of sexual intercourse—brings humanity into
existence and sets in motion the next generations of society. Sexual
intercourse, like atomic energy, is a powerful agent for good if
channeled well, but for ill if not. Healthy societies maintain their
stability by channeling the sexual energies of young adults into
marriage, an institution that legitimizes sexual intercourse, protects
the children that are the fruit of intercourse, and channels the giving
and receiving of sexual pleasure in a way that builds up rather than
tears down society. Sexual taboos are one set of the normal mechanisms
of social control of the sexual appetite. They are analogous to the
control rods of a nuclear reactor plant: they block the sexual from
straying off course and into destructive pathways.
of the biggest tasks of adolescent members of all society is to come to
grips with their burgeoning sexuality. Some have always tested the
limits of sexual expression even when strong social controls were in
place. In well-ordered societies, such testing triggers immediate
social sanctions from parents, mentors, and community.
today’s media-saturated society, these sanctions operate in fewer and
fewer quarters. A substantial factor in this shift has been the growth
of digital media and the Internet. This “digital revolution” has led
to great strides in productivity, communication, and other desirable
ends, but pornographers also have harnessed its power for their
profit. The cost has been a further weakening of the nation’s citizens
and families, a development that should be of grave concern to all.
The social sciences demonstrate the appropriateness of this concern.
recent reports, one by the American Psychological Association on
hyper-sexualized girls, and the other by the National Campaign to
Prevent Teen Pregnancy on the pornographic content of phone texting
among teenagers, make clear that the digital revolution is being used
by younger and younger children to dismantle the barriers that channel
sexuality into family life.
hurts adults, children, couples, families, and society. Among
adolescents, pornography hinders the development of a healthy
sexuality, and among adults, it distorts sexual attitudes and social
realities. In families, pornography use leads to marital
dissatisfaction, infidelity, separation, and divorce. Society at large
is not immune to the effect of pornography. Child sex-offenders, for
example, are often involved not only in the viewing, but also in the
distribution, of pornography.
is powerful enough even to overwhelm individuals, couples, and families
despite earlier affectionate relationships—whether between the mother
and father or between the parents and the child. But loving family
relationships can help mute many of the factors that encourage the use
of pornography long before its addictive power takes root in a user’s
effect of regular viewing of pornography on marriage and family is
dealt with first, for there its greatest damage to the innocent can be
seen. Then the source of this damage is reviewed: the effects on the
individual user, his psyche, and his behavior. Adolescent usage,
patterns, and effects are then delineated, for during this period the
habit of viewing pornography is often developed in stages. Finally the
effects of sexually-oriented-businesses on their local environs are
The Consequences of Viewing Pornography
has significant effects during all stages of family life. For a child
exposed to pornography within a family setting, pornography causes
stress and increases the risk for developing negative attitudes about
the nature and purpose of human sexuality. For adolescents who view
pornography, their attitudes toward their own and others’ sexuality
change, and their sexual expectations and behavior are shaped
accordingly. For adults, pornography has harmful and even destructive
effects on marriage.
Impact on Children
impact of a parent’s use of pornography on young children is varied and
disturbing. Pornography eliminates the warmth of affectionate family
life, which is the natural social nutrient for a growing child. Other
losses and traumas related to the use of pornography when a child is
· encountering pornographic material a parent has acquired;
· encountering a parent masturbating;
· overhearing a parent engaged in “phone sex”;
· witnessing and experiencing stress in the home caused by online sexual activities;
· increased risk of the children becoming consumers of pornography themselves;
· witnessing and being involved in parental conflict;
· exposure to the commodification of human beings, especially women, as “sex objects”;
· increased risk of parental job loss and financial strain;
· increased risk of parental separation and divorce;
parental time and attention—both from the pornography-addicted parent
and from the parent preoccupied with the addicted spouse.
parents may disclose their struggle with the addiction to pornography
to their children, intentionally or unintentionally, thereby distorting
their children’s sexual development.
Impact on Adolescents
viewing among teenagers disorients them during that developmental phase
when they have to learn how to handle their sexuality and when they are
most vulnerable to uncertainty about their sexual beliefs and moral
A study of 2,343 adolescents found that sexually explicit Internet
material significantly increased their uncertainties about sexuality.
The study also showed that increased exposure to sexually explicit
Internet material increased favorable attitudes toward sexual
exploration with others outside of marriage and decreased marital
commitment to the other spouse.
Another study by Todd G. Morrison, professor of psychology at the
University of Saskatchewan, and colleagues found that adolescents
exposed to high levels of pornography had lower levels of sexual
viewing pornography can engender feelings of shame: In a study of high
school students, the majority of those who had viewed pornography felt
some degree of shame for viewing it. However, 36 percent of males and
26 percent of females said they were never ashamed of viewing
pornography, giving some idea of the level of desensitization already reached in society.
adolescent consumption of pornography also affects behavior. Male
pornography use is linked to significantly increased sexual intercourse
with non-romantic friends, and is likely a correlate of the so-called “hook-up” culture.
to pornographic sexual content can be a significant factor in teenage
pregnancy. A three year longitudinal study of teenagers found that
frequent exposure to televised sexual content was related to a
substantially greater likelihood of teenage pregnancy within the
succeeding three years. This same study also found that the likelihood
of teenage pregnancy was two times greater when the quantity of that
sexual content exposure, within the viewing episodes, was high rather
Impact on Marriage
many cases, the wives of pornography users also develop deep
psychological wounds, commonly reporting feelings of betrayal, loss,
mistrust, devastation, and anger in responses to the discovery or
disclosure of a partner’s pornographic online sexual activity.
can begin to feel unattractive or sexually inadequate and may become
severely depressed when they realize their husbands view pornography. The distress level in wives may be so high as to require clinical treatment for trauma, not mere discomfort.
emotional distance fostered by pornography and “cybersex” (interactive
computer contact with another regarding pornographic sexual issues) can
often be just as damaging to the relationship as real-life infidelity, and both men and women tend to put online sexual activity in the same category as having an affair.
The estrangement between spouses wrought by pornography can have
tangible consequences as well: when the viewing of pornography rises to
the level of addiction, 40 percent of “sex addicts” lose their spouses,
58 percent suffer considerable financial losses, and about a third lose
a study on the effects of “cybersex”—a form of sexually explicit
interaction between two people on the Internet—researchers found that
more than half of those engaged in “cybersex” had lost interest in
sexual intercourse, while one-third of their partners had lost interest
as well, while in one-fifth of the couples both husband and wife or
both partners had a significantly decreased interest in sexual
intercourse. Stated differently, this study showed that only one-third
of couples maintained an interest in sexual relations with one another
when one partner was engaged in “cybersex.” 
Prolonged exposure to pornography also fosters dissatisfaction with, and even distate for, a spouse’s affection.
Cynical attitudes regarding love begin to emerge, and “superior sexual
pleasures are thought attainable without affection toward partners.”
These consequences hold for both men and women who have had prolonged
exposure to pornography, with the decline in sexual happiness being
primarily due to the growing dissatisfaction with the spouse’s normal
Finally, pornography users increasingly see the institution of marriage as sexually confining, have diminished belief in the importance of marital faithfulness,
and have increasing doubts about the value of marriage as an essential
social institution and further doubts about its future viability. All this naturally diminishes the importance for them of having good family relations in their own families.
Zillman of the University of Alabama, in one study of adolescents,
shows that the steady use of pornography frequently leads to
abandonment of fidelity to their girlfriends.
Steven Stack of Wayne State University and colleagues later showed that
pornography use increased the marital infidelity rate by more than 300
percent. Another study found a strong correlation between viewing Internet pornography and sexually permissive behavior.
Stack’s study found that Internet pornography use is 3.7 times greater
among those who procure sexual relations with a prostitute than among
those who do not.
pornography also leads to much higher levels of infidelity among
women. Women who engaged in “cybersex” had about 40 percent more
offline sexual partners than women who did not engage in cybersex.
Separation and Divorce
the research already cited, it is not surprising that addiction to
pornography is a contributor to separation and divorce. In the best
study to date (a very rudimentary opportunity study of reports by
divorce lawyers on the most salient factors present in the divorce
cases they handled), 68 percent of divorce cases involved one party
meeting a new paramour over the Internet, 56 percent involved “one
party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites,” 47
percent involved “spending excessive time on the computer,” and 33
percent involved spending excessive time in chat rooms (a commonly
Cybersex, which often takes place in these chat rooms, was a major
factor in separation and divorce: In over 22 percent of the couples
observed the spouse was no longer living with the “cybersex” addict,
and in many of the other cases spouses were seriously considering
leaving the marriage or relationship.
Differences between Men and Women
affects both men and women. However there are significant differences
between men and women on the likelihood of using pornography, the types
of pornography used, and their feelings about pornography.
Different Rates of Use and Different Types of Use
Men and women use pornography differently. Men are more than six times as likely to view pornography as females, and more likely to spend more time viewing it.
a study of self-identified female ”cybersex” addicts, women reported
that they preferred engaging in “cybersex” within the context of a
relationship (via email or chat room) rather than accessing
pornographic images. This preference may contribute to the significant
difference one study found in the proportion of women who have
real-life sexual encounters with their online companions compared to
men. It found that 80 percent of women who engaged in these online
sexual activities also had real-life sexual encounters with their
online partners, compared to the much lower proportion of 33 percent
for men. Also, as stated above, such women are much more likely to have had very high numbers of such sexual encounters and partners. 
However in another study, this time of men who flirted in Internet chat
rooms, 78 percent reported they had at least one face-to-face sexual
experience with someone they had met through a chat room in the past
Thus, it seems that a very high proportion of both men and women who
engage in “cybersex” may go on to have physical sexual encounters with
their online partners.
study of sex-addicted men also found that 43 percent used online sexual
activity to engage in sexual activities they would never otherwise
Similarly, self reports also reveal that the tendency to explore new
behaviors in “offline” relationships increases with increased online
Different Reactions to Different Infidelities
way men and women view infidelity is very different. One study, using
undergraduates from a large university in Northern Ireland,
investigated how men and women perceive online and offline sexual and
emotional infidelity. When forced to decide, men were more upset by
sexual infidelity and women by emotional infidelity. Only 23 percent
of women claimed they would be more bothered by sexual infidelity,
compared to the 77 percent of women who would be more bothered by
emotional infidelity. Males felt the opposite way. Eighty-four
percent of the men reported they would be more bothered by sexual
infidelity, whereas only 16 percent say they would be more bothered by
a study which examined different types of degrading pornography,
featuring themes such as “objectification” and “dominance,” both men
and women rated the same three major themes as the most degrading of
all, but with different intensities: women rated them as even more
degrading than men did.
changes the habits of the mind, the inner private self. Its use can
easily become habitual, which in turn leads to desensitization,
boredom, distorted views of reality, and an objectification of women.
A greater amount of sexual stimuli becomes necessary to arouse habitual
users, leading them to pursue more deviant forms of pornography to
fulfill their sexual desires.
Desensitization, Habituation, and Boredom
Prolonged use of pornography produces habituation, boredom, and sexual dissatisfaction among female and male viewers, and is associated with more lenient views of extramarital sexual relations and recreational attitudes toward sex.
A 2000 study of college freshmen found that the habitual use of
pornography led to greater tolerance of sexually explicit material,
thus requiring more novel and bizarre material to achieve the same
level of arousal or interest.
For example, habituation may lead to watching “depictions of group sex,
sadomasochistic practices, and sexual contact with animals,” engaging in anal intercourse, and trivializing “nonviolent forms of the sexual abuse of children.”
The pornography industry adapted to this desire for more bizarre and uncommon images. An analysis of the content of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler
from the years 1953 to 1984 revealed 6,004 child images and an
additional 14,854 images depicting crime or violence. Furthermore,
nearly two-thirds of the child images were sexual and violent, with
most of the images displaying girls between the ages of three and
eleven years of age. Each of these magazines portrayed the scenes
involving children as though the child had been unharmed by the sexual
scene or even benefited from it.
Heavy exposure to pornography leads men to judge their mates as sexually less attractive, resulting in less satisfaction with their affection, physical appearance, and sexual behavior.
The need for more intense sexual stimulation brought on by pornography
can lead to boredom in normal relationships and a greater likelihood of
seeking sexual pleasure outside of marriage. Repeated exposure to
pornography leads the viewer to consider “recreational sexual
engagements” as increasingly important, and changes the viewer to being very accepting of sexual permissiveness.
Distorted Perception of Reality
presents sexual access as relentless, “a sporting event that amounts to
innocent fun” with inconsequential effects on emotions, perceptions,
This is not the case, however. Pornography leads to distorted
perceptions of social reality: an exaggerated perception of the level
of sexual activity in the general population,
an inflated estimate “of the incidence of premarital and extramarital
sexual activity, as well as increased assessment of male and female
promiscuity,” “an overestimation of almost all sexual activities
performed by sexually active adults,” and an overestimation of the general prevalence of perversions such as group sex, bestiality, and sadomasochistic activity.
Thus the beliefs being formed in the mind of the viewer of pornography
are far removed from reality. A case could be made that repeated
viewing of pornography induces a mental illness in matters sexual.
distortions result in an acceptance of three beliefs: (1) sexual
relationships are recreational in nature, (2) men are generally
sexually driven, and (3) women are sex objects or commodities.
These are called “permission-giving beliefs” because they result in
assumptions that one’s behavior is normal, acceptable, and commonplace,
and thus not hurtful to anyone else. These beliefs are deepened and reinforced by masturbation while viewing pornography, a frequent practice among those who use pornography to deal with stress.
When male and female viewers do not believe that exposure to pornography has any effect upon their personal views or lives,
they more readily internalize abnormal sexual attitudes and increase
the likelihood that they will engage in perverse sexual behaviors.
of these distortions amount to a serious misunderstanding about
sexuality and relationships and are a dangerous distortion of the
nature of social life.
Those who perceive pornographic sexual scenes as depicting reality tend
to be more accepting of se