Pornography – and Marriage

It’s not exactly news that marriage is in crisis. Marriage rates are dropping, which means the next generations will be weaker because children won’t have the benefit of the love of both parents. Nations will be poorer, less healthy, and less happy also. We know all this from sound social science.

Pornography is likely one of the key ingredients in this evisceration of society. Consider its documented effects on family life:

  • Married men involved in pornography feel less satisfied with their conjugal relations and less emotionally attached to their wives. Wives notice and are very upset, even clinically traumatized.
  • Among couples affected by one spouses addiction, two-thirds experience a loss of interest in sexual intercourse.
  • Both spouses perceive pornography viewing as tantamount to infidelity.
  • Pornography is frequently a major factor in infidelity and divorce.
  • Pornography viewing leads to a loss of interest in good family relations.

The effects on individuals compound these problems:

  • Pornography is addictive, and neuroscientists are beginning to map its biological substrate.
  • Users tend to become desensitized to the type of pornography they use, and then seek more perverse forms of pornographic stimulation.
  • Men 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.
  • Pornography engenders greater sexual permissiveness, which in turn leads to a greater risk of out-of-wedlock births and STDs.
  • Child-sex offenders are more likely to view pornography regularly or to be involved in its distribution.

These are just some of the tragic effects from habitually viewing pornography but the most deleterious lie in the heart, and in family life the heart counts most.

Most men, including doctors, have not the foggiest notion that the wives develop deep psychological wounds, commonly reporting feelings of betrayal, loss, mistrust, devastation, and anger at the discovery of their husbands’ use of pornography, especially Internet use.

Many wives also begin to feel unattractive or sexually inadequate, and many become depressed, even severely depressed, so badly that they need treatment for trauma, not just for depression. Many pornography-viewing husbands lose their emotional capacity for marital relations, and this, in turn, causes both husbands wives to be less interested in the marriage bed. (Viagra sales are soaring while Internet viewing of pornography continues to rise steadily). Not only is there a loss in sexual intercourse, but even distaste for the affection of a spouse and a cynicism about love can replace the affection that used to be present between them.

It is not surprising then that pornography users increasingly see the institution of marriage as sexually confining, doubt the importance of faithfulness, question the value of marriage as an essential social institution, and are skeptical about its future.

One study of “cybersex” – sexually explicit interaction made possible in the last decade and a half by the Internet – suggests that it leads to a fourfold increase in procurement of prostitution.

When the use of pornography rises to the level of addiction, as many as 40 percent of these addicts lose their spouses, and close to 60 percent suffer considerable financial losses. About a third lose their jobs.

Given all this, it is not surprising that pornography addiction is a major contributor to separation and divorce: In the only study to date of the relationship, 68 percent of divorces reviewed 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 sexualized forum). This particular study is far from satisfactory from a strictly social scientific point of view, but it suggests a potent threat to social stability.

The effects on children are grievous: finding pornographic material a parent has stored away, overhearing a parent engaged in “phone sex,” experiencing stress and conflict in the home caused by online sexual activities of the parent, exposure to the treatment of women, as “sex objects,” and living in a home where this has already happened to their mother.

Where are the studies from the National Institutes of Mental Health on this matter? This phenomenon is big, nasty, and devastating, and likely robs more children of their fathers and families than smoking does, to say nothing of the debilitating effects on their mothers. Among the tools of the culture of death, pornography likely ranks in third place, after abortion and contraception.

It would be wonderful if a massive class-action suit could be brought by wives and children against the pornographers who made their money by addicting and warping their husbands and fathers. If massive multi-billion dollar damages have been procured from tobacco companies, why not from pornographers who also do demonstrable damage to our society? Where are those class-action attorneys when we really need them for something worthwhile?

Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. is a Washington policy analyst and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Social Services Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services.