Is Pornography Addictive?
Part 2 – A "Natural Teacher" or
"Irresponsible and Dangerous?"
This is Part 2 of a three-part series. To read Part 1
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
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
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
"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
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"
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
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.
Read Part 3 – The First Amendment. Does Pornography Deserve Protection?
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
Television Council -
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