Today, digital pornography is a hot topic. Very hot.
Beliefs and opinions about porn’s availability, use, and effects abound, but facts are relatively scarce. There are pro-porn factions who think porn is great for sex and relationships; the more the better. At the same time, there are anti-porn factions who think porn is sending us to hell in a handbasket.
Interestingly, both groups want us to believe that porn is taking over the internet and maybe the world.
Unfortunately, neither side of this debate gives sufficient credence to facts when formulating their opinions. Recognizing this, I have culled information about the availability, use of, and effects of pornography from the latest academic and scholarly research, distilling the information into five factually accurate categories. From this, my hope is that people will form their own informed opinions about pornography.
Porn is Ubiquitous
There are more than 2.5 million porn websites (Ogas & Gaddam, 2012). This number does not account for the countless number of erotic images on social media, dating sites, hookup apps, etc.
13% of all internet searches are porn-related (Ogas & Gaddam, 2012).
Adult male porn users spend an average of three hours per week with porn. Some spend as little as five minutes per week; others spend up to 33 hours per week (Wéry & Billieux, 2016).
Kids Look at Porn, Too
Current estimates place the average age of first porn use at 11 (Wolak, Mitchell & Finkelhor, 2007).
One study found that nearly all boys and most girls use porn, though boys tend to look at it earlier and to view it more often (Sabina, Wolak & Finkelhor, 2008).
In a study of 16-year-old boys, 96% admitted they were porn users, with 10% saying they looked at porn every day (Mattebo, Tyden, Haggstrom-Nordin, Nilsson & Larsson, 2013).
Porn use among adolescent males and young men is almost universal. When a Canadian researcher tried to study the effects of porn on this population, he couldn’t, because he was unable to locate even one potential study participant who wasn’t already using porn. Unable to compare users to non-users, the researcher scuttled the experiment (Liew, 2009).
Reasons for Porn Use Vary by Person and Circumstance
Motivations for porn use vary widely, with reasons often overlapping. One study found that 94.4% of porn users went online for sexual satisfaction. Other common reasons were feeling arousal (87.2%), achieving orgasm (86.5%), alleviating stress (73.8%), relieving boredom (70.8%), forgetting daily problems (53%), decreasing loneliness (44.9%), and combatting depression (38.1%) (Wéry & Billieux, 2016).
Porn Can Create Personal Problems
Not all porn users feel good about their behavior. One study found that 61.7% of adult male porn users felt shame about porn use, 49% sometimes searched for sexual content that did not previously interest them or that they considered disgusting, and 27.6% self-assessed their porn use as problematic (Wéry & Billieux, 2016).
Heavy porn use among adolescent boys is correlated with higher levels of risky sexual behaviors, relationship problems, truancy, smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use (Mattebo, Tyden, Haggstrom-Nordin, Nilsson & Larsson, 2013).
People who use porn primarily to manage their emotions are more likely to experience porn-related problems than people who use porn to find sexual satisfaction (Wéry & Billieux, 2016).
Porn Can Undermine Real-World Sex and Relationship
Increased porn use is correlated with decreased marital satisfaction in both the short-term and long-term. This link is stronger with male porn use than with female porn use (Perry, 2017).
Porn use almost doubles the likelihood of getting divorced in the next four years, increasing the probability from 6% to 11% (Perry, 2017).
Compulsive porn users often struggle with sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, and anorgasmia (inability to reach orgasm) (Rosenberg, Carnes & O’Connor, 2014). One study found that 26.7% of compulsive porn users reported issues with sexual dysfunction (Hall, 2012). Another study identified sexual dysfunction in 58% of compulsive porn users (Voon, Mole, Banca, … & Irvine, 2014).
Although digital technology facilitates, encourages, and drives modern-day porn use, tech itself is not a root cause of porn-related issues.
In fact, most people can use porn without problems, just as most people can drink alcohol without problems. Most often, it is individuals who are predisposed to emotional and intimacy-related difficulties thanks to genetics, trauma, and other factors, who experience porn-related problems, just as they might struggle with alcohol, drugs, gambling, and the like. But tech itself is neither the issue nor a root cause of the issue.
Hall, P. (2012). Understanding and treating sex addiction: A comprehensive guide for people who struggle with sex addiction and those who want to help them. Routledge.
Liew, J. (2009). All men watch porn, scientists find. The Telegraph. Retrieved Jan 16, 2015 from telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/6709646/All-men-watch-porn-scientists-find.html.
Mattebo, M., Tyden, T., Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Nilsson, K.S., & Larsson M. (2013). Pornography consumption, sexual experiences, lifestyles, and self-rated health among male adolescents in Sweden. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 34(7):460-468.
Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2012). A billion wicked thoughts: What the Internet tells us about sexual relationships, p 8. New York, NY: Plume.
Perry, S. L. (2017). Does viewing pornography reduce marital quality over time? Evidence from longitudinal data. Archives of sexual behavior, 46(2), 549-559.
Rosenberg, K. P., Carnes, P., & O’Connor, S. (2014). Evaluation and treatment of sex addiction. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 40(2), 77-91.
Sabina, C., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2008). The nature and dynamics of Internet pornography exposure for youth. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(6), 691-693.
Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., … & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419.
Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266.
Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2007). Unwanted and wanted exposure to online pornography in a national sample of youth Internet users. Pediatrics, 119(2), 247-257.
“Covert incest, also known as emotional incest (and sometimes as psychic incest), is the surreptitious, indirect, sexualized emotional use/abuse of a child by a parent, step-parent, or any other long-term caregiver.”
— Robert Weiss, Sex Addiction 101
In contrast to overt sexual abuse, which involves hands-on sexual contact, covert abuse involves less direct forms of sexuality—sexuality that is emotionally implied or suggested rather than overtly acted out. In this way, a child is used for emotional fulfillment, forced to support the adult by serving as a trusted confidante and/or an “emotional spouse.” Though there may be little to no direct sexual activity, these overly enmeshed relationships have a sexualized undertone, with the parent expressing overly graphic verbal interest in the child’s physical development and sexual characteristics and/or betraying the child’s boundaries through voyeurism, exhibitionism, sexualized conversations, and inappropriate sharing of intimate stories and/or images.
Covert incest often occurs when the parents have distanced themselves from one another both physically and emotionally, or when one (or both) of the parents is addicted to a substance or a behavior. When dysfunctional parent couples distance themselves from each other, one of the parents may focus on the child, seeking adult emotional fulfillment by using the child as a surrogate partner. Or the parent may tie his or her self-esteem to the success of the child. Either way, the child’s developmental needs tend to be ignored, and emotional growth (especially in the area of healthy sexual and romantic attachment) can be profoundly stunted. Amazingly, the perpetrating adult is usually completely unaware of the emotional damage he or she is creating.
Interestingly, most covert incest survivors initially resist the notion that they have been sexually abused because they were never actually touched in a sexual way by the perpetrator. Nevertheless, these relationships are indeed sexualized. Stated simply, a child in these circumstances is sexualized and treated as an adult partner, and therefore the child is deprived of healthy attachment bonds, stable emotional growth, and many other basics of childhood development. In lieu of healthy development, the child is taught that his or her value is based not on who he or she is as a person, but on how much he or she can please, amuse, and/or bond with the caretaker.
Over time, covert incest survivors typically react and respond in the same ways as survivors of overt (hands-on) sexual abuse, with some or all of the following adult-life symptoms and consequences:
Addiction and/or compulsivity
Difficulty developing and maintaining long-term intimacy
Shame and feelings of inadequacy
Difficulties with self-care (emotional and/or physical)
Love/hate relationships, especially with the offending parent but also with others
Inappropriate bonding with their own child (intergenerational abuse)
As pervasive and damaging as covert incest is, it frequently goes unrecognized in treatment settings. As therapist Debra Kaplan writes, “The obvious signs are obscured from plain view. It is like the air in the room–it’s here, but you can’t see it.” Thus, it is only when we dig beneath the surface that we tend to see the connections between early-life covertly incestuous abuse and adult-life intimacy and addiction issues, including sexual addiction.
The parents I know constantly ask God to guide and protect them, to make their children the saints they’re called to be! They want to protect their children from negative influences, including a sexualized culture that tries to shove itself into children’s faces at a young age. They desperately want to keep pornography from creeping into their children’s lives, but they’re just not sure how to do that.
If you’re a parent, does this sound like you?
If so, then we have good news! Through some survey findings and a bit of research, we’ve discovered a few practical steps that any parent can take regardless of your technical knowledge.
In 2016, a large US Catholic high school anonymously surveyed the majority of their male students on pornography use. The results below are the cumulative percentages for all grades. The survey was administered anonymously during Theology classes. We pray that this information will encourage parents to protect their children from pornography.
(There are several questions where percentages did not equal 100%, possibly due to incorrectly filled out scantrons and quick rounding of percentages.)
Here is the data from the anonymous survey:
1. How often, typically do you view pornography?
More than once a day (6%)
Not daily but more than once a week (49%)
Once per week or less than once per week (20%)
I do not view pornography (11%)
2. What device do you MOST use to view pornography?
Home Computer (7%)
I do not view pornographic websites (10%)
3. Where do you view pornographic materials?
In my bedroom (61%)
At my “study space” (6%)
Other locations in my house (21%)
In my car (5%)
I do not view pornographic websites (11%)
4. Which of the following pornography is your preferred to view?
Pictures of people in suggestive poses but fully clothed (3%)
Pictures of people in suggestive poses but scantily clothed (8%)
Pictures of naked people (23%)
Video of people performing various sex acts (58%)
I do not view pornographic websites (8%)
5. What feeling do you usually experience before viewing pornography?
Here’s what stands out to us at Covenant Eyes about this survey. A high percentage of pornography consumption by high school students happens on smartphones (57%), in the bedroom (61%), and/or when they’re bored (48%). Thankfully, these are things parents can control.
In 2016, the Barna Group published its study The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography In the Digital Age, wherein they state that 88% of most teens (child ages 13-17) have a phone and 82% of teens sleep with their phone in their bedroom. Further, the survey explains that 48% (nearly half) of preteens (children ages 9-12) have a phone, and of those, most (72%) sleep with their phone in their bedroom.
If you’re like the majority of parents, you’ve chosen to provide your children with a smartphone and internet access. Sometimes, this decision is made without fully understanding all of the ways in which our children can access pornography. But the following tips can help limit your child’s exposure to inappropriate content:
1. Protect Your Family’s Devices
Use parental controls, and if a device doesn’t provide or allow parental controls to be downloaded, don’t buy it for them. As another layer of protection, use Covenant Eyes Accountability and Filtering Services on your family’s smartphones, tablets, and computers.
2. No Smartphones, Tablets, Computers, or TVs in the Bedroom
Keep computers in an open room. Don’t allow devices in your children’s bedrooms that can access the internet or cable.
3. Talk to Your Children
Use the weekly internet use reports from Covenant Eyes to strike up good conversations. The aim is to manage small issues before they become big problems. Parents have the biggest influence on their kids’ behaviors–more than their friends, school, or parish church. Put that influence to use. Set aside times to talk to your kids about their God-given sexuality. Also, be prepared to talk to your child or teen on the fly when opportunities present themselves. Talking isn’t preaching. Be willing to listen, too. If you don’t feel prepared to talk to your children on these topics, a great resource to help you is the free Covenant Eyes ebook, Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture.
4. Give Your Kids Responsibilities and Encourage Life-giving Hobbies
It’s more and more common that our young people aren’t given responsibilities at home or in the broader life of the community. God has given them many gifts to use and share, so give them the opportunity! Both young and teenage children can really thrive when given responsibilities like folding clothes, drying the dishes, mowing, and meal planning or helping cook once a week. Also, children are just bursting with energy and ways to be creative. Pay attention to what they enjoy and what comes naturally to them and cultivate that in the child. Are they good at drawing? How about the guitar? Does your son enjoy woodworking? Maybe your daughter likes taking photographs? Encourage growth in these areas and other hobbies they have interest in. This will get them away from the TV and smartphone, which decreases their likelihood of ongoing use of pornography.
In the digital age, it’s not a matter of if your child will see something inappropriate online. It’s only a matter of when. Although no plan is 100% safe, we believe that following the steps above will significantly decrease the opportunities for our sexualized culture to have undue influence on the hearts and minds of your precious children.
I work with men every day who struggle with some type of sexual addiction, and they all have one thing in common: porn.
For a lot of guys, this is their main vice. The men who also have affairs, go to massage parlors, use escorts, or prostitutes all report the same starting point: pornography.
To be fair, this does not mean if you look at porn that you are guaranteed to progress to these other behaviors. It does mean that you are more at risk than you probably think.
Did you know that 56% of all divorce cases involve one person with an obsessive interest in pornographic websites? Do you think these guys thought it would ruin their marriages when they invited this gateway drug into their lives?
So what makes porn a gateway drug? Why isn’t looking at a few pictures or videos enough?
What makes porn a gateway drug?
The answer is tolerance. Tolerance is when you need more of something to get the same effect. If I stop drinking caffeine for a while, a coke at 7:00 p.m. will keep me up at night. Once my body gets used to caffeine again, I can drink a coke at 8:00 p.m. and be out by 10.
When dopamine and testosterone get together, they make the experience more sexualized and aggressive.
At the same time, serotonin levels drop, which makes you obsess about what you are looking at while increasing the experience of sexual tension.
The whole experience is intoxicating. It makes you want more of that same feeling, so you go back to the same places to recapture the rush.
Somewhere inside, your body figures out that this isn’t really sex. It isn’t emotionally connected sex, so you don’t respond the same way.
What was once euphoric and awesome, becomes a bit dull. You need something…more.
Here is where the Internet becomes a bottomless pit. There is always something more graphic, more edgy, more tantalizing out there. With all the talk of “draining the swamp” over the past year, be assured there is no bottom to this swamp.
Before you know it,you have gone down paths that you never thought you would ever consider. And it happened one little step at a time. In fact, the stuff you began looking at seems boring now.
Tolerance not only desensitizes you, but it dehumanizes others–especially women. Studies have shown that after viewing pornography men minimize rape or violence perpetrated against women.
What else makes porn’s grip so strong?
The 3-A’s that strengthen porn’s grip kick in Available, Affordable, and Anonymous.
Available: Everybody has a smartphone these days. Elementary aged kids have phones, iPods, or iPads. (Think of letting your child take a bag of chocolate chip cookies laced with crack to his room–what do you think will happen?)
We all have multiple access points to porn at all times. The days of having to go to the store for a magazine are long gone.
Affordable: Beyond access points, there is so much free porn available on the Internet that Playboy stopped publishing nude photos for about a year. Their product wasn’t profitable anymore. (Let that sink in for a minute).
Anonymous: It feels anonymous. A little hit on your phone at work. Some time on the iPad at home. No one knows, right? Everything we do online is traceable. Just ask the folks who signed up for Ashley Madison.
Research has provided several clues to show who is more vulnerable to addictive behaviors, and who is more likely to recover.
Risk Factors–Are certain backgrounds at higher risk for addiction?
1. Statistically speaking, if you have a history of verbal, sexual, or physical abuse, then you are more susceptible to addictive behaviors. In fact, this is the best predictor for addictive behavior.
2. But to tell how tenacious and persistent that addictive behavior may be, the best predictor is neglect. Neglect could be not having food, clothing, or shelter while growing up. More often, it is emotional neglect. This is not simply, “I didn’t get the big wheel when I was 5.” Neglect is when you don’t get what you need–for example, a lack of boundaries. Did your parents let you run wild or raise yourself? You didn’t get the guidance and protection needed.
3. Being shut down, criticized all the time, or consistently told you aren’t good enough–these leave an ache inside that begs to be medicated.
4. If you have an anxiety disorder (O.C.D., social anxiety, etc.), ADHD, or any history of trauma, then you are a prime candidate to self-medicate by using porn or other addictive behaviors.
5. I have worked with a lot of soldiers that served in Iraq and Afghanistan who learned to use pornography to self-medicate for PTSD.
Resiliency Factors–What indicates an ability to overcome addiction?
One of the best predictors of being able to recover from using porn, or avoid it in the first place, is the connection.
The quality of your close relationships is a huge factor in undoing the effects of porn. This is more than hanging out with the guys talking about football, work, or the weather. Close connections (technically called “attachments”) have a huge impact on how your brain works. It is one of the best antidotes to an addictive behavior you will find.
(For fun, check out attachment, oxytocin, and mirror neurons in your spare time.)
Dopamine withdrawal can be brutal for a week or so as you detox, but it is worth it. That is where connecting with friends comes in. Simply letting someone know what you are thinking and feeling (not even problem solving) releases oxytocin. It’s like taking a Xanax with no side effects.
Rest assured, pornography is a gateway drug. Fortunately, the gate swings both ways. That means you can get out even if you’ve been sucked in.
The best way to make sure the gate stays closed is to have strong relationships with friends and family. Sometimes we need someone to help us keep the gate closed.
Numerous Christian men I’ve counseled have shared how their Christian wives read romance novels and watch movies and shows that contain nudity in front of them, even asking them to watch with them. Ironically, these men are trying their hardest to remain sexually pure for their wives, while their wives are putting pornographic images right in front of them.
This is not a wife-bashing article, believe me. I pray this article will bring freedom to wives in unexpected ways and bring wholeness to their marriages.
When a guy sins sexually, it is his fault. He is held accountable and responsible before God. “Eve made me do it” didn’t work in Genesis 3 and it still doesn’t work today. A man’s choice to sin is on his head. At the end of the day though, I believe most Christian wives do not desire for their husbands to sin sexually, and if they knew of things they could do, within reason, to help with this, they would.
I also want to acknowledge off the bat that the majority of women aren’t visually stimulated the same way the majority of men are. So while I would never watch a movie with a naked sex scene in it (and likely, any sex scene), many women can watch this without it leading them to sin. It’s also important to note that most nudity in movies is female nudity. While a women’s bare breasts in a movie will definitely affect me, it unlikely tempts the majority of women viewers to sin.
I hope what I provide below gives women a guide to navigating what might be an unknown or confusing subject.
Sensual, nude female skin on the screen can easily tempt your husband to sin.
While there may be some rare exceptions out there, this is generally going to be true for men, whether they admit it or not. I think some men want to think they are mature enough to see on-screen female nudity without lusting, but this is generally not true. Sure, there can be debates about female nudity in classical works of art, etc., but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about Hollywood shows and movies that sensually expose a woman’s body.
As a wife, you may be able to watch this without it affecting you. But ask yourself if it’s worth the risk of your husband’s temptation. There’s a high chance these images will stick with your husband. He may masturbate over these images later, think about them throughout the day instead of about you. He may begin to downgrade how you look physically because these fake, done-up scenes will be embedded into his brain, and he may even dwell on them while he’s having sex with you.
Most of this is not happening because he wants to, but because these images are beating down the frail door in his mind he’s tried to put up to resist them. You can judge him for this, but you have to remember God never designed men to be exposed to this sort of rampant visual stimulation on a screen. God didn’t design men to have unlimited numbers of naked, sensual, perfectly shaped bodies streamed in front of them, giving such a false picture of what sex and the value of a woman is. Such stimulation can’t simply be erased from the system. Once it enters, its damage remains. It needs to be kept out of the system altogether.
Please don’t pressure your husband to be “mature enough” to watch these scenes with you. It harms him and harms your marriage.
“Well, if she can look at it, I can too.”
A wife’s indulgence in sex scenes, nudity, and I’ll throw romance novels in here, also convinces a man that if she can look at porn, so can he. When a man tries his hardest not to look at porn, especially when he’s doing it for his wife, it usually doesn’t take much to convince him to stop trying so hard.
When your husband watches the latest Netflix show, with its now standard Netflix-share of sensual sex and naked breasts, it embeds these scenes in his brain, as well as encourages him to look at more porn later. If his Christian wife is okay with these things (and is asking him to watch with her), why shouldn’t he be okay with them on his own time as well?
It makes him feel inadequate.
The reason I’m including romance novels in an article that thus far has been about on-screen nudity is because it falls into the same pornographic/fantasy category. For many women, romance novels produce the same type of fantasy that a man will get from visual pornography.
Ask yourself this question: why do you not want your husband to look at pornography? The answer to that question is probably the same reason your husband doesn’t want you reading romance novels. Romance novels make your husband feel inadequate and they harm your sex life and overall intimacy. They give you a picture of romance and intimacy that isn’t real and isn’t your husband.
What happens to your reality when you invest your time in these types of fantasy relationships and fantasy sex? What happens to the grass under your feet when you’re always watering the grass on the other side of the fence? Exactly. Your reality withers up and the grass on the other side of the fence gets greener and greener. Who wants to live like that? I did for many years and it is absolutely miserable.
When Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28 that lust is the equivalent of committing adultery in our hearts, he is talking about this. Lust isn’t the act of merely viewing a body and wanting it, it’s the thought of wanting the body, the person, the relationship, the acceptance, the validation, and the intimacy that you can create in your mind about that person. You may not be getting these things from your husband, but trying to get them in fantasy will only make things worse. What would happen if you only ate fantasy-food? Exactly: you’d die. The same thing will happen to you spiritually and relationally if you try to live off of fantasy-intimacy. This is where Jesus comes in.
Finding an intimacy that lasts.
Our spouses don’t always give us the intimacy we need. That shortcoming is something that’s between them and God. When we expect them to meet all of our needs, we can easily turn them into an idol, expecting from them what only God can ultimately give us. A lack of intimacy from our spouse doesn’t give any of us, man or woman, the license to find this intimacy through sinful avenues. And for married folks who currently find themselves in this boat, you have to ask yourself, “What do your single brothers and sisters do?” They don’t have a spouse to get intimacy from to start with!
The answer for all of us is that our primary intimacy always needs to come from Jesus. Ephesians 5:31-32 tells us that Jesus is our husband and we are his bride. It’s the same metaphor used throughout the Old Testament to describe God’s relationship with his people. When Jesus died on the cross for your sins, it not only allowed you into heaven, it sealed your value as his adopted son or daughter. It reconciled you back to the source of all love, intimacy, acceptance, approval, and validation.
The next time you hunger for intimacy, either because it’s lacking in your marriage or simply because you want to indulge in some “eye candy” or “mental candy,” go to Jesus instead. Sit at his feet, listen to his voice, and let him tell you how much he already loves you. He is the intimacy you need and his strength can and will pull you through the dry seasons of your marriage or your singleness.
Oprah Winfrey is shifting her perspective on how childhood trauma impacts people’s lives. For Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” Winfrey traveled to Milwaukee, where she grew up, to learn about a revolutionary approach in the city to early trauma. She spoke to Dr. Bruce Perry, a world-renowned expert in the field who has treated survivors of high-profile events like the Columbine shooting. He said a child’s brain gets wired “differently” when they’re raised in a chaotic or violent environment.
“If you have developmental trauma, the truth is you’re going to be at risk for almost any kind of physical health, mental health, social health problem that you can think of,” Perry told Winfrey.
Winfrey said she believes the conversation could be a “game changer.”
“This story is so important to me and I believe to our culture that if I could dance on the tabletops right now to get people to pay attention to it, I would. It is definitively changed the way I see people in the world, and it has definitively changed the way I will now be operating my school in South Africa and going forward any philanthropic efforts that I’m engaged in,” she said Tuesday on “CBS This Morning.”
“What I recognize is is that a lot of NGOs, a lot of people working in philanthropic world, who are trying to help disadvantaged, challenged people from backgrounds that have been disenfranchised, are working on the wrong thing,” Winfrey added.
While there have been plenty of job and training programs to help the disadvantaged, Winfrey said, “If you don’t fix the hole in the soul, the thing that is where the wounds started, you’re working at the wrong thing.”
The shift in perspective comes down to what Winfrey calls a “life-changing question.”
“See, we go through life and we see kids who are misbehaving. ‘You juvenile delinquents,’ we label them. And really the question that we should be asking is not ‘what’s wrong with that child’ but ‘what happened to that child?’ And then having the resources to be able to address what happened to you. The most important question you can ask of anybody which is what I now say even for the Parkland [school] shooting – instead of what’s the matter with that kid, I say what happened to that child?”
As a result of her reporting, she said she went back to her school board and said, “Hey, we’ve been doing it all wrong. We need to be a trauma-informed care institution.”
“CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King pointed out that this was a personal story for Winfrey herself.
“Number one, it’s in Milwaukee where you were raised. You certainly suffered trauma there. You weren’t physically abused in your home, but you talk very candidly about –” King started.
“I got enough whippings to call it – we just didn’t call it physical abuse at the time,” Winfrey said. “Today I would have to report my mama.”
“Today it would be. But you’ve certainly been very candid about the sexual abuse. And a lot of these kids suffer from PTSD. I marvel, Oprah, that the environment you grew up in, that you don’t seem to have suffered from PTSD. Are you rethinking that?” King asked.
“No, I – I definitely do not have PTSD,” Winfrey responded. She said she asked Perry why some people like herself, “raised in chaotic environments,” turned out OK.
“It’s directly proportional to the relationships. So he was saying for me, for instance, it was school. I found my refuge in school,” Winfrey said. “I found my place in school from teachers. So everybody needs somebody growing up that says, ‘I believe in you, you’re OK, things are going to be all right.’ And that can be a teacher, that can be a coach, that can be somebody in Sunday school.”
Dot is the wife of an alcoholic. When she and her husband met and married, she knew that he drank, but she didn’t know how much, because he kept much of this behavior hidden. As their marriage progressed, she became more aware of his drinking, and she started to find empty pill bottles in the trash — prescription opioids that didn’t belong to her or her husband.
Dot loves her husband and has no interest in leaving him, so she’s done what anyone who loves her partner would do — she’s tried to manage the problem by controlling his drinking and pill abuse and prevent him from driving while intoxicated. Sadly, life for Dot has become less about her needs and more about “managing the situation.”
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Despite Dot’s best efforts, her husband recently got arrested for driving while impaired. His attorney encouraged him to get treatment. At the same time, Dot decided to see a therapist for advice on how to help her husband. The therapist heard Dot’s story and immediately said, “Wow, you’re a classic co-addict. You’re an enabler and a caretaker, and you need to go to CoDA (Codependent’s Anonymous) to deal with your problem.”
Guess what? Dot never went back to therapy, and she never went to a CoDA meeting. Instead, she feels hurt, angry, ashamed, and confused about why the therapist blamed her for her husband’s addiction. So instead of seeking support that could help her walk through a difficult time, she has retreated to her marriage, and she now speaks only to her husband about her feelings. Of course, as an addict who is (understandably) keen to maintain the status quo, he is of little help.
Moving Beyond the Codependency Label
Prodependence is a term I have created for use in a forthcoming (2018) book, co-written with Dr. Stefanie Carnes, to help loved ones of addicts. I use this term to describe healthy interdependence in the modern world. Essentially, prodependence occurs when attachment relationships are mutually beneficial — with one person’s strengths filling in the weak points of the other, and vice versa — and this mutual support occurs automatically and without question.
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The term prodependence is, rather obviously, a play on an older term with which most readers will probably be familiar — codependence. Codependence occurs when one person tries to control the actions of another, in the guise of helping. so that he or she can feel better about himself or herself and the relationship with that other person.
The codependency concept came into vogue in the mid-1980s, mostly with the publication of three specific books: Janet Woititz’s Adult Children of Alcoholics(1983)1; Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much (1985)2; and Melody Beattie‘s Codependent No More (1986)3. Based on these works, the 12-step fellowship Codependents Anonymous was born, with its first meeting taking place on October 22, 1986.4
One of the best explanations of the early codependency movement, especially in relation to addictions, appears in the foreword of the 2003 edition of Pia Mellody’s book, Facing Codependence. There, Andrea Wells Miller and J. Keith Miller write:
“It was actually the families of alcoholics and other chemically dependent people who brought [codependency] to the attention of therapists in treatment centers. These family members all seemed to be plagued with intensified feelings of shame, fear, anger, and pain in their relationships with the alcoholic or addict who was the focal point of their family. … One irrational aspect was that most of the family members had a deluded hope that if they could only be perfect in their ‘relating to’ and “helping” the alcoholic, he or she would become sober — and they, the family members, would be free of their awful shame, pain, fear, and anger.”5
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This statement recognizes and summarizes the feelings that many loved ones of addicts experience. They mistakenly think, “If I can just control the other person’s addiction in some way, everything will turn out the way I’d like.” That belief is the crux of codependence in its purest form.
Unfortunately, the concept of codependence has morphed into a negative, pathological-sounding label, indiscriminately applied to almost any person who tries to help an addicted loved one. So instead of being encouraged to care for yourself as well as your addicted loved one, you are encouraged to care for yourself insteadof your addicted loved one. Basically, there seems to be a consensus that you really can love and care for someone too much. That is not what the progenitors of the codependence concept intended. But it’s what we’ve got.
Today, if you are the spouse, parent, sibling, or friend of an addict, you’ve almost certainly had perfectly loving people tell you to step away from the relationship, to stop rescuing, to stop enabling, to “detach with love,” and to “stop being so codependent.” If you’ve experienced this, you’ve likely asked, “How can I possibly abandon a person I love, especially in his or her time of need?”
Still, plenty of people — family, friends, clergy, and even therapists — will try to convince you that caring about a person you’ve been close to for a very long time (perhaps his or her entire life, if you’re a parent or a sibling) is somehow irrational on your part, and counterproductive for both you and the challenged individual. Very probably, these well-meaning folks have suggested therapy, interventions, and participation in support groups like Al-Anon and CoDA as a way for you to fully and completely detach from what they think is a bad situation that’s taking you away from your own needs, goals, and personal fulfillment, while keeping your loved one mired in the problem.
As an addiction and mental-health treatment specialist who has worked for decades with addicts and their families, I admit that in the past I have espoused this outdated and potentially harmful opinion. This is the stance I was taught to take, both in school and in my continuing professional education. In trainings I was told, “If a loved one cannot emotionally detach from an active addict, that person will be dragged down into the murky depths of despair. Thus, loved ones must be coached to let go.” So when I saw spouses, family members, and friends refuse to distance themselves from an active addict, I told them they were enmeshed and codependent, and encouraged them to detach.
Unfortunately, this tactic ignores the ways in which human beings are wired for survival.
Human beings are meant to work together, not to go it alone. Think back to prehistoric times when people lived in tribes. If we went hunting, we went in a group; otherwise, we were as likely to be eaten as to eat. And hunting trips could take a very long time, so other members of our tribe stayed behind in the cave and tanned hides to keep the group warm, gathered nuts and berries to eat, collected sticks for fire, and maybe even did some rudimentary farming.
For thousands of years, this type of communal living was our standard for survival and our brains evolved in ways that encourage interpersonal bonding. Thus, we are evolutionarily wired to be dependent upon others. We enter the world reliant on others for shelter, nutrition, and emotional support, and these core requirements do not change as we grow older. What keeps us healthy as infants and children also keeps us healthy as adults.
Yet somehow, as we move into adulthood, our intrinsic need for emotional connection (i.e., love) gets discounted, despite the fact that people who spend their lives “apart from” rather than “a part of” do not function as well as those who feel emotionally connected. In fact, an immense amount of mental and physical health research shows that isolated/separated individuals suffer both emotionally and physically.6 Conversely, people who place a high value on developing and maintaining meaningful connections tend to be happier, more resilient, and more successful.7 They even tend to live longer.8 So, emotionally intimate connections are as essential as more obvious needs like food, water, clean air, and shelter. Without healthy dependency and connection, we may survive physically (for a while), but we won’t be as healthy or as happy as we could be.
Importantly, this deeply ingrained need for emotional connection does not abate simply because a person with whom we feel an intimate bond is challenged with an addiction or some other serious issue.
I think about it this way: If your spouse, child, sibling, or best friend was diagnosed with cancer and needed your help with doctor’s appointments, household chores, and maybe even his or her finances, would you walk away from that person? Most likely not. And nobody would blame you or label you or try to pathologize you for temporarily pushing your own needs to the side. But when you try to help an addict in a similar fashion, people will label you in all sorts of ways—and tell you to stop.
That is the wrong approach. Instead of being confrontational with spouses and others who love and care for addicts, we need to be invitational. We need to meet them where they are and teach them not to walk away, but to support in healthier, more prodependent ways. Rather than preaching detachment and distance over continued bonding and assistance, as so many therapists, self-help books, and 12-step groups do, we should celebrate the human need for and the pursuit of intimate connection, using that as a positive force for change.
Rather than labeling and pathologizing the supporters of challenged individuals when they refuse to abandon their caregiving roles, we should encourage them to continue their pursuit of love and emotional intimacy as best they can. At the same time, we can provide an outline for developing and maintaining healthy, prodependent boundaries — margins within which caregivers can love unconditionally, while not enabling or doing things their loved one could and should be doing for himself or herself. In so doing, we will create a fresh paradigm for useful and healthy support, an evolved prism through which caregivers can examine, evaluate, and improve their daily lives despite the oftentimes debilitating presence of an addiction.
American adolescents watch much more pornography than their parents know
Drew was 8 years old when he was flipping through TV channels at home and landed on “Girls Gone Wild.” A few years later, he came across HBO’s late-night soft-core pornography. Then in ninth grade, he found online porn sites on his phone. The videos were good for getting off, he said, but also sources for ideas for future sex positions with future girlfriends. From porn, he learned that guys need to be buff and dominant in bed, doing things like flipping girls over on their stomach during sex. Girls moan a lot and are turned on by pretty much everything a confident guy does. One particular porn scene stuck with him: A woman was bored by a man who approached sex gently but became ecstatic with a far more aggressive guy.
But around 10th grade, it began bothering Drew, an honor-roll student who loves baseball and writing rap lyrics and still confides in his mom, that porn influenced how he thought about girls at school. Were their breasts, he wondered, like the ones in porn? Would girls look at him the way women do in porn when they had sex? Would they give him blow jobs and do the other stuff he saw?
Drew, who asked me to use one of his nicknames, was a junior when I first met him in late 2016, and he told me some of this one Thursday afternoon, as we sat in a small conference room with several other high school boys, eating chips and drinking soda and waiting for an after-school program to begin. Next to Drew was Q., who asked me to identify him by the first initial of his nickname. He was 15, a good student and a baseball fan, too, and pretty perplexed about how porn translated into real life. Q. hadn’t had sex — he liked older, out-of-reach girls, and the last time he had a girlfriend was in sixth grade, and they just fooled around a bit. So he wasn’t exactly in a good position to ask girls directly what they liked. But as he told me over several conversations, it wasn’t just porn but rough images on Snapchat, Facebook and other social media that confused him. Like the GIF he saw of a man pushing a woman against a wall with a girl commenting: “I want a guy like this.” And the one Drew mentioned of the “pain room” in “Fifty Shades of Grey” with a caption by a girl: “This is awesome!”
Watching porn also heightened Q.’s performance anxiety. “You are looking at an adult,” he told me. “The guys are built and dominant and have a big penis, and they last a long time.” And if you don’t do it like the guys in porn, Drew added, “you fear she’s not going to like you.”
Leaning back in his chair, Drew said some girls acted as if they wanted some thug rather than a smart, sensitive guy. But was it true desire? Was it posturing? Was it what girls thought they were supposed to want? Neither Q. nor Drew knew. A couple of seats away, a sophomore who had been quiet until then added that maybe the girls didn’t know either. “I think social media makes girls think they want something,” he said, noting he hadn’t seen porn more than a handful of times and disliked it. “But I think some of the girls are afraid.”
“It gets in your head,” Q. said. “If this girl wants it, then maybe the majority of girls want it.” He’d heard about the importance of consent in sex, but it felt pretty abstract, and it didn’t seem as if it would always be realistic in the heat of the moment. Out of nowhere was he supposed to say: Can I pull your hair? Or could he try something and see how a girl responded? He knew that there were certain things — “big things, like sex toys or anal” — that he would not try without asking.
“I would just do it,” said another boy, in jeans and a sweatshirt. When I asked what he meant, he said anal sex. He assumed that girls like it, because the women in porn do.
“I would never do something that looked uncomfortable,” Drew said, jumping back into the conversation. “I might say, ‘I’ve seen this in porn — do you want to try it?’ ”
It was almost 4 p.m., and the boys started to gather their backpacks to head to a class known as Porn Literacy. The course, with the official title The Truth About Pornography: A Pornography-Literacy Curriculum for High School Students Designed to Reduce Sexual and Dating Violence, is a recent addition to Start Strong, a peer-leadership program for teenagers headquartered in Boston’s South End and funded by the city’s public-health agency. About two dozen selected high school students attend every year, most of them black or Latino, along with a few Asian students, from Boston public high schools, including the city’s competitive exam schools, and a couple of parochial schools. During most of the year, the teenagers learn about healthy relationships, dating violence and L.G.B.T. issues, often through group discussions, role-playing and other exercises.
But for around two hours each week, for five weeks, the students — sophomores, juniors and seniors — take part in Porn Literacy, which aims to make them savvier, more critical consumers of porn by examining how gender, sexuality, aggression, consent, race, queer sex, relationships and body images are portrayed (or, in the case of consent, not portrayed) in porn.
On average, boys are around 13, and girls are around 14, when they first see pornography, says Bryant Paul, an associate professor at Indiana University’s Media School and the author of studies on porn content and adolescent and adult viewing habits. In a 2008 University of New Hampshire survey, 93 percent of male college students and 62 percent of female students said they saw online porn before they were 18. Many females, in particular, weren’t seeking it out. Thirty-five percent of males said they had watched it 10 or more times during adolescence.
Porn Literacy, which began in 2016 and is the focus of a pilot study, was created in part by Emily Rothman, an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health who has conducted several studies on dating violence, as well as on porn use by adolescents. She told me that the curriculum isn’t designed to scare kids into believing porn is addictive, or that it will ruin their lives and relationships and warp their libidos. Instead it is grounded in the reality that most adolescents do see porn and takes the approach that teaching them to analyze its messages is far more effective than simply wishing our children could live in a porn-free world.
Imagine that you are a 14-year-old today. A friend might show you a short porn clip on his phone during the bus ride to school or after soccer practice. A pornographic GIF appears on Snapchat. Or you mistype the word “fishing” and end up with a bunch of links to “fisting” videos. Like most 14-year-olds, you haven’t had sex, but you’re curious, so maybe you start searching and land on one of the many porn sites that work much like YouTube — XVideos.com, Xnxx.com, BongaCams.com, all of them among the 100 most-frequented websites in the world, according to Alexa Top Sites. Or you find Pornhub, the most popular of the group, with 80 million visitors a day and more traffic than Pinterest, Tumblr or PayPal. The mainstream websites aren’t verifying your age, and your phone allows you to watch porn away from the scrutinizing eyes of adults. If you still have parental-control filters, you probably have ways around them.
Besides, there’s a decent chance your parents don’t think you are watching porn. Preliminary analysis of data from a 2016 Indiana University survey of more than 600 pairs of children and their parents reveals a parental naïveté gap: Half as many parents thought their 14- and 18-year-olds had seen porn as had in fact watched it. And depending on the sex act, parents underestimated what their kids saw by as much as 10 times.
What teenagers see on Pornhub depends partly on algorithms and the clips they’ve clicked on in the past. Along with stacks of videos on the opening page, there are several dozen categories (“teen,” “anal,” “blonde,” “girl on girl,” “ebony,” “milf”) that can take them to more than six million videos. The clips tend to be short, low on production value, free and, though Pornhub tries to prevent it, sometimes pirated from paid sites. Many of the heterosexual videos are shot from the male point of view, as if the man were holding the camera while he has sex with a woman whose main job, via oral sex, intercourse or anal sex, is to make him orgasm. Plot lines are thin to nonexistent as the camera zooms in for up-close shots of genitals and penetration that are repetitive, pounding and — though perhaps not through the eyes of a 14-year-old — banal. (There are alternative narratives in L.G.B.T. and feminist porn, and studies show that for gay and bisexual youth, porn can provide affirmation that they are not alone in their sexual desires.)
We don’t have many specifics on what kids actually view, in large part because it’s extremely difficult to get federal funding for research on children and pornography. A few years ago, frustrated by the dearth of large, recent United States studies, Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, creators of the 2017 Netflix documentary series “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On,” about technology and porn, paired with several foundations and philanthropists to fund a national survey about porn viewing, sexual attitudes and behaviors. As part of the survey, led by Debby Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health and director of the university’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion, along with her colleague Bryant Paul, 614 teenagers ages 14 to 18 reported what their experiences were with porn. In preliminary data analysis from the study (Herbenick is submitting an academic paper for publication this year), of the roughly 300 who did watch porn, one-quarter of the girls and 36 percent of the boys said they had seen videos of men ejaculating on women’s faces (known as “facials”), Paul says. Almost one-third of both sexes saw B.D.S.M. (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism), and 26 percent of males and 20 percent of females watched videos with double penetration, described in the study as one or more penises or objects in a woman’s anus and/or in her vagina. Also, 31 percent of boys said they had seen “gang bangs,” or group sex, and “rough oral sex” (a man aggressively thrusting his penis in and out of a mouth); less than half as many girls had.
It’s hard to know if, and how, this translates into behavior. While some studies show a small number of teens who watch higher rates of pornengage in earlier sex as well as gender stereotyping and sexual relationships that are less affectionate than their peers, these only indicate correlations, not cause and effect. But surveys do suggest that the kinds of sex some teenagers have may be shifting. The percentage of 18-to-24-year-old women who reported trying anal sex rose to 40 percent in 2009 from 16 percent in 1992, according to the largest survey on American sexual behavior in decades, co-authored by Herbenick and published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. In data from that same survey, 20 percent of 18-to-19 year old females had tried anal sex; about 6 percent of 14-to-17-year-old females had. And in a 2016 Swedish study of nearly 400 16-year-old girls, the percentage of girls who had tried anal sex doubled if they watched pornography. Like other studies about sex and porn, it only showed a correlation, and girls who are more sexually curious may also be drawn to porn. In addition, some girls may view anal sex as a “safer” alternative to vaginal sex, as there’s little risk of pregnancy.
The Indiana University national survey of teenagers asked about other sex behaviors as well. Though the data have not been fully analyzed, preliminary findings suggest that of the teenagers who had had sex, around one-sixth of boys said they had ejaculated on someone’s face or choked a sex partner. The survey didn’t define choking, but the high school and college-age students I spoke to referred to it as anything from placing a hand gently on a partner’s neck to squeezing it.
We don’t have longitudinal data on the frequency of ejaculating on a girl’s face or choking among American teenagers to know whether either practice is more common now. And, as David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told me, fewer teenagers have early sex than in the past (in a recent study, 24 percent of American ninth graders had sex; in 1995 about 37 percent had), and arrests of teenagers for sexual assault are also down. But you don’t have to believe that porn leads to sexual assault or that it’s creating a generation of brutal men to wonder how it helps shape how teenagers talk and think about sex and, by extension, their ideas about masculinity, femininity, intimacy and power.
Over the year in which I spoke to dozens of older teenagers at Start Strong and around the country, many said that both porn and mainstream media — everything from the TV show “Family Guy” (which references choking and anal sex) to Nicki Minaj’s song “Truffle Butter” (with an apparent allusion to anal sex followed by vaginal sex) to the lyrics in Rihanna’s “S&M” (“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me”) — made anal and rough sex seem almost commonplace. Drew told me he got the sense that girls wanted to be dominated not only from reading a few pages of “Fifty Shades of Grey” but also from watching the movie “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. “She’s on the table, and she’s getting pounded by him. That’s all I’ve seen growing up.”
These images confound many teenagers about the kinds of sex they want or think they should have. In part, that’s because they aren’t always sure what is fake and what is real in porn. Though some told me that porn was fantasy or exaggerated, others said that porn wasn’t real only insofar as it wasn’t typically two lovers having sex on film. Some of those same teenagers assumed the portrayal of how sex and pleasure worked was largely accurate. That seems to be in keeping with a 2016 survey of 1,001 11-to-16-year-olds in Britain. Of the roughly half who had seen pornography, 53 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls said it was “realistic.” And in the recent Indiana University national survey, only one in six boys and one in four girls believed that women in online porn were not actually experiencing pleasure: As one suburban high school senior boy told me recently, “I’ve never seen a girl in porn who doesn’t look like she’s having a good time.”
It’s not surprising, then, that some adolescents use porn as a how-to guide. In a study that Rothman carried out in 2016 of 72 high schoolers ages 16 and 17, teenagers reported that porn was their primary source for information about sex — more than friends, siblings, schools or parents.
“There’s nowhere else to learn about sex,” the suburban boy told me. “And porn stars know what they are doing.” His words reflect a paradox about sex and pornography in this country. Even as smartphones have made it easier for teenagers to watch porn, sex education in the United States — where abstinence-based sex education remains the norm — is meager. Massachusetts is among 26 states that do not mandate sex ed. And a mere 13 require that the material be medically and scientifically accurate. After some gains by the Obama administration to promote more comprehensive sex ed, which includes pregnancy prevention, discussions of anatomy, birth control, disease prevention, abstinence and healthy relationships, the Trump administration did not include the program in its proposed 2018 budget; it also has requested increased funding for abstinence education. Easy-to-access online porn fills the vacuum, making porn the de facto sex educator for American youth.
One Thursday afternoon, about a dozen teenagers sat in a semicircle of North Face zip-ups, Jordans, combat boots, big hoop earrings and the slumped shoulders of late afternoon. It was the third week of Porn Literacy, and everyone already knew the rules: You don’t have to have watched porn to attend; no yucking someone else’s yum — no disparaging a student’s sexual tastes or sexuality. And avoid sharing personal stories about sex in class. Nicole Daley and Jess Alder, who wrote the curriculum with Emily Rothman and led most of the exercises and discussion, are in their 30s, warm and easygoing. Daley, who until last month was the director of Start Strong, played the slightly more serious favorite-aunt role, while Alder, who runs Start Strong’s classes for teenagers, was the goofier, ask-me-anything big sister. Rothman also attended most of the classes, offering information about pornography studies and explaining to them, for example, that there is no scientific evidence that porn is addictive, but that people can become compulsive about it.
In the first class, Daley led an exercise in which the group defined porn terms (B.D.S.M., kink, soft-core, hard-core), so that, as she put it, “everyone is on the same page” and “you can avoid clicking on things you don’t want to see.” The students also “values voted” — agreeing or disagreeing about whether the legal viewing age of 18 for porn is too high, if working in the porn industry is a good way to make money and if pornography should be illegal. Later, Daley held up images of a 1940s pinup girl, a Japanese geisha and Kim Kardashian, to talk about how cultural values about beauty and bodies change over time. In future classes, they would talk about types of intimacy not depicted in porn and nonsexist pickup lines. Finally, Daley would offer a lesson about sexting and sexting laws and the risks of so-called revenge porn (in which, say, a teenager circulates a naked selfie of an ex without consent). And to the teenagers’ surprise, they learned that receiving or sending consensual naked photos, even to your boyfriend or girlfriend, can be against the law if the person in the photo is a minor.
Now, in the third week of class, Daley’s goal was to undercut porn’s allure for teenagers by exposing the underbelly of the business. “When you understand it’s not just two people on the screen but an industry,” she told me, “it’s not as sexy.”
To that end, Daley started class by detailing a midlevel female performer’s salary (taken from the 2008 documentary “The Price of Pleasure”): “Blow job: $300,” Daley read from a list. “Anal: $1,000. Double penetration: $1,200. Gang bang: $1,300 for three guys. $100 for each additional guy.”
“Wow,” Drew muttered. “That makes it nasty now.”
“That’s nothing for being penetrated on camera,” another boy said.
Then, as if they had been given a green light to ask about a world that grown-ups rarely acknowledge, they began peppering Daley, Rothman and Alder with questions.
“How much do men get paid?” one girl asked. It is the one of the few professions in which men are paid less, Rothman explained, but they also typically have longer careers. How long do women stay in their jobs? On average, six to 18 months. How do guys get erections if they aren’t turned on? Often Viagra, Rothman offered, and sometimes a “fluffer,” as an offscreen human stimulator is known.
Daley then asked the teenagers to pretend they were contestants on a reality-TV show, in which they had to decide if they were willing to participate in certain challenges (your parents might be watching) and for how much money. In one scenario, she said, you would kneel on the ground while someone poured a goopy substance over your face. In another, you’d lick a spoon that had touched fecal matter. The kids debated the fecal-matter challenge — most wouldn’t to do it for less than $2 million. One wanted to know if the goop smelled. “Can we find out what it is?” asked another.
Then Daley explained that each was in fact a simulation of a porn act. The goopy substance was what’s called a “baker’s dozen,” in which 13 men ejaculate on a woman’s face, breasts and mouth.
“What?” a girl named Tiffany protested.
The second scenario — licking the spoon with fecal matter — was from a porn act known as A.T.M., in which a man puts his penis in a woman’s anus and then immediately follows by sticking it in her mouth.
“No way,” a 15-year-old boy said. “Can’t you wash in between?”
Nope, Daley said.
“We don’t question it when we see it in porn, right?” Daley went on. “There’s no judgment here, but some of you guys are squeamish about it.”
“I never knew any of this,” Drew said, sounding a bit glum.
Daley went on to detail a 2010 study that coded incidents of aggression in best-selling 2004 and 2005 porn videos. She noted that 88 percent of scenes showed verbal or physical aggression, mostly spanking, slapping and gagging. (A more recent content analysis of more than 6,000 mainstream online heterosexual porn scenes by Bryant Paul and his colleagues defined aggression specifically as any purposeful action appearing to cause physical or psychological harm to another person and found that 33 percent of scenes met that criteria. In each study, women were on the receiving end of the aggression more than 90 percent of the time.)
“Do you think,” Daley said, standing in front of the students, “watching porn leads to violence against women? There’s no right or wrong here. It’s a debate.”
Kyrah, a 10th-grade feminist with an athlete’s compact body and a tendency to speak her opinions, didn’t hesitate. “In porn they glamorize calling women a slut or a whore, and younger kids think this is how it is. Or when they have those weird porn scenes and the woman is saying, ‘Stop touching me,’ and then she ends up enjoying it!”
Tiffany, her best friend, snapped her fingers in approval.
“Yes and no,” one guy interjected. “When a man is choking a woman in porn, people know it is not real, and they aren’t supposed to do it, because it’s violence.” He was the same teenager who told me he would just “do” anal sex without asking a girl, because the women in porn like it.
Pornography didn’t create the narrative that male pleasure should be first and foremost. But that idea is certainly reinforced by “a male-dominated porn industry shot through a male lens,” as Cindy Gallop puts it. Gallop is the creator of an online platform called MakeLoveNotPorn, where users can submit videos of their sexual encounters — which she describes as “real world,” consensual sex with “good values” — and pay to watch videos of others.
For years, Gallop has been a one-woman laboratory witnessing how easy-to-access mainstream porn influences sex. Now in her 50s, she has spent more than a decade dating 20-something men. She finds them through “cougar” dating sites — where older women connect with younger men — and her main criterion is that they are “nice.” Even so, she told me, during sex with these significantly younger nice men, she repeatedly encounters porn memes: facials, “jackhammering” intercourse, more frequent requests for anal sex and men who seem less focused on female orgasms than men were when she was younger. Gallop takes it upon herself to “re-educate,” as she half-jokingly puts it, men raised on porn. Some people, of course, do enjoy these acts. But speaking of teenagers in particular, she told me she worries that hard-core porn leads many girls to think, for example, that “all boys love coming on girls’ faces, and all girls love having their faces come on. And therefore, girls feel they must let boys come on their face and pretend to like it.”
Though none of the boys I spoke to at Start Strong told me they had ejaculated on a girl’s face, Gallop’s words reminded me of conversations I had with some older high-schoolers in various cities. One senior said that ejaculating on a woman’s face was in a majority of porn scenes he had watched, and that he had done it with a girlfriend. “I brought it up, or she would say, ‘Come on my face.’ It was an aspect I liked — and she did, too.”
Another noted that the act is “talked about a lot” among guys, but said that “a girl’s got to be down with it” before he’d ever consider doing it. “There is something that’s appealing for guys. The dominance and intimacy and that whole opportunity for eye contact. Guys are obsessed with their come displayed on a girl.”
Many girls at Start Strong were decidedly less enthusiastic. One senior told me a boyfriend asked to ejaculate on her face; she said no. And during a conversation I had with three girls, one senior wondered aloud: “What if you don’t want a facial? What are you supposed to do? Friends say a boy cleans it with a napkin. A lot of girls my age like facials.” But a few moments later, she reversed course. “I actually don’t think they like it. They do it because their partner likes it.” Next to her, a sophomore added that when older girls talk among themselves, many say it’s gross. “But they say you gotta do what you gotta do.” And if you don’t, the first girl added, “then someone else will.”
These are not new power dynamics between girls and boys. In a 2014 British study about anal sex and teenagers, girls expressed a similar lack of sexual agency and experienced physical pain. In the survey, of 130 heterosexual teenagers age 16 to 18, teenagers often said they believed porn was a motivating factor for why males wanted anal sex. And among the guys who reported trying it, many said friends encouraged them, or they felt competitive with other guys to do it. At the same time, a majority of girls who had tried anal sex said they didn’t actually want to; their partners persuaded or coerced them. Some males took a “try it and see” approach, as researchers called it, attempting to put their finger or penis in a girl’s anus and hoping she didn’t stop them. Sometimes, one teenager reported, you “just keep going till they just get fed up and let you do it anyway.” Both boys and girls blamed the girls for pain they felt during anal sex and some told researchers the girls needed to “relax” more or “get used to it.” Only one girl said she enjoyed it, and only a few boys did. Teenagers may not know that even while porn makes it seem commonplace, in the 2009 national survey of American sex habits, most men and women who tried anal sex didn’t make it a regular part of their sex lives. And in another study, by Indiana University’s Debby Herbenick and others in 2015, about 70 percent of women who had anal sex said they experienced pain.
Drew had firsthand experience with what he had seen in porn not translating into actual pleasure. The first time he had sex, he thought he was supposed to exert some physical control over his girlfriend. But the whole thing felt awkward, too rough and not all that fun. And things that looked easy in porn, like sex while taking a shower or mutual oral sex, didn’t go so well.
At one point during sex, Drew’s girlfriend at the time, who was a year older and more experienced, asked him to put his hand around her neck during sex. He did it, without squeezing, and though it didn’t exactly bother him, it felt uncomfortable. Drew never asked if she got the idea from porn, but it made him wonder. Had she also picked up other ways of acting? “Like, how do you really know a girl has had a good time?” he said one afternoon, musing aloud while sitting with some friends before Porn Literacy class. “My girlfriend said she had a good time,” he went on. “She was moaning. But that’s the thing: Is it fake moaning?”
Even if you know porn isn’t realistic, it still sets up expectations, one senior told me. In porn, he said, “the clothes are off, and the girl goes down on the guy, he gets hard and he starts having sex with her. It’s all very simple and well lit.” Before he had sex, porn had supplied his images of oral sex, including scenes in which a woman is on her knees as a man stands over her. At one point, he thought that’s how it might go one day when he had sex. But when he talked with his girlfriend, they realized they didn’t want to re-enact that power dynamic.
I spent acouple of hours on a Wednesday afternoon at Start Strong with a senior girl who took the first Porn Literacy class in the summer of 2016. Looking back over the last several years of middle and high school, A., who asked me to identify her by the first initial of her middle name, said she wished she had had someplace — home, school, a community sex-ed program — to learn about sex. Instead, she learned about it from porn. She saw it for the first time by accident, after a group of sixth-grade boys cajoled her to look at tube8.com, which she didn’t know was a porn site. She was fascinated. She had never seen a penis before, “not a drawing of one, nothing.” A few years later, she searched online for porn again after listening to girls in the high school locker room talk about masturbation. A.’s parents, whom she describes as conservative about sex, hadn’t talked to her about female anatomy or sex, and her school didn’t offer any sex education before ninth grade; even then, it focused mostly on the dangers — sexually transmitted infections and diseases and pregnancy.
Aside from some private schools and innovative community programs, relatively few sex-ed classes in middle and high school delve in detail into anatomy (female, especially), intimacy, healthy relationships, sexual diversity. Even more rare are discussions of female desire and pleasure. Porn taught A. the basics of masturbation. And porn served as her study guide when she was 16 and was the first among her friends to have sex. She clicked through videos to watch women giving oral sex. She focused on how they moved during sex and listened to how they moaned. She began shaving her vulva (“I’ve never seen anyone in porn have sex with hair on it”).
Porn is “not all bad,” said A., who was frank and funny, with a slew of advanced-placement classes on her transcript and a self-assured manner that impresses adults. “I got my sexual ways from porn, and I like the way I am.” But what she learned from porn had downsides too. Because she assumed women’s pleasure in porn was real, when she first had intercourse and didn’t have an orgasm, she figured that was just how it went.
For A., it wasn’t enough to know that porn was fake sex. She wanted to understand how real sex worked. Rothman and her team did consult a sex educator while they were writing the Porn Literacy curriculum but decided to include only some basic information about safe sex. It came in the form of a “Porn Jeopardy” game during one class. The teenagers, clustered in teams, chose from four categories: S.T.D./S.T.I.s, Birth Control, Teen Violence/Sexual Assault and Porn on the Brain.
“I never learned this before,” Drew announced to the class after it was mentioned that lubrication decreased friction, increased pleasure and could reduce the risk of tearing and therefore of S.T.I.s and S.T.D.s. Drew’s only sliver of sex ed was in sixth grade with the school gym teacher, who sweated as he talked about sex, “and it was all about it being bad and we shouldn’t do it.”
As if to rectify that, Alder offered a quick anatomy lesson, drawing a vulva on the whiteboard and pointing out the clitoris, the vagina, the urethra. “This is called a vulva,” she said. Alder repeated the word slowly and loudly, as if instructing the students in a foreign language. It was both for humor and to normalize a word that some of them may have been hearing for the first time. “This is the clitoris,” Alder went on. “This is where women get most pleasure. Most women do not have a G spot. If you want to know how to give a woman pleasure, it’s the clitoris.”
“Let’s move on,” Rothman said quietly. Alder had just inched across a line in which anatomy rested on one side and female desire and pleasure on the other. It was a reminder that as controversial as it is to teach kids about pornography, it can be more taboo to teach them how their bodies work sexually. “The class is about critically analyzing sexually explicit media,” Rothman told me later, “not how to have sex. We want to stay in our narrow lane and not be seen as promoting anything parents are uncomfortable with.” Daley added: “I wish it were different, but we have to be aware of the limitations of where we are as a society.”
Porn education is such new territory that no one knows the best practices, what material should be included and where to teach it. (Few people are optimistic that it will be taught anytime soon in public schools.) Several years ago, L. Kris Gowen, a sexuality educator and author of the 2017 book “Sexual Decisions: The Ultimate Teen Guide,” wrote extensive guidelines for teaching teenagers to critique “sexually explicit media” (she avoided the more provocative term “porn literacy”). Even though Oregon, where Gowen lives, has one of the most comprehensive sex-ed programs in the country, Gowen said that teachers felt unequipped to talk about porn. And though the guidelines have been circulated at education conferences and made publicly available, Gowen doesn’t know of a single educator who has implemented them. In part, she says, people may be waiting for a better sense of what’s effective. But also, many schools and teachers are nervous about anything that risks them being “accused of promoting porn.”
The most recent sex-education guidelines from the World Health Organization’s European office note that educators should include discussions about the influence of pornography on sexuality starting with late elementary school and through high school. The guidelines don’t, however, provide specific ideas on how to have those conversations.
In Britain, nonprofit organizations and a teachers’ union, along with members of Parliament, have recommended that schools include discussions about the influence of porn on how children view sex and relationships. Magdalena Mattebo, a researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden who studies pornography and adolescents, would like porn literacy mandated in her country. “We are a little lost in how to handle this,” Mattebo told me.
More than 300 schools, youth and community groups and government agencies in Australia and New Zealand use components of a porn-education resource called “In the Picture” that includes statistics, studies and exercises primarily for teenagers. It was created by Maree Crabbe, an expert on sexual violence and pornography education, who lives near Melbourne, Australia. As she put it during a United States training program for educators and social workers that I attended in 2016: “We want to be positive about sex, positive about masturbation and critical of pornography.” One key component of the program is often neglected in porn literacy: providing training to help parents understand and talk about these issues.
Last year, a feminist porn producer, Erika Lust, in consultation with sex educators, created a porn-education website for parents. The Porn Conversation links to research and articles and provides practical tips for parents, including talking to kids about the ways mainstream porn doesn’t represent typical bodies or mutually satisfying sex and avoiding accusatory questions about why your kid is watching porn and who showed it to them. “We can’t just say, ‘I don’t like mainstream porn because it’s chauvinistic,’ ” says Lust, whose films feature female-centered pleasure. “We have given our children technology, so we need to teach them how to handle it.” But she takes it a step further by suggesting that parents of middle- and high-schoolers talk to their teenagers about “healthy porn,” which she says includes showing female desire and pleasure and being made under fair working conditions. I asked Lust if she would steer her daughters in that direction when they are older (they are 7 and 10). “I would recommend good sites to my daughters at age 15, when I think they are mature enough. We are so curious to find out about sex. People have doubts and insecurities about themselves sexually. ‘Is it O.K. that I like that, or this?’ I think porn can be a good thing to have as an outlet. I’m not scared by explicit sex per se. I’m afraid of the bad values.”
Tristan Taormino, another feminist porn filmmaker and author, speaks frequently on college campuses and produces explicit sex-ed videos for adults. “The party line is we don’t want teenagers watching our videos,” she says, noting they are rated XXX. “But do I wish teenagers had access to some of the elements of it?” In addition to seeing consent, she said, “they would see people talking to each other, and they’d see a lot of warm-up. We show lube, we show sex toys.”
That may be more than most parents, even of older teenagers, can bear. But even if parents decided to help their teenagers find these sites, not only is it illegal to show any kind of porn — good or bad — to anyone under 18, but, really, do teenagers want their parents to do so? And which ones would parents recommend for teenagers? “Unlike organic food, there’s no coding system for ethical or feminist porn,” Crabbe notes. “They might use condoms and dental dams and still convey the same gender and aggression dynamics.” Also, “good porn” isn’t typically free or nearly as accessible as the millions of videos streaming on mainstream sites.
Al Vernacchio, a nationally known sexuality educator who teaches progressive sex ed at a private Quaker school outside Philadelphia, believes the better solution is to make porn literacy part of the larger umbrella of comprehensive sex education. Vernacchio, who is the author of the 2014 book “For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health,” is one of those rare teenage-sex educators who talks directly to his high school students about sexual pleasure and mutuality, along with the ingredients for healthy relationships. The problem with porn “is not just that it often shows misogynistic, unhealthy representations of relationships,” Vernacchio says. “You can’t learn relationship skills from porn, and if you are looking for pleasure and connection, porn can’t teach you how to have those.”
Crabbe notes one effective way to get young men to take fewer lessons from porn: “Tell them if you want to be a lazy, selfish lover, look at porn. If you want to be a lover where your partner says, ‘That was great,’ you won’t learn it from porn.” And parents should want their teenagers to be generous lovers, Cindy Gallop argues. “Our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic. But nobody brings us up to behave well in bed.”
To prepare his students to be comfortable and respectful in sexual situations, Vernacchio shows photos, not just drawings, of genitalia to his high-schoolers. “Most people are having sex with real people, not porn stars, and real bodies are highly variable. I would much rather my students have that moment of asking questions or confusion or even laughter in my classroom rather than when they see their partner’s naked body for the first time.” He, along with Debby Herbenick, who is also the author of the 2012 book “Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered for Better, Smarter Amazing Sex,” advocate that adolescents should understand that most females don’t have orgasms by penetration alone, and that clitoral stimulation often requires oral sex, fingers and sex toys. As she notes: “It’s part of human life, and you teach it in smart, sensitive ways.”
As the students from the first Porn Literacy classes moved through their lives in the year after their courses ended, some things from the discussions stayed with them. In surveys from the first three sets of classes, one-third of the students still said they would agree to do things from porn if their partner asked them to. Several also wanted to try things they saw in porn. They were, after all, normal, sexually curious, experimenting teenagers. But only a tiny number of students agreed in the postclass survey that “most people like to be slapped, spanked or have their hair pulled during sex,” compared with 27 percent at the start of class. And while at the beginning, 45 percent said that porn was a good way for young people to learn about sex, now only 18 percent agreed. By the end of the class, no one said pornography was realistic; just over one-quarter had believed that at the outset. The survey didn’t reveal the catalyst for the changes. Was it the curriculum itself? Was it something about Daley and Alder’s teaching style? It’s possible the students created the changes themselves, teaching one another through their in-class debates and discussions.
A., the young woman who said she had never seen an image of a penis until she watched porn, resisted the idea that porn was uniformly bad for teenagers. “At least kids are watching porn and not going out and getting pregnant,” she said. But recently, she told me that she’d given up watching it altogether. She disliked looking at women’s expressions now, believing that they probably weren’t experiencing pleasure and might be in pain. When Drew watched porn, he found himself wondering if women were having sex against their will. As another student said with a sigh: “Nicole and Jess ruined porn for us.”
In the months after the class, A. had created a new mission for herself: She was going to always have orgasms during sex. “And I did it!” she told me. It helped that she had been in a relationship with a guy who was open and asked what she liked. But even if Porn Literacy didn’t go into as many details about sex as she would have liked, “in this indirect way, the class shows what you deserve and don’t deserve,” she said. “In porn, the guy cares only about himself. I used to think more about ‘Am I doing something right or wrong?’ ” Porn may neglect women’s orgasms, but A. wasn’t going to anymore.
Drew, who had once used porn as his main sex educator, was now thinking about sex differently. “Some things need to come to us naturally, not by watching it and seeing what turns you on,” he told me. The discussions about anatomy and fake displays of pleasure made him realize that girls didn’t always respond as they did in porn and that they didn’t all want the same things. And guys didn’t, either. Maybe that porn clip in which the nice, tender guy didn’t excite the girl was wrong. What Drew needed was a girl who was open and honest, as he was, and with whom he could start to figure out how to have good sex. It would take some time and most likely involve some fumbling. But Drew was O.K. with that. He was just starting out.
If you search the internet for information about porn and its effects, you’re going to find a whole lot of opinions. Unfortunately, hardly any of those opinions will be based on verifiable information. This can be frustrating to those interested in the truth (as opposed to grandstanding and fear-mongering). Recognizing this, we have collected the latest research about pornography, presenting it below so those who are interested in the truth can know it.
How much porn is out there? A lot.
There are more than 2.5 million porn websites.[i]
Approximately 12% of all websites offer pornographic content.[ii]
The preceding numbers do not consider erotic content on social media, dating and hookup websites/apps, video chat services, etc.
Who is looking at porn? Men, women, and children.
A study of 434 adult men found that 99% of study participants looked at porn at least occasionally.[iii]
Research conducted in 2017 by PornHub.com (one of the world’s largest porn providers) found a 359% increase in “porn for women” searches.[iv]
Porn use among adolescent boys is ubiquitous. When a Canadian researcher tried to study the effects of porn usage on young males, he couldn’t, because he was unable to find any potential study participants who weren’t already looking at porn. No control group = no experiment.[v]
Research tells us that that nearly all boys and most girls use porn, though boys tend to look at it earlier and view it more often.[vi]
In a study of 16-year-old Swedish boys, 96% admitted they were porn users, with 10% saying they looked at porn every day. Importantly, approximately 1/3 of the daily users said they sometimes watched more porn than they wanted—a common indicator of porn addiction.[vii]
Current estimates place the average age of first porn use at 11.[viii]
Why do people look at porn, and does that matter? Motivations for porn use vary widely, and they often overlap. And yes, those reasons do matter.
One study found that porn users go online for a variety of reasons: sexual satisfaction (94.4%), to feel arousal (87.2%), to achieve orgasm (86.5%), to alleviate stress (73.8%), to relieve boredom (70.8%), to forget daily problems (53%), to deal with loneliness (44.9%), and to fight depression (38.1%).[ix]
Research shows that people who use porn primarily to self-soothe and self-regulate their emotions are significantly more likely to experience problems (like porn addiction) than people who go online primarily to find sexual satisfaction, achieve arousal, and experience orgasm.[x]
How much porn are people looking at? Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.
One study found that adult male porn users spend an average of 3 hours per week with porn, with answers ranging from 5 minutes per week to 33 hours per week.[xi]
A study analyzing more than 400 million worldwide internet searches (representing more than 2 million users) found that approximately 13% of all internet searches are looking for porn.[xii]
Approximately 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic in nature.[xiii]
Research suggests that porn addicts typically spend at least 11 or 12 hours per week using pornography, with many devoting double or even triple that amount of time to porn.[xiv]
Is there a downside to porn? For some people, yes.
Porn use is correlated with decreased marital satisfaction in both the short-term and long-term. This link is stronger with male porn use than with female porn use.[xv]
Porn use almost doubles the likelihood of getting divorced in the next four years, increasing the probability from 6% to 11%.[xvi]
Heavy porn use among boys is correlated with higher levels of risky sexual behaviors, truancy, relationship problems, smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use.[xvii]
Not all porn users feel good about their behavior. One study found that 61.7% felt shame about their porn use, 49% searched for sexual content that did not previously interest them or that they considered disgusting, and 27.6% self-assessed their porn use as problematic.[xviii]
Research consistently shows that sex/porn addicts often struggle with real-world sexuality, with the most common issues being porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), delayed ejaculation, and anorgasmia (inability to reach orgasm).[xix] One study of 350 sex/porn addicts found that 26.7% report issues with sexual dysfunction.[xx] A more recent study of sex/porn addicts identified sexual dysfunction in 58% of test subjects.[xxi] An even more recent study of adult men found that approximately 28% of participants self-assessed their porn use as problematic, with PIED listed as a primary consequence.[xxii]
[i] Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2012). A billion wicked thoughts: What the Internet tells us about sexual relationships, p 8. New York, NY: Plume.
[ii] Damania, D. (2014). “Internet pornography statistics,” thedinfographics.com/2011/12/23/internet-pornography-statistics/, accessed May 28, 2014.
[iii] Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266.
[v] Liew, J. (2009). All men watch porn, scientists find. The Telegraph. Retrieved Jan 16, 2015 from telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/6709646/All-men-watch-porn-scientists-find.html.
[vi] Sabina, C., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2008). The nature and dynamics of Internet pornography exposure for youth. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(6), 691-693.
[vii] Mattebo, M., Tyden, T., Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Nilsson, K.S., & Larsson M. (2013). Pornography consumption, sexual experiences, lifestyles, and self-rated health among male adolescents in Sweden. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 34(7):460-468.
[viii] Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2007). Unwanted and wanted exposure to online pornography in a national sample of youth Internet users. Pediatrics, 119(2), 247-257.
[ix] Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266.
[x] Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266.
[xi] Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266.
[xii] Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2012). A billion wicked thoughts: What the Internet tells us about sexual relationships, p 15. New York, NY: Plume.
[xiii] Damania, D. (2014). “Internet pornography statistics,” thedinfographics.com/2011/12/23/internet-pornography-statistics/, accessed May 28, 2014.
[xiv] Cooper, A. Putnam D.E., Planchon, A. & Boies, S.C. (1999). Online Sexual Compulsivity: Getting Tangled in the Net. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity 6(2):79–104.
[xv] Perry, S. L. (2017). Does viewing pornography reduce marital quality over time? Evidence from longitudinal data. Archives of sexual behavior, 46(2), 549-559.
[xvi] Perry, S. L. (2017). Does viewing pornography reduce marital quality over time? Evidence from longitudinal data. Archives of sexual behavior, 46(2), 549-559.
[xvii] Mattebo, M., Tyden, T., Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Nilsson, K.S., & Larsson M. (2013). Pornography consumption, sexual experiences, lifestyles, and self-rated health among male adolescents in Sweden. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 34(7):460-468.
[xviii] Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266.
[xix] Rosenberg, K. P., Carnes, P., & O’Connor, S. (2014). Evaluation and treatment of sex addiction. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 40(2), 77-91.
[xx] Hall, P. (2012). Understanding and treating sex addiction: A comprehensive guide for people who struggle with sex addiction and those who want to help them. Routledge.
[xxi] Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., … & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419.
[xxii] Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266.
“I initially noticed tech-related sexual issues in the early 1990s, when online bulletin boards (BBS) and porn sites first hit the web. Prior to that, my clients were mostly hooked on real-world sexuality—serial affairs, prostitutes, sex clubs, and adult movie theaters, plus the occasional guy hooked on phone sex (the old-fashioned kind of phone that plugged into the wall). But when home computers and ubiquitous Internet connections came along, my clients were suddenly and primarily engaging in tech-driven sexuality. And this tech-sex trend continues unabated, with current-day sex addicts hooked on digital pornography, virtual sex games, webcam sex, hookup apps, teledildonics, and whatever else R&D departments can dream up.”
The simple, sad truth is that with every advance in digital technology, more and more people are challenged by sexual addiction. Consider that researchconducted in the 1980s (pre-Internet) suggested that anywhere from 3 to 5% of the adult male population was sexually addicted. By 1999, which was still the very early days of Internet usage, research showed that percentage had approximately doubled, to 8.5%. Nineteen years later we don’t have an updated number, but anecdotal evidence strongly suggests the percentage is still climbing. Today, it would be difficult to find even a single sex addict who hasn’t been involved in some way with online sexuality.
Without doubt, porn is the “industry leader” when it comes to cybersex addiction. This is hardly a surprise, given the recent online porn explosion. And no, we’re not exaggerating when we use the word explosion. In their book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam write:
In 1991, the year the World Wide Web went online, there were fewer than 90 different adult magazines published in America, and you’d have been hard-pressed to find a newsstand that carried more than a dozen. Just six years later, in 1997, there were about 900 pornography sites on the Web. Today, the filtering software CYBERsitter blocks 2.5 million adult Web sites.
Of course, pornography is just the tip of the sexnological iceberg. In today’s world, it is possible to meet someone on a dating site or a hookup app, to flirt with that person via text and sext, to have sex with that person via webcam and teledildonic devices, and to brag about this hot new relationship on social media. All without ever being in the same room (or even the same country).
Hookup apps are especially problematic for digital-era sex addicts, primarily because they present an entire universe of readily available potential sexual partners, helpfully arranged, thanks to geo-locating software, from nearest to furthest away. And a person’s marital status, hobbies, job, religion, goals, and worldview don’t matter on these apps, because they’re all about the quick encounter. No muss, no fuss, just the sex, thank you very much. Many sex addicts post profiles on multiple apps simultaneously, staying logged in to all of them 24/7 and checking them constantly. Sometimes they’re looking for the next sexual encounter before they’re even done with the current sexual encounter.
If you or someone you know is struggling with digital sexual activity, you may want to consider installing a filtering and accountability software on your digital devices. For information about which products work best, click here.