The Harms of Pornography

What is pornography? Sexual addictions specialist, Dr. Victor Cline describes the origin and meaning of the word “pornography”:

“The word ‘pornography’ comes from the Greek words ‘porno’ and ‘graphic’ meaning ‘depictions of the activities of whores’… . In common parlance [or, phraseology], it usually means ‘material that is sexually explicit and intended primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal….'”

Dr. Rory Reid, sexual additions specialist, extends this meaning: “Pornography is any visual or written medium created with the intent to sexually stimulate. If the work was not intended to stimulate but nevertheless causes sexual arousal in an individual, it constitutes pornography for that person. If you find yourself asking whether a work is pornographic, the question itself suggests the material makes you uncomfortable. That should be enough to tell you to avoid it.”

How is Pornography Harmful?

Perhaps the most common damage from pornography is a warped perception of people, relationships, and sex. Pornography teaches unrealistic and inappropriate sexual expectations, decreases satisfaction with monogamy and lowers family loyalties, objectifies and degrades women, links sex with violence and children, encourages promiscuity, and increases susceptibility to sexually acting out in ways harmful to others.

Dr. Gary Brooks, in his book The Centerfold Syndrome, explains that pornography alters people’s perceptions in the following ways:

Voyeurism. Pornography teaches its users to focus on looking at people instead of forming real relationships.

Objectification. Men, women, and children are portrayed as sexual objects, whose worth lies in the size and shape of their body parts.

Validation. After repeatedly seeing people in an idealized form, pornography users begin to judge people’s worth by their physical attractiveness. They feel masculine or feminine only when they are with beautiful people, and are less likely to be committed when their partner goes through life-changes (age, childbearing, etc.) that decrease their youthfulness or good looks.

Trophyism. Romantic partners are trophies to be displayed and owned, not to be treated as real people.

Fear of true intimacy. Because people portrayed in pornographic pictures have no demands or expectations beyond sexual-arousal and pleasure, pornography users do not learn how to form real relationships with others. They do not learn how to be selfless, sacrificing, and committed; thus, they come to fear true intimacy that requires them to relate emotionally and spiritually.

Pornography often promotes sexual promiscuity and other activities that if pursued, would undoubtedly contribute to unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). There is some evidence in the social science research that media portrayed idealized images often found in pornography induce shame and appearance anxiety among young women. Its possible that these women may feel obligated to compete with pornography in order to receive attention from males who become lured by the idealized images that are inaccurate depictions of women and often enhanced through computer alteration technology (e.g. air brushing).

Pornography use can develop into a compulsion. A compulsion is the intense urge to do a certain behavior regardless of negative consequences. Compulsions can be so powerful that people often feel helpless to deny them.

Many researchers, clinicians and organizations think of compulsive pornography use as an addiction. Like a cocaine addict is driven to use cocaine at any cost, so will a pornography addict seek out sexual material despite feelings of guilt, destruction of family relationships, divorce, overwhelming debt, and legal consequences (like jail time) for illegal activities associated with pornography (such as downloading or transmitting child porn over the internet). Pornography compulsions are very difficult to break, but it can be done. Learning to overcome compulsions usually takes a long time and often requires the help of a qualified therapist. See the article at this website, Understanding the Compulsive Internet Pornography User, for further information.

Effects of Pornography Use on the Marital Relationship

As Rory Reid and Dr. Jill Manning, experts on how pornography affects relationships, explain, “Pornography consumption of any kind constitutes a form of infidelity. Emotional fidelity, a commitment of heart and mind, is undermined by the consumption of pornography as thoughts and feelings turn from one’s spouse toward objects, people, or practices outside the marriage. The ‘Adult Entertainment’ industry wants couples to believe that pornography can enhance sexual relationships,” whereas research has demonstrated that pornography actually diminishes intimacy in marriage.

Pornography has many devastating effects on individual development and marriage relationships. Several of these are enumerated by Reid and Manning:

1. Decreased trust and feelings of betrayal

2. Distorted views of sexual intimacy

3. Decreased emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy

4. Decreased sensitivity, tenderness, and kindness

5. Financial instability, including loss of employment

6. Decreased mental and physical health

7. Increased hopelessness, depression, guilt, shame

8. Increased acceptance of sexually oriented humor and media

9. Strained communications and increased marital conflict

10. Increased risk of divorce


With these kinds of consequences, parents, spouses, and children need to be educated on the harmful effects of pornography. Parents and spouses should learn how to detect signs of pornography use in the home, how to protect their family from pornography before it becomes a problem, and how to handle the problem should they learn a loved one has become involved with pornography.

For Further Reading:

The Centerfold Syndrome
by Gary Brooks

Additional Websites

The Pornography Trap
by Victor Cline and Brad Wilcox