Distorting Sexual Relations

Study Shows Pornography’s Impact on Marriage

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, FEB. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Pornography is a visual distortion of sexuality that is a major threat to marriage, says a report published in December by the Family Research Council.

Patrick F. Fagan, senior fellow and director of the council’s Center for Research on Marriage and Religion, described the social and psychological effects of pornography in his study: “The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Community.”

Contrary to the argument that pornography is just harmless pleasure, Fagan referred to clinical evidence showing that it significantly distorts attitudes and perceptions about the nature of sexuality.

If they are habitual users of pornography men will tend to have a higher tolerance for abnormal sexual behaviors, the study noted. It’s also a habit that is very addictive due to the release of the hormones that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.

Fagan acknowledged that sexual energies are powerful forces, but precisely because of this society needs to channel these energies in a way that foments the common good. Thus, marriage legitimizes sexual intimacy, it protects the children that are the fruit of intercourse, and promotes social stability.

Setting limits on sexual activity helps teens as they mature to correctly orient their sexuality. Unfortunately, the study commented, developments in the modern media have broken down these barriers and greatly increased the ways in which pornographers can intrude into family life.

Family consequences

When it comes to the consequences for marriage, Fagan referred to studies showing how the use of porn by husbands severely affects wives.

In many cases the wives of pornography users develop deep psychological wounds, he observed. This includes feelings of betrayal, loss, mistrust, and anger. Wives can also feel unattractive or sexually inadequate, which in turn can lead to depression after finding out that their husbands view pornography.

Male viewers of pornography, Fagan added, tend to diminish their emotional involvement in their sexual relations, which has the effect of wives experiencing decreased intimacy from their husbands. In one study husbands reported loving their spouses less after long periods of looking at pornography.

Pornography also has an impact on the physical side of the relationship as prolonged exposure fosters dissatisfaction with the other spouse and their sexual behavior.

Other studies referred to by Fagan found that pornography users increasingly see the institution of marriage as sexually confining and this leads them to doubt the value of marriage as a social institution.

Real infidelity

The emotional distancing from their wives and marriage itself is not without consequences. Fagan observed that the use of pornography and other forms of online sexual contact is considered by many wives to be just as damaging to the relationship as real-life infidelity.

In fact, men and women react to pornography in different ways. One study carried out among undergraduates found that men were more upset by sexual infidelity and women by emotional infidelity.

Another study examined different types of degrading pornography. Both men and women rated the same three major themes as the most degrading of all, but with different intensities: women rated them as even more degrading than men did.

The impact on wives increases when the husbands become addicted to porn. One study cited by Fagan revealed that 40% of such sex addicts lose their spouses. There has not been a lot of research on the relationship between pornography and divorce, but he reported that one study of reports by divorce lawyers found that 68% of divorce cases involved one party meeting a new love interest over the Internet, and 56% involved one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic Web sites.

It’s not only women who suffer when pornography becomes an addiction. Fagan’s report noted that addictive pornography use leads to lower self-esteem and a weakened ability among men to carry out a meaningful social and work life. One survey of pornography addicts found that they had felt distressed and experienced impairment in an important aspect of their lives as a result of their addiction.


Pornography presents sexual activity as a sort of sporting event or innocent fun, Fagan commented, without any major impact on emotions or health. This simply does not correspond to reality he argued.

In fact, pornography leads to distorted perceptions of social reality: an exaggerated perception of the level of sexual activity in the general population, and an inflated estimate of the likelihood of premarital and extramarital sexual activity. It also leads to an overestimation of the general prevalence of perversions such as group sex, bestiality, and sadomasochistic activity.

“Thus the beliefs being formed in the mind of the viewer of pornography are far removed from reality,” Fagan noted. “A case could be made that repeated viewing of pornography induces a mental illness in matters sexual.”

Among the distortions created by pornography are three beliefs: (1) sexual relationships are recreational in nature, (2) men are generally sexually driven, and (3) women are sex objects or commodities.

As a result, Fagan described how pornography fosters the idea that the degradation of women is acceptable. Moreover, since males use pornography much more frequently than females, its prevalence leads to the view that women are sex objects or sexual commodities.

Fagan observed that a significant amount of pornography is violent in content. A study of different pornographic media found violence in almost a quarter of magazine scenes, in more than a quarter of video scenes, and in just over 40% of online pornography.

Studies suggest that there is a connection between exposure to pornography and subsequent sexual aggression, he added. Even the consumption of non-violent pornography increases men’s willingness to force their sexual desires on reluctant partners, Fagan added.

The recourse to pornography is also associated with sexual offenses, Fagan affirmed. He quoted one study of convicted Internet sexual offenders who reported that they spent more than eleven hours per week viewing pornographic images of children on the Internet.

Another study of sex offenders and non-offenders revealed significant differences in their use of pornography as adolescents. Significant proportions of rapists and molesters had used hard-core pornography during their adolescence.


So pornography is not only damaging marriages, but it is also having a severe impact on adolescents. One study of teens showed that habitual use of pornography frequently leads to abandonment of fidelity to girlfriends. As well, pornography use increased their subsequent marital infidelity rate by more than 300%.

Fagan described how the viewing of pornography by teenagers disorients them during the developmental phase when they are learning how to handle their sexuality and when they are most vulnerable to uncertainty about their sexual beliefs and moral values.

One study of adolescents found that sexually explicit Internet material significantly increased their uncertainties about sexuality. Another study found that adolescents exposed to high levels of pornography had lower levels of sexual self-esteem.

There is also a significant relationship between frequent pornography use and feelings of loneliness, including major depression.

High adolescent consumption of pornography is linked to significantly increased sexual intercourse with non-romantic friends and can be a significant factor in teenage pregnancy.

Well before the advent of the Internet the Second Vatican Council commented in its decree on the media that, if properly utilized, the media can be of great service to mankind.

“The Church recognizes, too, that men can
employ these media contrary to the plan of the Creator and to their own loss. Indeed, the Church experiences maternal grief at the harm all too often done to society by their evil use,” the decree observed (Par. 2). An evil use that only too often today is poisoning families and marriages.

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