April 14, 2016

We Agree, Porn Harms Relationships and Here’s Why

On April 5th, 2016, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, clinical psychologists and co-founders of the Gottman Institute, posted “An Open Letter on Porn.” This article discussed the serious threat pornography poses for intimacy and relationships in a powerful and direct manner. Below is a response from Lisa Thompson, Vice President and Director of Education and Outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.


 

Dr. Gottman,

Thank you for this insightful and truth-filled post on pornography. In my work I regularly meet people who are suffering the devastating impacts of pornography in their lives and those of their loved ones. In the last six months I’ve met three women whose marriages have failed because their husbands of many years are choosing pornography over them, and another young mother who lost her husband to porn. And, just yesterday, I was speaking with a man who was wrecked to learn of his wife’s pornography problem. It’s heartbreaking.

As others have observed, sexual fantasy is “rehearsal for relationships.” If you imagine others as mere instruments of your gratification, you are literally rehearsing exploitative patterns of behavior towards others. And, of course, the more one engages in such behavior, the more normal selfishly using others for sex becomes (whether it’s the real life partner in your life, or the person displayed on your computer screen). Interestingly, brain science has revealed that fantasizing or imaging doing something activates many of the same brain circuits as actually doing it (see: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120723134745.htm). Thus, is can come as little surprise that so many people through their pornography use are conditioning themselves away from loving and passionate relationships with their spouses.

Moreover, it’s more than a little scary to consider how many people are consuming forms of violent and degrading pornography. Even if only a fraction of the people consuming such pornography acted out those scripts in real life, it would have traumatizing impacts on countless lives of real people.

The evidence demonstrates all too well pornography’s coarsening impact on sexual attitudes. For instance, Zillman (2004) found that men who used pornography were more likely to agree with statements such as: 1) “A man should find them, fool them, f*** them, and forget them,” 2) “A woman does not mean ‘no’ unless she slaps you,”, and 3) “If they are old enough to bleed, they are old enough to butcher.” Ugh! What woman would want to be in relationship with a man with attitudes like these? But these are the very attitudes that pornography use breeds.

More recently, a meta-analysis assessing 22 different studies from seven countries around the world found that consumption of pornography was associated significantly with both verbal and physical aggression, among males and females (see:http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcom.12201/abstract). That seems pretty compelling to me. But I guess some people’s pornography use is so important to them, they are okay with risking becoming more verbally and physically aggressive towards their sexual partners.

In light of all this, I think there are important questions any pornography user should ask him or herself. To begin, is their pornography use making them a more loving, affectionate, attentive, and caring sexual partner, or a more self-centered one? Is pornography use changing their sexual template and tastes–do they now find themselves enjoying more violent and fetishized forms of sex? Do they find themselves consuming pornography they don’t even like? Are they struggling with a compulsive need to view pornography? Would they rather look at pornography than make love to their partner? Can they even make love to their partner?

Those who express concern about the harmful impacts of pornography are not anti-sex, they are anti-garbage. Pornography represents a trash heap of humanity sexuality–a place full of putrid decay that robs people of joyful, tender, passionate sexual mutuality, and truly intimate relationships. Thank you for inviting people to walk away from the muck and mire of pornography and welcoming them to join the feast at the table of love.

Sincerely,

Lisa

Lisa L. Thompson

Vice President of Policy and Research

As Vice President of Policy and Research for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Lisa conducts policy analysis and advocacy, advances understanding of pornography’s public health harms, and liaises with public officials, advocates, and academics to advance strategies combating the web of sexual exploitation, including pornography, stripping, prostitution, sexual trafficking, sexual assault, and more.

Lisa joined NCOSE following two years with World Hope International where as Director of Anti-Trafficking, Lisa oversaw sex trafficking recovery programs in Cambodia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Lisa is a contributing author to Hands that Heal: International Curriculum for Caregivers of Trafficking Survivors, as well as the book Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:  Europe Latin America, North America, and Global. Lisa also routinely speaks and trains on sexual exploitation topics for a diverse range of audiences. Lisa served for more than 12 years as the Liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking for The Salvation Army USA National Headquarters.

Lisa earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Western Kentucky University, and Master’s degree in Leadership, Public Policy and Social Issues from Union Institute and University.

Further Reading

Related