Josh Krisch, the science editor at Fatherly, recently contacted me about some questions he had regarding how porn, especially when consumed by married men and fathers, impacts the family.
“I’m also interested in hearing how increased access to porn has impacted society at large, and what some worst-case scenarios might be for people who watch porn compulsively,” Josh wrote in an email.
As per usual and of course, I was willing to share my thoughts — which were considerable.
Regarding his questions and overall process, Josh said to “feel no obligation to answer any [questions] that fall out of [my] area of expertise. I’m casting a wide net intentionally.” Also, to “please note that, while the questions do jump around, [his] main focus is how porn affects adult men in families who casually consume it.” The “core audience” at Fatherly “is not pathological” and “is really wondering whether the occasional click of the mouse is ruining his family.”
Sounded like worthwhile considerations to me!
You can read Josh’s piece “Is Pornography Bad for the Families of the Men Who Watch?” (July 30, 2018) on Fatherly here. It looks like he is in the process of writing a few pieces on the subject, but this is just the one that my insights appear in. Maybe there are more to come?
Enjoy — and what do you think?
Josh Krisch: When is porn consumption a net positive? When is porn consumption a neutral thing, neither good nor bad? When is porn consumption a net negative?
DrCT: Porn consumption has many positive elements to it. It can help individuals and couples connect with sex they may not have access to (or, feel like they have access to) in their daily, physical lives due to things like geography, community access, social stigma, etc. It can be a way for individuals and couples to connect with fantasies they may be interested in at a tenor they are currently comfortable with. Porn can help people with variable physical, cognitive, and/or emotional abilities have access to sex.
Porn, like anything, can be negative when it is consumed in excess and/or is taken too literally/out of context. It’s difficult to establish a baseline for what is “excess” though, since people vary so dramatically. Further, when porn is taken in by consumers as educational material and/or literal sex behavior exemplars, that can certainly be negative. This is tied into, on a societal level, poor sex education overall and lack of critical understanding about the inner workings of adult content production.
Consider the Fast/Furious franchise films. No one internalizes those fantasy creations as driver’s ed. This is because we have a context for understanding Hollywood film production, as well as access to accurate, judgment-free driver’s training. We do not have parallel relevant access/understanding for sex and porn information. This can cause problems for some viewers.
Josh Krisch: In each case, are there studies on specific situations in which men, women, couples, families either benefit or are hurt by porn consumption? What are the specific circumstances? Any anecdotal evidence, or clinical experience?
Josh Krisch: In each of the above cases, what is the difference between adults consuming pornography and children or teenagers doing so?
DrCT: In addition to adult content not being made for or marketed to young people, one main difference is the ability to contextualize and understand sexual imagery. Young children who do not even know what sex is – or, have only a vague understanding of it — do not have the tools to process porn. I would argue that, on the most simplistic level, even late teenagers growing up in a sex negative culture such as ours do not necessarily have the tools to process the imagery. Many adults may not even. This is directly tied in to our inability to discuss and educate ourselves about sex behavior throughout the life course.
Add alongside that the almost a complete and total inability to understand the nature of adult content production as a filmmaking genre (e.g. the fact that, like crying or sword fighting in a Hollywood film, the sex in porn is a performance done by professionals). Yes, there may be chemistry to varying degrees amongst the performers, but we as a society at the most basic level do not see porn as a workplace product/creation. This causes problems.
Josh Krisch: Do we, as a society, watch more porn than we used to? Is this changing anything at the societal level?
DrCT: Well, due simply to technology, access to porn has increased, so increased viewing seems logical. (I would say “Yes, obviously as a society we watch more porn,” but technically there are no reliable and/or comparative stats that I can point you to that can say definitively.)
Another aspect that has increased is the rapid, mass consumption of adult content. Whereas previously (because of technology and access) a person may view the same content in-depth many many times, today people may “swipe” through content with rapid fire easy, taking in a much larger number and variety of images much more quickly/less in-depth than was previously even possible, much less widely done. The exact impact of these consumption trends is unknown, but I imagine they cannot be entirely dissimilar than similar consumption patterns you see in viewers flipping through Netflix or Tinder.
Josh Krisch: Is porn addiction a real thing? Are there studies to support it? How is it treated?
DrCT: I have never once seen a reliable, accurate study that describes “porn addiction” – as in, physical responses similar to other addictions. People can certainly consume “too much” porn, as well as miscontextualize the content they view, but as I mentioned previously, this is a very subjective topic. “Too much” is an open concept.
Josh Krisch: Is porn consumption linked to harmful behaviors, such as child abuse, rape, aggression? Are these links reliable, and are there studies? Who is most at risk? What are some of the worst-case scenarios, when it comes to porn impacting the family?
DrCT: Like “porn addiction,” I have never seen a reliable, accurate study that links porn to aggressive, abusive, and/or criminal behaviors. This does not, however, mean that porn consumption may not have an impact that related to and/or exacerbating of existing or larger issues.
For instance, a person with violent tendencies may certainly seek out content that they perceive to beviolent (again, lack of production understanding impacts this believe/perception). A partner interested in a sex behavior that their partner is not interested in may certainly have a negative impact on intra-familial relations if they are “caught” (again, back to sex education, as well as stigmatized sexual expression) viewing content.
Josh Krisch: What should be done about unhealthy porn consumption?
DrCT: I have personal thoughts on these questions below [DrCT’s Note: this is in reference to the questions I skipped that are shared below]. As a sociologist though, questions related to therapeutics on this level are outside my professional purview.
Sociologically speaking, addressing these issues lies in addressing the social issues that shape them – stigma related to sex and variable forms of sex expression and lack of age-a[appropriate sex education throughout the life course (as well as lack of accurate sex education that does not value-judge sex expression on the basis of perceived societal norms). Additionally, interpersonal communication (and our difficulty with it on a societal level) contributes to the problematic mix.
Josh also asked a few other questions that I skipped — some because I’m not qualified to answer and others because this correspondence was already lonnnng. It takes a lot of effort and time to compete these queries, which is part of the reason why I always republish my full comments with writers and reporters, but sometimes they are too long to complete even for me!
Here are the other questions Josh asked that I skipped:
How should a husband or wife respond to a spouse’s unhealthy porn habits?
How should a parent respond to a child’s unhealthy porn habits?
What should society, local governments, etc be doing to foster healthy porn habits? Is this a public health concern? What should public health officials and physicians be doing? What are some practical steps families and officials can take to minimize the fallout?
(pictured: image via Felix Atsoram)
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