The first Playboy magazine was published in 1953. This baby-boomer would have been seven years old at the time. In the past six decades, that magazine and several other pornographic magazines have gained respectability in much of our culture. They can be easily found in most cities and adult bookstores along our interstate highways. Today, Playboy magazine represents some of the mildest porn on the street. Other print magazines and online sources graphically depict men and women engaged in all kinds of sex acts – heterosexual, homosexual, even sex with children and animals.
In addition to the growing prevalence of this print genre, movie makers have increased nudity and graphic sex scenes in their work in recent decades. Thus, today many of us go to R-rated movies with gratuitous, graphic sex scenes and accept it as normal adult entertainment. Besides the relatively tame stuff you might see in the theater, a multitude of X-rated videos and DVD’s are created and made available for sale or rent throughout our world.
Now, maybe you do not struggle with temptations to get or look at pornographic material. Maybe you would never have any of it in your home – purposely. But, if you have a computer in your home, you at least have the potential of porn in your home. Though porn may have little or no ability to tempt you, that may not be true for everyone in your home.
When I work with adult men who are struggling with porn or other sexual-sin issues, they typically tell me about encountering porn the first time back in high school, junior high, and even in elementary school. A friend’s dad or big brother may have had a stash of magazines or videos which would often be explored after school, before any adults came home. Sometimes, it was their own dad’s or their own older brother’s stash. And sometimes that stash was not even hidden. According to safefamilies.org, the average age of a boy’s first exposure to porn today is 11. That is the average age. That means that many boys are introduced to that shameful world much earlier than 11.
The advent of floppy discs, CD’s, DVD’s and flash drives has made porn quite concealable and portable. Your teenager could be carrying around the equivalent of a stack of smut magazines in his pocket or backpack. The prevalence of smartphones possessed by youths in recent years puts all manner of pornographic material right at hand. These things make temptations to look too great to resist for many young people.
Pornography is a huge problem. It is probably a greater problem than you realize.
Dr. Mark Laaser is a respected expert in sexual addictions. Recently I listened to an interview of Dr. Laaser in which he addressed the subject of porn addiction. In the discussion, he identified three “A’s” that accelerate the addictive potential of porn among males. They are: Accessibility, Anonymity, and Affordability. Pornography is quite accessible, especially with Internet access. Not only is it easily accessed, it can be accessed with total anonymity. It can be easily hidden, kept as a dark secret of one’s life for years. Finally, it is quite affordable, even free via many sources on the Internet.
Surely we can all appreciate how erotic pictures are exciting to the male eye. When we add to this natural factor the easy accessibility in our world, the ability to access porn without anyone knowing, and the little or no cost involved, we can see how many men could easily become hooked on porn. The natural titillation of erotic pictures and their easy accessibility is only part of the story.
Another major reason porn is so strongly attractive to males is sometimes missed. Here it is: Porn entails no relational load for a man. The women who excite a man with their erotic pictures have no relational expectations. She doesn’t care if he comes home on time, or at all. He can leave her in that secret place for days, weeks, months; and when he finally comes to see her again, she is as excited to entertain as the first time they met. She doesn’t care if he looks at other women; in fact, she expects that. She does not expect to be understood, supported, or pleased in any way. She is quite content to have contributed to his happiness. That is what I mean by “no relational load.” This is very desirable to many men.
A relationship with a real person, however, carries a substantial relational load. A wife has her own desires, her own needs. And most of these are not sexual in nature. A healthy woman does not want to be merely used as an object of sexual lust; she wants to be loved, cherished. She wants a life partner, not just a sex partner. If she is not treated with kindness and consideration, she will have trouble relating with her man in any way. She has expectations (realistic or not); and when these are unmet, she is not happy. Again, this is what I mean by a relational load. And for many men, this load is a strong motivation to avoid the real woman and engage porn.
Whether he feels inadequate to please his wife in the bedroom, or to please her in general, a man may find the porn-fueled, fantasy world of sex preferable to that of a relationship with a real woman. In marital situations, porn not only creates problems, it complicates other problems.
When a woman discovers that her husband is engaged with porn, she often feels very much like she would if she were to discover him cheating with a real person. And just as often, the man does not get this. Her hurt and anger seem excessive; after all, he was just looking at some pictures. Men and women tend to see this very differently. The man sees his looking at porn and an actual affair as miles apart. His wife tends to see the two experiences as almost next door neighbors.
Pornography not only damages intimacy, it also exacerbates already damaged intimacy. When intimacy is damaged in a marriage by any means (exhausting work schedules, arrival of a new baby, conflict between the couple), a man may be more tempted than usual to resort to pornography. He doesn’t feel close to his wife; perhaps he doesn’t want to be close to her because he feels disrespected; porn offers an easy alternative. With porn he doesn’t need to be close to her or anyone. When his pornography is discovered, the original cause of diminished intimacy in the relationship is often buried under a pile of pain and shame.
Sexual sin is especially addictive. To explain the addictive nature of pornography and other sexual sins, Dr. Patrick Carnes, another respected expert on sexual addictions, says that sex addictions are literally chemical addictions. In sexual addiction, one is simply addicted to the chemicals of his or her own body that are associated with sexual excitement. And sex is used for the same reasons illicit drugs are used. A person wants to change the way they feel; and they have found something that quickly does that for them.
As one’s capacity for fulfilling, intimate relationships decreases, the vulnerability to addictive behaviors increases. As people experience injury in relationships, the defense strategies they choose actually inhibit their capacity for intimacy. The walls created to protect from harm serve to isolate from intimate contact, too. Thus, it is not uncommon to encounter addictive disorders in the work of relational counseling. And it is not uncommon to see this addictive disorder (addiction to porn) in our counseling work.