Harms of Pornography


Pornography is now more readily accessible than at any other time in history. Convenient, cheap, and private access to pornography is now available to anyone with an internet connection. In recent years, pornography has invaded the cell phone, tablet, and video game console market, using every leap in technology as a way to stretch its ugly tentacles into homes. The reluctance of most prosecutors to bring obscenity cases to court has emboldened porn peddlers to offer increasingly obscene material at local porn shops and has made explicit materials readily available.

Pornography is not a “victimless crime.” It is potentially addictive, causing marital problems and divorce.[1] Its presence has been linked to increases in local crime rates, including rape and child molestation. Anecdotal evidence also links porn to mass-murderers such as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Gary Bishop, “where pornography played a role in their crimes.”[2]

Issue Analysis

Pornography is an extremely profitable business, although estimates vary regarding the exact size of these profits. In 2006, the industry generated about $13.3 billion a year in revenues in the United States alone, more than the combined revenues of the ABC, CBS, and NBC networks.[3] More recent figures conservatively estimated $8 billion for 2012 – the same size as the bottled water industry.[4]

Despite pornographers’ claims to the contrary, there is widespread support among Americans for aggressive enforcement of obscenity laws. A 2008 Harris Interactive poll found that 75 percent of Americans would strongly support the President of the United States doing everything in his or her constitutional power to enforce federal obscenity laws against commercial distributors of hardcore pornography.[5]

A more recent poll confirms that nearly two-thirds of Americans find pornography to be “morally wrong.”[6] Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) has been the leading advocate at the Arizona state Capitol to protect families from the harmful and dangerous practices of the pornography industry.

Pornography has gone “mainstream.” References to and approval of pornography use show up regularly in network television programming and movies. One of NBC’s most anticipated fall series for 2011 was The Playboy Club, an egregious attempt to glamorize prostitution and cast the mores of the “sexual revolution” in a positive light. While the show itself aired in the 10 p.m. timeslot, NBC advertised the show to all audiences on its network during various times of the day. Thankfully, the show was canceled after just three episodes.

Another well-known program, Victoria’s Secret’s annual “fashion show,” airs during prime-time television and brings barely-dressed models into every American home with a television. Many of these models have become household names through their work in the pornography industry. At every point, destructive sexuality and pornographic materials are marketed to entice new customers, regardless of age or sex.

The Truth Behind the Lie

Over the last decade, there have been intentional efforts on the part of pornographers to recast the industry’s image as glamorous and empowering for women. But over that same time period, the stories of former sex-workers are telling of an industry rampant with drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, and even death.

Many women in explicit films despise pornography. Many of these women are high school dropouts or girls that have been exploited and sexually abused.[7] Drawn by the potential of making large sums of money, women are manipulated, mistreated, and threatened to perform deviant acts or leave without pay and the prospect of never working again. As a result, thousands of women have turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the physical and emotional damage they’ve sustained in the business. Contrary to the claims made by some within the industry, there is no sexual empowerment for women in pornography.

The fantasy that pornography claims to fulfill is a lie propagated by an industry that degrades, devalues, and destroys the lives of women. The porn production business is rampant with drug use, violence, and death. Between the years 2007 and 2010, 36 porn actors died from HIV, suicide, homicide, and drugs in the United States alone.[8] In August 2013, the pornography industry’s trade association called for a moratorium on pornography production after two performers tested positive for HIV.[9] The truth is that every dollar spent on a pornographic film and every click on an explicit website supports an industry bent on profiting from destroying lives and fostering damaging addictions.

Pornography Addiction and Escalation

Addiction to pornography does not take long to develop, and once the process has started, it becomes a very slippery slope to an obsession that destroys families and lives. The stages of pornography addiction are:[10]

  • Early exposure: Viewing pornography at a young age starts the process of desensitization and opens the door for future, repeated use.
  • Addiction/compulsion: A person engages in regular pornography use, usually with soft-core material. As the behavior continues, it becomes increasingly difficult to break the habit.
  • Escalation: What was once arousing no longer works, and the addict now turns to more explicit and risky forms of entertainment. This may involve live sex shows and increasingly deviant pornography.
  • Desensitization: What was once shocking now seems to be acceptable, even normal. The user is able to rationalize an escalating variety of perversions such as homosexual acts, bestiality, group sex, or violence.
  • Acting out: A variety of deviant behavior forms can occur at any point in the development of compulsion. As the process continues, there is a growing tendency to live out either the pornographic depictions or the sexual fantasies that have become such a part of the addict’s life. The victims of these activities can be a spouse, child, neighbor, or a complete stranger. Many sadomasochistic murderers are porn users.

The Biochemistry of Porn Addiction

Recent research has revealed that the effects of pornography usage on the brain mimic those of narcotic-class drugs.[11] Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter that sends signals to the center of the brain. These signals activate the human pleasure reward center that allows us to appreciate pleasure in life. Addiction comes when the human brain is overexposed to dopamine and the pleasure-inducing signals it sends to the center of the brain.

Addiction occurs when the neuro-pathways that supply dopamine are downgraded by excessive use and actually allow less of the chemical to be carried to the brain. As a result, the cells at the center of the brain crave the dopamine withheld by the downgraded pathway, and the brain must adjust to the lower levels of dopamine. The ultimate outcome of this adjustment is the individual feeling an overwhelming need to constantly supply dopamine through the usage of pornography.

In addition, the overuse of dopamine has a destructive effect on the frontal lobes of the brain. These all-important lobes are areas of the brain that provide reason and rationality to a person’s thought. Excessive dopamine has the effect of shrinking the frontal lobes to the point of atrophy, resulting in a type of frontal lobe syndrome. Similar observations have been made in studies of cocaine addicts and overeaters where the ultimate effects of these biochemical changes are increased volatility, mood swings, and compulsion. In pornography addiction, the result is no different.

Impact on Adults

Research and clinical evidence has shown that:

  • About 40 percent of sex-addicted males will lose their spouse.[12]
  • 56 percent of divorce cases involved one spouse having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites, according to surveys conducted by a group divorce lawyers.[13]
  • The use of pornography increases the marital infidelity rate by more than 300 percent.[14]

Other negative consequences of pornography on adults include:

  • Husbands have reported loving their spouses less after long periods of looking at or desiring pornography.[15] When the use of pornography doesn’t end in infidelity or divorce, its presence in a marriage destroys and distorts a healthy sexual relationship between spouses. The detachment often leads to withdrawal and decreased emotional intimacy with a spouse, as well.
  • Many wives experience deep feelings of inadequacy and unattractiveness after learning of their husband’s use of pornography, often leading to severe depression.[16] When a sexual relationship still exists among spouses, it often is unhealthy as pornography-addicted husbands are likely to demand increasingly bizarre sex from their wives.[17]
  • 59 percent of pornography users will suffer severe financial consequences due to the monetary cost of their addiction, while 27 percent will lose their jobs or be demoted.[18] Among professionals who are sex addicted, as many as 40 percent will lose their professions due to their sexual acting out.[19]
  • The physical toll of pornography addiction is just as daunting. 37 percent of online pornography seekers reported being seriously involved in some type of substance abuse, versus 10 percent of non-seekers.[20] In one study, severe clinical depression has been reported twice as frequently among Internet pornography users compared to non-users.[21] The scenes portrayed in pornographic movies rarely show performers using condoms and provoke viewers to seek “recreational” sexual encounters that result in an increased risk of STD infections.
  • Psychologically, the damage caused at the hands of pornography is profound. Many men who have used or are addicted to pornography reach the point where sex is seen as completely separate from love and commitment. Young men who frequently view pornography are increasingly unable to become excited by normal sexual encounters.[22] Among college-age students, even those who use pornography, concede that it reinforces the idea that casual “hook-ups” are permissible.[23]
  • Most people believe that compulsive pornography use is a struggle that only ensnares men. However, women are increasingly falling victim to pornography addiction. A recent poll found that 30 percent of women confessed to watching internet porn, a percentage that has risen over the last decade.[24] Going further, it is now estimated that as many as one in every six women struggles with pornography addiction.[25]

Impact on Children and Adolescents

Children and adolescents are also frequent victims of pornography. The road to pornography addiction often begins in adolescence. Many young men and women are exposed to pornography unwillingly or accidentally through the internet, cell phones, videos, or magazines. Over time, desensitization occurs and what was initially affronting to the teen becomes acceptable, even desirable. Teens who spend longer amounts of time on their computers are at far greater risk for intentionally seeking out pornography.[26] The use of explicit materials also increases the likelihood of adolescent sexual promiscuity with young males reporting “more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration” as their use of pornography increases.[27]

Pedophiles will often show children pornographic images of adults to introduce them to the idea of sex, and then introduce child pornography to break down potential resistance to their advances. One study conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department found that in 60 percent of the child molestation cases over a 10-year period, pornography was used to make the children less resistant to the advances of the pedophile.[28]

Pedophiles use child pornography both for arousal and for validation of sexual abuse. Seeing images of children in sexual situations allows the user to imagine that his activities or obsessions are “normal.” Pedophiles also use child pornography to lower a child’s resistance to abuse and teach a child what to model in the sexual encounter with an adult.[29] The abuser may create child pornography to blackmail his victims from revealing the abuse.[30]

Battling the Harms of Pornography

In spite of overexposure to pornography and the destructive effect it has on families, parents do have help in protecting their children. One of the most helpful internet and mobile filters is SafeEyes, available at www.internetsafety.com. For those struggling with pornography addiction, many resources are available online. Websites such as www.pureintimacy.org, www.purelifeministries.org, and www.blazinggrace.org provide help and assistance in breaking the bondage to pornography.

Talking Points

  • Pornography is not a “victimless crime.” The harms of pornography are well documented. Pornography has been linked to increases in local crime rates, including rape, child molestation and depression. [31]
  • The pornography industry does not empower women; it abuses and enslaves them in a dangerous and potentially deadly lifestyle. Between the years 2007 and 2010, 36 porn actors died from HIV, suicide, homicide, and drugs in the United States alone.
  • It doesn’t take much to become addicted to pornography. Just like any other type of addiction, porn addicts experience physical and emotional compulsions that can destroy their lives and relationships with loved ones.
  • Children are not safe from becoming addicted to pornography. As pornography has become increasingly more accessible, children are becoming exposed at a younger age, increasing their chances of becoming addicted.


In spite of the glamorous image pornographers portray in the media, sexually explicit materials are toxic and have destroyed countless homes and lives. Widespread public support for vigorously enforcing obscenity laws is being ignored while the federal government has completely halted all efforts at pursuing pornographers. Combating the harms brought about by pornography begins in the home by ensuring that every member of the family is aware of and protected from the devastating effects pornography causes.

© January 2014 Center for Arizona Policy, Inc. All rights reserved.
This publication includes summaries of many complex areas of law and is not specific legal advice to any person. Consult an attorney if you have questions about your specific situation or believe your legal rights have been infringed. This publication is educational in nature and should not be construed as an effort to aid or hinder any legislation

[1] Robert M. Daines and Tyler Shumway, Pornography and Divorce (7th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, 2012), available at www.marriottschool.net/emp/boyer/financeseminar/s11_12/Tyler%20Shumway%20F11.pdf.

[2] Bruce Watson and Shyla Rae Welch, Just Harmless Fun?, Enough is Enough (2000), www.enough.org/objects/justharmlessfun.pdf (last visited Sept. 25, 2013).

[3]Luke Gilkerson, Pornography Statistics, Covenant Eyes (2013), www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/ (last visited Sept. 22, 2013); Internet Pornography Statistics, Top Ten Reviews, www.internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-statistics.html (last visited Sept. 22, 2013)..

[4] Sam Spencer, How Big is the Pornography Industry in the United States, Covenant Eyes Breaking Free Blog, June 1, 2012, www.covenanteyes.com/2012/06/01/how-big-is-the-pornography-industry-in-the-united-states/ (last visited Sept. 25, 2013).

[5]Overall, About Two Thirds of U.S. Adults Disagree Both that Viewing Hardcore Adult Pornography on the Internet is ‘Morally Acceptable’ and that Such Viewing ‘Provides, Generally, Harmless Entertainment,’ The Morality in Media Newsletter (Morality in Media, New York, N.Y.) Oct. 2009, at 1-2, available at www.

[6] Frank Newport, Americans, Including Catholics, Say Birth Control is Morally OK, Gallup Politics, May 22, 2012, www.gallup.com/poll/154799/Americans-Including-Catholics-Say-Birth-Control-Morally.aspx (last visited Oct. 8, 2013).

[7] Shelley Lubben, The Truth Behind the Fantasy, BlazingGrace.org, www.blazinggrace.org/the-truth-behind-the-fantasy/ (last visited Sept. 27, 2013).

[8] Shelley Lubben, U.S. Pornographic Industry Factoid 2010, Pink Cross Foundation (2010), www.shelleylubben.com/articles/PornFactoid2010deaths_lubben.pdf (last visited Sept. 26, 2013).

[9] Anna Alamendrala, Porn Moratorium Declared As Another Performer Tests Positive for HIV, Huffington Post, Sept. 6, 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/06/porn-moratorium-hiv_n_3883377.html (last visited Sept. 25, 2013).

[10] Gene McConnell & Keith Campbell, The Stages of Pornography Addiction, Focus on the Family, www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce_and_infidelity/pornography_and_virtual_infidelity/stages_of_porn_addiction.aspx (last visited Sept. 25, 2013).

[11] Donald Hilton, Slave Master: How Pornography Drugs & Changes Your Brain (2010), www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo13/13hilton.php (last visited Sept. 26, 2013).

[12] Mary Anne Layden, If Pornography Made Us Healthy, We’d Be Healthy By Now, Catholic News Agency, www.catholicnewsagency.com/resource.php?n=1078 (last visited Sept. 27, 2013).

[13] Hearing on Pornography’s Impact on Marriage & the Family Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights of the S. Comm. On Judiciary, 109th Cong. (2005) (statement of Jill Manning, Sociologist, Brigham Young Univ.).

[14] Steven Stack, et al., Adult Social Bonds and Use of Internet Pornography, 85 Soc. Sci. Quarterly 75, 83 (2004).

[15] Dolf Zimmerman & Jennings Bryant, Pornography’s Impact on Sexual Satisfaction, 18 J. of Applied Soc. Psychol. 438, 439 (1988).

[16] Jennifer P. Schneider, Effects of Cybersex Addiction on the Family: Results of a Survey, 7 Sexual Addiction &

Compulsivity 31, 38 (2000).

[17] Compulsive Sexual Behavior and Sex Addiction: Too Much of a Good Thing?, (Nat’l Coalition for the Protection of Children and Fam., Cincinnati, Oh.) 1999, at 5, available at www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Compulsive%20Sexual%20Behavior%20and%20Sex%20Addiction.pdf.

[18] Layden, supra note 11.

[19] Id.

[20] Michelle L. Ybarra & Kimberly Mitchell, Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children and Adolescents: A National Survey, 8 CyberPsychology & Behav. 473, 479 (2005).

[21] Id.

[22] Internet Pornography Destroying Men’s Ability to Perform with Real Women, Finds Study, Daily Mail UK, Oct. 21, 2011, www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2051902/Men-use-internet-porn-likely-hopeless-bedroom.html (last visited Sept. 26, 2013).

[23] Pamela Paul, Pornified 101 (2010).

[24] Patty Lee, Thirty percent of women, 70 percent of men confess to looking at online porn: study, NYDailyNews.com, February 11, 2010, www.nydailynews.com/life-style/percent-women-70-percent-men-confess-online-porn-study-article-1.173109 (last visited Sept. 26, 2013).

[25] Rachel B. Duke, More Women Lured to Pornography Addiction, Wash. Times, July 11, 2010, available at www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/jul/11/more-women-lured-to-pornography-addiction/?page=all.

[26] Amanda Nosko, et al., Unsolicited Online Sexual Material: What Affects Our Attitudes and Likelihood to Search for More?, 16 Can. J. of Human Sexuality 6, 10 (2007).

[27] Jochen Peter & Patti Valkenburg, Adolescent’s Exposure to Sexually Explicit Internet Material, Sexual Uncertainty, and Attitudes toward Uncommitted Sexual Expression: Is There a Link?, 5 Comm. Res. 579, 595 (2008).

[28] Mark Kastleman, Children as Victims, NetNanny, www.netnanny.com/learn_center/article/144 (last visited Sept. 27, 2013).

[29] JoLynn Plato, Child Pornography on the Internet, www.education.illinois.edu/wp/crime/childporn.htm (last visited Sept. 26, 2013).

[30] Id.

[31] Bruce Watson & Shyla Rae Welch, Just Harmless Fun?, Enough is Enough (2000), www.enough.org/objects/justharmlessfun.pdf (last visited Sept. 25, 2013).