One of music artist John Mayer's most signature songs is “Daughters,” a sweet and simple tribute to the importance of parents' influence on their little girls. Here's the refrain:
“So fathers, be good to your daughters, Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”
But when John Mayer isn't crooning about your beautiful daughters, he's looking at naked pictures of them, sometimes hundreds at a time before he gets out of bed in the morning. In fact, he often prefers that to an actual human being, according to his wildly controversial 2010 interview with Playboy magazine.
“You wake up in the morning, open a thumbnail page, and it leads to a Pandora's box of visuals. There have probably been days when I saw 300 (naked women) before I got out of bed,” he told the magazine.
Unfortunately, Mayer's morning routine is not unique to him. Studies show that easy access to free internet pornography is having devastating effects on real-life relationships.
Preferring pixels to people
“For many individuals, the more porn they consume, the more likely it is that they can end up preferring the fantasy to reality, they can end up preferring the pixels to a person, and that's really messing up relationships, as you can imagine,” said Clay Olsen, co-founder of the internet movement “Fight the New Drug” (FTND).
The FTND movement, so named because of porn's addictive properties, aims to raise awareness of the harmful effects of pornography through creative mediums such as blogs, videos and infographics. The website includes personal stories as well as scientific studies to illustrate pornography's effects on the brain, the heart (relationships), and ultimately on the world.
“Our goal is to change the conversation from 'Dude, check this out,' to 'Dude, that's messed up,'” Olsen told CNA.
The longstanding, pervasive cultural narrative surrounding pornography is that it is a healthy sexual outlet and can improve sex lives. However, science begs to differ. Several studies cited in FTND's article, “Porn Ruins Your Sex Life,” found that pornography not only leads to dissatisfying sex, it can lead to less sex with actual human beings.
In a series of studies examining pornography use, “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers” published by the Witherspoon Institute, researchers found that those who viewed pornography became less satisfied with their sex lives, and that viewing porn just once can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction towards a human partner.
According to an article in Psychology Today by clinical psychologist Tyger Latham, Psy.D, erectile dysfunction, while once considered an issue plaguing old men, is cropping up more in young men who rely heavily on pornography to become sexually aroused. A study by the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine surveyed 28,000 men on their internet porn habits, and found that porn use over time led to a lower sex drive and an eventual inability to become aroused at all.
“As soon as they try to actually get close to someone and commit to somebody and have an intimate relationship with somebody, it's in those moments that the harms of pornography show their full colors and truly manifest themselves,” Olsen said. “The unrealistic expectations are completely exposed…
And we now see people in their 20s having porn-induced erectile dysfunction because they cannot get excited or aroused without the presence of pornography.”
A decline in marriage rates
Not only is pornography use destroying the physical sexual life, it may be impacting the number of people pursuing marriage or committed sexual relationships.
In the fall of 2013, an article in The Guardian sounded the alarm that fewer people in Japan were having sex, citing as evidence numerous statistics on the country's declining birth rate, marriage rate, and even rates of young people who are dating or who are interested in dating.
A follow-up article on Slate found that while the actual number of people having or not having sex might not be definitively pinpointed, the statistics on falling marriage and birth rates only mean Japan is leading a world-wide trend, rather than bucking one. While it's not clear whether porn is directly influencing these numbers, many have speculated that it is.
Researchers with The Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany found an increase in free Internet pornography is at least correlated with a significant decrease in the percentage of young married men, and it may even be contributing to the trend. A 2013 Pew study found that 71 percent of single Americans were not looking for a committed relationship. Another study found that nearly 40 percent of American women had never been married.
“The results in this paper suggest that such an association exists, and that it is potentially quite large,” the study notes, as reported in the Washington Post.
The study used General Social Survey (GSS), a comprehensive, nationally representative survey which analyzed internet use of 1,500 men ages 18-to-35, between the years 2000 and 2004. The researchers studied the number of hours spent on the internet per week, how often internet pornography was used in the past 30 days, as well as other activities such as use of religious sites.
Even when adjusted for variables such as age, income, education, religion and employment, the study found that generally, the more a person used the internet, the less likely they were to be married. Additionally, it found that the more a person used internet pornography, the less likely they were to be married. On the other hand, the use of religious websites was positively correlated with marriage.
Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Catholic who has studied religion and sexual behavior, cautioned against assuming that correlation equals causation in such studies – but said that pornography use is likely part of a more complex reason for dropping marriage rates.
“We know that both things are occurring, but it's difficult to establish a causal connection,” he told CNA in an e-mail interview. “A variety of things are contributing to the declining marriage rate.”
“I don't think porn use necessarily causes that, but contributes to it (together with diminished earnings power, diminished confidence, etc.),” he added. “To be sure, porn use doesn't help build confidence in men, something that's pretty necessary (but not sufficient) to be considered marriageable. So I'd say porn use is a suspect here, but connecting the dots is hardly straightforward.”
Only in the past few years and months has a conversation countering the “it's healthy, it's normal” narrative been emerging in mainstream media about pornography. Several celebrities are speaking up, and there are an increasing number of websites dedicated to helping people fight pornography addictions.
A few months ago, the release of the controversial “50 Shades of Grey” movie sparked a conversation on social media about sexual violence against women in media, with the hashtag #50dollarsnot50shades encouraging people to forgo the movie and instead donate to places that help victimized women.
The movie sparked a response from an unlikely source – British comedian Russel Brand, whose short video about the problems with pornography went viral, generating over 500,000 views on his YouTube channel and over 2 million views on FTND's website.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another celebrity who has been outspoken about the negative impact of pornography, most notably in his 2013 movie “Don Jon,” which he wrote, directed and co-starred in along with Scarlett Johansson. The film explores the unrealistic expectations of love and relationships that come from pornography addictions and from the media at large.
“I think that there's not a substantial difference between a lot of main-stream culture and pornography. They're equally simplistic, reductionist,” Gordon-Levitt said in an interview with NPR about the film.
“Whether it's rated X or 'approved by the FCC for general viewing audiences,' the message is the same. We have a tendency in our culture to take people and treat them like things.”
But the internet has been around for decades now – why has it taken society so long to catch on to the fact that pornography is harmful?
“Science has caught up with the fact that pornography's harmful,” Olsen said, “but society is still catching up.”
It often takes years for something that was once culturally accepted as true to be flipped on its head as science proves otherwise, Olsen said, so Fight the New Drug knows they still have a lot of work ahead of them.
“We're very excited to see some of this progress and some of these mainstream media outlets kind of following suit and starting to talk about the negative impacts, we couldn't be more excited about it, but we still have a long way ahead of us.”
Some other websites that are also trying to raise awareness and give help to those struggling with pornography include The Porn Effect and Covenant Eyes, and internet filtering and accountability system.
The best way to kick a porn habit? Keep fighting it and lean on the sacraments, Regnerus said.
“(My) advice: don't give up hope; pursue confession regularly; recognize and avoid the contexts which give rise to temptation. That's a start.”