Pornography addiction is a major epidemic in America. Everyday thousands become addicted to it, and Catholics are not immune. For years, few people wanted to address the issue, however because of the immensity of the problem, people are now taking notice. Thanks to recent neuroscience evidence, we now know that pornography is addictive. It affects the pleasure center and impulse control center of the brain in the same way as drugs and alcohol.
While women can become addicted to pornography, it is still mainly a men’s issue. This is because men are hard-wired to be visually stimulated. When a man encounters an erotic image, he will automatically look. This starts a chemical reaction in the brain where large amounts of dopamine are released. This creates and actual “high” feeling. Another chemical, norepinephrine, sends a message to the autonomic nervous system, which increases heart rate and breathing. A message is also sent down the spinal cord to the genitals for sexual arousal. With all this physical and chemical stimulation, a tension develops that may lead a man to masturbate, which brings the release of opiate chemicals, endorphins, into the brain, which bring a sense of euphoria. After orgasm, there is a deep feeling of relaxation. This chemical, physical, sexual and emotional process has been found to be very addictive.
As with any addiction, soon a tolerance develops. More of the substance is needed to achieve the same effect. Thus, a man will go from viewing soft porn to more hard core porn. He will also begin to spend more time viewing porn. Furthermore, a dependence develops where a man needs a “porn fix” just to function in daily life. Without it, he can experience withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, head aches and difficulty in concentrating.
Because viewing pornography has become so common, and even accepted, in our society, people are becoming addicted without even knowing it.
However, it is having devastating effects on people’s lives. It is damaging marriages, families, careers, and personal lives. People of all ages are affected. Here are some sobering facts about pornography:
Every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography.
Every second, 25,258 internet users are viewing pornography.
Every second, 372 internet users are typing sexual search terms into search engines.
Men who admit to accessing pornography at work: 20%.
Adults in the United States who regularly visit pornographic websites: 40 million.
Adult men admitting to internet pornography addiction: 10%.
The effect of pornography on marriages is devastating. When a woman discovers her husband using pornography, she often feels hurt and betrayed. She views it as serious as an extramarital affair. She also feels rejected by her husband. In a study conducted by the American Association of Marriage Attorneys, it was found that pornography use plays a significant role in 57% of all divorces.
The effects of pornography on kids and teens are even worse. Here are some more sobering statistics:
The average age when a child first encounters hard-core pornography is 11.
80% of 15 – 17 year olds have had multiple exposures to hard-core pornography.
The largest single population of internet pornography users is 12 – 17 year olds.
89% of all solicitations of you in chat rooms are of a sexual nature.
29% of 7 – 17 year olds would freely give out their addresses online.
To understand the effects of pornography on young people, we need to look at the messages they are receiving from it. For young men, the message is that women are there for men’s sexual pleasure. They don’t have thoughts or feelings, and they don’t need to be respected. Women love sex and want it all the time, especially, abusive sex. Porn and sex must be part of any healthy relationship.
For young women, the message is: in order to be loved and desired, a women needs to look and act like a porn star. She needs to allow men to use her body in any degrading way. Porn and sex must be part of any healthy relationship. For many young people today, their education about sex and relationships comes from what they see in internet pornography. This is leading them to much heartache and disappointment.
To combat the devastating effects of pornography in our culture, we need to protect our children, and educate teens and adults. Adults need to do everything possible to shield children from porn. They need to be taught that pornography is an addictive substance that will ruin their lives. They also need to be taught about healthy relationships and sexuality. This will help them to reject viewing pornography of any kind.
Dr. Peter Kleponis' new book, “The Pornography Epidemic: A Catholic Response,” is published by Johnette Benkovic of EWTN’s Women of Grace program. Copies can be purchased by calling 1-800-558-5452.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.