The Negative Effects of Pornography on Family Relationships:
Preventative Measures and Help With Addiction

Over the past few decades, media that negatively affects family life seems to have dramatically increased. Pornographic material is prevalent and available everywhere: on the internet, television, and in books, and magazines. Unfortunately, families cannot avoid exposure to pornography completely. Some families may put in all their effort to shield their children from pornography because they fear its destructive effects and feel, as Will and Ariel Durant put it, that “sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group” (Durant, 1968). Contrastingly, others do not view pornography as an addiction, just merely an indulgence viewed as a normal activity of human nature. Because of this, pornography remains “ a hidden public health hazard exploding, in part, because very few are recognizing it as such or taking it seriously” (Manning, 2006). We must recognize pornography for what it truly is to avoid the destruction that it imposes on families. In the main portion of this paper, I will discuss how the use of pornography influences individuals and how it conflicts with marital, parent-child, and family relationships. Afterward, I will discuss preventative measures that can be taken to help protect against pornography from entering the home, and finally, I will discuss what those who are currently struggling can do to find help and overcome these negative effects on the family.

Research-Based Literature Review

The Internet can and should be used for positive purposes. For example, the Internet allows individuals to gain access to research, for wholesome entertainment, and it is also a means to communicate with friends and family through e-mail and other social media (Cho et. al, 2005). However, one research study found that 74 out of 97 therapists viewed the Internet as a negative influence in the home. One therapist said, “I work with a lot of teenage males who are crossing boundaries that would not normally be crossed…Pornography is a big issue. I have a lot of complaints by either spouse about spending inordinate amounts of time on the Internet, which drains energy and time from the relationship” (Manning, 2006). Furthermore, research has shown that, although the Internet was created as means to further communication with others, the Internet is mostly lacking in its communicative function, and in general, decreases communication. This may be because strong family relationships are being replaced by distant relationships on the Internet. Children and teenagers learn to disconnect from their families and others they associate through the use of pornography, especially through the Internet (Whiteman, 2003).  Although today there are many ways to access pornography, Internet pornography is different from other forms because of its “Triple-A-Engine effect of Accessibility, Affordability, and Anonymity” (Manning, 2006). It is freely available, and seemingly hidden from all eyes, except for the viewer.

According to the Lighted Candle Society, a national anti-pornography organization, 47% of families report that pornography is a problem in their home.  This is a significant statistic and one that should not be taken lightly. This means that about half of families have either been affected or are currently being affected by pornography. It is important to note that this is only a reported number, and there may be families that are unaware of pornography being a problem in their home because of the secrecy of addiction and denial.  This number could certainly be higher than what was reported. Pornography must be recognized as an issue that strongly disrupts healthy family life. According to the Lighted Candle Society, the average age of children during a first-time exposure to pornography is eleven years (Lighted Candle Society, 2008). This statistic illustrates that pornography is reaching our young generation at an alarming rate.

The Lighted Candle Society also reports that the use of pornography is a significant factor in two out of three divorces (Lighted Candle Society, 2008). This indicates one way that pornography use inhibits family relationships is by negatively affecting the marital relationship. According to Whiteman (2003), when a spouse has a pornography addiction, there is often significant tension within a marriage because, naturally, the wife has difficulty trusting the husband when he is seeking out other ways to be physically gratified besides marriage. She may not know when her husband is telling the truth, especially if he has been dishonest to her multiple times about the frequency of his use. Also, outside relationships are often developed. Extramarital relationships can easily follow because pornography is a form of sexuality outside of marriage. This is why many consider it to already be an affair—for one struggling with addiction, escalating to a physical relationship is not a much further. The boundary line is vague and indistinguishable. Further, the use of pornography often saps time and energy away from family interactions because of its addictive nature. This, in turn, affects the relationship between a husband and wife (Whiteman, 2003).  The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy describes one study conducted to measure the effects of pornography use on a marital relationship. A survey asked questions about the negative effects of pornography use on partners of pornography addicts and their attempts at resolving the issue, whether individually or as a couple. Of the subjects, 22.3% were separated or divorced, and there were several others that were seriously considering leaving the marriage. It was found that the use of pornography affected both the partner and user’s interest in sexuality. For 68% of the couples, one or both of the partners had lost interest in a normal marital sexual relationship (52.1% of addicts, 34% of partners). Upon discovering their partner’s pornography use, many women reported a loss of self-esteem because they felt that they were unattractive or undesirable to their husband.  They also often categorized their spouse or partner as a pervert or mentally disturbed (Bridges, 2003).  These studies and statistics demonstrate how pornography use can greatly undermine a marriage.

Not only is the marital relationship negatively affected by pornography use, bu, according to Manning (2006), pornography use affects individuals in other destructive ways.  Individuals with a pornography addiction demonstrate an increased callousness towards women. Women are not viewed as people anymore and are just objects. There is a trivialization of rape as a criminal offense. To frequent pornography users, rape does not seem as serious because they often view more violent, bizarre, and abnormal forms of pornography. Also, pornography may contribute to the devaluation of marriage.  Could this possibly explain the decreasing number of children in our society?  There is also often a decreased satisfaction with a partner’s sexual performance, affection, and physical appearance (Manning, 2006). This is because they are so used to abnormally high amount of brain drugs they receive from pornography, that they would much rather get them from viewing these images than enjoying a normal and satisfying relationship with their spouse.

Research also shows that pornography affects children in families negatively. Schneider (2006) explains that first, because there is a significant amount of tension in the marriage, children will most likely notice and recognize the negative interactions between their parents.  Therefore, there is much more involvement in parental conflicts. Further, she explains that when a parent has a pornography addiction, it is likely that children are more exposed to it because they may be more lenient in the television shows and movies they allow their children to watch and the sexual content that is displayed. They may then learn at an early age to view women as objects for sexual gratification. Additionally, because of the addictive nature of pornography, a child may feel a lack of attention. When one parent is involved with the computer constantly, and the other parent is preoccupied with their spouse’s use of pornography, little time is left to build parent-child relationships. These marital difficulties can lead to breakup of the marriage, which can also affect the child negatively (Schneider, 2000). Cho et. al found in their research that children who are exposed to inappropriate media content often are more aggressive, fearful, desensitized, do poorly in school, are anti-social, and have low self-esteem. Additionally, children are easily exposed to the negative effects of the Internet because it is easier for pedophiles to communicate with them through chatting on-line (Cho et. al, 2005).

Pornography affects families greatly through changes in the life patterns of an individual. Levert (2007) found that a person with a pornography addiction demonstrates more inconsistency with their expressed beliefs and actions. Through his research, results showed that many compulsive pornography viewers come from authoritarian and extremely rigid homes. They are expected to live a certain way, and failure to live up to these expectations leads them to despair. Often, they then seek out pornography, their “drug of choice” to overcome their despair. When they become entangled in the pornography trap, they feel helpless, but feel determined to hide their addiction further to live up to standards they have been taught. Pornography often causes an individual to live a “double-life”. Levert (2007) further found that there is a positive correlation between Christian males who are compulsive pornography viewers and right-wing authoritarian. For example, one client felt that it was sinful to go to the cinema, grow facial hair, and miss Sunday gatherings, yet at the same time, he would spend 20 hours or more per week viewing pornography on the Internet. He believed that if he was rigid and extremely conservative in other aspects of his life that it would make up for his frequent viewing of pornography (Levert, 2007). All of these effects are very destructive to the family and explain why pornography should be recognized as a epidemic that affects family relationships in many negative ways.

Research Based Implications for Families

Families must find ways to limit this destructive material from entering the home environment. One challenge with this is that parents tend to underestimate adolescents engagement in visiting pornographic websites, and involvement in risky Internet activities such as meeting strangers face-to-face that were first met online. Also, parents have a tendency to overestimate the amount of parental supervision regarding internet safety that takes place at home (Liau et. al, 2008). This suggests that, although parents may think they have their children’s internet use under control, it is frequently overestimated. Therefore, parents should increase their efforts to protect their family from negative internet content, such as pornography.

What measures can be taken to confront the issue of pornography? Whiteman (2003) gives some suggestions for families to battle against pornography in the home. Parents can know each other’s and their children’s passwords so that they can check the websites that have been visited. This is a “gift of accountability” and can help partners to avoid unnecessary temptation. Also, parents can know what their children are doing online:  they can check the sites they have visited, and they can also familiarize themselves with screen names of their children’s friends. Individuals in the family can be given an “Internet time budget”, where they decide together on what would be a reasonable amount of time to spend on the internet daily or weekly. Additionally, it is very helpful to have an internet filter, so that inappropriate sites will be blocked. Finally, timers can be installed so that the internet will be shut off at certain times of the day when internet use should be restricted, such as late night (Whiteman, 2003). While parents may do everything they can do to battle pornography, it is important to realize that some battles are won and some are lost. A danger that parents should guard against is being strict authoritarian and trying to control everything that goes on in the home. As touched upon previously, this is a risk factor for an individual acting out in a pornography addiction.  However, these are a few suggestions that research has shown to be successful in many instances.

Although these preventative measures can go a long way to battle against pornography, addiction still enters the homes of many families. For those already struggling with an addiction to pornography, there are many suggestions and advice given to get help. These individuals can become involved in 12-step programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous, where they will meet with others who feel trapped with these same issues. Another suggestion is to be sure that the computer is placed in an open area, so that others can see what is being viewed on the Internet, and there will be no privacy. There may be some who cannot handle being on the internet because of strong temptation. In these situations, perhaps it would be best for them to not use the Internet, or to only use it for specific, planned tasks. Getting on the internet only when family members are around, adding net safety tools and screens, arranging for some accountability regarding Internet access at work, are also other measures that can be taken to help individuals who need help overcoming pornography addiction (Schneider, 2000).


In conclusion, it has been shown that pornography destroys and conflicts with family relationships. Although most of the research regarding marital relationships focused on men struggling with addiction, this is not to assume that women do not struggle with viewing pornography. It seems that more research could be done to study women who are afflicted with this addiction. Along with discussing the research that examines the effects on the marital relationship, I have also touched upon research that demonstrates the effects pornography has on parent-child relationships and individuals. Further, I have presented other research that supports ways that families can protect themselves from pornography. Certainly, much more could be discussed regarding recovery from pornography addiction, but I have addressed some basic ideas of how families can confront pornography. By understanding that pornography is inescapable because it is displayed everywhere, families can know how to protect themselves from these negative effects by helping their children to understand that pornography is out there, and understanding the research of its negative effects on the family. This will keep pornography use from remaining, as Manning (2006) put it, “a hidden public health hazard” because more people will recognize its destructiveness and can face it head-on, rather than avoiding the discussion of the topic because of fear or naivety.


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