|How porn harms us|
by Andrew Lansdown
Many people believe that pornography is harmless, provided it is not linked with violence or children. Other people, however, believe that all pornography is harmful, whether or not it depicts violence and/or children. The difficulty for the second group is to explain just how pornography harms us. In this essay I hope to overcome that difficulty by identifying ten ways in which pornography harms individuals, families and communities.
I formulated these ten (often overlapping) categories of harm while reading the stories of men and women who testified before the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in the United States.1Although these testimonies were given in 1985 and 1986, they are no less relevant today. In fact, the early date of the testimonies actually increases their relevance. For if pornography caused such harm in the 1980s when it was much less explicit and much less common than it is now, what devastation must it be causing among us today?
Whether “soft core” (depicting only nudity) or “hard core” (depicting also sexual acts and/or perversions), pornography harms us. It does so in the following ways:
The moral sense of men
Pornography harms the moral sensibilities of men. It destroys their ability and their desire to determine right from wrong in sexual matters.
One woman who wished to remain anonymous testified to the Commission that, after thirty years of marriage, “my husband’s personality totally changed in just three months” from the time he began to watch pornography on cable television. He began staying up late at night to watch the more raunchy movies. He also began to read pornographic magazines. Then he began “trying to get me to act out what he saw on the porn movies. Each time this would end up in an argument because I found the ideas repulsive and the acts nauseous.”
During this time, she clung to the hope that he “would grow out of his liking for porn.” But he didn’t: “what happened was that he began to look for a woman who would not be ‘too good’ for him. He thought I was too prudish. … We continued to have marital relations during this period of time, but he was never again satisfied with sex once he was exposed to porn. He felt he was cheated because I wouldn’t do what the TV and movie actresses did.”
Within eighteen months their marriage was over: “my husband moved in with one of the loose women he chased. He demanded a divorce … He still lives with that woman without benefit of marriage and has lost all sense of right and wrong. Before pornography came into our lives, he had always been a moral man” (pp.221-226).
This one account is sufficient to establish that pornography ruins the moral sense of the men who use it. However, much of what follows will testify to the same reality.
The moral sense of women
Pornography harms the moral sensibilities of women. It is not just men who are morally corrupted by pornography. Women are, too. Women who view pornography either lose or fail to develop an understanding of what is good, right and natural in sexual matters.
A former Playboy bunny, Brenda MacKillop states, “My first association with Playboy began in childhood when I found Playboy as well as other pornographic magazines hidden around the house. … This gave me a distorted image of sexuality. … I never questioned the morality of becoming a Playboy bunny because the magazine was accepted into the home.” Brenda continues, “Playboy is more than a pornographic magazine with pictures of naked women. It is a philosophy that enticed me to throw aside my Judeo-Christian ethic of no premarital sex and no adultery and to practice recreational sex with no commitments” (p.91).
The moral sense of children
Pornography harms the moral sensibilities of children. Children who are exposed to pornography are corrupted by it.
Girls who view pornography come to view themselves as they are depicted in the pornography—that is, as sexual objects. As a consequence, they feel that they ought to be constantly and totally available to men for sexual purposes. To implement this availability, they then either become promiscuous (as illustrated by Brenda MacKillop in the previous example) or submissive (as illustrated by Susan Wilhem in the following example).
Susan Wilhem states, “Pornography has long been in my life. My father used soft-core pornography. … I was not supposed to read them, but I read everything that was in the house. The magazines presented women in two ways: either the woman was a dumpy, nagging fishwife with her hair in curlers, or she was beautiful, sexy, and always available. … Those magazines were my primary education about the roles of women in our society. … [They] influenced my expectations about men and sexuality” (p.139). Because of the way pornography moulded her views, Susan accepted her husband’s use of pornography in her marriage, and acquiesced to the degrading demands he made of her.
Boys who read pornography quickly develop a distorted view of women and of sex.
Dr Simon Miranda gives an account of a four year old boy whose father kept Playboy magazines and whose uncle had unwittingly let him see some sex acts on television. The result? His mother “found him in the bathroom trying to [perform a certain sex act with] the centrefold of a Playboy magazine” (p.219).
James Schellenberg explains that he came into contact with pornography at the age of twelve when some friends talked him into using his family’s projector to screen two pornographic movies. They “showed naked men and women in various sexual acts and poses and were extremely stimulating to an about-to-become teenager.” Schellenberg explains that the movies “gave me entry into the world of pornography” and “led from one thing to another. My friends and I started to collect magazines and pictures. In my junior high school years in the early fifties, the main attraction was decks of playing cards, each card showing naked men and/or women in different sexual poses and positions. The magazines we got our hands on were mild compared to what is available today . Nevertheless, we stared and lusted upon them, hour after hour.” The lust for pornography continued from childhood into adulthood, utterly dominating Shellenberg’s life. He concludes, “Today, at the age of forty-eight, with four children, two boys and two girls ranging from sixteen to twenty-three, I still struggle daily with the images, the thoughts, the yearnings, the lusts cultivated during those years of self-indulgence in pornography. They are permanently embedded in my being. … The thoughts daily affect my relationship with my wife, my daughters, and women with whom I come in contact, even in church. I am constantly repressing unhealthy thoughts and lusts, cravings and yearnings cultivated during those years. My sexual experience is not normal. My relationship with my wife and daughters is stunted” (pp.143-147).
Self-control in men
Pornography harms the will power of men. It pervades their thoughts, perverts their desires and erodes their self-control. It brings them under tremendous bondage.
Dan states how exposure to pornography at age nine brought him into a bondage from which he could not break free for the next forty years of his life. A homosexual man in his early twenties befriended him and ultimately took him to an empty railroad car. The man then “took some little cartoon books out of his pocket and showed them to me. I had never seen anything like them in my life until that day. They showed several cartoon characters in various stages of fornication and oral sex.” Using the pictures to arouse both Dan and himself, the homosexual then engaged in oral sex with Dan. Fortunately, Dan did not become addicted to homosexual sex, but he did become addicted to pornography.
He tried to break the addiction after his marriage at age twenty-two. He disposed of his pornographic collection. And he stopped buying pornographic materials—for a while. “However, the demon which had invaded my mind in that railroad car so many years ago was not to let me alone. Without any consciousness on my part, I had been thoroughly conditioned to relate pornography with my own sexual experiences. …
“There were periods when I was unable to concentrate my thoughts on anything other than mental images of sexually explicit material. I remember going into a newsstand to purchase a paper one day and saw the first issue of Playboy magazine. It was like a magnet compelling me to buy a copy. It was as though I had no choice in the matter.”
The bondage began all over again. “During the sixties and seventies, I purchased thousands of explicit sex materials, including books, magazines, and 8-millimeter movies. I saw hundreds of films at adult movie theatres. I tried many times to stop my habit and would often dispose of everything I had collected. I would burn the material, hundreds, even thousands of dollars going up in smoke, only it never stopped. Eventually the urge would come over me, and it would start all over again, each time my appetite becoming more bizarre.”
After forty years of addiction, Dan sought help. “I have not purchased sexually explicit material for over four years, but the demon is still there, just waiting for the opportunity to regain control, and it requires constant vigilance on my part to keep it under control. I cannot allow myself to be in a situation where I might weaken and once again fall prey to pornography. I cannot and will not patronise a store that displays and sells any type of sexually oriented material. I must carefully select the television programs I watch and the movies I see. Sometimes I am caught off guard. When someone leaves a copy of Playboy or Penthouse lying around, I must leave as quickly as possible, because I know if I took so much as one little peek, it would start all over again, and I cannot afford to let that happen” (pp.161-164).
Many people defend pornography on the grounds of freedom—the freedom of individuals to view and do whatever they please. Ironically, those who exercise that freedom end up in slavery.
Self-esteem in women
Pornography harms the emotions and self-esteem of women. A wife whose husband uses pornography finds herself burdened by impossible expectations concerning appearance and performance. She is soon wounded by unfavourable comparisons with ever-young “models” and degraded by insistent requests for unusual and perverse sexual favours.
Ironically, while pornography encourages a man to be dissatisfied with his wife’s appearance, it also encourages him to demand more of her sexually. The porn models may be more beautiful than his wife, but she is more available than them. So he comes to expect her to satisfy his inflamed and perverted appetite. He expects her to perform the same acts pictured in the pornography.
Speaking of her ex-husband, Susan Wilhem states, “He had a lot of pornography around the house, both slicks and the hard core. … He frequently suggested that our sex life would be more fun if I would be willing to try some of the things he saw pictured in the magazines. He often told me that our sex life and I were dull, blah, and awful. … Once we saw an X-rated film that showed [a certain sex act]. After that, he insisted that I try [it]. I agreed to do so, trying to be the available, willing creature that I thought I was supposed to be. I found the experience very painful, and I told him so. But he kept insisting that we try it again and again. He reinforced his insistence with verbal abuse” (pp.139-140).
Bonnie says of her second husband, “Paul had a large collection of bizarre S&M and bondage pornography that he kept in the night-stand drawer in our bedroom. On one occasion Paul tied me to our bed and sodomized me. This occurred after I refused to agree to be bound and tied as the models appeared in some of Paul’s pornographic magazines. Many times I would be asked by Paul to accompany him either to an X-rated porn movie or one of the adult book stores. I would vehemently say no. He often requested me to either pose nude in a very obscene way or asked me to look at his porno books. Many times he would show me pornographic pictures and say, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ or ‘Pose like this’” (p.36).
Rape and worse
Pornography harms not only the emotional, but also the physical, wellbeing of women. It increases the incidence of rape.
Evelyn states that her husband “would go to massage parlours, prostitutes, and X-rated movies. Then he would come and tell me about it; then he would get angry because I wouldn’t have sex with him. He would force himself on me many times. Sometimes five times a night—I guess you would call that rape” (p.90).
Noting that a man had attempted to rape a certain Playmate of the Year after he recognised her from Playboy magazine, Brenda MacKillop states, “Obviously this man had the idea that centrefolds who appear nude in the magazines he reads want to be his sexual playmates. I believe many women are raped due to this impression given by pornography that all women want to be used sexually” (pp.92-93).
A magazine centrefold at least has a choice about whether or not to allow herself to be viewed by men in explicitly sexual terms. But unsuspecting women who encounter men aroused by the centrefold do not. Evelyn (above) had no choice. Nor did a thirteen-year-old girl who went for a stroll one day in a forest. She came across “a group of hunters reading pornography. As they saw her, one said, ‘There’s a live one.’ They gang-raped her for several hours” (p.126).
Thomas Schiro raped over twenty women before he was caught and sentenced to death for the rape and strangulation of a young woman in Indiana in 1981. According to Dr Frank Osanka, who spent fifty clinical hours evaluating Schiro before his trial, “Thomas Schiro’s first exposure to pornography happened before he was eight years old. He discovered two of his father’s World War II vintage pornography films. Viewing the films motivated him to masturbate and develop a need for exposure to additional pornography. One of the films was entitled Bedtime and illustrated a man and a woman engaged in a variety of sexual interactions. The significant aspect of the film was the depiction of the woman’s body as being sexually enthusiastic, while at the same time the camera frequently drew attention to her anguished facial features. The message to young Schiro was that women enjoy sexually related pain. Later he learned that most women did not enjoy such pain and humiliation, but by that time he did not care because he had developed sadistic needs to hurt women, either in thoughts or actions” (p.105).
It is naive to claim, as some do, that pornography saves women from rape. Pornography does not provide an outlet for a man’s sexual urges. On the contrary, it arouses those urges, which then require a “live” woman for an outlet.
And, horrendously, as the actions of Thomas Schiro illustrate, the live woman may be a dead woman once the rapist has finished with her. Murder following rape is pornography’s ultimate harm.
Child sexual abuse
Pornography contributes to the problem of child sexual abuse. It does so in three ways. Firstly, the production of child pornography requires the sexual abuse of the children depicted in that pornography. Secondly, that same pornography arouses lust towards children in adult viewers, who then abuse children for sexual satisfaction. Thirdly, that same pornography is also used by paedophiles to lure children into sexual activity.
Bonnie explains that her first husband, Leon, used pornography that included depictions of “small children in various acts of sex and violence.” She continues, “Once when I went to bingo across the street with my mother, he tied both of my daughters to their beds on their stomachs and [indecently assaulted them]. When Debbie and Michelle told me, I believed them immediately because Leon had done the same to me before.”
Sadly, Bonnie’s second husband was also addicted to pornography and also sexually abused her children. Referring to a particular incident, Bonnie states, “I feel that the bathroom molestation can be linked to some of the child pornography that Paul possessed which depicted young nude females in bathtubs in sexually provocative poses. My daughters told me that Paul asked them if they wanted to pose like the girls in the magazines and to be photographed.”
Bonnie concludes her sad account: “My beautiful daughters are very wary and fearful of men now, and Michelle still suffers from headaches, nightmares, and doesn’t like to walk anywhere alone. … Both Debbie and Michelle say quite often they don’t want to get married or date when they are old enough” (p.35-38).
Bonnie’s husband, Paul, illustrates how child pornography can be used to break down the modesty and inhibitions of children. By showing his stepdaughters pictures of naked girls in sexual poses, Paul was showing them that other girls do the very things that he wanted them to do. So it must be all right, mustn’t it?
But child pornography is not the only material paedophiles use to seduce children. Adult pornography serves the purpose just as well. A sixteen-year-old girl, Garrett Gilbert states, “I was about ten years old when I was first exposed to pornography. The man who introduced pornography to me was a long-time trusted friend of the family”. The material he used? “They were magazines like Playboy and Penthouse.” Over a period of weeks, viewing the pornography led to fondling and then to a variety of other sexual activities. When Garrett was eleven and a half, the man, a lawyer, began to expose her to hard core adult pornography. “It was these magazines that he started having me act out positions with him” (pp.206-208). Then he began to photograph her.
Garrett’s mother, Judy Gilbert, explains that when the lawyer was found out and arrested, the police discovered video and audio tapes that he had made of his sexual exploits with Garrett. She continues, “I heard one of those tapes. It was a tape where you could hear the turning of the pages of a magazine and him describing to my daughter the various individuals depicted engaging in various forms and positions of sexual acts. He used this magazine to get her to do the same type of thing to him and as a tool to instruct her as to how he wanted her to pose for his nude photographs” (p.211).
Pornography increases the incidence of abortion. Women influenced by pornography become sexually promiscuous. Promiscuity leads to unwanted pregnancy. Unwanted pregnancy leads to abortion.
Brenda MacKillop states, “In order to avoid any responsibility for an irresponsible lifestyle, abortion is necessary. … I will never forget a conversation between two bunnies that went something like this: First Bunny: I thought I had the flu last week, but I was pregnant. So I had an abortion. Second Bunny: Did it bother you to have the abortion? First Bunny: Well, the first time it did, but this is my third or fourth abortion, and there is no way I could take care of a child. Besides, I think I am doing the right thing by not bringing an unwanted child into the world. Second Bunny: I know what you mean. I was married and pregnant by another married man, and there is no way I could have had that baby” (p.95).
Pornography brings death into love’s heartland. Because it encourages sex without affection and commitment, children conceived through its influence are not wanted and are therefore subject to termination.
Pornography harms men’s virility. Ultimately, it weakens the very potency that it awakens. It inflames appetite but quenches ability. It places sex in the realm of fantasy, where women are perfectly beautiful and unreservedly willing. But in real life, few women match this fantasy. So actual sex with an actual woman becomes a disappointment. By making of sex an unattainable fantasy, pornography creates a dependency upon itself.
Bonnie states, “My first husband, Leon, obtained a substantial collection of pornographic material. … He could not perform sexually with me without first getting aroused by looking at pornography” (p.35).
As for the serial rapist Thomas Schiro, psychologist Frank Osanka states that such was the strength of his addiction that “he could not achieve an erection in any sexual act unless he coupled this desired behaviour with viewing pornography. He would often place centrefolds next to the head of his [rape] victim and demand that she lie perfectly still” (p.106).
What a cruel but appropriate irony: pornography extinguishes the very desire it ignites!
Lastly, pornography harms family relationships. Nothing can destroy the affection a wife has for her husband or a child has for his/her father so quickly as pornography. Many of the accounts already cited bear out the fact that pornography ruins homes. This last testimony demonstrates that even soft core pornography can serve the purpose.
Christine Currie states, “I remember the first time I saw pornography. It was a Playboy calendar. The model was young, looking seductive and completely naked. I was eleven years old. My first impression was that this was a ‘girl,’ not a ‘woman.’ She resembled me more than my mother. How hurt my mother must be that my father displays a younger woman’s body in their bedroom. I felt sorry for her. It was like ageing is a reality for women and men turned their eyes. As for me, I felt embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed, and shocked. I couldn’t believe anyone would put a naked girl on something so trivial as a calendar. These feelings I felt were the same feelings I would feel when my father would come into my bedroom and molest me while he thought I was asleep. My head had been spinning ever since my molestations with the word ‘why?’ The calendar gave me my answer.
“When my father was finally confronted by my mother, I told him there was something he could do to make me feel better. I told him to please take down the calendar. He did. I felt back then that it had set my father up to view me as sexual, and I believe this today.
“From age eleven to eighteen every day my thoughts revolved around not being around my dad. School was secondary. I was a top student before my molesting. I didn’t want to tell my mother, because I knew it would hurt her. I was right, but I did not realize that I would lose her emotional support for the rest of my life. She became jealous of me. I was her competition. My father seems genuinely sorry for what happened. But back when I was going through my teens, every day was painful for me. Your faith in God is murdered. Your faith that your mother and father love you is gone …” (pp.131-132).
Conclusion: several safeguards
Given the magnitude and malignancy of pornography’s ten-fold violence against men, women and children, it is imperative that we do all we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones from it. In conclusion, let me suggest several practical safeguards—first to men, then to women.
Firstly, do not be complacent. It would be a mistake to think that because you are not presently troubled by pornography you are immune from temptation. “But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, NIV).
Secondly, watch what you watch. Be careful what you view on television, on video, on the internet, and at the cinema. Be careful where you look when you are in the newsagency. Be careful how you look at women other than your wife. “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1).
Thirdly, take pleasure in your wife. Let her be the focus of your sexual desires, and let those desires be expressed with decency and tenderness, so that physical pleasure and emotional intimacy always keep company with each other. “Drink water from your own cistern … rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love” (Proverbs 5:15-19).
Fourthly, if you are single and unsatisfied, ask the Lord for a wife. Marriage is the place for sexual gratification. “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).
Firstly, be affectionate to your husband and encourage his sexual advances. Let your love be his protection and satisfaction. “I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment” (Song of Solomon 8:10).
Secondly, be aware that, for men, the temptations of pornography are pervasive and powerful. Be on guard on your husband’s behalf. “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12).
Thirdly, be careful not to display yourself sexually in public. Don’t inadvertently adopt or reinforce the perspectives of pornography by the way you dress. Let your sensual beauty be for your husband’s eyes alone. “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety” (1 Timothy 2:9).
If Christian men and women attend to these basics in matters of sexual love and morality, they will shield themselves from the harm of pornography and open themselves to the pleasure of sex in all purity, to the good of their families and the glory of God.
1.These testimonies can be read in Pornography’s Victims, edited by Phyllis Schlafly (Illinios: Crossway Books, 1987). Pornography’s Victims is a collection of excerpts from the Official Transcript of Proceedings before the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in the United States in 1985-1986.
First published by Life Ministries under the title “The violence of pornography” in 1999. Revised & reprinted in 2007.
Copyright © Andrew Lansdown, 2007
Additional copies of this pamphlet are available from Life Ministries, Suite 4, 334 Wanneroo Road, Nollamara, Western Australia, 6061. Phone/fax (08) 9344 7396 . Website: lifeministries.org.au