WASHINGTON (June 1, 2022) —Porn can impact mental health.
Many porn consumers use porn as a coping mechanism for when they’re feeling lonely, stressed, sad, or upset.
But instead of providing a healthy outlet for negative emotions, research shows that porn can actually be detrimental to mental health in the long-run. Let’s discuss.
Research has shown that the more porn someone consumes, the more likely they are to experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, and social problems.
Similarly, research suggests that both porn consumers and their partners tend to have poorer body image, as many seem to internalize the unrealistic body ideals displayed in pornography.
An important part of mental and emotional well-being is having healthy connections with others, yet countless studies indicate that porn can have serious negative effects on relational health, including:
- Less fulfilling relationships
- Increased relationship conflict
- Poorer romantic attachment
- 2X the likelihood of later experiencing a breakup or divorce
While many porn consumers turn to porn when they’re feeling lonely, research shows that porn can ultimately fuel feelings of loneliness, feeding an unhealthy coping cycle.
Six ways pornography can impact lives:
No one feels as if viewing pornography is noble. Yes, there are teenagers who believe viewing pornography is “grown up” and may brag about it, or older individuals who view it as “necessary” or “common” and downplay the unrest in their soul. But no one feels like they have done a “virtuous-honoring thing” when they finish viewing pornography.
The result is a sense of guilt – an innate sense that what was done was bad. Guilt is produces a decline in mental health and the physiological changes from guilt in the brain can be neurologically demonstrated.
For a highly habituated activity like viewing pornography the options are clear: (a) turn off or dull the conscience to remove the sense of guilt, or (b) abstain from the guilt-provoking activity. The first option only further contributes to other choices that would further deteriorate mental health.
2. Social Distance / Shame
The first point has to do with a sense of distance in our relationship with God. This point emphasizes the impact on our social relationships.
A common experience of viewing pornography is carrying a secret. Secrets create distance. We are left wondering “what would you think of me if you knew.” The result is that even our closest friendships begin to feel superficial or fake.
The depth and quality of our friendships are a significant factor in our mental health. Activities that lower the quality or number of our friendships have a negative influence on our mental health.
3. Crude-Depersonalizing Socialization
People (i.e., actors or models) in pornography are not people to the viewer; they are a collection of features or objects of satisfaction. In a pornographic world people are not heard, assisted, and love. People are evaluated, ranked, and consumed. When hours are spent immersed in this world, these values begin to seep in.
The logic is pretty clear, “If that is what I’m doing with everyone else, it must be what everyone else is doing with me. If I don’t rank, I don’t matter. I must associate with people who rank higher than I do, in order to improve my rank. Life is a sport and there are far more losers than winners.”
The result is that it becomes increasingly difficult to see individuals as people with innate value. Instead, people are a collection of assets (height, weight, complexion, humor, power, etc…) each of which can be added together to determine their value. Living under this pressure and/or treating people this way has negative impact on one’s mental health.
4. Avoiding Unpleasant Emotions
One of the primary motives for viewing pornography is to reduce or relieve stress. A passive approach to stress management results in an under-developed capacity for managing unpleasant emotions. The less equipped we are to withstand unpleasant emotions, the more overwhelming each experience of anxiety, depression, or other distress becomes.
Add to this the idyllic narratives that are pervasive in pornographic material (the viewer always identifying with the central, pursued character) and the person who regularly views pornography is further conditioned to believe that the day-to-day, normal conflict in life and relationships are unbearable.
One important measure of mental health is our capacity to be resilient in the midst of unpleasant emotions or circumstances. Pornography detracts from this capacity both by serving as an escape from healthily processing unpleasant emotions and reinforcing the belief that these stresses should not exist.
5. Hyper-Multi-Sensory Stimulation
Mindfulness – the ability to willfully focus one’s attention during adverse circumstances – is a significant contributor to mental health. Pornography is nearly the complete opposite of mindfulness.
Pornography uses sound, site, and tactile sensation to pull an individual from their actual world into an artificial, fantasy world. Combining multiple senses with an enticing narrative makes it increasingly difficult for less stimulating activities (which is most of life) to hold an individual’s attention.
If the previous point was about unpleasant emotions, this point goes further; now merely unstimulating activities are increasingly difficult to meaningfully engage for an extended period of time.
Consider how much of basic life management (i.e., budgeting, staying on schedule, honoring commitments, asking good questions in a mundane conversation, etc…) become difficult when we condition ourselves to avoid unpleasant emotions and mundane tasks. Then consider how doing a poor job at basic life management tasks negatively impacts one’s mental health.
6. Time Lost to Constructive Activities
The final point is more about what pornography prevents (indirect impact) that what it does (direct impact). Time spent viewing pornography is time not spent doing something more constructive (i.e., investing in hobby, talking to a friend, exercise, reading a book, etc…).
The more we invest in things that are meaningful and substantive the better our mental health will be. Pornography robs many people of their hours in their week when they would invest in these constructive pursuits and gives them nothing in return.
The more we engage in pornography the less time we have for good mental health habits.
Based on these observations it would make sense that an individual wanting to be a good steward of his/her mental health would abstain from viewing pornography. As you read through this list, the question you should ask yourself is, “When I have viewed pornography which of these affects have been most pronounced in my life?” The answer to this question should add to your motivation to honor God not only by abstaining from pornography but pursuing those things that would contribute to your purity AND your mental health.
Source:(2018) contributed to the article.