Harms Caused by Pornography


Author Note

Student at [redacted].

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to [redacted].

    The format of this article was changed slightly in order to work better as a web article. It is provided as a writing example for prospective universities.


    This document was created to unite the negative effects of pornography ("porn") into a single document, useful for interventions and activism. It has been suggested that porn use has many negative effects on its users, on those in relationships with these users, and on society at large. These effects include, but are not limited to, biological, psychological, behavioral, and relational spheres or areas. Porn use and/or addiction appear to contribute to comorbid addictions, depression, suicide, self-esteem, compulsivity, cognitive distortions, psychopathy, neuroticism, eroticized rage, antisocial behavior, social dysfunction, insecure relational attachments, infidelity, divorce, marriage, and generational cycles of abuse, neglect, and child molestation. Direction of causality is extrapolated and discussion is offered. Additionally, due to the progressive nature of porn use and addiction, the author also presents research related to child porn, as this behavior pattern especially impacts society at large. The author concludes porn appears to have many negative effects. This implies policy makers should seriously consider further and more serious sanctions against the porn industry. Implications in practice, which were already suggested by Dr. Patrick Carnes (2003), are a greater understanding of the many ways in which porn can negatively impact the life of a client. Limitations include one study (Mei et al., 2016) possibly influenced by ethnic background, and two studies (Ray et al., 2014; Wurtele et al., 2014) undertaken against a population in which psychological effects are possibly amplified.

Keywords: porn, addiction, dysfunction, psychological, sociological, biological

Harms Caused by Pornography

    It has been suggested that pornography ("porn") causes, contributes to, or aggravates many of society's problems. Additionally, new research is being undertaken to understand and explore these effects. This archival document was created to unite these known and theorized negative effects into one document for use in interventions and for informing policy makers.

    This document is archival in format: it does not itself present any new research, though it does provide a theoretical figure for understanding how these negative influences interact.

    The theoretical implication of synthesizing all of these negative effects in one document is the reader, equipped with this view of the big picture, may see a pattern.

    The practical implication is the clinician, equipped with this view, may see more ways in which porn use may impact clients on multiple levels, giving the clinician more avenues to explore.

Harm To The User


    Perhaps one of the most fascinating recent discoveries is heavy, chronic pornography may alter brain matter. Kuhn & Gallinat (2014) discovered a significant reduction gray brain matter volume in the right caudate of the stratium in 64 healthy males without psychiatric, medical or neurological disorders who averaged 4 hours of porn use a week. Because this ground-breaking, Kuhn & Gallint (2014) state direction of causation cannot yet be proved: more research is required. However, given the function of the stratium, and the psychological effects of porn use, this seems logical.


    Porn may have many negative psychological effects upon the user, including depression, suicidal thought, lowered self-esteem, compulsivity, cognitive distortions, psychopathy, neuroticism, comorbid addictions, and eroticized rage.

    Carnes at al. (2007) noted many porn addicts present with comorbid addictions, though direction of causation cannot be proved. The author suggests the possibility that porn can lead to more addictions, such as a hypothetical porn user self-medicating shame with alcohol.

    Some of the fascinating effects of porn on the psyche are depression, suicide, and lowered self-esteem, which the author sees as similar. Kuhn & Gallinat (2014) found porn users are more easily depressed. Crimins & Seigfried-Speller (2014) defined sexting as sending "nude or seminude photos, or pictures containing varying forms of sexual activity" via "cell phone, e-mail, or any other form of technology." They found that sexting could put the user at risk of being cyber-bullied. Mei et al. (2014) defined problematic internet use (PIU) as "characterized by excessive or poorly controlled urges and a maladaptive obsession with the Internet," which can include porn use. They found, in a study of Chinese high school students, PIU puts the user at risk for lowered self-esteem. Patterson & Price (2012) found religious porn users were less happy. Kor et al. (2015) found that porn use lowered self-esteem. Jahnke et al (2015) found that "higher rates of mental disorders among [pedophiles] may result from, or be exacerbated by … belonging to a stigmatized group." Carnes (2003) discovered sexual binging behavior seen in porn users leads to shame and despair. He suggests that not only can tapping into the unresolved alter the arousal template, but that it can also cause or exacerbate any of the user's negative emotions. The author suggests porn use could introduce depression and lowered self-esteem.

    Compulsivity is a factor in porn use, though direction of causality has not been established. The author suggests that porn could exacerbate compulsivity. Ferron et al. (2017) found that individuals with low conscientiousness "might exhibit deviant or compulsive online sexual behavior." Mei et al. (2016) found that PIU seems related to lowered self-control. Kor et al. (2014) found that problematic porn use ("use of sex for escaping/avoiding negative emotions, and functional impairment and stress,") includes diminished self-control over sexual behaviors.

    Porn use could also lead to cognitive distortions. Jahnke et al. (2015) found that CP users overestimate the public's stigma towards them, which could be a sign of cognitive dissonance. This is supported by Carnes (2003), who found that when porn taps into the unresolved, it can result in cognitive distortions which support the behavior. Without making an argumentum ad populum, the author suggests the reader need not look far to find examples of this.

    One of the last psychological effects of porn use is an apparent link between porn use and the user's general mental health. Williams et al. (2009) found psychopathy and sexual aggression seem linked. Kor et al. (2014) found PIU can exert a negative influence on the viewer's mental health. Jahnke et al. (2015) found "higher rates of mental disorders among people with pedophilia may result from, or be exacerbated by, the stressful experience of belonging to a stigmatized group." Carnes (2003), found tapping into the unresolved could lead to eroticized rage. Taken together, the author suggests porn exerts a negative influence on the user's mental health, with level of effect dependent on the type of porn. However, the author admits lack of established direction of causality: Do people with mental problems tend towards porn, or does porn exacerbate mental disorders, and if so, to what extent? Further research is needed.


    Porn use could also result in behavioral changes in an individual. For instance, Williams et al. (2009) found an apparent link between deviant behavior and porn use. Crimmins & Seigfried-Spellar (2014) found that porn users were 4x more likely to engage in sexting, which can result in risky offline behavior and/or increased danger of being cyber bullied. Crimmins & Seigfried-Spellar (2014) also found that individuals who engaged in unprotected (risky) sex were 4.5x more likely to sext. They theorized either sexting influences behavior or both of these behaviors are indications an individual's deeper problem. Carnes (2003) found that "internet sexual behavior can accelerate existing addictive/compulsive behavior as well as precipitate new compulsive offline behavior." For example, he lists the "burned image" scenario where, due to tapping into the unresolved within the user, the user stores the image, uses it, and then deletes it out of shame, only to access it again. Carnes (2003) also suggested the "tapping into the unresolved" concept, which could contribute to the user engaging in illegal activity. Lastly, D'Orlando (2011) fond that porn use results in novelty-seeking behaviors, which supports Carnes (2003). D'Orlando (2011) theorized novelty-seeking could both cause the user to spend more money and/or act in deviant sexual ways, both of which could negatively impact current and/or future romantic relationships.


    Now let's look at how these negative influences can affect the porn user's relationships. These could be conceptualized into two categories: indirect distance or cutting of relational ties, and direct cutting of relational ties. As a prelude, Clinton & Sibcy (2006), suggest parents with addictions are less mentally and/or emotionally available to their children, which could lead to children who become adults with insecure attachment styles.

    Porn could be seen to exert an indirect negative influence on the user's relationships through antisocial behavior, social dysfunction, and/or insecure social attachments. Ray, Kimonis & Seto (2014) suggested CP research might indicate a link between all porn and antisocial behavior. Kor et al. (2014) found problematic porn use could exert a negative influence on relationship attachment. Gilliland et al. (2015) found the majority of hypersexual individuals tend to rate themselves as insecurely attached. They suggested insecure attachment could predict hypersexuality. David & Davis (2013) noted porn use seemed to undermine social attachment to parents and peers. Jahnke et al. (2015) found the more the CP user is afraid of discovery, the more social dysfunction the CP user reports. Carnes (2003) found porn use leads to intimacy withdrawal. Ferron et al. (2017) found "cyber infidelity was … explained by attachment insecurity" and that cyber infidelity could reflect a lack of commitment. Perry (2015), in a longitudinal study, found more frequent porn use may negatively influence marital quality over time. The author suggests that these reflect porn's indirect effect upon relationships.

    Porn use can also lead to direct relational harms like infidelity, divorce, and affairs. Doran & Price (2014) found porn users are 25% more likely to divorce and 101% more likely to have an affair. Ferron et al. (2017) suggested cyber infidelity is linked to couple and sexual difficulties, and confirmed the findings of Doran & Price (2014). Furthermore, Ferron et al. (2017) found neuroticism, which was indirectly related to cyber infidelity, related to low couple satisfaction. However, they did not establish direction of causality. In addition, Ferron et al. (2017) also discovered porn use was related to decreased sexual satisfaction among men. Lastly, Carnes (2003) found sex declines in appeal to sex addicts. The author suggests these factors, taken together, indicate porn use can directly harm relationships.

Harm To Others

Romantic Partners

    Not only does porn use harm the user, it harms others. Carnes (2003) first suggested that porn use results in relational regression, in withdrawal from intimacy and decreased sexual frequency and appeal. He found sex addicts seem to withdraw from family, friends, and colleagues, possibly due to time spent bingeing on porn. Willoughby et al (2013) found in couples where only one partner uses porn (95% of the sample), porn will negatively impact the other partner. Perry (2015), in a longitudinal study, found more frequent porn viewing may negatively influence marital quality over time, and thus (the author suggests) harms the innocent partner.


    Clinton & Sibcy (2006) point out abandonment is often the heart of insecure attachments. Though he is not the first, the author theorizes when porn use results in divorce, a circular generational problem could result. In a hypothetical marriage, porn use could contribute to a husband's infidelity. This could result in a divorce in which the husband abandons his children, who then grow up with the emotional wounds of insecure attachment styles through abandonment. This could make these children more susceptible to becoming addicts (cf. Carnes, 2001; Laaser, 2004), possibly porn addicts, and thus the cycle continues.

    Supporting this theory, Walsh (1999) found female porn users more likely to be from divorced homes, and more likely to be divorced themselves. Wurtele et al. (2014) also suggest that adults who use CP have insecure attachments to parents. They also suggest adults who experienced past abuse could accidentally expose their child to porn, and state "early sexual experiences and sexual abuse may be risk factors for the development of sexual interest in children for males and females."


    Finally, porn use can harm the world population at large. Williams et al. (2009) found porn use may increase the likelihood of psychopaths engaging in sexually deviant behavior.

    Child abuse can also be seen as a vicious cycle which harms society. Wurtele et al. (2014) found past sexual abuse of adults appears to influence using CP and/or being pedophilic. Thus, as Carnes (2003) also seems to suggest, an adult who was molested as a child could become a CP user and even abuse children due to this tapping into the unresolved. This could also be seen as a generational cycle where an adult who was abused in the past abuses children in the present which could become abusers in the future.


    We have explored how porn use may have many varied negative influences upon the user's psyche, behavior, and relationships; those in relationship with the user; and society as a whole. The author's hope is that this document can be useful for advocating an end to porn and as an intervention tool. The author claims no conflicts of interest with this article.


    Due to the often progressive nature of porn addiction, child porn (CP) research is included. The author theorizes a common thread between non-CP and CP, meaning the effects on CP users could be seen in lower intensities on non-CP users. However, it is acknowledged this weakens the ability of this theory to be generalized.

    Due to institutional limits, this document is not completely exhaustive. The reader is encouraged to undertake further research.


            Affects Everything