Is pornography as destructive to adolescent development as drug abuse?

The abuse of drugs and alcohol during by teens has been an area of concern among parents, teachers and mental health experts for many years. Prevention and treatment efforts are found in virtually every community in the nation and most agree that teen drug abuse is a societal issue that needs continued focus due to its damaging effects.

In recent years, due to the ease of access to pornography and the increased sexualization of our culture, increasing numbers of teens are viewing pornography on a regular basis, and in many cases becoming addicted.  Unfortunately, the same level of concern that accompanies teen drug abuse seems to be lacking with the new phenomena of teens and porn.  There are a variety of explanations for why there is not more being done including the mistaken belief held by some that “boys will boys” while normalizing the behavior and accepting the idea that it is simply part of adolescent sexuality to be curious and to explore porn.  Another is the incorrect idea that it is a moral issue that should be left to parents and churches to deal with, rather than viewing it as a developmental issue that impacts a teen’s emotional, psychological, neurological and social development. 

According to sociologist Jill Manning, the research indicates pornography consumption is associated with the following six trends:

1. Increased marital distress, and risk of separation and divorce

2. Decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction

3. Infidelity

4. Increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity

associated with abusive, illegal or unsafe practices

5. Devaluation of monogamy, marriage and child rearing

6. An increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and addictive sexual Behavior

Too often, we minimize potential problems with teen pornography use and simply hope they will somehow go away on their own.  As parents and professionals, we need to be more vigilant to assure that those teens who are struggling with pornography addiction are able to get help in breaking free from the addiction.  Failing to do so holds both short-term and long-term damaging ramifications for youth.  In most cases, individuals addicted to pornography are unable to break the addiction on their own and as outlined above, the potential trends lead to the destruction of future families and the decay of society.

Treatment not just prevention efforts needed for teen pornography problem

Over the past year, we have had the good fortune of visiting with parents, teens and professionals from around the country regarding the topic of pornography use among youth.  We have been encouraged by the level of concern expressed by many of those with whom we have interacted.  While most are greatly concerned about the issue and agree that prevention efforts among our youth are vital, those young people who are struggling with addiction issues relating to pornography continue to remain in the shadows.  While research is limited regarding the number of teens addicted to pornography, it does seem apparent to us that very few struggling with compulsive use of pornography are actually getting help.  The fact that so few youth are accessing treatment for this issue is a big concern to us.  Certainly the shame and embarrassment that so often accompanies a pornography addiction is a factor that prevents more from seeking help.  Additionally, the use of pornography becoming more widely accepted in society and its use being considered “normal teen behavior” is likely a factor as well. 

Too often, we minimize potential problems and simply hope they will somehow go away on their own.  As parents and professionals, we need to be more vigilant to assure that those teens who are struggling with pornography addiction are able to get help in breaking free from the addiction.  Failing to do so holds both short-term and long-term damaging ramifications for youth.  In most cases, individuals addicted to pornography are unable to break the addiction on their own.

According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, prolonged exposure to pornography leads to:

–– An exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society

–– Diminished trust between intimate couples

–– The abandonment of the hope of sexual monogamy

–– Belief that promiscuity is the natural state

–– Belief that abstinence and sexual inactivity are unhealthy

–– Cynicism about love or the need for affection between sexual partners

–– Belief that marriage is sexually confining

–– Lack of attraction to family and child-raising

Too many youth do not deal with this issue during their teen years and move into adulthood with an addiction.  As evidenced by the above mentioned study, the consequences lead to the destruction of families and healthy relationships.  In addition to prevention efforts and education about the dangers of pornography, we need to assure that teens struggling with pornography addiction have the chance to get help to break free from the addiction while they are still young.

Is technology changing the profile of teen sexual offenders?

Is the typical profile of a juvenile sexual offender changing as a result of exposure to the ease of access to sexually explicit material? While research in this area is lacking, some researchers are suggesting it may play a role. Among those is Dr. Michael Seto, whose results from a 2011 study suggest that more consideration needs to be given to the variables of exposure to sexual violence, exposure to sex or pornography in teen sexual offending behaviors.

Juvenile sexual offenders have often been stereotyped as socially incompetent, lacking social skills and unable to read non-verbal cues from their peers.  While social ineptness may very well be a characteristic of some teens committing sexual offenses, there is increasing reason to consider how the onslaught of sexually explicit media contributes to sexual offending among youth.

 In today’s technology and internet driven society, opportunities for children and teens to access explicit sexual material and even sexual encounters is more plentiful than at any other time in history. As a result there been an increase in wreckless and illegal sexual behavior.  Behaviors such as frequent use of pornography,  involvement in explicit sexual chats, sexting through new apps such as Vine and Snapchat, and solicitation of sex through social media are becoming increasingly common.  Obviously, the internet makes these activities easy to engage in.  Other variables also play into the increase in these behaviors among teens including the perception that “everyone is doing it”, the belief that they are acting under the cover of anonymity, and lack of immediate consequences for these actions.

Some teens who commit sex offenses are otherwise law-abiding citizens, who don’t display anti-social or pedophilic tendencies and who do not display any significant social skill deficit.  Many of these teens may not have ever crossed the line to commit illegal sexual acts were it not for exposure to sexually explicit content via the internet.

Of course, none of this makes it okay or excusable to commit a sexual offense.  A sex offense is a serious crime because there is a potential victim involved - and the possibility that someone is harmed.  That being said, for teens who commit a sexual offense, more than ever before, the variable of internet driven sexual content as a primary factor for the sex offense should be considered.   In cases where it is a factor, the standard treatment models for sex offending may not be a complete model. 

While the hard research is still lacking in this area, teen sexual offending and the use of sexually explicit internet content appears to be a growing and dangerous relationship.  Unfortunately, many juvenile sex offender treatment assessments and programs lack any significant attention to pornography and sexual addiction issues.  Programs and clinicians working with juvenile sexual offenders should give increased attention to the role that pornography and cybersex plays in teen sexual acting out.  Treatment models need to be augmented to provide specific intervention for pornography and cybersexual addiction.

Minimizing and Denial: Fatal Flaws in how Pornography Addiction Develops

The problem with any addiction is that most people don’t know just how far down the rabbit hole they’ve traveled until it’s too late. An addict will justify their situation, or trivialize it. “It’s just a little alcohol. It’s not like I need it every second!” “Everyone does it. No need to worry.” “I can stop when I want to.”

In the case of pornography, most addicts get stuck in a cycle, and can’t begin the process of recovery until they realize the severity of their problem. Indeed, with pornography so prevalent in today’s media culture, one can easily slip into a vast pit of darkness without realizing they ever fell away from the light.

Part of the problem arises from a misguided sense of denial, or an unwillingness to recognize the full extent of the problem. Denying that the problem exists allows addicts to avoid the discomfort of the shame and embarrassment that are involved with admitting to a pornography addiction.

In actuality, modern society makes it difficult to recognize the dangers of pornography addiction. Online websites and even health care and psychology professionals continue to claim the viewing of adult material as perfectly normal, while motion pictures and television shows make light of sexual addiction, creating a sense that pornography is merely a part of our culture, thus making it difficult for an addict to recognize his or her problem — the notion that “everyone does it” remains a misguided justification.

Once an addict finally recognizes the severity of the problem, it’s important for them to seek help. Unfortunately, denial can limit progression and lead to more years of abuse. “I used to look at pornography, but I don’t do it very often anymore, so it’s not really an addiction.” The correct thinking should be, “I know I am vulnerable to viewing pornography and could easily relapse, so I have to be constantly careful to avoid being in situations where I am exposed to it.”

What many people don’t understand is that breaking the shackles of pornography addiction often requires a lifetime of management to overcome. The temptation to view pornography never subsides, meaning an addict must work on controlling their desires on a daily basis — without minimizing the overall problem.

Minimizing can be just as dangerous as denial. By making a harmful action seem less significant, we hope to lessen the consequences that may result. Often times an addict uses the words “only” or “just” while minimizing in order to lessen the blow of his or her actions.

In the television series “Breaking Bad,” the main character Walter White, who transforms from timid chemistry teacher to criminal mastermind, continually minimizes his actions. Even when said actions lead to death and the destruction of his loved ones. He claims his actions are done “only for the love of his family,” and never fully comprehends just how far he’s fallen until it’s too late.

If we deceive ourselves that our hurtful or irresponsible behaviors are no big deal, then we won’t work on changing them.  Young people struggling with pornography addiction will often minimize the problem, and say, “I only look at pornography on occasion-it’s not like I’m doing it all the time-I’m not addicted.”                   

It is possible to become addicted to pornography after only viewing it once. Even the occasional viewing is highly dangerous as it warps the mind’s overall understanding of sex, turning one of God’s greatest gifts into a vile and repulsive act that results in shame and guilt. 

The correct thought for all men and women (no matter their age) should be, “Any viewing of pornography is a serious issue and only increases my chances of forming an addiction.”

As Gordon B. Hinkley once said, “Stay away from pornography as you would avoid a serious disease. It is as destructive. It can become habitual, and those who indulge in it get so they cannot leave it alone. It is addictive.”

If you are struggling with a pornography addiction, or know someone who is, don’t trivialize it. Seek help immediately so you may enjoy a life free of guilt and shame, full of happiness, friends, and love.