Podcast originally aired and published on December 16, 2013 by The Diane Rehm Show 

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Whether you approve of it or not, pornography has been around for almost as long as humanity. But the arrival of the Internet has made it vastly more accessible. Many psychologists say occasional viewing by adults of online porn is not harmful. In some cases, it can even be a positive way for couples to rekindle romance in a long-term relationship. But for a growing number of online pornography users, it has become a problem. According to Psychology Today magazine, online porn addiction is now one of the most commonly reported sex addiction issues. Diane talks with an expert about the causes and consequences of online pornography addiction.


Post Interview Questions From Listeners:

Q: I read an interesting article about erectile dysfunction in young men in their 20’s resulting from pornography usage.  Has Dr. Greenfield heard of this?

A: Yes, this is probably due to a desensitization that occurs from being exposed to highly stimulating content over a repeated period; this is another reason why men of any age should keep their consumption of pornography to reasonable levels.

Q: I have 3 small children (ages 10, 8, 5), and my husband and I have already been talking about how to deal with them and sexuality issues. What or where can I find suggestions or guidelines on how to talk to them about sex, porn, etc.? We want to be proactive, ready, and realistic. How does someone know? What is an appropriate amount or age for them to know more about sex, or view porn, etc.?  Or when should we be concerned?

  A: www.commonsensemedia.org is a good source for parents. In general, there is a great deal of variation in psychological and emotional maturity in adolescents. Each child seems to have a unique developmental, line so decisions with regard to age and appropriateness of porn viewing need to be gauged from that perspective. However, in general  it is my opinion that kids under 16 should be very limited in how much online (or other methods) of pornography they consume. In part this avoids precociously stimulating them beyond their developmental age, as well  deters them from developing an Internet porn habit. The other reason is that children tend to draw unrealistic conclusions about human sexuality when using porn as a model.

Q: If young people watch porn early enough in their teens and watch a great deal of it, could it actually change their sexual tastes or create a fetish?

 A: There is no definitive research on this that I am aware of but it may be a factor. Typically fetishes are developed earlier in life when a typically non-sexual stimuli gets associated with a more overt sexual stimuli. The risk of watching too much porn is that the viewer will habituate to typical levels of arousal and require more novel (and hence potentially fetishistic) types of sexual behavior to achieve arousal.

Q: One unexpected consequence of access to online porn is that it helps undermine the impossible standards of airbrushed beauty that burden so many women, especially young women. Simply seeing actual female bodies in all their variety can be tonic in a culture increasingly given to cosmetic surgery and airbrushed images in pursuit of an impossible ideal. Can your guest comment?

A: There is no doubt that porn and the “Pornification of America” has skewed the perceptions of both men and woman in terms of perfect  bodies and perfect sex. It’s not so much that the models/actors are too perfect (although many are) rather it is more the image of unrealistic sexuality that get portrayed in these films. The way people have sex in porn isn’t the way most normal people really have sex– so there is a distortion of what is real and what is reasonable; in addition there is the objectification of woman as well as men in these films. No one is portrayed realistically, and woman compare themselves to the woman and men look at the males who perform in these films and are often left feeling inadequate in the genital department, as well aas from the acrobatics these actors portray in sexual relations. Porn is a highly stimulating (albeit unrealistic) and addictive form of content that needs to respected for its power and impact.