The Effects of Pornography on the Developing Child Part 2

Part two of a two-part report by Marilyn Hawes

This is the final part of Marilyn Hawes' exploration of the effects of pornography on school-age children, In this issue, she looks at underlying trauma, the inherent risks of pornography and how exposure to pornography can affect the way that young people interact with each other. Part one is available to read HERE.

Underlying trauma

Although bingeing on porn over time can, in itself, lead to mental health problems, some people have suffered trauma in their lives and use porn to soothe themselves. In these cases, people need help to get back in touch with their body to help them to manage the traumatic event(s) that keep them trapped in inappropriate coping mechanisms. “The Body Keeps The Score,” by the US-based clinician and research psychiatrist Professor Bessel van der Kolk, is highly recommended. There are some informative YouTube videos where he talks about different types of trauma and various (limbic brain) therapies that are effective.

Bessel van der Kolk: video resources

A study of educated Korean men in their 20s found a preference for using pornography to achieve and maintain sexual excitement. They found it more interesting than having sex with a partner.

Self medication

We often seek to self-medicate negative feelings with more of our favourite substance or behaviour. We do this without realising that it was perhaps overindulgence in that behaviour or substance that triggered the low feelings in the first place. The hangover effect is a neurochemical rebound. In Scotland, alcohol drinkers suffering from a hangover the next day often use a famous expression. They talk of taking “the hair of the dog that bit you”. That means they have another drink. Unfortunately for some people, this can lead to a vicious cycle of bingeing and depression.

Romantic partners

Research shows that consuming pornography correlates with a lack of commitment to one’s romantic partner. Getting used to the constant novelty and increasing levels of arousal provided by porn and the thought that there may be someone ever ‘hotter’ in the next video, means that their brain is no longer aroused by real-life partners. It can stop people wanting to invest in developing a real-life relationship. This spells misery for almost everyone: men because they are not benefitting from the warmth and interaction a real-life relationship brings; and women, because no amount of cosmetic enhancement can keep a man interested whose brain has been conditioned to need constant novelty and unnatural levels of stimulation. It is a no-win situation.

Therapists too are seeing a big increase in people seeking help for an addiction to dating apps. The fake promise of always something better with the next click or swipe, stops people from focusing on getting to know just one person.

Social functioning

In a study of university-age males, difficulties with social functioning increased as pornography consumption rose. This applied to psychosocial problems such as depression, anxiety, stress and reduced social functioning.

Academic Achievement

Consumption of pornography was experimentally shown to decrease an individual’s ability to delay gratification for more valuable future rewards. In other words, watching porn makes you less logical and less able to take decisions that are clearly in your own interest such as doing homework and studying first instead of just entertaining yourself. Putting the reward before the effort.

In a study of 14 year old boys, higher levels of internet pornography consumption led to a risk of decreased academic performance, with the effects visible six-months later.

The more porn a man watches…

The more pornography a man watches, the more likely he was to use it during sex. It can give him the desire to act out porn scripts with his partner, deliberately conjure images of pornography during sex to maintain arousal. This also leads to concerns over his own sexual performance and body image. Further, higher pornography use was negatively associated with enjoying sexually intimate behaviours with a partner.

Low sexual desire

In one study, students at the end of high school reported a strong link between high levels of pornography consumption and low sexual desire. A quarter of regular consumers in this group reported an abnormal sexual response.

The 2008 Study of Sexuality in France found that 20% of men 18-24 “no interest in sex or sexual activity”. This is very much at odds with the French national stereotype.

In Japan in 2010: an official government survey found that 36% males aged 16-19 “have no interest in sex or have an aversion to it”. They prefer virtual dolls or anime.

Morphing sexual tastes

In some people, there can be unexpected morphing sexual tastes which reverse when they stop using porn. Here the issue is straight people watching gay porn, gays watching straight porn and lots of variations. Some people also develop fetishes and interests in sexual things away from their natural sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter what our orientation or sexual identity is, chronic overuse of internet pornography can cause serious changes to the brain. It changes both brain structure and functioning. As everyone is unique, it is not easy to say how much porn is enough for just pleasure before starting to cause changes. Changing sexual tastes is an indication, however, of brain changes. Everyone’s brain will react differently.

An overview of the risks of pornography

The list below sets out the main effects observed by healthcare professionals and by recovering users on the recovery websites like NoFap and RebootNation. Many symptoms are not noticed until a user quits for a few weeks. The list below is adapted from the book “The Porn Trap” by Wendy Malz.

A pornography habit has the potential to cause the following problems:

Social isolation

  • Withdrawing from social activity;
  • Developing a secret life;
  • Lying to and deceiving others;
  • becoming self-centred; and
  • Choosing porn over people.

Mood disorders

  • Feeling irritable;
  • Feeling angry and depressed;
  • Experiencing mood swings;
  • Pervasive anxiety and fearfulness; and
  • Feeling powerless in relation to porn.

Sexually objectifying other people

  • Treating people as sex objects;
  • Judging people primarily in terms of their body parts;
  • Experiencing mood swings;
  • Disrespecting other people’s needs for privacy and safety; and
  • Being insensitive about sexually harmful behaviour.

Engaging in risky and dangerous behaviour

  • Accessing porn at work or school;
  • Accessing child abuse imagery;
  • Participating in degrading, abusive, violent, or criminal sexual activity;
  • Producing, distributing or selling porn; and
  • Engaging in physically unsafe and harmful sex.

Unhappy intimate partner

  • Relationship is marred by dishonesty and deception about porn use;
  • Partner views porn as infidelity i.e. “cheating”;
  • Partner is increasingly upset and angry;
  • Relationship deteriorates due to lack of trust and respect;
  • Partner is concerned about the welfare of the children;
  • Partner feels sexually inadequate and threatened by the porn; and
  • Loss of emotional closeness and mutual sexual enjoyment.

Sexual Problems

  • Loss of interest in sex with a real partner;
  • Difficulty becoming aroused and/or achieving orgasm without porn;
  • Intrusive thoughts, fantasies, and images of porn during sex;
  • Becoming sexually demanding and or rough in sex;
  • Having difficulty connecting love and caring with sex;
  • Feeling sexually out of control and compulsive;
  • Increased interest in risky, degrading, abusive, and/or illegal sex;
  • Growing dissatisfaction with sex; and
  • Sexual dysfunctions – inability to orgasm, delated ejaculation, erectile dysfunction.


  • Feeling disconnected from personal values, beliefs and goals;
  • Loss of personal integrity;
  • Damaged self-esteem;
  • Persistent feelings of guilt and shame; and
  • Feeling controlled by porn.

Neglecting important areas of life

  • Personal health (sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and poor self-care);
  • Family life (neglecting partner, children, pets and household responsibilities);
  • Work and school pursuits (reduced focus, productivity, and advancement);
  • Finances (spending on porn depletes resources); and
  • Spirituality (alienation from faith and spiritual practice.)

Addiction to porn

  • Craving porn intensely and persistently;
  • Difficulty controlling thoughts, or exposure to, and use of porn;
  • Inability to discontinue porn use despite negative consequences;
  • Repeated failures to stop using porn;
  • Requiring more extreme content or intense exposures to porn to get same effect (habituation symptoms); and
  • Experiencing discomfort and irritability when deprived of porn (withdrawal symptoms)

Marilyn Hawes is the Director and CEO of Freedom from Abuse and was recently interviewed by The Comet