There’s no doubt pornography consumption has reached epidemic levels in the United States. Its grip on society is unmistakable, the toll it’s taking is nearly impossible to miss, and for many, its pervasiveness in their lives is fueled by a vicious battle between loneliness and lust.
The statistics alone are incredibly alarming. Take, for example, the fact that 28,258 internet users are watching pornography every second or the fact that 40 million Americans frequently visit pornography websites — the numbers are staggering and they are only growing.
And now new research from the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) is shining light on the dangerous ways pornography is actually eroding our relationships with one another. After surveying 1,000 people globally, the IFS found a clear “association between pornography use and loneliness” for some respondents.
Mark Butler, a professor in the school of family life at Brigham Young University, explained in an essay for the IFS that each incremental increase in loneliness was met with a similar increase in pornography consumption. Likewise, each incremental increase in pornography use “predicted a significant increase in loneliness.”
“If loneliness can lead to pornography use, and pornography use may bring about or intensify loneliness,” Butler warned, “these circular linkages may create a vicious cycle, pulling the user even further from health-promoting relationship connections.”
And while pornography use dips after marriage, its impact within a relationship can be just as harmful. Within the context of marriage, Butler argued, pornography consumption by one or both partners often results in “relationship distress and attachment disruption.”
A 2016 study found (unsurprisingly) that married people who watch pornography are two times more likely to end up divorced than those who don’t. And women who start to watch pornography are three times as likely to split from their husbands.
Then, among myriad other things, men’s pornography consumption is directly linked to the objectification of women, which certainly does nothing to help promote healthy relationships. In fact, it just makes developing relationships that much more unlikely and dangerous for the women involved.
It’s no wonder people struggling with pornography addiction are trapped in a war between lust and loneliness.
“When pornography is used to trigger the sexual system,” Butler wrote, “the biology of the sexual system produces a false relationship experience, offering temporary ‘relief’ from lonely feelings, but soon enough, the user again faces a real-world relationship void.”
He went on to explain that pornography “invites the mental fantasy of a relationship experience” without ever actually providing it in real life.
“Thus, the mind fantasizes and biologically the sexual system tricks the brain into imagining it’s having a relationship experience and can thus mask loneliness — but only temporarily,” Butler wrote.
All of this points to a clear problem with our culture: sexuality has become society’s idol. It has become the altar at which all other things must bow down. The novelist and armchair theologian C.S. Lewis’ words in “The Weight of Glory” ring truer every day:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Pornography — much like the continual redefinition of gender identity, the wars over sexual orientation, and the wholesale affirmation of gender dysphoria — just further proves how “far too easily pleased” we really are.
Sex isn’t God, but we’ve given it His place. It’s not enough to realize that — we have to be willing to fix it. And until we reach that place, the vicious cycle will continue to spiral out of control.