Perhaps the greatest hardship for women who fear they have lost (or are losing) a husband to Internet porn is the absence of a public consensus about the harmful effects of pornography on marriage. Consider what we know. In a study published in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, Schneider found that among the 68 percent of couples in which one person was addicted to Internet porn, one or both had lost interest in sex. Results of the same study, published in 2000, indicated that porn use was a major contributing factor to increased risk of separation and divorce. This finding is substantiated by results of a 2002 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, during which surveyed lawyers claimed that “an obsessive interest in Internet pornography” was a significant factor in 56 percent of their divorce cases the prior year.
Porn use creates the impression that aberrant sexual practices are more common than they really are, and that promiscuous behavior is normal. For example, in a 2000 meta-analysis of 46 published studies put out by the National Foundation for Family Research and Education at the University of Calgary, regular exposure to pornography increased risk of sexual deviancy (including lower age of first intercourse and excessive masturbation), increased belief in the “rape myth” (that women cause rape and rapists are normal), and was associated with negative attitudes regarding intimate relationships (e.g., rejecting the need for courtship and viewing persons as sexual objects). Indeed, neurological imaging confirms the latter finding. Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University, used MRI scans to analyze the brain activity of men viewing pornography. She found that after viewing porn, men looked at women more as objects than as human beings.
The social implications of these data are significant, but we need to know more. The American Psychiatric Association is likely to add pornography addiction to their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual this year. Congress should fund a long-term, multidisciplinary analysis of the effects of porn addiction on marriage and family life. The National Institutes of Health are granted billions of taxpayer dollars for research on a wide variety of public-health problems, and yet pornography addiction is not among them. Most health-insurance companies provide little to no coverage for treatment of this problem, and the health-care legislation signed into law last week promises more of the same. The fact is that the moral and financial needs of couples struggling with this form of addiction will remain unaddressed in a country that views pornography use as a constitutional right.
I will never know with full certainty that pornography caused my husband to abandon me and our children. Although I loved him deeply, I was far from a perfect wife. In retrospect, I wish I had understood what he was experiencing and had acted to help him. If anything is clear to me, it is this: We must learn more about this scourge and its effects on families. The Witherspoon report makes it clear that countless women — and increasingly many men — have experienced the devastating effects of their spouse’s pornography use. Countless more will experience it in the future. It is our obligation as a nation to pursue the truth for their sake, no matter how inconvenient for some the verdict may be.
– The author is a psychologist who lives with her children in Virginia.