I was talking with a fellow at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, last summer when I was on vacation. He worked for a telephone company that also provided cable internet services, and his job was assisting people who were having problems connecting to the internet. He also had a dilemma. He told me that he knew that a tremendous amount of internet use was related to the viewing and purchasing of pornography, and he had real moral qualms about that.
I was reminded of him because recently, through conversations with staunchly Catholic couples, I've discovered that pornography addiction has wreaked havoc in their marriages. It leads to self-consciousness in both partners, who cannot compete with some of the bodies portrayed on the 'net. It tremendously undermines trust in each other, since internet porn is yet another form of marital infidelity. Couples find that their ability to effectively use Natural Family Planning (NFP) to space the birth of children is compromised. In several cases, that led to a large number of children born in rapid succession, which, in turn, had serious physical and psychological repercussions for the mother. Because of the effects of pornography, the ability to abstain, particularly if the period of abstinence was prolonged, was compromised.
I hadn't made that connection with NFP before, so I thought I'd look up some of the statistics about internet pornography. First of all, I found it's not always easy to get a good grasp on the situation. But the indications are grim. The internet site Top Ten Reviews reported,
The statistics are truly staggering. According to compiled numbers from respected news and research organizations, every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography. Every second 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography. In that same second 372 internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines. Every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in the U.S. It’s big business. The pornography industry has larger revenues than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined. 2006 Worldwide Pornography Revenues ballooned to $97.06 billion.
The same website, reporting on the demographics of pornography indicates that while pornography use is fairly consistent for people of different age ranges, it is not consistent based on income.
Those making more than $75,000 a year represent 35 percent of those purchasing pornography. Another 26 percent of pornography consumers make $50,000-75,000 per year.
Age is not a major factor. Pornography consumers are fairly evenly divided. The 35 to 44-year-old age group consumes the most pornography in the United States (26 percent) and 18-24-year-olds purchase the least (14 percent).
U.S. Adult Internet User Demographics - Income
MediaPost offers more data, including some from Hitwise, a research group that monitors traffic from ISP use. The Hitwise data is significant
because unlike survey methods, or even observational methods, it's based on actual behavior that's not likely to be influenced by so-called "halo effects," or changes people make in their behavior when they know they're being monitored.
The data suggest that contrary to its reputation for being clandestine fringe media, porn is a fairly mainstream source of media content, reaching more than two-fifths of American online users. According to comScore Media Metrix estimates, pornographic sites had 70,689,000 unique visitors in April 2005, which compares with 164,961,000 total unique visitors to the Internet that month.
In terms of total audience reach, online porn sites are surpassed only by portals, search, e-mail, technology and downloads, travel, personal finance, and directories.
And it's not as if such visitors are landing on porn sites accidentally and leaving quickly. Porn is some of the stickiest content online, with X-rated sites generating an average of 15.1 minutes per usage day in April. The only content stickier are things like instant messenger services, games, portals, free hosting services, and chat.
The vast majority of porn usage appears to occur at home, as well as on college campuses. While porn reach's 43 percent of the overall online universe, it reaches only 35 percent of the at-work universe, but more than half (53 percent) of the college universe.
Despite these statistics, use of porn is still relatively unmeasured, and is something that is rarely, if ever, factored into the communications planning efforts of major agencies or marketers.
Some recent research by a Dr. W illiam Struthers, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Wheaton College, published in the book, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, indicates that there may be hope for someone who wants to overcome an addition to pornography (and, I'd wager, many other forms of addiction).
It's (ta daaaaa!) conversion and ongoing sanctification. According to a recent article in Christianity Today on Struthers' book, the reviewer, Mark Laaser writes, "the apostle Paul was right: The brain can be transformed by a renewed commitment to sanctification...While the process of transformation is based on a spiritual commitment of the mind to Christ, the result will be an anatomical rewiring of the brain."
One chapter titled "Your Brain on Porn" explains how a person becomes addicted to the neurochemicals involved in love, romance, sexual arousal, and human touch. "Addiction assumes that the brain becomes neurochemically dependent (tolerant) and will therefore crave activities, such as looking at pornography, that elevate those neurochemicals. This explanation gives scientific credibility to why 'just looking' at pornography can never be done without consequences. It suggests that Internet porn is the crack cocaine of sexual addiction."
I have had men confess an addiction to looking at online pornography. They will talk about spending hours in front of the computer screen, losing sleep, falling behind on work, and an awareness that "just looking" is giving way to a desire for more - either with their wife, or, if she's not willing, with someone else.
Struthers' book attempts to how the pursuit of spiritual intimacy in marriage is a true form of masculinity and, as such, will allow any amount of physical sex to be satisfying. This is no news to Catholic sacramental spirituality which teaches that the intimacy of sex in the context of marriage is a physical expression of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual intimacy already experienced in the marriage.
In other words, the "best sex" will be that between a couple who are united in the totality of their humanity, no matter whether they have finely sculpted bodies or not. And, conversely, a couple who is not on the same page emotionally or spiritually, will find their interest in sex with each other declining. I know this to be true from my experience in the confessional. I have had married people tell me of years without sex in their marriage because they and their spouse no longer loved each other, or felt safe around each other. That, too, is a tragedy - and another indication of the necessity of conversion.