Does Porn Really Harm Society? An Interview with Dr. John Foubert

By Sean McDowell Feb. 21, 2017 9:00 a.m. Culture, Ethics, Marriage and Family

Dr. John Foubert has been studying pornography and its effects on people for over a decade. I have written and spoken extensively on pornography, so I was eager when Dr. Foubert graciously asked me to endorse his recent book How Pornography Harms. And it did not disappoint. In fact, I would consider an indispensable resource for students, parents, teachers, and pastors to be informed about how pornography is changing the way people think about sex.

Check out this quick interview with Dr. Foubert. And then think about getting a copy of his excellent book. You can get a hard copy here or the e-book for a discount. Enjoy!

SEAN MCDOWELL: The first line in your book struck me: "This book pulls no punches." Your writing style is direct, hard hitting, and real. Why did you write How Pornography Harms that way?

JOHN FOUBERT: You can’t clean up the topic of pornography. So many of us have been pretending it isn’t a problem with people we know. Many parents think that if their kids look at today’s porn, it is the same kind of thing they saw as kids and is no big deal. All of these people would be wrong. In order to educate the public about the harms of pornography, I decided to let people know about the level of violence and degradation that is really going on in today’s pornography. My intent is not to be gratuitously graphic, but to be shocking enough to wake up people’s consciences.

MCDOWELL: There are lots of books out there about pornography that are written from a Biblical worldview. How is yours different from the others?

FOUBERT: There are so many wonderful books out there about pornography that do a great job of helping people who are struggling with porn to get out from under that struggle. How Pornography Harms is different, in that it distills the results from 150 peer reviewed studies, 2 dozen books, 2 dozen anecdotes from people who have been hurt by porn, and a dozen interviews with scholars who do cutting edge research in this area. As I wove together research and people’s personal experience, I wrote a book that is accessible, real, and well documented – all from a Biblical worldview.

MCDOWELL: You obviously did a lot of research for How Pornography Harms. What are some of the things that surprised you the most?

FOUBERT: I’ve researched porn for 10 years, and sexual violence for 25. Not much surprises me anymore. However, I was surprised at how the people I interviewed were so profoundly hurt by pornography. For example, a woman who appeared in porn films for over a year, reaching the point of attempting suicide. I was surprised at how ‘normal’ the man I met who went to prison for child pornography seemed. I was deeply moved by the young mother of two who recalled an experience when she was 5 of walking in on her 9-year-old brother and 7-year-old sister watching porn and performing sexual acts on each other. She never told anyone but me about what happened, and wanted to share her story with others. Porn has devastating consequences for people’s lives. I want to share that with as many people as possible.

MCDOWELL: What is your best advice for teens and young adults who can't seem to stay away from pornography?

FOUBERT: If you can’t seem to stay away from pornography, get more intense help than you are now. If you have an accountability partner, find a certified sex addiction therapist. If you have a great therapist, go to a weekend or week long workshop to detox and get on a healthier path. If you’ve done the weekend thing, to a treatment center for 6-9 months to kill off this cancer. If what you are doing right now isn’t working, you need to take more drastic measures. I have a list of ideas on my website at http://www.johnfoubert.com/resources-i-recommend.

MCDOWELL: In your experience and research, how does viewing pornography affect the worldview of young people?

FOUBERT: Young people live in a world where “truth’ is presumed to be within the person, is erroneously called subjective, and is situational. If it feels good for you, it must be okay and true. These lies can be strongly reinforced by experiences young people have with porn. They think it is okay for them, masturbate to it and experience sexual release, and then are drawn to it all the more. Pornography draws people further and further away from the one true God, and makes a god out of one’s sexual desire. Anytime we put something above God, it becomes an idol. The great challenge believers face is to make sure that their identity as a follower of Jesus is their one identity, that everything else in their lives should flow from that Truth, and that we fight against anything that seeks to crawl to the top of our list of identities like the snake in the Garden of Eden.

MCDOWELL: How would you make a case against pornography to a non-Christian?

FOUBERT: I’d start by asking the person if they want to have good sex with another person. If they do, they should stay away from pornography. What pornography does is teaches people to be violent. It also has a direct link to erectile dysfunction. Right now 1/3 of men under 30 have erectile dysfunction. 60% of guys whose pornography use is an addiction also have erectile dysfunction with a person, but not with the porn on their iPhone. The porn industry is trying to sell the lie that watching porn will improve your sex life. The mountain of evidence available shows that porn makes your sex life a lot worse.

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.  You can find the original version of this artical here.

Comments

  • Mark Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:57 PM

    Whether it harms society or not (it does) isn't the right question. Augustine said: "Suppress prostitution, and capricious lusts will overthrow society." What did he mean? Aquinas said: "Prostitution in the towns is like the cesspool in the palace: take away the cesspool and the palace will become an unclean and evil-smelling place." What did he mean?

    In any case, pornography is blamed for everything under the sun. It’s the perfect vice to use as a cosmic scapegoat for anything and everything, and it’s a very safe thing to do since it’s assumed no one will argue for fear of seeming to defend it. No, brain studies don’t tell us any more about pornography than they do about speaking French or enjoying a sunrise, and they never will. People have forgotten there has been erotic literature since ancient times and that the Victorians had pornographic novels.

    I won’t here offer my view on why most forms of escapism and fantasy are perfectly fine with most evangelical Christian leaders and fly under their radar; why they seemingly pile so much of their disapproval onto a single issue. But I'll point out the irony that piling such an expansive litany of problems onto “pornography”, in effect virtually to subsume major traditional classifications of sin into one, is itself a display of the felt impotence of Christian leaders. It’s a blindness to the reality of what humans are, and what society in a fallen world must be. It is exceedingly harmful. There’s no evidence for the assertions of the type recounted above; no reason to believe them outside the echo chamber.

    www.psychologytoday.com/blog/women-who-stray/201308/erectile-dysfunction-myth

  • Mark Feb. 21, 2017 at 11:30 PM

    I see I neglected to quote what I was responding to:

    >> It also has a direct link to erectile dysfunction. Right now 1/3 of men under 30 have erectile dysfunction.

    There is no credible evidence for either of those supposed memes. Of course it's not true that "watching porn will improve your sex life", but alarmist and exaggerated statements such as the one above are just as false. Surely we owe those seeking the truth better than this.

  • John D. Foubert, Ph.D. Feb. 22, 2017 at 9:49 AM

    Thank you for these comments, Mark. For your benefit, and the benefit of others I will provide you with more information so that you -- and others who may be reading this -- can factor it into your thinking.

    I have researched sexual violence for 25 years and pornography for 10. Most recently, I read about 150 peer reviewed journal articles, 30 books, interviewed a dozen scholars who study pornograhy, and interviewed 24 people whose lives have been directly impacted by pornography. I learned a lot, and through publishing How Pornography Harms; I hope others will learn a lot about the data on the harms of pornography. In the case of what I said to Dr. McDowell in the blog above, all of my comments come from studies that passed the rigors of peer review. I note that Psychology Today is not a peer reviewed source. In my view, they publish what people want to hear so they can sell magazines.

    The evidence I find credible regarding pornography and erectile dysfunction is, in my view as a scholar, conclusive. Data on erectile dysfunction over time shows a dramatic pattern, with a massive increase after Internet pornography became widely available. The earliest data, from the late 1940s, found that less than 1% of men under 30 and less than 3% of men between 30 and 45 experienced erectile dysfunction (ED). The next large-scale study was published in 1999 based on data from 1992, when print pornography was more widely available than before, but Internet pornography did not yet exist. In 1992, 7% of men age 18-29 and 9% of men age 30-39 experienced ED. An important part of that study to note is the finding that men age 50-59 were over three times more likely to experience ED than men 18-29. Thus, older men experienced much more ED than younger men. Then the Internet was invented; with it came affordable and anonymous access to pornography on smaller and increasingly more portable screens. Several recent studies now show that between 26% and 33% of young men experience ED.

    The citations for these studies are as follows:
    Kinsey, A.C., Pomeroy, W.B., & Martin, C.E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male.  Philadelphia: WB Saunders.

    Laumann, E.O., Paik, A., & Rosen, R.C. (1999). Sexual dysfunction in the United States: Prevalence and predictors. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281(6), 537-544.

    O’Sullivan, L.F., Brotto, L.A., Byers, E.S., Majerovich, J.A., Weust, J.A. (2014). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual functioning among sexually experienced mid to late adolescents. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11, 630-641.

    Mialon, A., Berchtold, A., Michaud, P.A., Gmel, G. & Suris, J.C. (2012). Sexual dysfunctions among young men: Prevalence and associated factors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51(1), 25-31.

    For part 2 of my comment, please see the next comment.

  • Mark Feb. 22, 2017 at 12:39 PM

    I appreciate your response Dr. Foubert. But if you find Kinsey’s data credible and then leap over fifty years ahead to what could only be reasonably accurate studies for the next data point, I can see how you would see a “massive increase” in ED. The association with Internet porn comes naturally in a sense (timeline.com/from-comic-books-to-video-games-new-forms-of-entertainment-always-get-blamed-for-child-crime-79a61c4c4999#.w8vtcbq4f), but that doesn’t make it valid.

    Kinsey’s methods and data are now discredited. www.crisismagazine.com/2012/kinseys-secret-the-phony-science-of-the-sexual-revolution

    “Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that Kinsey’s statistics were so deeply flawed that no reputable scientific survey has ever been able to duplicate them.”

    Whether impotence was common or not, con men such as John R. Brinkley notoriously initiated booms in male impotence cures in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erectile_dysfunction#History

    >> Several recent studies now show that between 26% and 33% of young men experience ED.

    It may not be apparent from my poorly worded response above, but I wasn't actually disputing this statistic. In fact I cited a Psychology Today article by a psychologist that explains that it's possible the 1/3 figure for ED in young men is accurate. It's even more likely that whatever the number is that it hasn't changed over time. We have no way to know since it has never studied until recently. What I'm disputing is that there has been a large increase *and* that there is a known link between pornography and ED.

    Does it seem slightly odd that our understanding of human nature is now so crude that people think the most effective means of arguing that pornography isn't a part of a virtuous life is to claim men should have better erections than they do? And where are the people bemoaning the sexualization of society when you really need them?

  • John D. Foubert, Ph.D. Feb. 22, 2017 at 3:02 PM

    (Part 2)

    As for what brain studies can show, there are many that show a great deal. Experimental studies involving brain scans show that people addicted to pornography are on a constant quest for novel images, become conditioned and then habituated to the sexual stimuli they masturbate to, usually in private. Such addicted individuals tend to be more anxious, depressed, impulsive, and obsessive-compulsive. Thus, clients or patients who present as anxious or depressed should be asked about their pornography use. The citation for this finding is: Banca, P., Morris, L.S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N.A., Potenza, M.N. & Voon, V. (2016). Conditioning and attentional bias to sexual cues. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 72, 91-101.

    (Please see Part 3 of the comment)

  • John D. Foubert, Ph.D. Feb. 22, 2017 at 3:05 PM

    (Part 3)

    Another thing I learned from reading the neuroscience literature is the research on brain scans. In one experiment, the brains of men were scanned while they viewed porn. When neurologists looked at their brain imaging scans, men’s brains reacted to women as if they were objects, not people. This is important because it is the process of dehumanizing a person that makes violence against them much more acceptable. Citations for this are: Eberstadt, M. & Layden, M.A. (2010). The social costs of pornography: A statement of findings and recommendations. Princeton, NJ: The Witherspoon Institute.
    Haslam, N., & Loughnan, S. (2014). Dehumanization and infrahumanization. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 399-423.

    (Please see part 4)

  • John D. Foubert, Ph.D. Feb. 22, 2017 at 3:10 PM

    (Part 4)

    Finally, I point you to the results of 62 of the studies I have reviewed -- no room in a brief fact sheet for all of them, but at the link below, you'll find a great deal of information to inform your perspective. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    (Please see link in Final Comment)

  • John D. Foubert, Ph.D. Feb. 22, 2017 at 3:28 PM

    (Final Comment)

    It seems that a direct link to the webpage can not be submitted through this commenting section. However, here is how you can access the page that has the results of the studies I have reviewed:

    - Visit my website, www.johnfoubert.com
    - Hover over the "HOW PORN HARMS" tab at the top of the page
    - Click on "Porn Research Fact Sheet."

  • Mark Feb. 22, 2017 at 9:04 PM

    I've looked at your site professor, and I must say it's an interesting vocation you have. Statistics are always dicey to judge, but something tells me there's a high correlation between those who:

    -believe 1 in 4 women are raped or sexually assaulted in college
    -believe internet pornography has caused a massive increase in erectile disfunction in young men
    -give lectures about "trauma-informed responses to Title IX violations"

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” ― Upton Sinclair

  • John Foubert Feb. 23, 2017 at 9:01 AM

    Mark,

    I believe in peer reviewed data. I don't believe in personal attacks, particularly in a public forum. I hope you find answers to your questions and peace in your heart.

    John

  • Mark Feb. 23, 2017 at 12:13 PM

    Professor, I have not personally attacked you. Since you're quick to claim the mantle of scholarship, you should realize the responsibilities that are supposed to come with it.

    We are arguing over a point (young men's ED rates over time) that can only be argued for by citing non-peer reviewed data (Kinsey) since there is no other earlier data to make the historical comparison. So that's what you've done. You're trying to have it both ways. You want to extol your faith in peer-reviewed scientific studies while staking arguments on non-peer reviewed studies, even studies not deemed scientific at all reasonably accepted standards. It's entirely fair to say Kinsey's work has been discredited since before I was born. Kinsey was not a dispassionate scientist seeking the truth.

    www.canonandculture.com/alfred-kinsey-a-brief-summary-and-critique

  • JD Feb. 23, 2017 at 1:00 PM

    Thank you John Foubert for your article. Your research, along with your data, resonates profoundly with me.

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