Today, technological and Internet advances have brought about some severe consequences, including the rise and exponential growth of online pornography sites. One effect of this has been a high level of exposure and even addiction to such sites. Consequences have included depression, loss of work, social withdrawal, and the like. Since it is unlikely that Internet pornography will disappear, individuals and groups need to focus on mitigating addiction, unwanted exposure, and negative consequences. Researchers should focus their efforts on investigating the nature of Internet pornography and its varied consequences for individuals. Only by understanding the negative consequences associated with Internet pornography can we fight these and ensure our growth and survival as a healthy society.
In today's world of technology and advancement, it is a sad fact of human nature that we do not derive only benefits and productive work from the wonderful progress we have made in terms of information and the online world. Indeed, many have succumbed to the addictive nature of sites that encourage time-wasting and economically harmful activities. In addition, there has been a growing online industry that caters not only for gaming, gambling and similar addictions, but also for even more socially and personally harmful practices such as sex and pornography addictions. Indeed, according to authors such as Mowlabocus (2010, p. 69), the online environment has not only enabled a vast increase of porn availability to an increasingly addicted public, but the creators and owners of these sites have also made it their concern to create business and economic models to ensure the future of their industry. The outcome of all this is potential harms to members of the public within all age groups. Although a large amount of research attention has been focused on Internet pornography and its effect on the youth, this group is not the only affected by the ability to watch porn in the privacy of their homes and at the touch of a button. Indeed, some of its effects have spread to marital relationships and even the workplace. With this undeniable increase in the popularity and availability of Internet pornography, the importance of researching it towards a deeper understanding of its various effects on the public, human relationships, the workplace, and even the physical body, cannot be ignored.
The Nature of the Industry
According to Crosby and Twohig (2010), easy and cheap access to the Internet has also meant easy and cheap access to pornography Web sites. The authors estimate that, at the time of their publication, some 12% of the Internet was made up of pornography, while 13% of the population in the United States chose to regularly access and view such sites. According to Wetterneck et al. (2012), the industry has grown to an estimate of 13 billion dollars, where nearly 50% of all uses for the Internet by the population is associated with sexual or sexually associated online material.
Crosby and Twohig (2010) also quote statistics to the effect that 75% of those who regularly accessed pornography on the Internet were male. The majority of young males (67%) and a little less than half of female respondents (49%) in another quoted study reported that they regarded viewing pornography as an acceptable practice, while the remainder of respondents found it unacceptable. What makes this interesting from a psychological viewpoint is that there is an overlap of the number of male respondents who watched pornography regularly and those who regarded the practice as unacceptable. In other words, of the same group of respondents, 67% of the males, as mentioned, reported finding the practice acceptable, but 87% reported viewing Internet pornography regularly. Hence, 20% of the group both viewed porn regularly and found it unacceptable to do this, which indicates an addiction to a practice that is recognized as harmful, but is nonetheless difficult to resist.
Effects on Individuals
Some of the harmful effects of this addiction includes problematic sexual compulsivity, which was detected in 17% of individuals who reported viewingpornography on the Internet. Related conditions could include depression, while other effects often relate to a person's social, professional and personal relationships, such as romantic relationship difficulties, loss of career or work, decreased productivity, social isolation, and even financial pressures. Viewing can also have moral consequences, where a person who finds the compulsion morally reprehensible could experience low self-esteem and a lack of confidence to interact with others, especially when it comes to sexual and intimate relationships. To these, Wetterneck et al. (2012) add decreased sexual satisfaction and risky sexual behavior as potentially harmful consequences of online porn viewing.
Hence, the nature of consequences and problems when watching pornography on the Internet is not necessarily problematic in an inherent sense, but rather for the effects it has on individuals with specific social, psychological, moral, financial, professional, and other characteristics and needs. In other words, it affects different individuals to different degrees and in varying ways.
For this reason, Wetterneck et al. (2012) cite research that considers Internet pornography usage as an "aspect of sexual addiction," along with its associated characteristics of impulsivity and compulsivity. Indeed, a significant number of those who view online pornography regularly experience some difficulties in one or more areas of their lives, as mentioned above. To quantify this, the authors note that more than half of male Internet pornography users admit to having at least one associated problem in a major area of their lives, such as the workplace (Young and Case, 2011).
It is therefore no secret that many people suffer negative conseuences as a result of viewing porn on the Internet. What is of significant research interest, however, is the specific reasons for such suffering and the inherent nature of individuals who suffer in this way. In other words, it is unclear who suffer as a result of this activity and why they suffer, as opposed to those who do not suffer negative conseuqences. Another signifcant area of research interest is what it means to be a "problematic Internet porn user" and how to conceptualize an identified problem in this regard. Indeed, researchers find it difficult to agree on how much Internet pornography should constitute a problem. This is closely related to the question around which individuals are affected negatively and why. Since it is so clearly an issue of human psychology and nature, the very differential nature of its consequences can be difficult to not only to understand, but also to mitigate.
The Youth and Internet Pornography
The youth is considere a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to Internet porn and its consquences. One of the major reasons for this is that this demographic is often somewhat immature and far from fully developed, either emotionally or sexually. At the same time, newly discovered sexuality in a young person may drive him or her towards seeking sexual content and connections online, which could lead to exploitation in the short-term, or at worst, long-term consequences in terms of romantic, sexual, and intimate relationships.
Because of these widely recognized vulnerabilities, and because of easy and cheap access to Internet porn via varying devices, including mobile phones, the medical establishment, psychologists, the public, Congress and other professional entities, such as even the U.S. Supreme Court, have expressed increased concern with its effects on the youth (Wolak, Mitchell, and Finkelhor, 2007). While there is general consensus that the youth should be shielded from this kind of online content, the authors also note that there are cases of both voluntary and involuntary exposure, each with its own consequences and effects.
The authors cite a 2005 survey, for example, that found 13% of youth within the 10 to 17 age group that voluntarily accessed X-rated Web sites within the space of a year. On the other hand, 34% of youth in the same survey group were involuntarily exposed to X-rated material online. This occurred primarily via search results, misspelled URLs, links within Web sites, pop-up ads, or e-mail sent via spam. The interesting factor here is that, before the general availability of online technology, few youthful people would frequent environments in which they would be involuntarily exposed to pornography and X-rated material. And even for those who were so exposed, the frequency and proportion would not have been more than for those who sought it out purposely.
It is also of concern that the amount of involuntary exposure has risen exponentially, from 25% in 1999 to 34% in 2005 and 42% just two years later, in 2007 when the Wolak, Mitchell and Finkelhor's study was published. This begs for further research into such exposure in more recent years to mitigate both the phenomenon and its consequences for the youth.
The authors offer some hope that two types of prevention efforts could lower the risk of unwanted exposure of the youth to online pornography. One of these is filtering, blocking, or monitoring software. Concerned parents can therefore help their children install this software, or educate them about installing it themselves, which would significantly mitigate, or at least…