The damaging effects of pornography are well known and documented. It hurts relationships, sets up unrealistic sexual and gendered expectations, and it’s addictive. Both genders have experienced pornography addictions, but in one study, nearly 9 out of 10 young men reported using pornography whereas only 3 out of 10 women reported using it (Carroll). By almost every measure, men use pornography more than women. What we’re not talking about enough is why? Why are men more susceptible to pornographic addictions? And is there anything we can do about it?
One reason men are more susceptible to pornography is our cultural stereotypes. A few adjectives stereotypically associated with men are: confident, courageous, independent, unemotional, dominant, and strong (Lips 7). In order for a man to feel masculine in our society, he shouldn’t need help and he should always be strong and unemotional. These beliefs can be adopted either consciously or subconsciously which means some men might not even be aware of the pressure they put on themselves to live up to these expectations (Jost 498). A man who adopts the belief that he should be independent and unemotional could be making himself ripe for developing addictions by isolating himself from social support networks.
With any difficult emotion like: stress, depression, loneliness or anxiety, people will look for ways to alleviate the discomfort they feel. In the absence of friends or loved ones to turn to in difficult circumstances, people will often turn to temporary distractions like drugs, alcohol and pornography (Young 25). In the last 20 years, our close social support networks have decreased by almost a third. Nearly half the population now says they have either no one or only one close friend or family member they can discuss important matters with (McPherson 6). Combine this lack of emotional support with the ease of instant, anonymous access to pornography on our mobile devices and pornography is quickly becoming a drug of convenience.
Pornography causes a host of social problems for both users and their partners (Young 23). In order to change the stereotype to make men more resilient to the lure of pornography, we need to teach boys strategies for: making friends, reaching out for support and healthy stress management techniques. We need to identify, with the help of our boys, admirable men in our immediate communities and in society at large who rely on real people for emotional support; men with the courage to live counter to the stereotype. We also need to identify, with the participation of our boys, misleading messages in the media (Smith). In short, we need to dramatically change the conversations we are having about what it means to be a “real man”.
Once someone believes it is socially acceptable to reach out for help and they begin to build a network of people they can turn to in times of distress, the temptation to use pornography as a drug to numb distressing feelings will decrease.