Skip to main content

The Naked Truth About Pornography

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Chris Grace: Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff: And I'm Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace: We get to come to you on a regular basis talking about things, all things related to relationships. Tim, we've been doing a series now talking about sexuality, sexuality that we all process and deal with various aspects, whether we're single, dating, married, and some of the health and some of the unhealth associated with this topic. It's been a good series.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: It's been fun to talk about because it is so germane to what's going on in our culture today. Today, Tim, I think it would be good to talk about in general pornography, its use, and then, in particular, the impact for many of our listeners who might have a more religious component to their makeup and they see this as a spiritual issue that can be of huge consequences for our church, for our young people out there. Let's continue to talk to them.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. I think you have some amazing statistics about how this is relevant for Christians, non-Christians, how it really has become a cultural issue for us.

Chris Grace: It is. We can just start with some of those numbers. We now know, of course, that a mobile device today allows us to stream services, push online content anytime, anywhere 24/7, now, starting basically even in the last eight, seven years now that tech and porn addictions are entering into our cultural and clinical conversations. Right?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: This is where we are beginning to see conversations going on that not only is the church concerned but society in general, those who you wouldn’t expect. Maybe some of those academicians that aren't religious are beginning to say this is having a negative impact.

Tim Muehlhoff: Sure.

Chris Grace: Some of those numbers, Tim, that we're looking at, 10 years ago there was some research that was saying by today, this year in '18, they expected 250 million people to be able to access adult content on their phones and tablets, which is an increase of over 30% just from four years ago.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.

Chris Grace: Globally, the billions, pornographic images and videos and stories that are downloaded or purchased or watched, it pales in comparison to just even your regular Hollywood slate of films, porn films. The numbers are tremendous when it comes to what's being produced out there and watched.

Tim, when you hear this number ... Barna, back in 2014, did a survey and found that among 18- to 30-year-olds, three out of every four men and women view pornography at least once a month and 63% of men and 21% of women say that they view pornography at least several times a week, and their first average age of exposure is around 12.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh.

Chris Grace: What do you do? What comes to mind when you think about these kinds of statistics and the shift on culture?

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, having raised three boys, it's just frightening to think age 12. My goodness. I was exposed to it at age 13, so I have a little bit of a frame of reference for that. I have a good friend of mine who's a child psychologist, and he said, "Tim, it used to be that you could lock the liquor cabinet, and just put a lock on that thing and nobody's getting in." He said, "Now, with technology, that liquor cabinet is almost impossible to lock when it comes to social media, when it comes to pornography."

The thought that my kids have been exposed to it, regardless of how hard Noreen and I try to lock the electronic liquor cabinet ... My friend said to me, he said, "Tim, I can guarantee you your boys have seen it and have interacted with it." That’s kind of just sad to me that ... Add to it, a lot of parents and a lot of churches are leery. This is what's ironic, Chris. We're leery to talk about sex because we don’t want to put those thoughts in the minds of our kids, so we don’t talk about it, and at the same time, kids are getting exposed to it with phones that we buy them for Christmas and birthdays. The sex conversation is happening nationally, and your kids are getting a sex education. It just depends on who's giving it to them.

Chris Grace: There's a fact, Tim, of data transferred across the Internet, of all the data transferred across the Internet, 35% is pornographic.

Tim Muehlhoff: My gosh.

Chris Grace: That’s over $100 billion is their annual expected global revenue for the porn industry. They are getting this. I remember this fact stood out to me that porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined.

Tim Muehlhoff: No way. Say that again. Say that again. I find that so disturbing.

Chris Grace: Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined.

Tim Muehlhoff: That’s crazy.

Chris Grace: When we think about the ubiquitousness of things like Netflix and Amazon, you're thinking, how can it exceed that? Tim, we have a-

Tim Muehlhoff: How good are you as a parent if you're not safeguarding against it?

Chris Grace: No.

Tim Muehlhoff: Add to it, you and I travel.

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: We go into a hotel room when we're traveling by ourselves, and there's the television and there's the movies that you can rent in your room and there's always that adult option. What's the thing it says on the bottom? "The title of this movie will not appear on the bill."

Chris Grace: Mm. Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Even if we're being ... These temptations are everywhere.

Chris Grace: Yep.

Tim Muehlhoff: We're going to have to find out how to resist them, but before we even get to that, Chris, we need to ask a big question, because this gets thrown around all the time. Struggles with pornography, addictions to pornography. I think the language starts to become meaningless.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: A lot of people are dealing with false guilt in some ways-

Chris Grace: Yeah, for sure.

Tim Muehlhoff: ... saying, "Oh, my gosh, I'm addicted."

Chris Grace: Sure.

Tim Muehlhoff: We don’t want to minimize struggles with porn, but at the same time ... This is what I appreciate with you is your background as a psychologist. Addiction's a big word and it has a lot of ramifications. We need clarity.

Chris Grace: Well, yeah, we do, Tim. I think a lot of listeners and others who may be personally dealing with this or have friends, colleagues, spouses, children who are processing and dealing with the struggle here, what does it mean? What is the difference? We know in general that porn ruins relationships. That’s a fact. We could point to different research that says pornography use in relationship, it lowers the romantic commitment in both men and women.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: Okay. Porn use says more men are likely to cheat on their partners when they use porn.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.

Chris Grace: The divorce rate doubles when a partner starts watching porn. There's all of these findings, and so the question is, is this pointing to just struggles? Is this pointing to addictions, or is there something that we can use in that type of medical model or that type of brain model that parallels or looks like an addiction? Or is this more like a compulsion, which is also very difficult?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Grace: We'll talk some about that.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Before we get to that, I like what you said, that porn is destroying relationships, but here's what's really insidious about porn, is that it destroys future relationships.

Chris Grace: Yes, that’s right.

Tim Muehlhoff: I want to read to you a quote. On my Pandora I have a whole section of music, John Mayer music. I really think he's a gifted artist. It shocked me when I came across an interview that he did, and he was quite honest in this interview. I want to read you this quote, not about a relationship that he's in, but what this is going to do to future relationships. Listen to what he says, Chris, "Pornography, you wake up in the morning, open a thumbnail page, and it leads to a Pandora's box of visuals. There have probably been days when I saw 300 women before I got out of bed. Internet pornography has absolutely changed my generation's expectations.

"You're looking for the one photo out of 100 you swear is going to be the photo, but you still keep looking. Twenty seconds ago, you thought that that photo was the hottest thing you ever saw, but you throw it away. How does that not affect the psychology of having a relationship with somebody when you're looking at photograph after photograph after photograph after photograph and you're not content because you're thinking there could be one more?"

Chris Grace: Yep.

Tim Muehlhoff: I appreciate his honesty. How does that not affect the fact that we actually settle down with a flesh-and-blood person, like, "Oh, my gosh, there's something better out there"? That’s going to mess with us in big ways.

Chris Grace: It is. Tim, I think about a quote I saw recently by an author, Naomi Wolf, who said, "Today, real naked women are just bad porn."

Tim Muehlhoff: I know. That’s an amazing quote.

Chris Grace: What that means is, is that men are, and women, are struggling with even consequences such as their lower level of physical attraction and intimacy in their current relationships when they are using porn.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. I came across a interesting statistic. Guess who is a huge market for Viagra? Porn stars.

Chris Grace: Oh.

Tim Muehlhoff: Think about that. Right? What it takes to arouse a person becomes higher and higher and higher and higher and higher, and these adult actors and actresses no longer ... I love that quote by Naomi Wolf, "A naked woman is just bad porn." That’s it? Just nakedness? It needs more than that. That’s dangerous territory to get into.

Chris Grace: Yeah. Well, we know that porn has an impact, and, Tim, you were alluding to that and what it does in the brain. There is a small plug for a book by Gary Wilson called Your Brain on Porn, and the subtitle is Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction. If any listeners are interested in what's going on at that level, it's called, again, Your Brain on Porn. Because I think, Tim, there's some concerns that we know frequent porn use leads to areas of different or bad health outcomes or poor mental health outcomes, depression, whatever it is. Also, some of this idea that it's changing who we are at a deeper level and that even moderate use is linked to even things like decreased gray matter in the brain.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: All of these findings that, again, Gary Wilson talks about in this book. We do know depression rates are increased, anxiety rates, stress rates, guilt and shame. Besides that, then the consequences for society, it fuels sex trafficking. Right?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yes. Yep, yep.

Chris Grace: We know that pornography is a contributor to that.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yep.

Chris Grace: One of my teaching assistants here just completed a master's degree and a master's study looking at porn. It's an amazing study and a great research. His name is Paul [Araz 00:11:32], and we're just so grateful for him sharing some of the facts and findings that he did in his master's study, talking and looking at what addicted means and what is being ashamed and why online pornography can be harmful for relationships. It's a great study. It's going to be published here soon in an academic journal.

Tim, let's talk a little bit about this then, and I think one thing that you brought up that we need to ask is this. What does it mean to be addicted to and what are the findings on struggling? We put together a little handout that listeners can go to our website,, and just look up our ... We had a blog on Am I Addicted? We get that question a lot.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: We know that people are struggling with this, men and women, in staggering rates, and the question they have is, "Is this something that’s akin to an addiction? It feels like I can't stop. My friend can't stop, and I wonder." We put together a scale that should help. It's called a Struggling Scale, and it's about compulsive and addictive behavior. Tim, they should go download it, look at it. It talks about different levels.

At level one, we would say a person who is ... By the way, 40% of people say they are just exposed to pornography through popup ads or something else on the Internet on a regular basis. If that’s happening to you, you don't pay attention to it, you ignore it, you delete it. You're almost unable to completely avoid this, it's nearly impossible, but your exposure is limited and you're not experiencing guilt or shame in these kinds of situations. You're in level one.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: There's no concerns. Your issues aren't that significant. Now level two, you are beginning to show some struggles in this area. I won't go through all the levels, but just to give you a sense, level two would be your unplanned or maybe at some mental moments of impurity. There are different ... Maybe you're landing on a neurotic site or exploring content, but it's more fluky. It doesn’t reoccur any time. It's not critical.

Tim Muehlhoff: It's not premeditated

Chris Grace: It's not premeditated, and there's some shame and guilt people begin to feel, but it's not kind of outside of what is common when dealing with sinful behavior in general. We would say, ah, level two. Well, then we go through all the different levels. I would suggest listeners look at that because it begins to explore at certain levels. When you get to level five, for example, there's some growing compulsions. You're doing this every day. If you're watching and looking for things like this every day, you're in the unhealthy range.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: Compulsions are now taking over, and even the addictive potential is stronger. You're thinking about this. You might even be thinking about activity with someone other than your married partner. Your life is beginning to almost lead this feeling of a double life, and then conversations maybe in chat rooms can turn sexual or engage in virtual sex. This is at a mid-level, a path towards compulsions and sexual addictions. Tim, we recommend things like accountability groups-

Tim Muehlhoff: Sure.

Chris Grace: ... and group counseling and professional therapy even at these level stages, because then it just gets worse to the end.

Tim Muehlhoff: Sure.

Chris Grace: Tim, I think these are all ways in which listeners can identify and they have concerns in these areas.

Tim Muehlhoff: Level five is this person is deeply struggling, is becoming compulsive, but you would not say level five is an addiction yet.

Chris Grace: No. I think this is where a lot of ... I think it's a great question. A lot of researchers in the area of addiction struggle to say that that would be an addiction. It may be a beginning compulsion where you're doing this every day, but it doesn’t meet some criteria for addiction. It does begin to show a growing potential-

Tim Muehlhoff: Right. Right, right, right.

Chris Grace: ... that you're heading that way, usually when it involves not just these maybe daily behaviors of thinking about activity or going onto websites. Oftentimes, addictions are when there's more sexualized behavior such as prostitution or going out and having sex outside of marriage on a more regular basis that you can't stop.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right, right.

Chris Grace: This compulsion gets to where you're not ... Then you're growing in the likelihood of addictions, levels six, seven, and eight.

Tim Muehlhoff: Level five, this person could theoretically stop.

Chris Grace: The idea is that they could theoretically stop the compulsion, but it's not easy to do.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Grace: Shame now comes in. By the way, the research that Paul Araz and some other faculty here at Biola did began to look at when is this addictive behavior? Is it just perceived addiction? When a person perceives what they're doing is an addiction versus an actual addiction, it still impacts their views, their feelings of shame and guilt, and so they do a good job at kind of linking that.

Questions we have, what's the link between pornography, mental health, and spirituality? Right? Those are questions that other people have explored, including in their research, that a lot of people who came at this from a religious perspective feel addicted.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right. Right, right.

Chris Grace: It's a perceived addiction because a lot of the shame, and that is just as strong as if they had an actual addiction, and that’s what a lot of this research uncovered.

Tim Muehlhoff: So the eyes of the beholder.

Chris Grace: I think that’s right.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Grace: I think that’s where guilt comes in and shame comes in. Again, Tim ... Sorry, go ahead.

Tim Muehlhoff: That’s huge. That’s huge for a couple, and it's huge for a single individual to say, "Okay, level ..." Again, we are not condoning level five. We're saying level five is sin, but there's a big difference between feeling like, "Okay, I'm addicted. I have no hope of getting out on my own. It's just one dark tunnel," to, "Okay, I have a significant compulsive struggle on my hands right now. I'm going to really need to take help to get me out of it."

We would say that person in the true addiction, it's time to bring the professionals, it's time to ... This is going to be incredibly difficult for a person to break this habit, this addiction, on his or her own. These levels, to me, are incredibly helpful with our precision of language, because there are some people ... Again, we're saying if you're looking at porn once a week, that’s not good.

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: That’s sin-

Chris Grace: Yep.

Tim Muehlhoff: ... and it's going to have ripple effects. We have to be able to say to people, "But, listen, knowing how much porn you were exposed to as a kid, knowing your background, the fact that you do this once a week is good, good in the sense with your background, I would expect you to be at a level six or seven. The fact that you're fighting this and it's coming up once a week ..." See, with people with porn, to my estimation, Chris, we never give them good news. You're a loser because you looked at it once a week. I want to say to a person who maybe went from looking at it four times a week to once a week, I want to encourage them in the right direction, because it's going to be hard just to wipe it away all at once, cold turkey.

Chris Grace: Yeah. Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: We've got to find ways of encouraging people in their struggle that they're making strides, though the activity's still happening and ultimately we would want it to be gone. Let's find ways to encourage people or it's just like you throw your hands up in the air and you say, "Well, I'm just a loser because I looked at it once this week."

Chris Grace: Yeah, I think, Tim, what you're trying to kind of articulate is this idea that a lot of them ... Somebody who's struggling on a once-a-week basis will oftentimes perceive themselves as addicted-

Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.

Chris Grace: ... and unable to stop, and maybe the good news is, "While this is a growing compulsion and struggle, one that is sin, one that you do need to take care of, you aren't unable to. There is help for you, and you need to continue the struggle, flee from sexual immorality, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians, and as you do that, take heart. There are ways in which this can be overcome. This shouldn’t define you. Just like any other sins that we struggle with, there's help out there, and this isn't necessarily as if your brain is addicted. It's growing in concern at these levels."

Tim Muehlhoff: Here's the hope I want to offer people, so let's for a second, let's take the focus off of porn and let's put it on anger. If somebody comes to us, a listener called in and said, "Okay, I have a anger issue. I struggle with anger. It used to be I'd get, I'd have an angry outburst every single day. I would just lay into my spouse. I'd lay into co-workers, family members, and I'd feel horrible about that, but ..." Then they come to us for help.

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: A month later, this person says, "You know what? I had three angry outbursts this week." See, the danger we get into with porn is we look at the person who has the anger issue and says, "Well, man, that’s horrible. It's horrible three times you’ve been angry this week." But let's say six months from now, the person comes up and says, "You know what? I still feel bad, but once a week, I have an angry outburst."

We would look at that guy and say, "Listen, where you’ve come from, listen, I get it. We all struggle with anger and stuff like that, so listen, it is commendable that you're not having an angry outburst once a week. We want you to get to zero. That'd be a great place to be in your work, in your marriage, in your relationships, but listen, let's celebrate a little bit."

I think you and I would do that with anger in a heartbeat. Right?

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: But with porn, we feel weird saying, "No. You looked at it once this week. Brother, that’s not good. That’s horrible, and you could get victory right now." That’s the kind of narrative I'd feel a little ... Does that make sense?

Chris Grace: Yeah, it does. I think, Tim, that notion that we are all moving and progressing in our walks with the Lord in a variety of ways, the sanctification process is sending us to a point, to a goal, to a place where sin becomes less and less frequent in our lives.

There are different seasons in this, and so for some, given where they’ve been, given what their experience, given who they are, given some of the ... To show that there's progress being made and they're not going to be defeated in this just by simply messing up this particular time, that it's too quickly for shame to have these negative, strong impact on some people, that they need to be able to say, "Hold on here. Yes, I want to confess this. Yes, this is not good, and yes, I want to get better. However, I am moving forward in a way that God is pleased with by being more and more sanctified."

Is that what you're trying to get at?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Gluttony, so a person has an eating problem. Now again, we would say, "Hey, there's eating addictions." But let's say a person is at level five with this gluttony and came in, "Sometimes I handle stress by just binge eating." Then, we'd look at that person and say, "Okay. Let's work on this," and so the person says, "Hey, I think I'm down to twice a week I now binge eat." It's like, "Okay. Hey, listen. We want to get you to a place where you're managing food in a healthy way." If the only thing we say to a person with gluttony is, "Hey, come talk to me when you’ve got this under wraps. Once a month is too much. Once a week is too much." Then, that person is just going to say, "Well, forget it. I can't go from there to one in one fell swoop."

I think we need to offer the same hope to people in porn, is that God does celebrate these efforts. Even if you take a step back every once in awhile, God ... Now I think there are different sins. If the porn has led to, "Okay, I'm only going to see a prostitute once this week," I think you and I would say, "Okay, brother, you're not at a five."

Chris Grace: Don't celebrate that.

Tim Muehlhoff: "This isn't a five. We're down the line. It's time to get immediate help." There are different lines, but here's what Satan wants to do. Satan wants us to think a line has been crossed at level two. You can't go back. When I deal with men with porn, the shame, Chris, is, "I've crossed the line. I cannot ever go back." I want to say, "Nope. You're not getting that from the New Testament. The New Testament says you can ... The prodigal son, you can always come back. God runs to you when you do come back."

Chris Grace: That’s right.

Tim Muehlhoff: That kind of message. I think spouses need to hear that.

Chris Grace: Yeah. I think it's a healthy, good message. That’s why we put the scale together and we have it on there, so they might want to go look at this. Tim, I think ...

Tim Muehlhoff: As a couple look at it. I think it would be great to-

Chris Grace: Yep.

Tim Muehlhoff: ... say this.

Chris Grace: We had a couple recently called. He has been struggling an area. The wife knew this, or at least sensed there might be something going on, wasn’t sure. Actually found the scale, looked at it, had the conversation with her husband, and she said it really opened up both of their conversations around this issue. They both were able to figure out, okay. It made it more understandable and manageable in some respects when they identified where they were and what was going on.

Tim, I think that’s right. The reason this is so important is because it has such an impact on our relationships just like anger does or any other sin that can impair our ability to get along or feel intimacy with somebody else. Each of these types of things need to be taken seriously, but I think your point is a good one. There are ways to do this.

Tim Muehlhoff: Let me ask you a quick follow-up question about the chart. I love the idea of a couple sitting down, looking at the chart together but then you throw in your two cents. I'll throw in mine. Let's say the husband realizes, "Okay, I'm at a four. I'm at a five." Should the wife be the accountability partner as he's trying to move back, to get to a three, a two, and basically get over this issue? What's your estimation of whether the spouse should be the accountability partner?

Chris Grace: Sure.

Tim Muehlhoff: There's disagreements about this. I'm curious.

Chris Grace: No. That’s a great question. I'll throw in my two cents' worth, and it's we both would say that in a dating relationship, the answer is they should not uphold this other person. That is, I think in a dating relationship if you found out that you're dating someone who's struggling with this, you could encourage them, but they need to seek out somebody probably that they can walk alongside and that they're not injuring this relationship.

In a marital relationship, I lean towards, to this. I would say that revealing to your spouse and talking about this, that there is an issue is very important. Some spouses are going to say, "I don’t want anymore details other than to know that you're struggling and that you are getting help by talking to X person or Y, and they're holding you accountable. I'm good enough with that.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: I think some marriages, some spouses just say, "I trust them enough. I know they're doing this. That’s good enough for me." In other situations, they might say, "I need a little bit more information because I don’t think you're doing this." It kind of depends upon the support network around them. I guess as a general rule, I lean more towards having a support network around you that can walk with you in this and hold you accountable rather than a spouse, because I think it brings up some hard relationship dynamics and emotions in the other person, and that might be hard for them to remain objective and helpful. It probably depends on the marriage, but that’s my two cents.

Tim Muehlhoff: I would agree with you it depends on the marriage. I lean towards not having the spouse for this reason. If I'm holding you accountable, Chris, I don’t necessarily take it personally when you stumble, when you struggle. I think a spouse, particularly the wife, takes this personally, "You are not satisfied with me, my body, or intimacy. That’s why you're going to porn." I would say to our female listeners, porn is an incredibly complex topic. It is not because the man per se is, "I'm just not satisfied with our sex life." Very seldom is that the reason that men are going to porn, and even a lot of men don’t understand why they're going to porn.

I would be leery of a wife saying, "No, no. I want to be your accountability partner," because if a line does get crossed and let's say a year from now, she's frustrated with him, "My goodness, a year from now and we're still struggling with this, and I've heard some things that I can't unheard, now I feel like it's too much. I'm going to bow out, but what do I do with all the information I just gleaned from this past year?" That concerns me. I do like your idea that it's couple-by-couple, but before a couple makes this decision that she's going to be his accountability partner, I'd want some outside counsel, whether that’s a good idea and whether this spouse, this female can handle it in a way. It's a complex decision who the accountability partner's going to be.

Chris Grace: I think that’s good, Tim. I'm reminded of a line from this research we were talking about that, again, when we get that up and when it gets published, all that, we'll let people know when this is out. They mention in their study that compulsive sexual behaviors and frequent porn us may develop from an inability to tolerate intimacy and/or difficulty expressing and regulating emotions, and that’s why having a spouse to be your accountability partner can be so hard is because this is about a relationship of intimacy with each other, and now they're bringing up way more than just a behavior. It's something that’s influences this relation.

Tim, we need to talk next, on our next program, about what to do now.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yes. Yep.

Chris Grace: How do we spiritually attack this? How do we ... What are some tools? What do you think? Should we do that next time?

Tim Muehlhoff: I love it. That’s a great idea.

Chris Grace: Well, it's been a difficult-

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: ... but important topic. We're glad to have you listen with us. You can, again, go to, the Center for Marriage and Relationships, and check out not only the scale, but some of our other resources out there. We'll keep talking about this, and let's do it on the next program.

Tim Muehlhoff: Okay.