New research has added another reason for the trend of young adults delaying marriage: substituting easy access to pornography on the Internet for intimacy with a real person.
The study, sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Labor, a private economic research institute based in Germany, found that men who view pornography are less likely to be married than men who do not.
“We think that the study makes a convincing argument: Pornography increases the alternatives for sexual gratification,” said Michael Malcolm, 33, an associate professor of economics at West Chester University of Pennsylvania who co-authored the research to be published sometime this year in the Eastern Economic Journal.
Therapists and advocates agree that pornography provides a false and damaging sense of gratification that can drive those addicted to the content to a life of isolation and loneliness.
"They are afraid that if they are truthful (about their pornography addiction) their partner will find it disgusting," said Wendy Maltz, a licensed clinical social worker for more than 40 years, a certified sex therapist and co-author of The Porn Trap.
Malcolm teamed up with George Naufal, a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor and a technical director at Timberlake Consultants, a global company that distributes statistical and research software, to complete the study.
Malcolm said they came upon the idea to research the effect of pornography on marriage while discussing studies that showed how men caught soliciting prostitutes were asked why they would take that risk. The research found those men said going to a prostitute was easier than maintaining a committed relationship with a woman.
“We thought, ‘I wonder if the same thing is true of pornography? We should do a paper on it,’ ” Malcolm recalled.
The pair used data from the General Social Survey that had responses to questions on how many hours men spent on the Internet and the content they viewed such as sports, finances and pornography. They analyzed data from about 1,500 men, ages 18 to 35, and found pornography to be one of the strongest variables that correlated to whether a man was married or not.
“If you take two men who have nearly the exact income, religiosity and education level and compared them, the one that views pornography will be 6 percent less likely to marry,” Malcolm said.
“The zinger is that in 2013, men ages 25 to 34 were six times less likely to have never been married than in 1970. And men ages 35 to 44 are four times more likely not to have been married,” said Malcolm, relating that same time frame to the evolution of the Internet and the availability of pornography.
He clarified that while some men who view pornography are less likely to get married, that does not indicate that those men will never marry.
That delay in marriage is particularly acute among 18 to 32 year-olds, according to Pew Research Center. In the survey, Pew reported that the 69 percent of umarried millennials said they would like to marry but lacked what they saw as a "solid economic foundation" to make that commitment.
Malcolm agreed that the entry into marriage is “extremely complex” and that pornography is likely a “small piece of the decline in marriage."
He noted that aside from pornography, he and Naufal recognize that there are other factors such as changes in the labor market, social demographics, legal changes and more.
Pornography and real relationships
Maltz said pornography serves as a warped sexual outlet that is no longer just entertainment and a fantasy.
“It is becoming a product that actually competes with the real thing, with a real partner. It is creating havoc for a good chunk of people in their dating, mating and early sexual development,” Maltz explained. "It is a relatively new phenomena.”
Maltz said that those using pornography as a sexual outlet might have a hard time being motivated or interested in having a real, human partner. Sexually relating to a human partner takes effort, while looking at a screen doesn't.
“(A real, human sexual relationship) is not on demand, it is not at anytime or anyplace as like their cellphone or computer," Maltz said. "They have to be sensitive to another person's feelings, there is often disappointment, feelings of sexual inadequacy, and strangely enough pornography seems to generate feelings of inadequacy.”
In addition, pornography also creates shame and confusion for users, who tend to isolate themselves from relationships because they are afraid to get involved with someone if their addiction is serious or to tell their partner about it, said Maltz.
“The bottom-line is people need to choose on their own to recognize if they have a problem and that they do not want pornography to take over their life," she said. When they do make that choice "their self–esteem improves, their anxiety lifts, and they are more present and happier.”
Breaking the addiction
Clay Olsen, the executive director and co-founder of Fight The New Drug, warns that pornography use makes people develop a disordered sexual template, and soon the problems that arise from pornography use start to manifest themselves in relationships.
“The whole dating scene has changed because of pornography,” said Olsen.
“I got contacted by a girl two nights ago. She was in a great relationship with her high school sweetheart. She had asked him about pornography use and he has told her no. Then right before they were about to be married he admitted he had a long-term pornography problem,” said Olsen.
The eroding trust and severity of the pornography problem caused the couple to break up and the marriage never happened, he said.
“Pornography is a third wheel in relationships that always wins," Olsen said. "It is the tangible human that is the one who pays the price. They cannot coexist.”
Despite the negative consequences of pornography, Olsen said, professional help through a therapist, a counselor or an online program can offer hope for those who want to break a pornography habit.
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