Pornography’s effect on relationships is a wild card

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Editor’s note: Concern about the consequences of pornography in Utah has set the Beehive State apart from national trends, as lawmakers grapple with what they have recently labeled as a vice that threatens public health. The Daily Universe explores how the issue impacts Utahns, both politically and personally.

Second in a series.

When Cristina, a Utah college student, started dating her ex-fiancé, he told her at the beginning of their relationship he was addicted to pornography. She was not repulsed by his addiction; rather, she wanted to help him overcome it.

The couple visited a therapist throughout their relationship, to help him work through his pornography addiction. Cristina loved their relationship and was supportive during his so-called addiction recovery. She was unaware of his progress, but optimistic that he would change.

Cristina was ecstatic when he popped the question and accepted his proposal without a second thought. Cristina wanted to make a wedding slide show on one particular evening, but her laptop was dead. Her then-fiancé allowed her to use his laptop for the slideshow. While scrolling through his files for pictures, she opened the wrong folder and found his stashed pornography files.

Cristina was not only upset that he still had pornography, but she was mortified to discover that he sought after borderline child pornography.

“He wasn’t honest with what (his pornography) addiction was,” she said. “He had a fetish with a borderline child-like pornography.”

Cristina called off their engagement after that incident, not only because he lost her trust, but also over the fear that his addiction could lead to illegal behavior.

Under Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, child pornography is defined as “any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age).”

“Visual depictions (of child porn) include photographs, videos, digital or computer-generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor,” it reads.

A recent meta-analysis study involving 22 different studies from seven different countries shows that “individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely thold attitudes conducive to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression than individuals who do not consume pornography or who consume pornography less frequently.”

Longtime Utah residents will remember the case of Arthur Gary Bishop, who sexually assaulted and then killed five young boys. After his conviction, he attributed his crimes to pornography in a letter explaining his motives.

“I am a homosexual pedophile convicted of murder, and pornography was a determining factor in my downfall,” Bishop said in the letter.

Bishop was a former honor student, Eagle Scout and missionary who admitted responsibility for the five sexual assaults and murders carried out from 1979 to 1983. He was executed by lethal injection at the Utah State Prison in 1988.

At the time he committed his crimes, the internet was in its infancy, and Bishop would not have had access to pornography online. He would have had to risk discovery and potential public shaming to obtain the images he craved.

While most pornography users will likely not end up like Bishop, Cristina did not want to risk having a husband who could potentially become addicted to child porn. To feed his addiction, her fiancé had only to click a computer mouse in the privacy of his apartment.

Cristina clarified that none of the models in her former fiancé’s pornography were children, but she said he sought after the youngest-looking models.

Wheelock College professor Gail Dines wrote about niche markets in pornography in her book “Pornland.” On her blog, she described one of the niche porn markets as pseudo-child pornography and how it affects porn users.

“Pseudo-child pornography, which is women who are 18 — I’m pretty sure of that — but they look younger, and they behave in a younger way. So what you have are men who are bored with adult women looking out for these pseudo-child porn sites,” Dines wrote.

Dines interviewed child rapists on the topic of pornography and she said “some of them actually started looking.”

“They didn’t want to go to illegal child pornography, so they started with the legal so-called child pornography, and then basically matured into child pornography. And for some of them, the distance between looking at child pornography and raping a child was six months,” Dines wrote.

Even though it is illegal to obtain or possess child pornography, it can still be found online.

For Cristina, her ex-fiancé’s entire “recovery process” became a waste because he did not admit that he was addicted to child-like pornography.

“I really thought he was trying to make a change,” she said. “He lied to me. Even though he said he was addicted to porn, he never said anything about (child-like) porn. He changed the truth to make it fit him.”

Sex offender treatment program director Michael Robinson helps Utah inmates overcome sex addictions. He said that about one third of prisoners incarcerated in Utah have been convicted of a sex crime.

Robinson explained that to simply stop and hope that an addiction will never be a problem again is the first step to relapsing.

“Individuals working to overcome an addiction need self-awareness of how they first sought out whatever is their addiction,” Robinson said. “(They need to know) who they are disrespecting by engaging in (their) behavior and, if they want to be more pro-social, what they are going to be replacing their life choices with — specifically, according to their healthy values.”

Robinson has worked with felons for more than 25 years and said he never met a person with “bad values.” But people develop criminal values, he said, meaning that they are able to justify their actions until they are caught.

“When they were choosing to commit their crimes, they were setting most of those (moral) values aside for personal, immediate gratification,” Robinson said. “In order for a person to overcome an addiction and change any behavior, they need to learn to be less selfish and more caring in any relationships they care about.”

Cristina said her ex-fiancé was not a bad man; he was particularly sweet with her and made sure she felt loved even when he had a porn addiction. She said he was a faithful member of the LDS Church and if he never told her about his addiction, Cristina would never have guessed.

“He was such a good good guy to me, spoiling me and treating me like a princess,” Cristina said. “But because of his addiction, it was like my time with him was for nothing.”

Stories in “The Pornography Plague” series:

  1. Pornography stats mirror conflict over ‘individual freedom’ vs. ‘public health treat’
  2. Pornography’s effect on relationships is a wild card
  3. Pornography as a public health crisis
  4. Young LDS couples need honest conversations about porn before tying the knot
  5. Pornography addiction can be beat
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