As pornography consumption has increased in the past few decades, so has fear surrounding its potential harm on relationships. But, does pornography have a negative impact on human intimacy?
An initial study in 1989 by researcher Douglas Kenrick claimed that men found their wives less attractive after viewing pornographic images. This finding created controversy around the health of watching pornography, and how its use might put female partners at a disadvantage.
Since then, however, concerns have arisen about the validity of the original study. The effects were present in a scientific laboratory, where men were exposed to photos of a Playboy centerfold, rather than in a real-world environment. These effects were also short-lived and disappeared quickly.
In July 2016, a group of researchers from the University of Western Ontario in Canada tried three times to replicate Kenrick’s study and failed to find similar results. This failure has prompted questions regarding the impact of pornography on men’s perceptions of their partners and on relationships as a whole.
It’s possible, though, that the replication studies may not have obtained similar findings due to sexual advertising becoming so prevalent in Western culture. The impact of viewing lewd images might be imperceptible now that under-clothed women are regularly displayed in popular media.
A March 2017 analysis by researchers from Indiana University examined the effects of pornography on sexual and relationship satisfaction in both men and women. The researchers examined results from 50 separate studies and determined that the impact on men and women is different. When women viewed pornography, their relationship satisfaction did not change. But when men viewed pornography, lower satisfaction did exist.
“…There appears to be no overall or global association between women’s pornography consumption and the elements of satisfaction studied by researchers to date… Men as a group, on the other hand, do demonstrate lower sexual and relational satisfaction as a function of their pornography consumption.”
These researchers raise the possibility that the men who experienced lower sexual and relationship satisfaction with their partner could be more likely to consume pornography because of their lower satisfaction—rather than pornography being the cause.
Another analysis conducted by researchers from the Universities of California, Copenhagen, and New York investigated whether viewing violent or non-violent pornography affected attitudes of violence towards women. The researchers found that both violent and non-violent pornography consumption was associated with attitudes that support this type of violence.
Researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Texas challenged these claims, proposing that pornography may be a means to alleviate sexual aggression. Looking at crime statistics, they point to evidence that, as access to and prevalence of pornography has increased, instances of sexual assault have not.
Clearly, finding a conclusive answer as to whether pornography use has negative effects on relationships is challenging. In addition, adverse effects on relationships may not be the direct result of pornography use, but rather caused by the motive behind viewing pornography or by underlying issues that lead to its consumption. In other words, it may be problems in a relationship that lead to viewing pornography.
Perhaps that is what it comes down to—the individual relationship.
In an opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper, one anonymous writer said about her husband’s pornography use:
“Porn ruined you. Ruined us… It was your love of porn that slowly diminished my love and respect for you and destroyed my self-confidence.”
If one partner has negative views towards pornography, that partner may feel betrayed upon discovering that the other partner consumes it. The partner consuming the pornography may feel guilt knowing that the other partner does not condone the behavior. These varying effects on different individuals may explain why some studies find that pornography is damaging to relationships, while others find the opposite.
– Andrei Nistor, Contributing Writer