Health

New Research Is Changing the Debate Over Porn's Affect on Relationships

January 20th 2017

By:
Kyle Jaeger

Is pornography a corrosive menace to society or a benign outlet for sexual fantasies?

man-behind-laptop

In 2007, about 70 percent of the U.S. public rejected the idea that pornography is harmless, according to the Pew Research Center. But long-held assumptions about the supposedly destructive influence of porn on relationships, behavior, and attitudes toward women are being challenged by recent research, Maria Konnikova wrote in an article published in Aeon.

Contrary to popular opinion, the latest evidence indicates that people who view porn are not more likely to develop unrealistic expectations about sexual experience or become more likely to commit violence against women. It also doesn't seem to be true that looking at porn negatively affects otherwise healthy relationships.

For a long time, the research didn't exist — in part because society has been loathe to talk openly about sex, but also because studying the social and psychological effects of porn is difficult.

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"Reliable statistics about pornography are notoriously difficult to obtain — many people underreport their own habits, and many porn companies are loath to share any sort of viewership statistics," Konnikova wrote. But starting around the 1960s, when research into the effects of porn first appeared, "there emerged suggestive inklings that those who vocally opposed pornography’s spread might be motivated more by emotion than any tangible proof."

Take this 2013 study, for example. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Idaho State University wanted to know how watching porn affects relationship satisfaction, so they conducted an experiment involving 44 monogamous couples. The couples were asked to watch porn — either separately or together — and, afterward, they answered questions about "arousal, sexual satisfaction, perception of themselves, and their partner’s attractiveness, and sexual behavior."

The common assumption — that porn destroys relationships by making couples less attracted to each other, prompting an overall decline in real-life sexual satisfaction — didn't hold up. In fact, the couples' desire to be together increased, as did their assessment of their own sexual behavior.

couple-making-out

The sample size was admittedly small, and that's part of the problem.

"Most of the information we currently have is not experimental or longitudinal," leading sex researcher Nicole Prause, who heads UCLA's Sexual Psychophysiology and Affective Neuroscience Lab, told Konnikova. "Lots of data talk about correlates and associations, but the literature is especially bad – it can’t be trusted – because no one is doing experiments, no one is showing cause and effect. That needs to change."

[h/t Aeon]