Five Scientific Facts You Should Know About Porn

There’s a war on porn taking place right now.

A growing chorus has emerged claiming that porn is addictive, that it’s causing misogyny and sexual violence, that it’s leading people to have riskier sex, that it’s creating an epidemic of erectile dysfunction, and that it’s destroying our relationships. These are just some of the many reasons the US state of Utah recently went as far as to formally declare porn to be a “public health crisis.”

Is porn really such a destructive force, though? It’s difficult to come to that conclusion when you actually look at what the research says. Here are five things scientists have found by studying the effects of pornography that challenge the notion that porn is responsible for so many problems.

1.) Porn is not addictiveNeuroscience research has revealed that what goes on inside the brains of so-called porn “addicts” is not at all what you would expect from people who truly have an addiction. Of course, some people do indeed have problems regulating porn use—there’s no disputing that. It’s just that their problem isn’t addictive in nature and it’s counterproductive to treat it as such.

2.) Overall, porn use is linked to holding positive, not negative attitudes toward women. A recent study that utilized a large, nationally representative dataset found that people who watched adult films in the last year were stronger supporters of gender equality than those who hadn’t watched any such films. In addition, other research has found that, rather than being linked to increased rates of rape and sexual assault, porn use is related to less sexual violence.

3.) Porn use is unrelated to safer-sex practices. That’s right—research has found that heavy porn users are no more likely to forgo using condoms. Porn users don’t necessarily have more sexual partners either. One aspect of our sex lives porn use is related to is how adventuresome we are in bed—porn users appear to be more likely to try new things between the sheets.

4.) There is no link between porn use and erectile difficulties in men. Two recent studies (see here and here) have challenged the concept of “porn-induced erectile dysfunction” by finding that men who watch the most porn don’t appear to be any more likely to report erectile issues, or to experience a general desensitization to sexual stimuli.

5.) Porn use can actually be good for your relationship. Research has found that couples who watch porn together are more sexually satisfied. Why? Likely because porn is an easy way of interjecting novelty and excitement into your sex life.

One caveat to the above findings—this summary of the research is not meant to suggest that porn never causes problems for anyone. Certain types of people who watch certain types of porn may very well experience negative effects (e.g., men who are low in the personality trait of agreeableness who watch really hardcore stuff).

In other words, although porn is not linked to negative outcomes overall, there are certain subsets of the population for whom it may be problematic--and more research is needed in order to help clarify for whom and under what circumstances porn is linked to harm.

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