Porn Use Is Linked To Lower Sexual Satisfaction In Men—But Only If They’re Religious

Several studies have found that pornography use is associated with lower levels of sexual satisfaction (see here and here and here for a few examples). On the basis of this pretty consistent finding, many have concluded that porn necessarily has negative implications for people’s sex lives. As it turns out, however, porn per se probably isn’t the problem here.

Increasingly, researchers have found that the links between porn use and negative sexual and relationship outcomes are dependent on religiosity [1]. Specifically, those who are more religiously devoted tend to report the most negative effects of porn use, suggesting that the real issue here is one of moral incongruence: these folks are participating in an activity that conflicts with their religious values.

A forthcoming study in the Journal of Sex Research builds and expands upon this idea by looking at whether the link between porn use and sexual satisfaction specifically depends on one’s level of religiosity [2]. In this study, researchers analyzed data from a national US sample of 1,501 adults conducted in 2017. Participants were surveyed about how satisfied they were with their sex lives, how often they visited adult websites, their frequency of attendance at worship services, and the extent to which they take the Bible literally.

What they found was that pornography use was unrelated to women’s sexual satisfaction; by contrast, it was negatively related to men’s. In other words, male porn users were less sexually satisfied than non-users—and this was true for both single men, as well as guys in relationships.

However, further analyses revealed that for men who attended worship services infrequently and/or who did not take the Bible literally, the link between porn use and sexual satisfaction effectively disappeared. The link only existed for the “true believers,” or those who were very involved in their religious communities and/or who were Bible literalists.

So what can we conclude from all of this? Well, if porn were inherently bad for our sex lives, we’d expect to see an association between porn use and sexual satisfaction across the board, regardless of people’s religious beliefs—but that’s not what happened here. Instead, it seems that the effects of porn are dependent on the moral context in which it is consumed.

Those who believe that using porn is immoral are likely to feel guilty or ashamed of their behavior and this, in turn, is probably what explains their lower levels of sexual satisfaction.

As for why this effect emerged only for men and not women, we can’t say for sure—however, it may have something to do with the fact that men tend to use pornography far more frequently than women. So perhaps it’s the frequency of confronting moral incongruence that explains the gender difference.

With all of that said, it seems that researchers who wish to understand the effects of porn use on individuals must necessarily start taking religiosity and moral concerns into account. Increasingly, it appears that most negative effects of porn use are largely a function of the moral context surrounding it.

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (facebook.com/psychologyofsex), Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit (reddit.com/r/psychologyofsex) to receive updates. 

[1] Perry, S. L. (2016). From bad to worse? Pornography consumption, spousal religiosity, gender, and marital quality. Sociological Forum, 31(2), 441-464.

[2] Perry, S.L., & Whitehead, A.L. (in press). Only bad for believers? Religion, pornography use, and sexual satisfaction among American men. The Journal of Sex Research.

Image Source: 123RF/lculig

You Might Also Like: