Is Watching Porn a Form of Infidelity?

What “counts” as cheating on a romantic partner? It depends who you ask. Research finds that people define infidelity in very different ways. However, there are some things that people seem to agree on more than others.

For example, people largely agree that having sexual intercourse with someone who isn’t your partner is a form of cheating (assuming, of course, that you agreed to be monogamous with that partner). The same goes for taking a shower with another person or sending them naked photos. But what about just watching porn by yourself? Do people typically categorize that as a form of infidelity? A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers some insight into this question.

In this study, researchers surveyed 392 American and 200 Spanish university student about their sexual attitudes and personalities. As part of this survey, participants were asked to rate their agreement with the following two items (note that responses to these items were averaged together):

“I would consider my viewing of sexually-explicit material (i.e.,”porn”) by myself to be cheating on my romantic partner.” 
“I would consider my romantic partner’s viewing of sexually-explicit material (i.e.,”porn”) by him- or herself to be cheating on me.”

Results indicated that the majority of both US (73%) and Spanish participants (77%) did not consider watching porn to be a form of cheating. By contrast, 14% of US participants were unsure, while 13% said it definitely was cheating (the numbers for Spanish participants were 13% and 10%, respectively). In other words, about 1 in 10 participants seemed to think that watching porn is equivalent to committing infidelity. 

So who was most likely to consider porn to be cheating? The traits that were associated with viewing porn as a form of infidelity included:

· Being from the United States.

· Being single.

· Not being a porn consumer.

· Being less tolerant of infidelity.

· Having more negative attitudes toward porn.

· Being high in jealous tendencies.

· Being more religious (US participants only).

· Being lower in self-esteem (US participants only).

Interestingly, no differences emerged based on gender or fears of being abandoned.

Of course, it’s important to note that these samples are not representative of the population, which means that it’s possible that views on this matter might vary in older and more diverse populations.

With that said, what all of this tells us is that, for the most part, college students don’t seem to classify viewing pornography as a form of infidelity; however, about 10-13% of them do. In addition, it seems that there are certain types of people who are more inclined to think of porn use as cheating.

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To learn more about this research, see: Negy, C., Plaza, D., Reig-Ferrer, A., & Fernandez-Pascual, M. D. (2018). Is Viewing Sexually Explicit Material Cheating on Your Partner? A Comparison Between the United States and Spain. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

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