How Is Porn Use Linked To Relationship Satisfaction? It’s Complicated

It’s easy to find articles in the popular media talking about how porn ruins relationships. Many scientific studies have made this claim, too. However, there’s a problematic assumption embedded in most of these writings, which is that porn affects all people the same way. That’s not a very good assumption to make.

When it comes to something like porn, different people are going to be affected by it in different ways because of their unique psychological profile. Some of us are predisposed to view porn (and its effects) in a negative light, whereas others are predisposed to view it in a positive light. A new study published in the Journal of Sex Research offers support for this nuanced view of the effects of porn on relationships.

In this study, researchers analyzed data from an existing dataset of 3,313 heterosexual couples from the United States. Participants were age 33 on average, most were White, and about one-third were married. All participants were living together with their partners.

As part of this study, participants were asked about their frequency of porn use in the past year, their acceptance of pornography, their level of attachment anxiety (i.e., fear of being abandoned), and their degree of relationship satisfaction. This is what they found:

· Among men who were highly accepting of pornography, they were more satisfied with their relationship to the extent that they themselves used more porn. By contrast, for men who were less accepting of pornography, using more porn was linked to lower relationship satisfaction.

· For women who were highly accepting of pornography, their own use of porn was unrelated to how they felt about their relationship; however, for women who were less accepting of pornography, using more porn was linked to being less satisfied with one’s relationship.

· Partner porn use was linked to lower levels of relationship satisfaction; however, this association was weaker for those who were accepting of porn use and stronger for those who were not accepting of porn use.

· Among men who were more anxiously attached (i.e., guys with more fear of being abandoned), using more porn was linked to higher levels of relationship satisfaction. By contrast, for women who were more anxiously attached, using more porn was linked to lower relationship satisfaction.

This research is limited in that it didn’t define what “pornography” was and, as such, did not consider whether the effects might be different for different kinds of porn—however, this is a limitation of almost all porn research and one that should be addressed in future work. Also, this research is correlational in nature, meaning we can’t make inferences about cause and effect.

That said, these results suggest that if we want to understand the implications of porn for relationship satisfaction, we would do well to consider the roles of gender, pornography acceptance, and attachment style. These factors appear to filter the lens through which both own and partner porn use are viewed, which is likely to have big implications for how we look at porn use (our own and our partner's) and its effect on our relationships.

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To learn more about this research, see:  Maas, M.K., Vasilnko, S.,A., & Willoughby, B.J. (2018). A Dyadic Approach to Pornography Use and Relationship Satisfaction Among Heterosexual Couples: The Role of Pornography Acceptance and Anxious Attachment. The Journal of Sex Research.

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