“Is pornography use harmful to our relationship?” This is a common question for couples and has been of increasing interest in the field of couples therapy as pornography use has become more accepted and prevalent in today’s society, especially among young adults (Hesse & Floyd, 2019). The current literature reports somewhat mixed findings, and there are still gaps in the research as this area of study is relatively newer. Overall, the negative effects of pornography use on relationships appear to vastly outnumber any positive ones. However, every relationship is different and there are myriad factors to consider when assessing the impact of pornography use on your relationship. The goal of this brief piece is to provide you with knowledge of the most relevant and current research so that you can make an informed decision regarding the role of pornography in your relationship and in your personal life.
In terms of the positive impacts of watching pornography, the current literature has identified some positive effects for women, gay men, and couples. Within these populations, pornography use was found to be associated with increased relationship quality, sexual satisfaction, communication about sexual desires, partner sexual desire, and partnered sexual activity for women in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships (Huntington et al., 2021; Vaillancourt-Morel et al., 2020). An increase in partnered sexual activity was also found to be associated with pornography use for gay men (Vaillancourt-Morel et al., 2020). Interestingly, no positive impacts of pornography use were identified for heterosexual men. These findings indicate that the type of pornography being watched may be an important factor when it comes to predicting the impact of pornography on relationships, since men and women tend to watch very different types of pornography (Huntington et al., 2021).
To address the opening question, pornography use is consistently found to be associated with weaker relationship stability and commitment (Willoughby & Dover, 2022). Couples watching pornography together was associated with psychological and physical aggression, as well as contention. When people watch pornography, they are choosing to turn towards a screen for gratification and connection instead of their partner, resulting in increased feelings of loneliness and disconnection (Gottman, 2021; Hesse & Floyd, 2019). Even more concerning is the idea highlighted in the documentary Brain, heart, world that, in general, pornography use is associated with people viewing their partners – and the actors in pornography – as mere objects for sexual gratification. With more frequent use, pornography can alter individuals’ brain chemistry and lead to pornography (or other related) addictions. Eventually one’s brain can become excessively and exclusively preoccupied with viewing pornography, with any other stimulus holding increasingly little interest (Brain, heart, world). Needless to say, this change in brain chemistry is detrimental to relationships, interpersonal connection, and sexual intimacy.
Part two of this piece will explore ethical considerations as well as factors to keep in mind regarding pornography use in order to be aware of the potential negative effects on your relationship.
Written by Chloe Pimentel, Graduate Level Therapist of Wellington Counseling Group
Brain, heart, world - docuseries about the harmful effects of porn. Brain Heart World. (2022, June 23). https://brainheartworld.org/
Gottman, J. (2021, February 4). An open letter on Porn. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-open-letter-on-porn/
Hesse, C., & Floyd, K. (2019). Affection substitution: The effect of pornography consumption on close relationships. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 36(11–12), 3887–3907. https://doi-org.auth.lib.niu.edu/10.1177/0265407519841719
Huntington, C., Markman, H., & Rhoades, G. (2021). Watching Pornography Alone or Together: Longitudinal Associations With Romantic Relationship Quality. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 47(2), 130–146. https://doi-org.auth.lib.niu.edu/10.1080/0092623X.2020.1835760
Willoughby, B. J., & Dover, C. R. (2022). Context matters: Moderating effects in the associations between pornography use, perceived addiction, and relationship well-being. The Journal of Sex Research, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2022.2148155
Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Rosen, N. O., Willoughby, B. J., Leonhardt, N. D., & Bergeron, S. (2020). Pornography use and romantic relationships: A dyadic daily diary study.