Lucia F. O'Sullivan Ph.D.

At First Blush

How on Earth Can Porn Be Good for Your Relationship?

With the right attitude, it can definitely be a good thing.

Posted Sep 18, 2019

At its simplest level, porn depicts other people engaging in varying types of sexual activity. Oddly, we find that arousing, and its primary purpose is just that: To sexually arouse the viewer. It would seem to be a simple solution for partners who want to increase or heighten sexual arousal in their relationship to incorporate porn into their sexual lives. And that works well for some, some of the time.

Recent research shows that your attitudes about porn can make a difference, as you might expect. For men who were more accepting of pornography, higher levels of porn use were associated with greater relationship satisfaction. (This association was not found for women who were more accepting of porn.) (1) For both men and women who were less accepting of porn, higher use of porn was linked to lower relationship satisfaction.

A large U.S. study of over 20,000 people found that those who had seen porn (not necessarily together) in the last year were 12 percent less likely to have a happy marriage and 10 percent more likely to have had an extramarital affair (2). To be fair, most of the past research has focused on negative outcomes, and none of these tap causal relationships. It may well be that people in unhappy relationships turn to porn for needed distraction or escape.

We used to think that almost all men use porn at least occasionally, but that women only used porn in a sexual context with a partner. We were right about men, but we now know that up to a third of women report using pornography regularly (e.g., weekly), with or without a partner present (3,4). Porn sites are among the top 50 most visited worldwide, and 90 percent of adults have viewed porn at least once (6).

Joel de Vriend/Unsplash
Porn is primarily designed to arouse. That can be a good thing.
Source: Joel de Vriend/Unsplash

But the porn industry needs to catch up, as analyses of its content shows that popular porn from free websites, such as Pornhub, are designed primarily for male viewers—typically emphasizing the male orgasm and male dominance over female partners. Such porn may be arousing to watch, but women often understandably report lower self-esteem, worse body image, and poorer relationship quality after viewing much Internet porn (3,5).

In most cases, porn use is not problematic and likely has little or no impact on a person’s life, beyond arousal. However, for some, porn use can be problematic. A recent U.S. state-level analysis found that more religious states revealed higher frequencies in use of search terms like “sex” and “porn” than less religious states. U.S. men (not women) who reported believing that porn was “always morally wrong” still tended to have viewed quite a bit of it in the past year (7). Research has shown that the perception that one’s use is problematic predicts mental health outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, regardless of the actual level of one’s use (8).

Incorporating porn viewing into a couple's sexual life can have benefits if approached by partners with a positive attitude, with care to ensure that the content doesn’t veer into distressing or deplorable zones, and if used occasionally to supplement, not substitute, real-life action.

As Erica Jong once wrote, “My reaction to porno films is as follows: After the first 10 minutes, I want to go home and screw. After the first 20 minutes, I never want to screw again as long as I live.”

References

1  Maas, M. K., Vasilenko, 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. Journal of Sex Research, 55, 772-782.

2  Doran, K., & Price, J. (2014). Pornography and marriage. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 35, 489-498.

3  Campbell, L., & Kohut, T. (2017). The use and effects of pornography in romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 6-10.

4  Regnerus, M., Gordon, D., & Price, J. (2016). Documenting pornography use in America: A comparative analysis of methodological approaches. Journal of Sex Research, 53, 873-881.

5 Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Brown, C. C. (2017). The porn gap: Differences in men’s and women’s pornography patterns in couple relationships. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 16, 146-163.

6  Bothe, B., Toth-Kiraly, I., Zsila, A., Griffiths, M. D., Demetrovics, Z., & Orosz, G. (2018). The development of the Problematic Pornography Consumption Scale (PPCS). Journal of Sex Research, 55, 395-406.

7  Perry, S. L. (2018). Not practicing what you preach: Religion and incongruence between pornography beliefs and usage. Journal of Sex Research, 55, 369-380.

8  Grubbs, J. B., Stauner, N., Exline, J. J., & Pargament, K. I. (2015). Perceived addiction to Internet pornography and psychological distress: Examining relationships concurrently and over time. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 1056-1067.