Pornography and Romantic Relationships: Recent Studies

Two recent studies support a conclusion that male porn use harms relationships.

Posted Oct 08, 2014

Two recent studies in the esteemed Journal of Sex Research add to the growing research base on pornography.  The first study “U.S. Males and Pornography, 1973-2010: Consumption, Predictors, and Correlates” begins by describing the three primary philosophical orientations toward pornography.[i]  The libertarian perspective denies significant impact of pornography; in short, pornography does not impact behavior.  The latter two orientations, in contrast, posit pornography does indeed impact behavior and attitudes.  Moralists are concerned that pornography leads to the erosion of traditional sexual values while those with a public health orientation believe that porn leads to unhealthy practices such as paid sex and multiple sex partners.  Which of these three philosophies is most accurate? 

The study used data from the General Social Survey (GSS), which, according to its website, is “widely regarded as the single best source of data on societal trends” in the United States.[ii]  The GSS has been tracking demographic, attitudinal, and behavioral questions of citizens since 1972 and is funded by the National Science Foundation.  All residences in the United States have an equal opportunity of being selected, and those surveyed must be at least eighteen years old.  The GSS asks questions about pornography consumption and eight outcome variables: number of sex partners in the last year; number of sex partners in the last five years; use of a condom during last sexual encounter; ever having engaged in paid sex; attitudes toward adult premarital sex; attitudes toward teenage sex; attitudes toward extramarital sex; and ever having engaged in extramarital sex.  The responses of 14,193 males were utilized for the current study.

The results?  First, there has been a gradual increase in male consumption of pornography.  During the 1970s, 26% of participants said they viewed pornography. This has risen to 34% in the 2000s.  The study’s author estimates that there has been an increase of approximately 0.5 annually in male porn consumption.  The moralist orientation was given credence by the findings that pornography consumption was associated with having more positive attitudes toward teenage sex, adult premarital sex, and extramarital sex.  Also, pornography consumption was positively related to engagement in extramarital sex. Public health concerns were likewise justified by findings that pornography consumption was associated with having more sexual partners and engaging in paid sexual behavior.

The second study “Pornography Use: Who Uses It and How It Is Associated with Couple Outcomes” examined the impact of porn consumption on relationship quality, including sexual satisfaction.[iii]  Participants consisted of 617 married or cohabitating heterosexual couples who were queried about pornography consumption, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction. 64% of females reported no use of pornography and 30% stated they consumed porn once per month or less.  In contrast 10% of males consumed porn three or more times per week, 16% used one to two times per week, and 31% used once per month or less.  The authors of the study concluded, “male pornography use had a consistent, negative association with both male and female sexual quality” (p. 80) and speculated pornography may lead a female partner to withdrawal emotionally and sexually from a relationship after learning of her partner’s porn consumption and/or that males may lose interest in relational sex as they become invested in pornography.

The second study also supported a finding that shared consumption of pornography might lead to increased sexual satisfaction; however, most men do not view pornography with their partners.  Additionally, efforts to compel a partner who is strongly resistant to porn to engage in the activity could be disastrous for a relationship.  In summary, both studies reviewed in this blog negate the libertarian perspective that male pornography consumption has no behavioral or attitudinal impact.  Porn does not seem to be a neutral influence in relationships.  Still, much more research is needed to clarify how porn leads to changes at both the individual and couples’ levels.

[i] Paul J. Wright, “U.S. Males and Pornography, 1973-2010: Consumption, Predictors, and Correlates,” Journal of Sex Research 50, no. 1 (2013).

[ii] GSS General Social Survey,

[iii] Franklin O. Poulsen, Dean M. Busby, and Adam Galovan, “Pornography Use: Who Uses It and How It Is Associated with Couple Outcomes,” Journal of Sex Research 50, no. 1 (2013).