Two studies were recently published that looked at the relationship between pornography consumption and relationship satisfaction. According to the research, there has been a gradual increase in male consumption of pornography – from 26% in the 70s to 34% in the 2000’s. However, pornography is not something only watched by men – many women are also regular consumers. In the age of readily available technology, it is no surprise that viewing has increased. The studies also found a correlation between pornography viewing by one member of a couple and sexual and relationship dissatisfaction[i].
To be clear, pornography viewing is not always an issue between couples and can actually increase sexual satisfaction when the viewing is shared. However, this seems to be the exception rather than the norm. When working with couples, I have found the majority of problems with pornography use arise when one member of the couple has personal insecurities or a moral/religious objections to their partner’s use of porn leading to sexual and emotional withdrawal. In addition, use of pornography can lead to dissatisfaction with sex with “real partners” due to investment in pornography. A partner who chooses to view pornography may develop unrealistic fantasies that their real life partner can’t live up to, leading to negative feelings and further emotional distance.
In order to prevent problems from arising in a relationship, both members of the couple should be open and honest about their level of pornography use and/or comfort. If one partner has a moral or religious objection, the use of pornography might be non-negotiable – i.e., they will not tolerate the other partner watching. At this point, the pornography-viewing partner would need to decide whether s/he is willing and able to give up pornography use or be in a partnership with someone who has differing values. If giving up pornography is difficult to do, the possibility of addiction may need to be considered. Moreover, as the partner of one who is consuming pornography, it is important to take some time to really consider and understand whether it is something that can be tolerated long-term and across different phases of the relationship. For example, pornography might feel acceptable during the dating phase, but its tolerability may change in the context of a long-term commitment, having children, etc.
In some relationships, a partner might just ask to be informed about pornography use and that a discussion about its benefits take place. Perhaps this partner simply needs to understand that watching pornography has nothing to do with the presence or absence of attraction, and partners may be able to make an agreement on when pornography use is acceptable to both (e.g., when one partner is out of town). Typically, trying to persuade a partner to share in pornography consumption is not a good idea, and is likely to lead to more discomfort and resentment. Lastly, never keep the use of porn a secret – this type of secrecy is an infidelity and harmful to a relationship.
Pornography has been around for a very long time and will continue to be a factor that needs to be addressed in relationships. The evidence is clear that pornography consumption can cause marital problems, so great care should be taken to address it responsibly and develop realistic, agreeable expectations and limitations.
[i]Paul J. Wright, “U.S. Males and Pornography, 1973-2010: Consumption, Predictors, and Correlates,” Journal of Sex Research 50, no. 1 (2013).
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).
Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides couple, family, and individual therapy in downtown Bethesda, MD. Please contact us today at (301) 200-5290 to discuss how we might be able to help you.