Study: Cyberpornography not linked to negative sexual outcomes in majority of users

Viewing online pornography not does not appear to be a maladaptive behavior for most individuals, according to research published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The study of 830 North American adults (71.8% women) suggests that three distinct profiles of online pornography users exist: recreational users, highly distressed non-compulsive users, and users with a compulsive profile.

Recreational users, by far the most common profile, had more positive sexual outcomes than the two other groups. Recreational users reported higher sexual satisfaction and lower levels of sexual compulsivity, avoidance, and dysfunction. Compulsive users reported higher sexual avoidance and lower sexual satisfaction than recreational users, but also reported lower levels of sexual dysfunction than the other profiles. The highly distressed non-compulsive users, as the name implies, reported more sexual dysfunction and also spent the least time viewing cyberpornography.

PsyPost interviewed Marie-Pier Vaillancourt-Morel of the University of Montreal about her study. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Vaillancourt-Morel: Pornography use is an increasingly frequent sexual activity, but its effect on sexual well-being is highly debated and not fully understood. Sexual outcomes of pornography use are most probably highly variable. Our core question was: are there distinct groups of individuals for whom pornography use increase sexual satisfaction and produce no negative effect on sexuality and other groups reporting sexual dissatisfaction and compulsive use. So, our team was interested in pornography use to better understand in which context is this sexual behavior problematic for sexual well-being. The first step was to examine if different profiles of users could explain this variability in sexual outcomes.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Our key message is that pornography users represent a heterogeneous population in which distinct subgroups experience quite different sexual outcomes. Pornography use seems to be problematic for sexual well-being in two groups of users: a group of high-frequency compulsive users and a group of low frequency users who report significant emotional distress mostly expressed through shame and self-disgust. However, pornography use does not unequivocally lead to adverse sexual outcomes given that, for 75% of our sample, no negative sexual outcomes were observed. Thus, the number of recreational users was high.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Limitations of our study are mentioned in the article (e.g., the use of a convenience sample, correlational data, self-report measures). There are still many unanswered questions about the sexual outcomes related to pornography use and more high-quality studies are needed. One of the foremost priority is to replicate our finding indicating the presence of different subgroups of pornography users in large representative population-based samples.

Further classification analyses should also consider preferences in the content of pornography viewed versus preferred sexual behaviors with a partner, underlying motivations, own and partner pornography acceptance as well as sex drive and/or high interest in sex. Dyadic research will also be important to deepen our understanding of the interpersonal context of use in couple dynamics. For example, the high level of distress of the non-compulsive group may be associated with solitary use hidden from their partner or because they, or their partner, perceived as deviant the content of the pornography they watch. These are the first steps that will lead to the development of more appropriate treatment for pornography users who report that their use is problematic.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Pornography use has become a topic of considerable interest which had so far polarized public opinion and provokes bitter debates. Research on sexual outcomes of pornography use is still in its early stage and we should be cautious before concluding that pornography use is universally harmful or beneficial.

The study, “Profiles of Cyberpornography Use and Sexual Well-Being in Adults“, was also co-authored by Sarah Blais-Lecours, Chloé Labadie, Sophie Bergeron, Stéphane Sabourin, and Natacha Godbout.