People with unsatisfying relationships more likely to view their pornography use as uncontrollable

Men and women who are experiencing relationship distress and sexual dissatisfaction are more likely to feel like their pornography use is out of control. That’s according to a new study recently published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.

“Although pornography is getting more and more easily accessible, studies are mixed as to whether pornography use have beneficial or harmful impacts on relationship and sexual well-being,” explained study author Marie-Ève Daspe of the University of Southern California.

“What does seem clear is that pornography use can become problematic for some users. Indeed, a small proportion of users develops a problematic, or compulsive, consumption characterized by a difficulty to control their pornography use. This led us to these questions: What causes some users to lose control over their pornography use? Does the quality of intimate relationships influence one’s subjective experience of control over pornography use?”

The study of 471 men and 565 women surveyed participants regarding their internet pornography use, sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and perceived lack of control over pornography use.

“Interestingly, in our sample of adults currently involved in an intimate relationship, the great majority of participants (98.1% of men and 73.1% of women) reported having used online pornography material in the past 6 months,” Daspe told PsyPost. “This suggests that pornography use is very common, even among individuals who technically have access to a sexual partner and to sexual gratification.”

The researchers found that the frequency of pornography use was more strongly associated with feeling out of control when relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction were lower.

“Most importantly, our findings indicate that relationally and sexually satisfied individuals are less likely to perceive their pornography use as being uncontrollable,” Daspe said. “However, dissatisfaction with one’s couple and sex life strengthen the association between frequency of use and perceived lack of control over pornography use.”

The link between relationship and sexual satisfaction and perceived lack of control over pornography held even after the researchers controlled for gender, cohabitation status, length of the relationship, and parenthood.

“One possible explanation is that, when dissatisfied, partners turn to pornography in an attempt to fulfill needs that are not met in their current relationship,” Daspe explained. “It is in this case that they might be at risk of losing control over their pornography use.”

“Another explanation is that relationship and sexual dissatisfactions creates distress, and if pornography is used as a way of coping with negative emotions, which is often the case among compulsive users, the potential for losing control is amplified. Future studies are needed to directly test these assumptions.”

The study, like all research, has some limitations. The researchers used a cross-sectional method, which prevents them from drawing conclusions regarding cause and effect.

“One of the main limitations is that our constructs were measured at only one time point,” Daspe said. “Therefore, we cannot determine whether relationship and sexual satisfaction affect perceived lack of control over pornography use first, or whether perceived lack of control is responsible for decreasing relationship and sexual satisfaction.”

“These associations are most likely bidirectional, with perception of control over pornography use and the quality of the relationship and sex life impacting each other reciprocally. Rigorous studies using longitudinal designs will allow us to disentangle these mutual influences.”

“What is going on in the couple seems to affect individual behaviors outside the relationship,” Daspe added. “This suggest that working on strengthening the relationship and the quality of the sex life might be beneficial to compulsive pornography users and helpful in fostering a healthier approach toward pornography.”

The study, “When Pornography Use Feels Out of Control: The Moderation Effect of Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction“, was co-authored by Marie-Pier Vaillancourt-Morel, Yvan Lussier, Stéphane Sabourin and Anik Ferron.