New research suggests that people who frequently use pornography might not necessarily be problematic users. In fact, the number of people with non-problematic high-frequency pornography use was 3-6 times higher than the number of people with problematic high-frequency use. This study appeared in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Pornography use is prevalent in adult populations; approximately 70 to 90% of people have viewed pornography in their lifetime1–3. For most people, pornography use is not problematic and does not result in negative consequences in their life4. However, for others, it may become problematic and may cause adverse consequences, such as sexual problems5.
As can be seen in substance-use related addictions or problematic behaviors, the quantity or the frequency of the given behavior can be considered as a reliable indicator of problematic use6. However, in the case of problematic pornography use, only small-to-moderate associations were observed between the frequency of pornography use and problematic use in previous studies5,7. This means that there might be individuals who use pornography frequently and experience no related problems at all, while there might be others who use pornography just as often as non-problematic users, but at the same time experience severe negative consequences.
However, this notion has never been examined empirically in the literature, so we aimed to identify potential groups of pornography users based on their frequency of use and problematic pornography use. Then, we compared the identified groups to examine which sociodemographic and psychological characteristics may differentiate between problematic and non-problematic users.
For this purpose, a total of more than 15,000 individuals (aged between 18 and 76 years) completed anonymous, online surveys in three independent samples. We identified three distinct profiles of pornography users with a data-driven method (latent profile analysis) that were consistent across the three samples: (1) Non-problematic, low-frequency pornography users (68-73% of people); (2) Non-problematic, high-frequency pornography users (19-29% of people); and (3) Problematic, high-frequency users (3-8% of people).
We compared these groups along more than 40 sociodemographic and psychological characteristics, and found that the Problematic, high-frequency user group reported higher levels of hypersexuality, depressive symptoms, boredom susceptibility, uncomfortable feelings regarding pornography, and lower levels of self-esteem and basic psychological need satisfaction (i.e., relatedness, competence, and autonomy) than the Non-problematic, high-frequency pornography user group. However, these two groups did not differ notably in other characteristics, such as their age at the first experience with pornography or their personality traits (e.g., openness or impulsivity).
The main take-home message from our study is that the frequency of pornography use may not be considered as a reliable or sufficient indicator of problematic pornography use because a relatively high-frequency pornography use may be present in one’s life without associated problems. Also, a different combination of specific characteristics may result in problematic or non-problematic, high-frequency pornography use. Therefore, a complex assessment of pornography use is needed in both research and clinical work, including the frequency of pornography use and problematic pornography use as well.
However, the present study was just the first step in the differentiated examination of pornography use profiles. Like all research, our study included some limitations. For example, causality could not be inferred from the present findings given the study’s cross-sectional nature. We only asked individuals, not couples, which could provide answers to such questions as to how an individual’s pornography use is associated with their own and their partner’s sexual well-being8.
So, to push further the current findings, from the beginning of this year, we started to investigate how pornography use may be associated with couples’ sexual wellbeing in the long run with colleagues from Université de Montréal, Canada (Dr. Sophie Bergeron) and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Canada (Dr. Marie-Pier Vaillancourt-Morel).
You can participate in this new couples’ study now!
If you and your partner are 18+ years old, have been living together for at least one year, and speak English or French, you may be eligible to participate.* If you complete a series of online questionnaires (three over one year), you will receive up to 60 CAD/couple for your participation!
*Disclaimer: Other eligibility criteria may apply. All collected data will be kept confidential and will be used only for scientific purposes. The study is conducted following the Helsinki Declaration and was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Université de Montréal.
The study, “High-Frequency Pornography Use May Not Always Be Problematic”, was authored by Beáta Bőthe, István Tóth-Király, Marc N. Potenza, Gábor Orosz, and Zsolt Demetrovics.
- Grubbs, J. B., Kraus, S. W. & Perry, S. L. Self-reported addiction to pornography in a nationally representative sample: The roles of use habits, religiousness, and moral incongruence. J. Behav. Addict. 8, 88–93 (2019).
- Rissel, C. et al. A profile of pornography users in Australia: Findings from the second Australian study of health and relationships. J. Sex Res. 54, 227–240 (2017).
- Lewczuk, K., Glica, A., Nowakowska, I., Gola, M. & Grubbs, J. B. Evaluating Pornography Problems Due to Moral Incongruence Model. J. Sex. Med. 17, 300–311 (2020).
- Kohut, T., Fisher, W. A. & Campbell, L. Perceived Effects of Pornography on the Couple Relationship: Initial Findings of Open-Ended, Participant-Informed, “Bottom-Up” Research. Arch. Sex. Behav. 46, 585–602 (2017).
- Grubbs, J. B., Perry, S. L., Wilt, J. A. & Reid, R. C. Pornography problems due to moral incongruence: An integrative model with a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch. Sex. Behav. 48, 397–415 (2019).
- Doll, R., Peto, R., Boreham, J. & Sutherland, I. Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years’ observations on male British doctors. BMJ 328, 1519–1528 (2004).
- Bőthe, B. et al. The development of the Problematic Pornography Consumption Scale (PPCS). J. Sex Res. 55, 395–406 (2018).
- Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Daspe, M.-È., Charbonneau-Lefebvre, V., Bosisio, M. & Bergeron, S. Pornography use in adult mixed-sex romantic relationships: Context and correlates. Curr. Sex. Heal. Reports 11, 35–43 (2019).