New research indicates that shared pornography use in adult relationships is associated with greater relationship functioning. In other words, couples who frequently watch pornography together tend to be more satisfied with their romantic relationship and their sex life.
The findings, published in Frontiers in Psychology, call into question claims that pornography use inevitably causes relationships to deteriorate.
The new research represents “the culmination of several lines of thinking that my colleagues and I have been developing over the years,” said study author Taylor Kohut, a lecturer at the University of Louvain and an adjunct research professor at Western University.
“The first concerns a criticism of the field that we first raised nearly a decade ago; if the goal is to understand the effects of pornography on relationships, how much can we really learn if we don’t collect data from both relationship partners? While the number of dyadic studies is not zero, and may even be increasing, most research that is published continues to collect data from only one person in the relationship.”
“Another issue that played a role in shaping this paper is the general academic obsession with framing pornography use as a causal agent of harm in correlational research. Sure, it’s possible that pornography use causes a range of problems (and potentially benefits too) but our narrow-minded focus on that specific mechanism of action is so limiting and it has prevented us from considering some interesting alternative explanations for correlations between pornography use and poor relationship quality.”
For their study, the researchers examined two cross-sectional and two longitudinal datasets that were collected by three independent laboratories. The datasets included information about 761 heterosexual couples in total. After analyzing the data, the researchers found a positive relationship between shared pornography use and relationship quality. Partners who frequently watched pornography together tended to have higher relationship and sexual satisfaction compared to partners who did not.
“Use of pornography with a romantic partner is reliably associated with better rather than worse sexual and relationship satisfaction,” Kohut told PsyPost.
The researchers also found evidence that disparities between partners’ pornography use were associated with reduced relationship quality. Partners who frequently used pornography alone tended to have reduced relationship and sexual satisfaction when their partner reported a low frequency of pornography use. Relationship and sexual satisfaction tended to be highest when partners either both used pornography at a high frequency or did not use pornography at all.
“I think the most important thing that we have found here is that the connection between pornography use and relationship quality is not as simple as some academics, activists, and politicians would have you believe,” Kohut said. “Our research suggests that the more a person uses pornography alone, the the worse the quality of their relationship tends to be, but only when their romantic partner rarely or never uses pornography alone.”
“Does this study provide evidence that pornography hurts or helps relationships? No,” Kohut continued. “It’s possible that these associations represents pornography-induced changes in the users or their relationships, but other possibilities exist as well. For, example, we believe, and provide some evidence for the possibility, that the negative associations between pornography use and sexual satisfaction in this study are linked to partner differences in sex drive. So it’s possible, for example, that partner differences in sex drive directly undermines sexual satisfaction in the relationships and independently drives differences in pornography use.”
But it is still unclear whether solitary pornography use is the cause or consequence of reduced relationship quality.
“Moving forward there are two obvious things that should be explored further,” Kohut explained. “We should, for example, test the proposition that the associations we uncovered reflect causal paths (which I personally doubt) by assigning couples homework in which porn users desist from solitary use, non-users increase their solitary use, or both partners experiment with shared pornography use, all of which should improve relationship quality if there are causal links.
“Another important avenue to consider is whether or not similar patterns of associations are present in same-sex relationships (and I have no reason to believe they wouldn’t be). More work with LGBT groups will also help to further investigate (and potentially challenge) claims that male pornography use is more problematic than female pornography use.”
“I have recently started a new position within the School of Psychology at UCLouvain in Belgium,” Kohut added. “If my work is of interest to you and you want to collaborate, or if you are looking for a Masters or PhD supervisor, give me a shout.”
The study, “But What’s Your Partner Up to? Associations Between Relationship Quality and Pornography Use Depend on Contextual Patterns of Use Within the Couple“, was authored by Taylor Kohut, Kiersten A. Dobson, Rhonda N. Balzarini, Ronald D. Rogge, Amanda M. Shaw, James K. McNulty, V. Michelle Russell, William A. Fisher and Lorne Campbell.