New research has identified four different profiles of pornography users, shedding light on how specific patterns of pornography use are related to social well-being. The findings, published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, suggest that individuals who report varying motivations and problematic usage tend to also report heightened loneliness and fear of intimacy. Those who are primarily motivated to use pornography for enjoyment, in contrast, exhibit similar levels of social well-being to those who do not consume pornography.
Pornography consumption has become increasingly prevalent, and there is growing concern about its potential negative effects on sexual and non-sexual relationships. The current study aimed to identify different profiles of users by examining the motives behind pornography use. The researchers also wanted to explore how patterns of problematic pornography were related to feelings of loneliness, fear of intimacy, and social support.
The researchers recruited participants through classroom and email announcements. The participants were informed that they would be completing online questionnaires, which included attention checks to ensure accurate responses. The final sample for analysis consisted of 389 participants (with an average age of 22.93). Most participants (83.7%) identified as female and approximately 80% of the sample were pornography users.
The participants completed self-report assessments of fear of intimacy, social support, and loneliness. They also completed two assessments related to pornography use.
The Pornography Consumption Inventory, a 15-item measure, was used to assess motivations related to emotional avoidance, sexual curiosity, excitement seeking, and sexual pleasure. Items include statements such as “I’m curious about what types of sex other people have.” Participants indicate the frequency with which each statement aligns with their own experiences and feelings regarding pornography consumption.
The Cyber Pornography Consumption Inventory was used to assess problematic internet pornography usage and included subscales measuring perceived compulsivity and emotional distress related to pornography use. Items include statements such as “I have put off things I needed to do in order to view pornography” and “I feel depressed after viewing pornography online.”
To identify profiles of participants based on their pornography use motivations and perceived compulsion and distress, the researchers employed a statistical technique known as latent profile analysis. In other words, the study sought to group people into different categories based on why they use pornography, how much they feel compelled to use it, and how it affects their emotions.
Based on their analyses, the researchers found that a four-profile model provided the best fit to the data. The four identified profiles were:
- “Unmotivated, unperturbed” (32.79% of participants): This profile had low scores on all measures of pornography motivations, perceived compulsivity, and distress.
- “Porn for enjoyment” (44.48% of participants): This profile had average scores on all measures except for the sexual pleasure subscale of the PCI, where they scored higher than the mean.
- “High pornography distress” (9.09% of participants): This profile reported very high levels of distress regarding pornography use, along with low scores on all pornography motivation items and perceived compulsivity.
- “High motivations and average distress” (13.36% of participants): This profile had high scores on all measures of pornography motivations and perceived compulsivity but reported distress levels similar to the mean.
The profile with the highest endorsement of motives and perceived compulsive use (“High motivations and average distress”) reported more loneliness, more fear of intimacy, and less social support compared to the other profiles and non-pornography users.
The researchers found no significant differences in these factors between non-users and two other pornography profiles. Although non-users generally reported lower loneliness and fear of intimacy and higher social support than any pornography profile, these scores were statistically similar to the fear of intimacy reported by individuals in Profile 2 and Profile 3.
The researchers said the findings align with previous literature that suggests a spectrum of motivations, attitudes, and behaviors regarding pornography use among college-aged individuals. The study’s results also replicate and expand upon previous research linking pornography use to loneliness. It indicates that there may be underlying isolation or relationship quality issues associated with the relationship between loneliness and pornography use.
“The profile with the largest proportion of participants (e.g., Profile 2) was characterized by average levels of motivation for consuming pornography but slightly higher levels of motivation in viewing pornography for sexual pleasure and average levels of compulsivity and distress,” the researchers concluded. “The second largest profile was characterized by low levels of motivation for viewing pornography but average levels of distress.”
“The profile with the smallest proportion of participants (9.09% of the sample) included individuals who reported low levels of motivation for consuming pornography across potential motivators.” Despite low levels of motivation, those included in Profile 3 reported average levels of compulsivity and high levels of distress. Finally, Profile 4 reported high motivation levels, above average levels of compulsivity but only average amounts of emotional distress. These profiles suggest that there is no single motive that is associated with problematic pornography consumption, but rather an abundance of motives.”
These profiles provide a more nuanced understanding of pornography consumption patterns and highlight the heterogeneity within this behavior. Understanding these profiles can help tailor interventions and support to individuals based on their specific needs and challenges, the researchers concluded.
The study, “Associations Between Pornography Consumption Patterns, Pornography Consumption Motives, and Social Wellbeing among U.S. College Students: A Latent Profile Analysis with a Primarily Female Sample“, was authored by Daniel W. M. Maitland and Elizabeth C. Neilson.