The Truth About How Porn Affects Us - By Justin Lehmiller

The Truth About How Porn Affects Us - By Justin Lehmiller

In the popular media, pornography has seemingly become the default source of blame for any and all sexual problems. Why are we in a “sex recession?” Porn. Why do we have such a big problem with sexual violence? Porn. Why are sexual difficulties like erectile dysfunction so common? Porn.

As support for these and other claims claims about the dangers posed by pornography consumption, media articles often reference the writings of anti-porn advocacy organizations—organizations that see no place for porn and warn of its “addictive” potential. However, what many fail to realize is that these organizations are rooted in ideology, not science. Some of them may claim the banner of science in an attempt to gain legitimacy, but they cherrypick and distort the findings in order to provide a one-sided and inaccurate story: that porn is categorically bad and a major threat to public health and safety.

The truth, however, is that science has a complex and nuanced story to tell about the effects of porn. It’s neither inherently good nor bad, and it can have different effects on different people. In fact, the effects for some are very positive. For example, research has found that the couples who are the most sexually satisfied are actually more—not less—likely to make porn a part of their sex lives [1]. Why is that? Porn is one of many ways to add novelty to your sex life or to vicariously live out your sexual fantasies and, as such, it can help boost passion and excitement.

At the same time, however, we also know that porn can be a source of disagreement and conflict in other relationships—although it’s not always clear whether porn use itself is the problem in these cases, or if porn use is the symptom of another problem. For example, research has found that in couples involved in sexless marriages or who otherwise have sexual desire discrepancies, it’s not uncommon for the higher-desire partner to report turning to porn as a sexual outlet [2]. In situations like this, porn is often incorrectly labeled as the source of the problem when, in actuality, there’s a much deeper desire discrepancy that’s masquerading as a disagreement about porn.

Again, all of this points to the fact that understanding the effects of porn isn’t easy and that anyone who’s trying to give you a simple, black-and-white answer about the effects of porn just isn’t being truthful.

So if you’re a consumer or a journalist who wants to learn more about what the science of porn actually says, where can you go? Check out the new Science of Arousal and Relationships website. You can find links to academic research on the effects of porn, as well as links to responsible media coverage on the topic. There is also an Experts page, where you can find contact information for sex researchers and therapists who have expertise or training in understanding the effects of sex films (full disclosure: yours truly is included among the list of experts).

Bottom line: if you truly want to understand porn from a scientific perspective, listen to what the researchers studying it have to say. Our goal is not to tell people that they should or shouldn’t be watching porn, or to give blanket advice for everyone to follow. If the research has taught us anything, it’s that different things may work for different people. Our interest is only in providing the public with accurate, balanced, science-based information so that people can make informed decisions that are right for them.

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology ? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (facebook.com/psychologyofsex), Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit (reddit.com/r/psychologyofsex) to receive updates. You can also follow Dr. Lehmiller on YouTube and Instagram.

[1] Frederick, D. A., Lever, J., Gillespie, B. J., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). What keeps passion alive? Sexual satisfaction is associated with sexual communication, mood setting, sexual variety, oral sex, orgasm, and sex frequency in a national US study. The Journal of Sex Research54(2), 186-201.

[2] Donnelly, D. A., & Burgess, E. O. (2008). The decision to remain in an involuntarily celibate relationship. Journal of Marriage and Family70, 519-535.

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