People watch a lot of porn online. According to NPR, one leading pornography website says people spend 4.5 billion hours there. That’s an incredible amount of porn.
Naturally, there have been multiple studies on the subject of pornography covering everything from mental health, to the impact it can have on young children, to its influence on men’s behavior. However, there is little research on the impact of pornography on the stability of long-term relationships.
A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior took a look at that very topic, and naturally they found a mixed bag. Samuel Perry, a sociologist at the University of Oklahoma, authored it. The study worked off of an existing body of work on pornography and relationships and looked at couples where one or both partners kept porn use a secret. However, it ran into an issue that is common for many sociologists studying the impact of pornography usage: causation vs. correlation.
There have been many studies that show a correlation between pornography and negative relationships. But it’s kind of a chicken or the egg sort of thing. Do people in poor relationships turn to pornography? Or did watching porn itself contribute to the relationship’s demise?
According to a recent NPR interview with Perry, “to disentangle correlation from causation…you usually have to conduct an experiment. In this case, that would be very hard. I mean, you can’t say, I’m going to take 2,000 couples, force half of them to watch porn, while half of them don’t, and then measure which couples stay together. That would be unethical.”
I mean, honestly. If you were asked to participate in study where couples were expected to watch porn and see if they get divorced, would you do it? I know I wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be worth the risk. So instead, researchers surveyed about 2,000 couples several times between 2006 and 2012. They asked about porn usage, when it began, when it stopped, and all the changes in between. Then they asked them about satisfaction in their relationship. Over time, by asking couples about their usage of porn, they found out a few interesting things.
According to Perry’s interview, “We found that married Americans who began pornography were roughly twice as likely to be divorced. It’s a difference of, say, 6% likelihood of divorce for people who never begin pornography use to about 11% of people who did begin pornography use between waves.”
For anyone who values his or her marriage and understands how difficult it can be to keep a marriage going, any shift in the potential for divorce should be concerning. In all honestly, marriage is the most rewarding and most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I doubt anyone in a marriage would disagree with me. It becomes more complicated when I consider that I’m 35, and it seems like my friends aren’t getting married anymore; they are getting divorced. I’m not interested in rocking the boat.
One thing to consider, however, is that much of this study is still focused on correlation. They found that if one, or both, partners view porn, they are more likely to get divorced. However, they were still left with the chicken or the egg question above: Do people in poor relationships turn to pornography? Or is it that pornography itself contributed to the relationship being unhealthier?
One thing I found particularly surprising about this study was that men and women who view porn while in a relationship fared differently. Women who put the brakes on their porn viewing ended up having happier relationships. Men who stopped using porn, well, it didn’t make much of a difference on their happiness in the relationship. But on the flip side, it also found that the association between pornography use and experiencing a romantic breakup was three times as likely for men than for women.
I suppose there are a lot of ways to interpret these findings, but the one part that seemed to be pretty cut and dry is that there is a correlation between porn usage and long-term relationship instability. The reasoning for the porn usage, naturally, is still in the ether.
But if there is one major takeaway, it’s that if pornography is a part of your relationship, whether it is only one partner or both, it might not result in the best outcome. And naturally, I know that there are couples out there who use porn as a way to spice up their love life. I have to assume that there are safe ways to make it work for you and your spouse. However, this study didn’t examine those relationships.
Ultimately, though, this study should cause all couples to think twice about the impact porn might be having on your relationship and to really consider the reasoning behind your porn usage.
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