Pornography Use: Who Uses It and How It Is Associated with Couple Outcomes (2012)

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COMMENTS: Study of couples found that male pornography use was correlated to a crummier sex life for both sexes.

J Sex Res. 2012 Mar 26.

Poulsen FO, Busby DM, Galovan AM.

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Very little is known about how pornography use is related to the quality of committed relationships. This study examined associations among pornography use, the meaning people attach to its use, sexual quality, and relationship satisfaction. It also looked at factors that discriminate between those who use pornography and those who do not. Participants were couples (N = 617 couples) who were either married or cohabiting at the time the data were gathered. Overall results from this study indicated substantial gender differences in terms of use profiles, as well as pornography's association with relationship factors. Specifically, male pornography use was negatively associated with both male and female sexual quality, whereas female pornography use was positively associated with female sexual quality. The study also found that meaning explained a relatively small part of the relationship between pornography use and sexual quality.



  • Pornography use among men, although still low (27% reporting no use), showed more variability, with 31% using once per month or less, 16% using two to three days per month, 16% using one to two times per week, and 10% using three or more days per week.
  • One final, interesting finding from the discriminant analysis was that sexual desire significantly discriminated between female pornography use and non-use, but not male pornography use and non-use This is not to say that high male sexual desire does not predict pornography use, as previous research has suggested (Kontula, 2009). It only means that, in this sample, desire did not seem to discriminate between males who use and males who do not use. This is likely because of the fact that most men in our sample used pornography at some level.
  • Results of the SEM analysis showed that male pornography use had a consistent, negative association with both male and female sexual quality. This finding was consistent with expectations that male pornography use would be negatively associated with female sexual quality. Although the association between male pornography use and male sexual quality was the strongest association of interest, this was unanticipated Hald and Malumuth’s (2008) findings suggested quite the opposite, showing that men who used pornography believed doing so had mostly positive effects. Furthermore, research has shown that the majority of, at least college, men view pornography use as an acceptable way to express sexuality (Carroll et al., 2008) and a valuable means of becoming educated about sex (Boise, 2002). Thus, in this study, the result may be due to the fact that the female partner knew of and did not approve of her partner’s pornography use, and subsequently withdraws from the sexual relationship. Such circumstances are not uncommon, as indicated by Schneider’s (2000) clinical study, showing that disapproving partners are often repulsed by the behavior and may lose interest in sex. Another possible explanation is that males who use pornography lose interest in relational sex. Schneider (2000) found that more than one-half of compulsive pornography users’ spouses reported that their partner—the compulsive user—had lost interest in relational sex.
  • It is possible, at least for men, that pornography use changes perceptions of female partners, the sexual relationship, or both such that they are less satisfied with the sexual experiences in the relationship, whereas for women—as discussed earlier—the relationship between pornography use and sexual quality is explained by a pattern of couple use. It would seem that interpersonal sexual scripts of self and other (Gagnon & Simon, 1973) that respondents have adopted have little bearing on why pornography use is related to the sexual relationship. Future research that employs a longitudinal method may shed additional light on how meaning is associated with pornography use and its effects on the relationship. This study cannot, with certainty, establish the direction of these associations.