COMMENTS: This new study (abstract below) is being touted as a “failed replication” of a highly cited 1989 experiment, thus proving that porn use has little effect of intimate relationships.
First, it’s absurd to claim that experimental studies can demonstrate if porn viewing really causes negative relationship effects.” Experiments where college-aged guys view a few Playboy centerfolds (as in the study) can tell you nothing about the effects of your husband masturbating to hard-core videos clips day after day for years on end.
In reality, every single study involving males has reported that more porn use linked to poorer sexual or relationship satisfaction. In all, nearly 60 studies link porn use to less sexual and relationship satisfaction. Of these 60 relationship studies 7 are longitudinal studies that control for variables or studies where subjects abstain from porn. To date seven longitudinal relationship studies have been published that reveal the real-life consequences of ongoing porn use. All reported that porn use relates to poorer relationship/sexual outcomes:
- Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Internet Material and Sexual Satisfaction: A Longitudinal Study (2009).
- A Love That Doesn’t Last: Pornography Consumption and Weakened Commitment to One’s Romantic Partner (2012).
- Internet pornography and relationship quality: A longitudinal study of within and between partner effects of adjustment, sexual satisfaction and sexually explicit internet material among newly-weds (2015).
- Till Porn Do Us Part? Longitudinal Effects of Pornography Use on Divorce, (2016).
- Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data (2016).
- Are Pornography Users More Likely to Experience A Romantic Breakup? Evidence from Longitudinal Data (2017).
- Pornography Use and Marital Separation: Evidence from Two-Wave Panel Data (2017).
On to the 2017 study and its easily dismissed results: Does exposure to erotica reduce attraction and love for romantic partners in men? Independent replications of Kenrick, Gutierres, and Goldberg (1989).
The 2017 study attempted to replicate a 1989 study that exposed men and women in committed relationships to erotic images of the opposite sex. The 1989 study found that men who were exposed to the nude Playboy centerfolds rated their partners as less attractive and reported less love for their partner. As the 2017 findings failed to replicate the 1989 findings, we are told that the 1989 study got it wrong, and that porn use cannot diminish love or desire. Whoa! Not so fast.
The replication “failed” because our cultural environment has become “pornified.” The 2017 researchers didn’t recruit 1989 college students who grew up watching MTV after school. Instead their subjects grew up surfing PornHub for gang bang and orgy video clips.
In 1989 how many college students had seen an X-rated video? Not too many. How many 1989 college students spent every masturbation session, from puberty on, masturbating to multiple hard-core clips in one session? None. The reason for the 2017 results is evident: brief exposure to a still image of a Playboy centerfold is a big yawn compared to what college men in 2017 have been watching for years. Even the authors admitted the generational differences with their first caveat:
1) First, it is important to point out that the original study was published in 1989. At the time, exposure to sexual content may not have been as available, whereas today, exposure to nude images is relatively more pervasive, and thus being exposed to a nude centerfold may not be enough to elicit the contrast effect originally reported. Therefore, the results for the current replication studies may differ from the original study due to differences in exposure, access, and even acceptance of erotica then versus now.
In a rare instance of unbiased prose even David Ley felt compelled to point out the obvious:
It may be that the culture, men, and sexuality have substantially changed since 1989. Few adult men these days haven’t seen pornography or nude women—nudity and graphic sexuality are common in popular media, from Game of Thrones to perfume advertisements, and in many states, women are permitted to go topless. So it’s possible that men in the more recent study have learned to integrate the nudity and sexuality they see in porn and everyday media in a manner which doesn’t affect their attraction or love for their partners. Perhaps the men in the 1989 study had been less exposed to sexuality, nudity, and pornography.
Keep in mind that this experiment doesn’t mean internet porn use hasn’t affected men’s attraction for their lovers. It just means that looking at “centerfolds” has no immediate impact these days. Many men report radical increases in attraction to partners after giving up internet porn. And, of course, there is also the longitudinal evidence cited above demonstrating the deleterious effects of porn viewing on relationships.
Finally, it’s important to note that the authors of this paper are colleagues of Taylor Kohut at the University of Western Ontario. This group of researchers, headed by William Fisher, has been publishing questionable studies, which consistently produce results that on the surface appear to counter the vast literature linking porn use to myriad negative outcomes. Moreover, both Kohut and Fisher played big roles in the defeat of Motion 47 in Canada.
Here are two recent studies from Kohut, Fisher and colleagues at Western Ontario that garnered widespread and misleading headlines:
In their 2017 study, Kohut, Fisher and Campbell appear to have skewed the sample to produce the results they were seeking. Whereas most studies show that a tiny minority of porn users’ female partners use porn, in this study 95% of the women used porn on their own (85% of the women had used porn since the beginning of the relationship). Those rates are higher than in college-aged men, and far higher than in any other porn study! In other words, the researchers appear to have skewed their sample to produce the results they were seeking. Reality: Cross-sectional data from the largest US survey (General Social Survey) reported that only 2.6% of women had visited a “pornographic website” in the last month.
In addition, Kohut’s study asked only “open ended” questions where subjects could ramble on about porn. The researchers read the ramblings and decided, after the fact, what answers were “important” (fit their desired narrative?). In other words, the study did not correlate porn use with any objective, scientific variable assessment of sexual or relationship satisfaction (as did the nearly 60 studies that show porn use in linked to negative effects on relationships). Everything reported in the paper was included (or excluded) at the unchallenged discretion of the authors.
Taylor Kohut co-authors framed egalitarianism as: Support for (1) Abortion, (2) Feminist identification, (3) Women holding positions of power, (4) Belief that family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job, and oddly enough (5) Holding more negative attitudes toward the traditional family. Secular populations, which tend to be more liberal, have far higher rates of porn use than religious populations. By choosing these criteria and ignoring endless other variables, lead author Kohut and his co-authors knew they would end up with porn users scoring higher on this study’s carefully chosen selection of what constitutes “egalitarianism.” Then the authors chose a title that spun it all. In reality, these findings are contradicted by nearly every other published study. (See this list of over 25 studies linking porn use to sexist attitudes, objectification and less egalitarianism.)
Note: This 2018 presentation exposes the truth behind 5 questionable and misleading studies, including the two studies just discussed: Porn Research: Fact or Fiction?
- Three preregistered, high-powered replications of Kenrick et al. (1989)
- Exposed men and women in committed relationships to opposite sex erotica
- After exposure assessed ratings of attractiveness and love for partner
- Effects of original and replication studies were meta-analyzed
- Across the three studies we did not find support for the original finding.
Kenrick, Gutierres, and Goldberg (1989; Study 2) demonstrated that men, but not women, in committed relationships exposed to erotic images of opposite-sex others reported lower ratings for their partner’s sexual attractiveness (d = 0.91) and less love for their partner (d = 0.69) than men exposed to images of abstract art. This research has implications for understanding the possible effects of erotica on men in relationships, but has not been replicated. We conducted three preregistered, high-powered close replications, and meta-analyzed the effects of the original and replication studies. We did not find support for the original finding that exposure to attractive images of opposite-sex others affects males’ ratings of their partners’ sexual attractiveness or love for their partner.
Keywords: Centerfolds; Erotica; Partner attractiveness; Love; Replication; Reproducibility