Sure, porn is fake, but what’s wrong with a little harmless fantasy? The problem is, porn isn’t harmless at all. Studies show that viewing porn makes a user more critical of his or her partner and less satisfied with their relationship and sex life. Real love requires real commitment to a real person. Porn just makes it harder for someone to have a real, loving relationship.

Porn looks like a newer, slicker version of love. Love 2.0. It’s like love, but easy, fast, and cheap.

In porn, finding a “partner” is effortless. She is always ready, willing, and longing for your attention. She has nothing else to do with her time but wait for you, breathless and perpetually aroused. She is young, beautiful, sexually adventurous, and anxious to please. She will never get bored or annoyed at you, never have an “off” day or need a listening ear. In fact, all she will ever want is wild, ecstatic orgasms that look so real! And if she ever fails to keep you entertained, you can simply exchange her with a click. [1]

Sure, it’s all fake, but advocates of porn say, “So what? What’s wrong with a little harmless fantasy?” The problem is, it’s not harmless. The problem is that internet pornography has a number of unique properties, such as limitless novelty, on-demand accessibility, and easy escalation to more extreme material, that can condition someone’s sexual arousal to aspects of pornography use that do not readily transition to real-life partners. As this happens, real life sex may not register as meeting expectations and arousal declines.

Maybe that is why counselor’s offices and divorce courts are filling up with couples who have found that, in reality, porn kills love.

An increasing number of couples in therapy report that pornography is causing difficulties in their relationship. [2] Research shows that pornography use is linked to less stability in relationships, [3] increased risk of infidelity, [4] and greater likelihood of divorce. [5] Men who are exposed to porn find their partners less sexually attractive and rate themselves as less in love with their partners. [6] A recent study tracked couples over a six year period, from 2006 to 2012, to see what factors influenced the quality of their marriage and their satisfaction with their sex lives. The researchers found that of all the factors considered, porn use was the second strongest indicator that a marriage would suffer. [7] Not only that, but the marriages that were harmed the most were those of men who viewed porn heavily, once a day or more. [8]

But it’s not just married couples who are harmed by porn. Unmarried couples in romantic relationships who view pornography together experience twice the rate of infidelity as couples who watch it alone, and three times more than couples who don’t watch porn at all. [9] A recent study of romantically involved people (most of whom were not married) found that those who used porn frequently were most likely to have lower satisfaction and intimacy in their relationship. [10]

Why do porn users struggle so much in real life relationships? The science is pretty clear.

Research shows that porn users report less love and trust in their relationships, are more prone to separation and divorce, and often see marriage as a “constraint.” [11] Overall, they are less committed to their partners, [12] less satisfied in their relationships, [13] and more cynical about love and relationships in general. [14] They also have poorer communication with their partners and are more likely to agree that, in their own relationships, “little arguments escalate into ugly fights with accusations, criticisms, name-calling, and bringing up past hurts.” [15]

And if all that weren’t enough, porn also ruins a couple’s sex life. [16] (See How Porn Damages Your Sex Life.)

But is this just a “chicken and egg” scenario? Is porn really damaging relationships, or are people turning to porn because they’re in relationships that are already suffering?

Probably both, according to Dr. Ana Bridges, a psychologist at the University of Arkansas. [17] When a couple hits a rough patch, the man may use porn for distraction or relief, and his partner may be hurt by his porn use because it makes her feel unattractive and insecure, like she’s being compared to porn stars. She may pull away emotionally, which makes him feel more distant, so he deals with his stress by turning to more porn, and round and round they go.

No wonder many partners of porn users end up depressed, anxious, and feeling like they can never measure up to the impossible standard of porn. [18] (See How Porn Can Hurt Your Partner.) The truth is, they have good reason to worry. In porn, mistakes are edited out and flaws are Photoshopped away. Porn actors have a whole team there to make them look fantastic, and once their best performance is captured on film, it never ages. Who wants to compete with that?

Obviously, porn is not how real women look or how real sex works in a real life relationship. And yet, whether they realize it or not, porn users are affected by the portrayals they see in porn. [19] That’s why, after viewing explicit material, they are more critical of their partner’s appearance, sexual curiosity, and sexual performance. [20]

Porn is not a harmless fantasy. Its effects on users and their partners are very real. The peddlers of porn are selling a lie—that you can build a real, loving relationship, but also bring in thousands of other sexual partners as long as those partners are kept behind a computer screen.

Real love requires real commitment to a real person, someone who may have split ends and a weird pinky toe, who eats her sandwiches all wrong and cares about the Beatles way too much and who makes you laugh when she drags you up on stage to sing karaoke with her because when you’re with her, you’re just crazy enough to do it. Because real people are like that: crazy and confusing and wonderful. All the stuff you’ll never get from porn.

Citations
[1] Estellon, V., and Mouras, H. (2012). Sexual Addiction: Insights from Psychoanalysis and Functional Neuroimaging. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 2: 11814. doi:10.3402/snp.v2i0.11814
[2] Olmstead, S. B., Negash, S., Pasley, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). Emerging Adults’ Expectations for Pornography Use in the Context of Future Committed Romantic Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 625-635. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9986-7; Mitchell, K. J., Becker-Blease, K. A., & Finkelhor, D. (2005). Inventory of problematic internet experiences encountered in clinical practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36, 498-509. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.36.5.498
[3] Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of cybersex addiction on the family: Results of a survey. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 31-58. doi:10.1080/10720160008400206
[4] Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27(2), 41–44. doi:10.1016/S1054-139X(00)00137-3
[5] Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of cybersex addiction on the family: Results of a survey. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 31-58. doi:10.1080/10720160008400206
[6] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In Stoner, J. & Hughes, D. (Eds.), The Social Cost of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Kendrick, D., Gutierres, S., & Goldberg, L. (1989). Influence of popular erotica on judgments of strangers and mates. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 159-167. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(89)90010-3
[7] Perry, S. (2016). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0770-y (Porn consumption was the second most predictive factor. The most predictive factor was the “lagged-dependant variable” which is a Statistics term we probably couldn’t explain even if we wanted to.)
[8] Perry, S. (2016). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0770-y
[9] Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4
[10] Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The effects of sexually explicit material use on romantic relationship dynamics. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078
[11] Henline, B. H., Lamke, L. K., & Howard, M. D. (2007). Exploring perception of online infidelity. Personal Relationships, 14, 113-128. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2006.00144.x; Stack, S., Wasserman, I., & Kern, R. (2004) Adult social bonds and the use of Internet pornography. Social Science Quarterly, 85, 75-88. doi:10.1111/j.0038-4941.2004.08501006.x; Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of cybersex addiction on the family: Results of a survey. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 31-58. doi:10.1080/10720160008400206
[12] Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The effects of sexually explicit material use on romantic relationship dynamics. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078; Perry, S. (2016). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0770-y; Sun, C., Bridges, A., Johnason, J., Ezzell, M. (2014). Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption and Sexual Relations. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 1-12. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0391-2; Poulsen, F. O., Busby, D. M., & Galovan, A. M. (2013). Pornography use: who uses it and how it is associated with couple outcomes. Journal of Sex Research 50(1), 72-83. doi:10.1080/00224499.2011.648027; Stewart, D. N., & Szymanski, D. M. (2012). Young Adult Women’s Reports of Their Male Romantic Partner’s Pornography Use as a Correlate of Their Self-Esteem, Relationship Quality, and Sexual Satisfaction. Sex Roles, 67(5-6), 257-274. Retrieved from https://yourbrainonporn.com/young-adult-women%E2%80%99s-reports-their-male-romantic-partner%E2%80%99s-pornography-use-correlate-their-self.
[13] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysunction? A Review with Clinical Reports, Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Perry, S. (2016). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0770-y; Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4; Morgan, E. M. (2011). Associations between young adults’ use of sexually explicit materials and their sexual preferences, behaviors, and satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 48,(6), 520-530. 8(6):520-30. doi:10.1080/00224499.2010.543960; Zillman, D., & Bryant, J. (2006). Pornography’s Impact on Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18(5), 438-453. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb00027.x
[14] Zillman, D., & Bryant, J. (2000). Influence of unrestrained access to erotica on adolescents’ and young adults’ disposition toward sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27(2 Suppl), 41-44. doi:10.1016/s1054-139X(00)00137-3
[15] Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4
[16] Perry, S. (2016). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0770-y; Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysunction? A Review with Clinical Reports, Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4; Morgan, E. M. (2011). Associations between young adults’ use of sexually explicit materials and their sexual preferences, behaviors, and satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 48,(6), 520-530. 8(6):520-30. doi:10.1080/00224499.2010.543960
[17] Weir, K. (2014, April). Is pornography addictive? Monitor on Psychology. 45(4) 46. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/pornography.aspx
[18] Steffens, B. A., & Rennie, R. L. (2006). The Traumatic Nature of Disclosure for Wives of Sexual Addicts. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 13(2-3), 247–67. doi:10.1080/10720160600870802; Wolf, N. (2004). The Porn Myth. New York Magazine, May 24; Wildmom-White, M. L., & Young, J. S. (2002). Family-of-Origin Characteristics Among Women Married to Sexually Addicted Men. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 9(4), 263–73. doi:10.1080/10720160216042
[19] Morgan, E. M. (2011). Associations between young adults’ use of sexually explicit materials and their sexual preferences, behaviors, and satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 48,(6), 520-530. 8(6):520-30. doi:10.1080/00224499.2010.543960
[20] Zillmann, D. and Bryant, J. (1988). Pornography’s Impact on Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18(5), 438–53. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb00027.x

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