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5 Basic Reasons Why People Choose to Watch Porn

Porn is easier to find than a good restaurant for date night, and it’ll never reject a consumer like a real person would. But why do people even log on in the first place?

By November 23, 2020September 10th, 2021No Comments
Arousal, education, loneliness, boredom, and peer pressure are all basic reasons why people turn to hardcore, explicit content. But no matter the reason, there’s a harmful impact connected. Watching just isn’t worth it, for any reason.

Porn may be easier to find than a good restaurant for date night, but does that make it a healthy alternative to real-life connection?

While it’s no secret that porn can be damaging to relationships, porn is a common habit—even for those who are in committed relationships. When this happens, many partners of porn consumers find themselves wondering, If my partner is sexually satisfied with me, then why do they still watch porn? or am I enough?

Well, according to a team of researchers led by Beáta Bőthe, only 5.94% of porn consumers in their study said that they watched porn because of a “lack of sexual satisfaction.”Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Bella, N., Potenza, M. N., Demetrovics, Z., & Orosz, G. (2021). Why do people watch pornography? The motivational basis of pornography use. Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 35(2), 172–186. https://doi.org/10.1037/adb0000603COPY  In other words, the vast majority of porn consumers are watching porn for reasons other than their partner not being “enough.”

So if that’s true, what are the reasons why people do watch porn? Let’s take a look…

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1. Arousal

This comes as no surprise, but the top reason why people look at porn is for sexual pleasure, according to Bőthe’s 2021 study.Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Bella, N., Potenza, M. N., Demetrovics, Z., & Orosz, G. (2021). Why do people watch pornography? The motivational basis of pornography use. Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 35(2), 172–186. https://doi.org/10.1037/adb0000603COPY  Plus, out of all the explanations, this is the one porn is specifically produced for.

Sexual desire is, of course, natural and healthy. In a relationship where partners have different drives, or a single person desiring sex, again porn is often seen as a go-to way to fulfill that need.

But while porn is specifically produced to arouse, it’s not produced with the health of the consumer or their relationships in mind.

Related: How Introducing Porn Into Our Sex Life Tore Our Relationship Apart

Porn promises a variety of sex, “hotter” sex, and more extreme sex. But think about it—while it may be promising more porn, more porn does not translate into real-life sex.

World-renowned relationship experts and researchers, Doctors John and Julie Gottman, for example, have expressed serious concerns about the effects of pornography on sexual relationships. They explain,

With pornography use, much more of a normal stimulus may eventually be needed to achieve the response a supernormal stimulus evokes. In contrast, ordinary levels of the stimulus are no longer interesting. This may be how normal sex becomes much less interesting for porn users. The data supports this conclusion. In fact, use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.”Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (April 5, 2016). An open letter on porn. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-open-letter-on-porn/COPY 

Regular porn consumers can become so accustomed to being aroused by the imagery and endless novelty found in porn that pretty soon, natural turn-ons and real relationships aren’t enough, and many porn consumers find they can’t get aroused by anything but porn.Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603COPY Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017COPY Voon, V., et al. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviors, PLoS ONE, 9(7), e102419. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102419COPY 

So instead of porn boosting a person’s intimate and sex life, porn can actually do the opposite. Doesn’t sound very sexy, does it?

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2. Education

Bőthe and her team also found that another common motivation for watching porn was to learn about sex.Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Bella, N., Potenza, M. N., Demetrovics, Z., & Orosz, G. (2021). Why do people watch pornography? The motivational basis of pornography use. Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 35(2), 172–186. https://doi.org/10.1037/adb0000603COPY 

For young people, figuring out how sex works is a common reason to turn to porn. In fact, one study shows that approximately 45% of teens who consumed porn did so in part to learn about sex.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  Similarly, survey results also show one in four 18 to 24-year-olds (24.5%) listed pornography as the most helpful source to learn how to have sex.Rothman, E. F., Beckmeyer, J. J., Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2021). The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 629–646. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7COPY 

The curiosity is real, and porn may seem like the easiest place to explore. But does that make it the best place?

Jack Wallington, director of an online student community remarked that:

“Students regularly report a general lack of practical advice and inadequate information about sexuality—leaving a black hole of unanswered questions that are filled by websites.”

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding Of Healthy Sex

Porn as the de facto educator about sex is problematic for a number of reasons. What teens see in porn is not realistic, which is especially concerning considering that research shows that porn’s influence can and does find its way into young people’s sexual expectations and behaviors.Koletić G. (2017). Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents' attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies. Journal of adolescence, 57, 119–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.006COPY Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Adolescents and pornography: A review of 20 years of research.53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441COPY  Teens often feel pressured to imitate porn performer, even when that means bypassing safe and ethical boundaries like consent.Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). 'Without Porn … I Wouldn't Know Half the Things I Know Now: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of sex research, 52(7), 736–746. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.960908COPY Marston, C., & Lewis, R. (2014). Anal heterosex among young people and implications for health promotion: a qualitative study in the UK. BMJ open, 4(8), e004996. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2014-004996COPY  Let’s be real—porn is not a healthy replacement for safe and accurate information about sex or a trusted adult in a teen’s life talking candidly about sex.

Even many adults say they consume porn for ideas to try out with their partner. While keeping things fresh and exciting in the bedroom isn’t something we’d discourage, research is clear that porn consumers tend to become less sexually satisfied in their relationships. Szymanski, D. M., & Stewart-Richardson, D. N. (2014). Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Correlates of Pornography Use on Young Adult Heterosexual Men in Romantic Relationships. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 22(1), 64–82. https://doi.org/10.3149/jms.2201.64COPY  In other words, porn can do the opposite of bringing a couple closer together.

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3. Coping with negative emotions

Another common reason for watching porn, according to Bőthe’s team, is to cope with uncomfortable emotions.Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Bella, N., Potenza, M. N., Demetrovics, Z., & Orosz, G. (2021). Why do people watch pornography? The motivational basis of pornography use. Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 35(2), 172–186. https://doi.org/10.1037/adb0000603COPY  The researchers specifically identify “stress reduction” and “emotional distraction or suppression” as motivations for consuming porn.

To escape these feelings, a person may turn to porn. It seems like a quick fix for temporary loneliness, but at best it’s a cheap distraction, and at worse, porn only fuels those feelings. Whether de-stressing at the end of a particularly rough day, or whether using porn as an escape from emotions that feel too difficult to deal with, research shows that porn doesn’t actually help in the long-run. In fact, research indicates that those who consume pornography to avoid uncomfortable emotions tend to have some of the lowest reports of emotional and mental wellbeing.Brown, C. C., Durtschi, J. A., Carroll, J. S., & Willoughby, B. J. (2017). Understanding and predicting classes of college students who use pornography. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 114-121.COPY 

Related: How The Porn Industry Capitalizes On Loneliness And Depression

“The more one uses pornography, the more lonely one becomes,” Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist, said. He continued how normally, a person would be able to turn to the people close to them during hard times, but if a person has been trying to cope using porn, they may feel embarrassed to tell someone else about their habits. A sense of shame can turn a person back to the source of fake comfort—more porn.

In his column, Stewart Dakers, a community volunteer worker, described how to avoid lonely feelings:

“It’s about belonging, and belonging is about taking part, and taking part is about being of use, of being engaged.”

This is something porn can never do.

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4. Boredom

Bőthe’s team also found that “boredom avoidance” is another common reason for consuming pornography. While boredom is now described in some circles as a positive state of mind that spurs creativity, even earning approval from Steve Jobs, a lot of people would still rather avoid it. So much so that a team of psychologists found that two-thirds of men and a quarter of women would rather give them self electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Yikes.

Our digital world has done a pretty good job at providing endless amounts of entertainment and distractions for those who can’t stand a moment of idleness. Of course, porn is included in this bundle, and many people describe their porn habits as a way to unwind after a day of work or study.

Related: Can Women Get Addicted To Watching Porn?

But consider this definition of boredom: “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.”

Porn cannot help with boredom because it leaves a person unsatisfied and disengaged. Sure, at first it is new and exciting, but as the brain is regularly stimulated by porn, it can become bored of seeing the same content. A person can slowly start to crave more.

Porn doesn’t satisfy boredom. It’s like an itch, but the more it’s scratched the worse it itches.

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5. Porn can be difficult to quit

When considering why some people choose to consume porn, it’s also important to recognize that there are many people who don’t want to rely on porn, but who can’t seem to break the habit. Even people who are actively trying to quit porn still find themselves falling back into the habit from time to time. Because of the ways a porn habit can affect our brains, porn can be very difficult to quit. Although most porn consumers are not addicts, in serious cases, a problematic porn habit can be classified as an addiction.Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 5(3), 388–433. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs5030388COPY Stark R., Klucken T. (2017) Neuroscientific Approaches to (Online) Pornography Addiction. In: Montag C., Reuter M. (eds) Internet Addiction. Studies in Neuroscience, Psychology and Behavioral Economics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-46276-9_7COPY De Sousa, A., & Lodha, P. (2017). Neurobiology of Pornography Addiction - A clinical review. Telangana Journal of Psychiatry, 3(2), 66-70. doi:10.18231/2455-8559.2017.0016COPY 

Regardless of whether or not someone’s porn habit qualifies as an addiction in a clinically diagnosable sense, porn can still be a habit that’s difficult to get rid of. Research suggests that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13, with some exposed as young as 7.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  That means that many consumers are exposed to porn before they even know what it is, let alone what consequences it may have in their life later on. Is it any wonder, then, that so many end up with porn habits they can’t seem to let go of?

Related: Is My Partner’s Porn Habit Harming Our Relationship, Or Am I Just Insecure?

If you or a loved one is struggling to quit porn, and you’re wondering why that person keeps returning to their habits, be patient and remember that recovery takes time. It can be a frustrating process, but according to one study of individuals trying to quit porn, researchers found that shame actually predicted increased pornography consumption while guilt predicted sustainable change.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior. 18(1), 12-29. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.551182COPY  So be kind, be patient with the progress, and remember that adding shame to the equation won’t help things get better. Like anything, it takes time for the brain to recover, but daily efforts make a big difference in the long run.

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No matter the reason…

Porn may seem like a harmless pastime, or even a good way to learn more about sex. Maybe a committed relationship seems far away in the future, or you feel confident that a little porn won’t harm your relationships. But the research is clear—porn can have devastating impacts on relationships, both sexually and emotionally. There is no substitute for real connection, and porn isn’t worth risking that.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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