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Can Watching Porn Negatively Impact Mental Health?

When people turn to porn to make themselves feel better, it might actually be doing the opposite for their mental health.

Many porn consumers use porn as a coping mechanism for when they’re feeling lonely, stressed, sad, bored, or upset. But instead of providing a healthy outlet for negative emotions, research shows that porn can actually be detrimental to mental health in the long-run. Let’s discuss.

Research has shown that the more porn someone consumes, the more likely they are to experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, and social problems.Levin, M. E., Lillis, J., & Hayes, S. C. (2012). When is online pornography viewing problematic among college males? Examining the moderating role of experiential avoidance.19(3), 168-180. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.657150COPY Camilleri, C., Perry, J. T., & Sammut, S. (2021). Compulsive Internet Pornography Use and Mental Health: A Cross-Sectional Study in a Sample of University Students in the United States. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 613244. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.613244COPY 

Research has shown that those who use porn as a self-soothing technique to avoid uncomfortable emotions end up having some of the lowest reports of emotional and mental well-being.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. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.09.008COPY  

Related: How Porn Can Impact Mental Health and Fuel Loneliness

Research also shows that porn consumption is linked to lower self-esteem—for both consumers and their partners.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 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), 257-271. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0164-0COPY 

Similarly, research suggests that both porn consumers and their partners tend to have poorer body image, as many seem to internalize the unrealistic body ideals displayed in porn.Tylka, T. L. (2015). No harm in looking, right? Men’s pornography consumption, body image, and well-being. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 97–107. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035774COPY Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784COPY 

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An important part of mental and emotional well-being is having healthy connections with others, yet studies routinely indicate that porn is actually associated with:

  • Less fulfilling relationshipsWright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography consumption and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 43(3), 315-343. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/hcre.12108COPY 
  • Increased relationship conflictCarroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Brown, C. C. (2017). The porn gap: Differences in men's and women's pornography patterns in couple relationships. 16(2), 146-163. doi:10.1080/15332691.2016.1238796COPY 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 
  • Poorer romantic attachmentTylka, T. L. (2015). No harm in looking, right? Men’s pornography consumption, body image, and well-being. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 97–107. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035774COPY Kor, A., Zilcha-Mano, S., Fogel, Y. A., Mikulincer, M., Reid, R. C., & Potenza, M. N. (2014). Psychometric development of the Problematic Pornography Use Scale. Addictive behaviors, 39(5), 861–868. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2014.01.027COPY  
  • 2x the likelihood of later experiencing a breakup or divorcePerry, S. L. (2018). Pornography use and marital separation: Evidence from two-wave panel data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(6), 1869-1880. doi:10.1007/s10508-017-1080-8COPY Perry, S. L., & Davis, J. T. (2017). Are pornography users more likely to experience a romantic breakup? Evidence from longitudinal data. Sexuality & Culture, 21(4), 1157-1176. doi:10.1007/s12119-017-9444-8COPY 

While many porn consumers turn to porn when they’re feeling lonely, research shows that porn can ultimately fuel feelings of loneliness, feeding an unhealthy coping cycle.Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B. (2018). Pornography Use and Loneliness: A Bidirectional Recursive Model and Pilot Investigation. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 44(2), 127–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2017.1321601COPY 

Related: Can Watching a Lot of Porn Worsen Existing Mental Health Issues?

When people turn to porn to make themselves feel better, it might actually be doing the opposite for their mental health. You deserve to be happy and healthy. You deserve better than porn. Invest in your mental health—quit porn for good.

Check out our affiliates at Fortify to access their free, science-based recovery platform. Learn more by visiting our affiliates at Fortify.

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