If a scientist told you the single most important quality to look for in a partner in order to ensure a happy, lifelong relationship, would you pay attention?
The vast majority of people go through life looking for that partner who just fits, who brings happiness and fullness and real love that lasts past the initial excitement of a new fling. While each person is unique and must find that person on their own, researchers claim to have found part of “the answer” that predicts the success of relationships across the globe.
In a recent study conducted by psychology researcher Andrew Thomas from the U.K.’s University of Swansea, the team studied 2,700 college students to determine what qualities were most important to them in a long-term partner. The researchers selected both male and female students, and they drew from two traditionally “Eastern” countries and three traditionally “Western” countries in order to determine if any trait won out despite gender, culture, and geography.
As it turns out, an Australian man and a Malaysian woman want the same thing in a mate—kindness. While the other attribute options varied greatly in rank depending on gender and culture, kindness was consistently the number one desired trait in a partner.
Another research organization, the world-famous Gottman Institute, has spent years coming to a similar conclusion. Dr. John Gottman claims he can predict with 94% accuracy whether couples will be together and happy, together and unhappy, or broken up years later. Do you know what he looks for? You guessed it—the secret lies in whether couples bring a spirit of kindness to the relationship or a spirit of “contempt, criticism, and hostility.”
So if kindness is so essential to a lasting, healthy relationship, then it is crucial to examine what might detract from its presence in a partner or relationship, right?
It might surprise you to know that pornography consumption does not invoke kindness in relationships. In fact, research shows that porn is strongly linked to aggression, objectification, shame, and isolation impulses—the opposite of kind traits, wouldn’t you say?
Let’s break down facts.
It might be no surprise to learn that research overwhelmingly shows that online porn is aggressive and violent.
These days, more hardcore content portrays explicitly abusive themes such as rape, gang rape, physical assault, and derogatory and racist name-calling. But even mainstream porn found on free sites has general trends of force, aggression, manipulation, and pressure.
It’s more difficult today to avoid violent hardcore porn than to search for it intentionally.
One ground-breaking study from a few years ago examined 50 of the most popular porn films and found that only one scene out of 10 contained no aggression. On top of that, 95% of the victims in the violent scenes were either neutral to the abuse or responded with pleasure and enjoyment. How twisted is that?
And one big problem with porn’s portrayal of aggression is that it sets the stage for glamorizing unequal power dynamics in relationships, normalizing dehumanizing attitudes towards one’s partner (especially if that partner is female), and desensitizing consumers to behaviors, language, or attitudes that are harmfully aggressive toward one’s partner.
So not only does porn show scene after scene of aggression, but it also affects the consumer’s brain in a drug-like way, physically altering neural pathways and teaching the brain to see its aggressive themes as increasingly normal.
Do any of these studies’ findings sound like they contribute to kindness in relationships?
Part of healthy love and part of kindness, is the continual gift of humanizing others, of seeing them for who they are as people and treasuring their uniqueness. Porn does the opposite of humanizing people—it objectifies them.
Pornographic scripts objectify people by portraying them as sexual objects to be used and exploited for personal pleasure. Porn works by removing humanity from situations and people. With just a couple of clicks, you can find numerous clips built around the “fantasy” of taking advantage of someone like an underage babysitter. In real life, though? These encounters are anything but a fantasy—they are abusive, violating, and life-altering.
This matters because porn has been shown to weaken feelings of compassion and humanity in consumers. A partner whose brain is influenced by porn’s messaging can be more likely to harbor objectifying views and less likely to empathize properly with his or her partner’s own experiences with exploitation—whether inside or outside of the relationship.
Let’s face it: kindness and objectification are completely at odds with each other. Porn can hurt the kindness connection someone has to themself and others that helps relationships stay strong.
Unkind shame and isolation
Psychologist Dr. Gary Brooks, who has worked with porn addicts for over 30 years, says that “The more one uses pornography, the more lonely one becomes.”
Porn’s addictive nature can train a consumer’s brain to need more porn in a more hardcore version order to feel positive dopamine-induced feelings, to such an extent that normal life activities and connections with people don’t produce the same sense of pleasure.
Studies also show that porn consumers can feel less dedicated to their relationships, enjoy less sexual satisfaction, and commit more infidelity. This isn’t a guarantee for every consumer, of course, though it does happen.
As consumers start to experience reduced sexual intimacy in reality and the insecurity that porn fosters, they can often self-isolate into shame and even depression. The porn industry thrives on this because it keeps consumers coming back for more when they feel they cannot turn anywhere else.
As Dr. Julie Gottman from the Gottman Institute puts it, porn consumption “can threaten a relationship’s intimacy… Intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people. But when one person becomes accustomed to masturbating to porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction.”
It is kind to turn toward intimacy in a relationship and to contribute to it. Shame and isolation tendencies, however, can only reduce the connection between partners and with oneself.
Will you be the kindness the world needs?
If kindness is powerful enough to strike a chord with men and women from Singapore to the U.K. more than any other quality, we think it’s worth ditching practices that foster the opposite—destructive traits of aggression, objectification, and shame. Join us in pursuing healthy, lasting, and kind love. Consider ditching porn and spreading the word to others.
And if you’ve struggled with porn, and you’ve seen the negative effects in your life, there is hope for healing and recovery. You can get help today to make lasting changes, just check out our friends at Fortify.
For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out our friends at 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 compulsive behavior, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.