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, there are similarities across the world, and 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?
It might be no surprise to learn that research overwhelmingly shows that online porn is aggressive and violent.
One team of researchers with the same question analyzed hundreds of the most popular porn scenes and found that 88.2% contained physical violence or aggression while 48.7% contained verbal aggression. Another study estimated that nearly 40% of videos analyzed on Pornhub contained visible aggression or violence, while 25% contained verbal aggression. And yet another study suggested that 45.1% of Pornhub videos and 35.0% of videos on XVideos depicted violence or aggression. And as each of these studies agreed, women were almost always the targets.
Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence
While the amount of violence shown in porn is troubling, what is perhaps even more disturbing is the portrayed reactions to that violence. One study found that 95% of the targets of violence or aggression in porn appeared either neutral or appeared to respond with pleasure. In other words, porn is sending the message that sexual violence is just a part of sexual pleasure.
By watching scene after scene of dehumanizing or violent content, it can start to seem normal for consumers. In fact, research indicates that porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others, more likely to express an intent to rape, less likely to intervene during a sexual assault, more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault, more likely to support violence against women, more likely to forward sexts without consent, and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.
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.
Not long ago, Princeton and Stanford psychologists performed a study showing a group of men two sets of pictures, some of fully-clothed women and others of women who had been sexualized and were barely clothed. The psychologists monitored their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is the part of the brain involved in recognizing human faces and distinguishing one person from another. For the most part, the mPFC part of the brain was activated with each picture. However, when the subjects of the study were shown the pictures of sexualized women, this part of the brain was not activated. Basically, the automatic reaction in their brains suggested that they didn’t perceive the sexualized women as fully human, rather they saw them as objects, focusing on their bodies and body parts. The researchers concluded, “sexualized women were perceived as having the least control over their own lives” and “this suggests that sexualized women are more closely associated with being the objects, not the agents, of action as compared to clothed women.”
Pornography promotes what is often referred to as the “objectifying gaze.” As researchers Tracy Tylka and Ashley Kroon Van Diest note, “women in pornography are presented as the object of this sexual gaze, and they are defined according to how they will bring pleasure to the observer.”
“I am no longer a sexual person or partner to him, but a sexual object. He is not really with me, not really making love to me when we have intercourse. He seems to be thinking about something or someone else—likely those porn women—or he is just inserting me to play a role in some novel sexual scenario that he saw somewhere. He is just using me as a warm body.”
This quote is from a woman who was part of an interview-based research study of women whose male partners frequently consume pornography, and is describing the experience of internalized sexual objectification—when someone starts to view themselves as an object that exists for others’ sexual pleasure.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that research shows that feeling sexually objectified is linked to a variety of negative psychological outcomes including body shame, eating disorders, and depression.
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
Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with people struggling with unwanted porn habits for the last 30 years, explains that, “Anytime [a person] spends much time with the usual pornography usage cycle, it can’t help but be a depressing, demeaning, self-loathing kind of experience.”
The worse people feel about themselves, the more they seek comfort wherever they can get it. Normally, they would be able to rely on the people closest to them to help them through their difficult times—a partner, friend, or family member. But many porn consumers aren’t exactly excited to tell anyone about their porn habits, least of all their partner. So they turn to the easiest source of “comfort” available: more porn.
As some porn consumers find themselves further down this cycle, an isolating porn habit can lead them to skip out on interacting with friends, participating in hobbies, or connecting with the people in their lives. Some consumers can become so emotionally and physically reliant on porn that they may start to prefer watching porn to participating in real-life sexual experiences, which can understandably seriously harm their relationships.
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.
If you have been struggling to quit an unwanted porn habit, please know that you’re not alone. It can feel really lonely and frustrating, but there is hope. While research shows that consuming porn can fuel the cycle of loneliness, research also shows that it is possible to overcome a porn habit and its negative effects.According to one study of individuals trying to quit porn, researchers found that shame actually predicted increased pornography consumption while guilt predicted sustainable change.So if you’re trying to give up porn, be kind to yourself and be patient with your progress. Like anything, it takes time for the brain to recover, but daily efforts make a big difference in the long run.
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 affiliates at Fortify.
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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