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This Study Found the Most Important Trait People Look For in a Partner

If a scientist told you the most important quality to look for in a partner in order to ensure a happy, lifelong relationship, would you pay attention?

By February 7, 2022No Comments

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.

Related: How Porn Can Hurt a Consumer’s Partner

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?

Related: How Porn Can Negatively Impact Love and Intimacy

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?

Unkind aggression

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.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866Copy  Another study estimated that nearly 40% of videos analyzed on Pornhub contained visible aggression or violence, while 25% contained verbal aggression.Shor, E., & Seida, K. (2019). 'Harder and Harder'? Is Mainstream Pornography Becoming Increasingly Violent and Do Viewers Prefer Violent Content? Journal of sex research, 56(1), 16–28. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1451476Copy  And yet another study suggested that 45.1% of Pornhub videos and 35.0% of videos on XVideos depicted violence or aggression.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0Copy  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.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866Copy  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.Daneback, K., Ševčíková, A., & Ježek, S. (2018). Exposure to online sexual materials in adolescence and desensitization to sexual content. Sexologies, 27(3), e71-e76. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sexol.2018.04.001Copy Ezzell, M. B., Johnson, J. A., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2020). I (dis)like it like that: Gender, pornography, and liking sex. J.Sex Marital Ther., 46(5), 460-473. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2020.1758860Copy  In fact, research indicates that porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others,Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058Copy Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.Copy Zhou, Y., Liu, T., Yan, Y., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography use, two forms of dehumanization, and sexual aggression: Attitudes vs. behaviors. Null, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598Copy  more likely to express an intent to rape,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy  less likely to intervene during a sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault. 18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy  Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097Copy  more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(20), 3071–3089. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515596538Copy  more likely to support violence against women,Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2016). Men's Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 955–964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8Copy Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198Copy  more likely to forward sexts without consent,van Oosten, J., & Vandenbosch, L. (2020). Predicting the Willingness to Engage in Non-Consensual Forwarding of Sexts: The Role of Pornography and Instrumental Notions of Sex. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1121–1132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01580-2Copy  and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201Copy Rostad, W. L., Gittins-Stone, D., Huntington, C., Rizzo, C. J., Pearlman, D., & Orchowski, L. (2019). The association between exposure to violent pornography and teen dating violence in grade 10 high school students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2137-2147. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1435-4Copy Goodson, A., Franklin, C. A., & Bouffard, L. A. (2021). Male peer support and sexual assault: The relation between high-profile, high school sports participation and sexually predatory behaviour. 27(1), 64-80. doi:10.1080/13552600.2020.1733111Copy Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058Copy 

Do any of these studies’ findings sound like they contribute to kindness in relationships?

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Unkind objectification

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.Cikara, M., Eberhardt, J. L., & Fiske, S. T. (2011). From agents to objects: sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 23(3), 540–551. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2010.21497Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

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.”Tylka, T. L., & Van Diest, A. M. K. (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, 67–84. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784Copy 

“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,Bergner, R. M., & Bridges, A. J. (2002). The significance of heavy pornography involvement for romantic partners: research and clinical implications. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 28(3), 193–206. https://doi.org/10.1080/009262302760328235Copy  and is describing the experience of internalized sexual objectification—when someone starts to view themselves as an object that exists for others’ sexual pleasure. Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T.-A. (1997). Objectification Theory: Toward Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21(2), 173–206. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.xCopy Koval et al., (2019). How does it feel to be treated like an object? Direct and indirect effects of exposure to sexual objectification on women's emotions in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, 116 (6), 885-898. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000161Copy 

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,Miles-McLean, H., Liss, M., Erchull, M. J., Robertson, C. M., Hagerman, C., Gnoleba, M. A., . . . Papp, L. J. (2015). “Stop looking at me!” Interpersonal sexual objectification as a source of insidious trauma. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39, 390–404. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0361684314561018Copy  eating disorders,Tylka, T. L., & Van Diest, A. M. K. (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, 67–84. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784Copy  and depression.Jones, B. A., & Griffiths, K. M. (2015). Self-objectification and depression: An integrative systematic review. Journal of affective disorders, 171, 22–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.09.011Copy 

Related: Renowned Relationship Therapists Drs. Julie & John Gottman Release “Open Letter On Porn”

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.

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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.”Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.Copy 

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.Volkow, N. D., Koob, G. F., & Mclellan, A. T. (2016). Neurobiological Advances From The Brain Disease Model Of Addiction. New England Journal Of Medicine, 374, 363-371. doi:10.1056/Nejmra1511480Copy 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  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.Sun, C., Miezan, E., Lee, N., & Shim, J. W. (2015). Korean Men’s pornography use, their interest in extreme pornography, and dyadic sexual relationships.27(1), 16-35. doi:10.1080/19317611.2014.927048Copy Rasmussen, K. (2016). A historical and empirical review of pornography and romantic relationships: Implications for family researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141Copy 

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.

Related: Study Finds Regular Porn Consumption Leads To Lower Sexual Satisfaction For Both Men & Women

BHW - General

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.Young K. S. (2013). Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients. Journal of behavioral addictions, 2(4), 209–215. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.2.2013.4.3Copy Nathanson, A. (2021). Psychotherapy with young people addicted to internet pornography. Psychoanal.Study Child, 74(1), 160-173. doi:10.1080/00797308.2020.1859286Copy  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 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.

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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