How Porn Isn’t Ruining Your Relationship

Dirty videos (in moderation) don’t kill relationships, but secrecy does.

Porn Isn't Ruining Your Relationship

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photo courtesy of Guille Faingold

filed under Science of Love, Sex

Google any combination of the words “porn” and “relationships,” and behold the daunting headlines. Listicles citing the “ways porn ruins a relationship.” Articles calling sexually explicit material a “toxic poison” that causes “sexual and relationship dysfunction.”

These results hold some merit. Most conclude that completely porn-free relationships are reportedly more satisfying and have lower rates of infidelity. Continued porn use over time tends to double the chances of couples getting divorced within the following years. But those conclusions only skim the surface of the way pornography can impact a partnership.

Correlation is not necessarily causation, as pointed out by Canadian psychologists Lorne Campbell and Taylor Kohut. While data indicates that men who use porn suffer from relationship dissatisfaction, Campbell and Kohut’s recent article in Current Opinion in Psychology explores five reasons why porn might be the coping mechanism and not the cause. Their findings indicate that excessive solo viewing of porn follows after relationship dissatisfaction sets in.

Current studies mainly focus on solo male viewers, and begin with a broad definition of porn along with an assumption that it surely can’t be healthy. Women’s use is rarely put under the microscope, but the few studies that exist indicate that female porn use may actually increase relationship satisfaction and recharge sexual intimacy.

Couples using porn together has been studied even less. Amanda Maddox, Galena Rhoades, and Howard Markman found that correlation to relationship problems practically disappeared when the subjects were people who watched pornography with their partners. While more men than women watched overall, almost half the participants had enjoyed porn together. Coupled viewers reported more relationship dedication and higher sexual satisfaction than those who viewed it alone.

Yes, there’s obvious damage done with excessive porn usage, as there is with any activity taken to an extreme. But as sex therapist Marty Klein points out, the increasing number of couples entering his office with this “heartbreaking” affliction suffer unnecessarily. Klein believes America’s been in a “porn panic” ever since the internet made porn astronomically more accessible.

“Moral entrepreneurs,” according to Klein, paint all pornography as misogynistic and violent, supposedly leading to a spike in sexual assaults and erectile dysfunction. On the contrary, he said, FBI statistics show sexual assaults have decreased in recent years, along with divorce rates. This deeply embedded “moral panic” makes pornography use a pointable poster child for underlying issues couples may not want to face or know how to tackle.

Solitary porn watching might act as a Band-Aid to deal with those problems, but watching together might actually pose more of a solution. Therapists have been 2.6 times more likely to suggest that struggling couples watch sexually explicit material together. Recent studies have indicated that women enjoy watching porn more with their partner, while men enjoy it more alone. This could be on account of the shame or guilt historically associated with porn, and men fearing their partner’s judgment.

This insight isn’t misguided, as men and women do look at sex differently. “We have brain science, biological evidence and eons of cultural data that tells us that men tend to view sex in a more objectified manner than women,” sex therapist Robert Weiss said in a Reddit AMA last year. “Three-minute hardcore porn” scenes, as Weiss put it, aren’t the typical woman’s cup of tea. “But plenty of women like porn, too,” Klein qualified.

“Men tend to be more engaged and satisfied by looking at body parts [such as POV porn] as a means of excitement than women do,” said Weiss. Women, on the other hand, prefer backstory—”the scenario of what turns them on is more complex.”

Most porn sites include a “romantic” section with softer, story-driven videos that focus on female pleasure. Your best bet for what girls want, however, is porn produced by actual women. Author and sex educator Tristan Taormino created Smart Ass Productions to make films for women and couples, sans cheesy plots, that showcase (gasp) realistic female orgasms. Indie Porn Revolution is the longest running queer porn site, but can fulfill a wide range of fantasies for straight folks, too. XConfessions turns user-submitted fantasies into full lengths, while Lady Cheeky offers steamy segments in the form of clips and gifs.

Maybe it’s less the imagery and more the industry that keeps women viewers away. Top searches on PornHub and its affiliated sites indicate trends that many women might not feel comfortable with: teen, anal, gangbang. “The idea that porn actors aren’t making an emotional decision to share their sexuality with you, but a financial one, can be quite a turn-off,” said Medium writer Jenee In The Closet.

“After being in a relationship for a while, I lose interest in sex,” she said. “It’s not that I stop being attracted to my partner, I simply stop thinking about sex.” She figured that watching sex might re-charge her drive. But her moral qualms about standard porn, as well as disbelief in its hyperbolized and unrealistic female climaxes, led her to explore cartoon porn. “These animated and rendered expressions of sexuality are sometimes ridiculous,” she writes, “but I feel they are much more honest.”

And, as always, honesty is the key. Weiss has found in the hundreds of couples he’s treated, it’s not so much a partner’s porn use, but denial of the frequency, that damages a couple’s connection. “The greatest pain is the lying,” he says. “It’s the feeling that if you’re doing that and I didn’t know it, what else are you lying about?”

If you’re wondering what role porn plays in your relationship, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you watching porn more frequently than you’re having sex with your partner?
  • Does your porn use make you see your partner in an unflattering light or give you a desire to stray?
  • Are you honest with your partner about your porn use?
  • And perhaps, most importantly: How does your partner feel about it?

Because while porn itself, in moderation, may not be damaging, secrecy is. And if you and your partner have different views on it, they need to be dealt with, not buried. As Weiss concludes: “Your [partner’s] feelings should be more important than the porn.”

Shannon Jay is a freelance writer who wants to free the skeletons from society’s closet and make the world a more empathetic, edgier place. Read and listen to her work on her website.

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