Porn. A topic that’s often considered so forbidden and uncomfortable that a lot of people avoid mentioning it altogether. Some research shows that pornography can have a detrimental effect on romantic relationships, but is that entirely true? It’s hard to distinguish between cause and effect. Many people who consume pornography are in unsatisfying relationships, but the truth is most of those people were unhappy before turning to porn. While some might believe that naughty internet searches are just for kicks, there’s more to it than getting off. The taboo issue is more complicated than it might appear.

David Ludden

David Ludden has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and is the author of The Psychology Of Language: An Integrated Approach. He also writes articles about couples and relationship dynamics, and you can read his blog, Talking Apes, here.

You stated that there is no agreed-upon definiton of pornography. What do you consider pornography to be? At what point does it stop just being nudity, or just sex?

In the article I cited in my blog on Psychology Today, the authors suggested defining pornography as any visual representation of nudity or a sexual act. To me, this is just too broad. Many of the great works of Western civilization would then count as pornography. Should we wrap a loin cloth around Michelangelo’s David? Should we pixelate the bare breasts on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? And let’s go beyond Western culture. Consider for instance Hindu temple sculpture, which often depicts acts of sexual intercourse. Is this religious art or pornography? Even if we go deep into the archeological record, we find Venus figurines dating back 20-30 thousand years. These are small statues of females with huge breasts and buttocks that may have been have been religious fertility icons. Or maybe they were just Paleolithic porn stars. To give yet another example, I once visited a temple in Japan where the sacred relic was a six-foot-long wooden penis that they paraded around the temple courtyard once a year in a fertility festival. Women who wanted to conceive would ride atop the wooden penis. In the end, I’m not even sure “pornography” is a useful concept.

What are some reasons– besides being dissatisfied with the relationship– that a person might turn to pornography? Does it satisfy an emotional need or is porn purely for sexual pleasure?

People use porn for all sorts of reasons. As you mention, some use it to compensate for a lack of partnered sex, either because they’re not currently in a relationship or because of an imbalance of desire between partners. Others use porn to relieve depression, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness. Let’s face it. Sex is extremely pleasurable, and we all have a high sex drive. It’s not surprising that we find sexual images and videos intriguing. You may say: “yes, but having sex and watching other people have sex is completely different.” I’m not so sure. We also have a strong hunger drive. There are lots of TV shows that depict people cooking and eating food—there’s even the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. People love to watch other people eat tasty food, even though they can’t taste the food themselves. Maybe we should call this “porn for foodies”!

Source: CheatingHusbands

Are people who consume porn more likely to be unfaithful to their partner?

Now this is a trick question. Most people will interpret it to mean: “Does consuming porn cause people to be unfaithful to their partner?” The answer to that question is a resounding “NO!” But let’s deconstruct the question. People who are dissatisfied with their relationship sometimes consume porn to compensate for what they’re missing. Likewise, frustrated partners sometimes resort to affairs. But it’s not a slippery slope. It’s not first porn, then infidelity. Rather, they’re both symptoms of the same underlying problem, an unsatisfactory relationship. Think of it this way. Sneezing doesn’t cause a runny nose. Instead, both are symptoms of a cold. The same is true for porn and infidelity.

Do women in relationships consume porn as often as their male partners do? 

First, let’s get a working definition of porn. For our discussion, let’s define porn as images and videos produced and distributed for the purpose of sexually arousing their viewers. The research so far conforms to most people’s intuitions. Men are by far the major consumers of porn, and, in fact, most porn is made with male consumers in mind. But there is a gender difference in the reasons for porn use. Very generally speaking— and keep in mind that there are a lot of individual differences— men are more likely to use porn as a replacement for sex, whereas women are more likely to use it enhance their sexual experience with their partner.

You talked about how porn can affect a person in many ways. Do you believe that low self-esteem related to consuming pornograpy is caused by comparison? Unrealistic expectations– seeing something you can’t have? Guilt? Or something else entirely? 

Yes to all the above. As I argue in my blog post, porn use is a complex human phenomenon, and any simple explanation is simply wrong. That said, it’s still not clear that porn consumption leads to low self-esteem, as your question implies. One reason people use porn is alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It’s not the porn that’s causing the low self-esteem. These viewers bring their low self-esteem into the porn experience. I suspect people with high self-esteem who view porn see the exaggerated body parts and sexual positions as the caricatures they are. Porn is fantasy, just like any other movie or story, and I’m sure most consumers understand it as such.

Now guilt is a completely different issue. Until quite recently, if you had conservative sexual attitudes, pornography was easy to avoid. As I relate in my blog post, you used to have to go looking for it, and it wasn’t that easy to find. Nowadays, the same tools we use for work and school (our laptop computers) also provide us with easy access to unlimited pornography. For people who are comfortable with their sexuality, porn is a wonderful convenience. But for people who still subscribe to the negative sexual attitudes they were brought up with, porn is a dangerous and irresistible temptation. In my view, the problem isn’t porn. The problem is the negative and unhealthy attitudes our society has about sex.

What about the other side of pornography? How does being a porn star influence a person’s relationship? What about couples who create porn together? Has that ever been researched? 

These are all very good questions, but I haven’t seen any good research on these issues. I suspect as pornography becomes more widely accepted in society, researchers will be more willing to approach these issues. All I can give is a few hunches. People who are attracted to the idea of performing in porn movies probably have more open and fluid attitudes toward sexuality and relationships than the average population. As for amateur couples who create and post porn, I’d have to say that in the current social climate, this is a very dangerous thing to do. There are all sorts of negative legal ramifications, such as who owns the video, and whether it can be taken down if one of the partners no longer wants it public. Then again, once posted on the internet, forever on the internet. But I can certainly understand the excitement of recording and watching yourself have sex with your partner. The sexually adventurous have been hanging mirrors on the ceilings of their bedrooms for centuries.

 

References:

Ludden, D. (May 29, 2017). Is Porn Use Really harmful To Relationships? Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/talking-apes/201705/is-porn-use-really-harmful-to-relationships

5 Comments

  1. First of all, I think this is really good article. I agree with the autor, and think that it was’t suppost to be such a taboo, especially when everyone is useing moto Sex sells, even in a parfume commercials. For sex diferecences, it is not that socking, because acording to the Johnmarshall Reeve, autor of the book “Understanding motivation and emotion”, women usually first need to have a trust in partner, when man don’t need it, it’s just enough for them to see something. What do you think mostly affects people attitude towards sex? Does it change over time, and if it does, what started it?

  2. Now, not that reading this has changed my opinions on this matter but I do think to some extent that its not entirely acts of sex’s fault that the attitudes people have towards it are the way they are but its also peoples fault for viewing it as something bad, because in a way it’s art like you related to earlier in your article. Everyone has a right to express their opinions but I cant go on without saying that sex acts doesn’t share the blame for this worlds attitudes on this subject because it does, which honestly makes this discussion harder to talk about. Some may argue that acts of sex like masochistic and sadistic acts portray it to be something negative but then again some may also argue that acts like that are discussed before the actors display the scenes and its just a combination of art, fantasy, sex, and agreement between the actors. Personally I believe we as humanity will eventually digress and find acts of sex to be as simple as any commercial we see. What I mean is that we’re eventually not going to view it as a negative thing but instead something that isn’t a big deal anymore. All in all this is a great article that covers many different areas of this subject.

  3. Now, not that reading this has changed my opinions on this matter but I do think to some extent that its not entirely acts of sex’s fault that the attitudes people have towards it are the way they are but its also peoples fault for viewing it as something bad, because in a way it’s art like you related to earlier in your article. Everyone has a right to express their opinions but I cant go on without saying that sex acts doesn’t share the blame for this worlds attitudes on this subject because it does, which honestly makes this discussion harder to talk about. Some may argue that acts of sex like masochistic and sadistic acts portray it to be something negative but then again some may also argue that acts like that are discussed before the actors display the scenes and its just a combination of art, fantasy, sex, and agreement between the actors. Personally I believe we as humanity will eventually digress and find acts of sex to be as simple as any commercial we see. What I mean is that we’re eventually not going to view it as a negative thing but instead something that isn’t a big deal anymore. All in all this is a great article that covers many different areas of this subject.

  4. It was great that Dr. Ludden tactfully addressed the issue of p*rn and infidelity by deconstructing the premise of your question.

    I’m most surprised at the statement made that there isn’t much literature on the effects of this material, given how our society seems to be so awashed with sex.

    I recall seeing a documentary which explored the evolution of p*rn. Essentially the message was that there seems to be a correlation between p*rn*graphy, cultural openness towards sex, and the treatment of women. The documentary honed in on the increase in the production and the viewing of Gonzo, which tends to be more aggressive and male-centric.

    It suggests that this style of p*rn is in response to the feminist movement. Whereas the oppression of women was once the status quo, the paradigm has shift towards equality appears to have led to more sexual oppression, repression, and male fantasies of dominance. These opinions would align with the point made by Dr. Ludden that the bigger issue is our views of sexuality.

    This unease with sexuality expresses itself in odd ways. I find it funny that Women’s Wear seems to be fashioned after Children’s Wear, with examples being the Babydoll dress and unitards. On the contrary, I’ve seen clothing in the little girl’s section that’s very similar to what you’d find in the Junior’s section.

    Where there was once a clear distinction, the lines seem a bit blurred. Women are being infantalized and young girls are being sexualized. It’s very odd to me, but understandable given how the U.S government seems incapable of leaving women’s bodies alone.

    I just wish that the same people who state that we shouldn’t give the use of certain racial epithets so much power over us, would apply that same reasoning to nudity and people’s sexual preferences. Get over it!

  5. Really interesting information. I found that the article was very informative and addressed many opinions that people hold in our society. I also agree with the author that it should be considered as something so taboo. The amount of information in the article allowed for clarity which allows readers to stay interesting in what they were reading. Do you think in the future these negative attitudes will change in our society?

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