Pornography is “hot.” As an industry it continues to grow and thrive. Approximately 65% of men and 35% of women under 40 are once yearly users; and 45% of men and 15% of women are weekly users. It’s estimated to be a $10 to $12 billion (that’s billion) dollar industry per year in the U.S. alone, and $97 billion globally.
Yet there is concern about how the use of pornography affects people—especially the young and those in committed relationships. Addiction, human trafficking, child endangerment, its influence on how we view sexuality, sexual relationships, and bonding and attachment—are all reasons for concern. Yet, like most things, there could be a positive impact from its use when it is mutually shared between a couple, and helps to open them up to experimenting sexually and enhancing their intimate relationship. However the downsides are greater than the upsides.
Studies have shown that there is also a societal effect that is troubling—undermining women’s rights, minors having exposure, and an increase in violent and even dehumanizing content leading to desensitization. There are not enough studies on how it affects the long-term stability of marriages and risks of breaking up. However data from a few studies shows a correlation between pornography use and divorce. It points to underlying intimacy issues, relationship instability, and a problem with healthy bonding and attachment.
One study examined data from 2012-2016, taken from the Portraits of American life Study. The purpose was to see if earlier pornography use predicted later relationship instability. Approximately 1,000people over 18 from diverse backgrounds participated—and the researchers controlled for many variables including pornography viewing, sociodemographic factors, and romantic breakup. They tested the hypotheses that viewing pornography earlier in life will predict a greater likelihood of experiencing romantic breakup later on.
What they found is that most associations are gendered, most likely due to how men and women use pornography. Men use it more often and use it to masturbate, while women use it more for the purpose of enhancing their relationship lovemaking. Therefore the negative impact of pornography use on attachment, infidelity, and relationship quality impacts men far more than women.
The findings showed a significant correlation between men using pornography in 2006 and the risk of breaking up six years later. Protective factors were marriage, parenthood, older age, being better educated, and religious beliefs. Factors that increased the risk of breakup included being single, living together, being divorced, being African-American, and having no religious affiliations.
Some of this seems like common sense—that those who are committed and have strong religious beliefs are more likely to work at and put up with unhappiness in their relationships. There are also many other factors that could play a role such as the relationship of their parents, developmental maturity, difficulty relating to others, differences in values and beliefs, and past sexual experience. In order to have a better handle on the answer to this question, these would need to be controlled for in any future studies.
But even with those unanswered questions still out there—it is clear that there is some impact that using pornography has on relationships, especially when the user is a male. Therefore if this is an issue/potential issue in your relationship, it would be good to have frank discussions about a partner’s past and present use and what, if any impact, their partner feels it has on their present relationship. Ignoring or dismissing it could land your relationship in divorce court.