How Porn Actually Affects Your Relationship (According To Science)

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I have spent the past 25 years treating issues related to sex and intimacy. In this time frame, the number of people seeking help with porn-related infidelity and/or compulsivity has increased exponentially. Put simply, with every advance in digital interconnectivity, porn has become more ubiquitous, more affordable, more anonymous, and easier to access. And this creates all sorts of relationship issues, mostly centered on one partner using porn (usually in secret) with the other partner feeling betrayed and cheated on.

Continued porn use over time almost doubles the likelihood of a couple getting divorced within the next four years.
 

In my recently published book, Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating, I discuss the effects of infidelity on relationships, which I define as "the breaking of trust that occurs when you keep intimate, meaningful secrets from your primary romantic partner." Based on this definition, using porn may or may not be a form or cheating, depending on the mutually agreed upon relationship boundaries of a particular couple. That said, most couples do think of porn as a form of cheating.

Regardless of how a couple feels about pornography, there is evidence that porn use can lead to relationship issues in both the short term and long term. Generally, research tells us that one partner's use of pornography tends to result in the following:

  • An overall decrease in relationship happiness and satisfaction
  • Decreased sexual gratification within the relationship
  • Lack of contentment with the couple's decision-making process

Research also tells us that the more time one partner spends looking at porn, the less satisfying the relationship is likely to be. And continued porn use over time almost doubles the likelihood of a couple getting divorced within the next four years.

Interestingly, the negative effects of porn use are more pronounced with men than women. A few studies actually show that female porn use results in increased relationship satisfaction. Most likely, this is the result of men and women having different opinions on what constitutes infidelity. (Click here for more on that topic.)

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Basically, a woman is likely to view her husband or boyfriend's use of porn as infidelity and a betrayal of relationship trust while a man is more likely to view his wife or girlfriend's use of pornography as "hot" and an interesting way to spice things up.

At the end of the day, it is clear that porn use, especially male porn use, can lead to a decrease in relationship satisfaction for many couples. We should not, however, apply these generalized findings to all couples. Every relationship is unique, and behaviors that are problematic for one couple are sometimes perfectly fine for another.

Ultimately, what matters most in a relationship is trust. If a couple can communicate openly and honestly, mutually agreeing on the sexual boundaries and behaviors that are and are not acceptable to them (regardless of how other couples do things), they are likely to report a high degree of relationship satisfaction—regardless of how they choose to think about and/or use pornography.


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