Watching Porn Has No Effect On Women's Relationship Satisfaction, Unlike Men

Andrew Zaeh/Bustle

Studies about the effects of pornography are a dime a dozen and, because there are so many, their results can easily be manipulated to support the positions of both porn advocates and anti-porn crusaders. Less frequently addressed is the fact that porn studies overwhelmingly center cisgender heterosexual males in their analyses. A study published this month in the journal Human Communication Research, however, performed a meta-analysis of 50 different porn studies involving over 50,000 participants from 10 countries. The results showed that watching porn has no effect on women's relationship satisfaction, while men's porn-viewing habits were strongly correlated with less relationship satisfaction and less happiness overall.

The meta-analysis included both studies in which participants self-reported their porn-viewing habits and studies in which the participants viewed porn in a controlled lab setting. It also looked at the participants' corresponding overall happiness, relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, sexual self-esteem, and body image. Another benefit of doing a meta-analysis is that the study was able to track the differences in results published pre-internet era versus post-internet era. This had the potential to dismantle popular rhetoric about how porn's harmful effects have been compounded by the rise of internet porn access. So what did the meta-analysis find? Here are the highlights.

1. Results Suggest Porn Consumption Affects Men and Women Differently

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Women's relationship satisfaction had no correlation to their porn-viewing habits in the studies, while men's porn-viewing was tied to lower relationship satisfaction, lower sexual satisfaction, and less overall happiness. This is significant because it means that watching porn — shocker! — does not affect men and women in the same way. And since the studies focused overwhelmingly on heterosexual couples, this doesn't even begin to cover the myriad ways in which porn consumption affects other populations. To generalize porn as a factor in relationship dissatisfaction just because that's how it's associated with men does women a disservice.

2. Why Men Might Bear The Brunt Of Negative Effects

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The meta-analysis compiled a list of common theories across the 50 studies for why porn consumption was more likely to be associated with dissatisfaction for men. They included that men are more likely to watch porn alone, thus, missing out on the intimacy benefits of connecting porn with partnered sexual encounters. Also, there's the possibility that men who watch porn more often are simply more likely to be in unhappy relationships anyway (ie., correlation is not causation).

3. Porn Consumption Is Not Linked To Negative Body Image

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No link was found between porn-viewing and sexual self-esteem, or porn-viewing and body confidence, which dismantles the popular notion that mainstream porn tears down women's self-esteem by supporting distorted beauty ideals. This suggests that people seem capable of understanding that the way bodies are depicted in porn is a fantasy.

4. Internet Porn Isn't Any Worse Than VHS Porn

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There was no link between the era a study was published (ie., VHS porn vs internet porn) and its results. So there the rise of internet porn had no significant impact on participants.

Ultimately, this work helps break down a bunch of harmful stereotypes about porn consumption and it underscores how important it is to do away with limited, one-size-fits-all approaches to the study of human sexuality.