Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

PORN: pastime or peril?

Posted in media by jenapincott on August 30, 2009

LoveScienceauthorToday I’d like to introduce a guest blogger, Duana Welch, Ph.D., author of Love Science, a fabulous relationship advice column that bases its advice in social science research rather than opinion. Check out Duana’s blog at http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/.

Sorry; no pictures. But you really are here for the articles…right? Right?!?

And in that spirit, Wise Readers, here are two notes your cohorts sent regarding pornography and marital happiness—the first from a man, the second from a woman:

“I think that happiness, including sexual, can be satisfied in many ways both with and without influences outside of the marital relationship. Unfortunately, one answer to what the effects of porn are on marital well-being is, “It depends.” There is such a huge dynamic involved. Full disclosure: I have looked at boobies on the Internet. I love my wife and in no way think that those other boobies have changed the way I feel about her.” –Sam

“I am already pretty insecure about my own sexiness quotient, and I think feeling sexy to your mate is key to being able to open up and fulfill both of your sexual and emotional desires. Knowing that my mate needs to fill his thrill with external stimulants does not make me more inclined to open up more — in fact it has the opposite effect. On the other hand, it is probably all in the approach — light porn shared between secure partners might serve to rev the engine. But porn found stashed on the computer or behind t-shirts in the closet is not the best way to ignite my flame.🙂 Unless it’s the flame behind my eyes…” –Gina

So who’s right? Is porn a mere pastime, a marital peril, or some combination of the two? Certainly, the question is not an idle one; porn outsells all other forms of media combined every year, and the National Research Council reports that in the USA, porn is a bigger money-maker than all pro sports together. Recently, Utah’s residents were reported to be America’s top Internet-porn “end users” (pun intended), with much hoopla ensuing about What It All Means.

Happily for us, for almost 30 years, well-regarded researchers such as Dr. Neil Malamuth and Dr. Ed Donnerstein have studied porn’s effects. Experiments abound; conclusive, cause-based answers—no wussy mere correlations here!—exist.

And the first conclusion is: Viewing porn *causes* increased male violence against women and increased male acceptance of violence against women—IF and only if the porn viewed is violent. In the typical rape porn script, women who are initially unwilling appear to become enthusiastic participants in their degradation, ultimately screaming out for more. In these experiments, men are randomly assigned to view violent porn or non-violent porn or non-porn, and are then given opportunities to behave so that the researchers can compare the groups’ resulting attitudes and behaviors. It is now well-documented that men who experience violent porn are more accepting of such violence, believe sexual violence is not such a big deal, rate injuries real women have sustained as not being severe, recommend 50% lighter prison sentences for real rapists, and –most compelling—they actually harm women. For example, in one such experiment by Donnerstein, men who viewed a violent porn film gave higher shocks to a woman who made a learning error than did the men who viewed a non-violent porn or non-porn movie (the violent-porn viewers also gave much lower shocks to a man who made a learning mistake). The men were not actually administering shocks; but they fully believed that they were.

Yet most of the porn consumed today is non-violent; everyone in the images is portrayed as ready, willing, able, and of legal age. So what are the effects there? First, the good news: Non-violent porn viewing among non-addicted observers does not cause mates to stop loving one another, nor to actively harm one another. If a spouse is devoting a lot of time and money to porn consumption, that is taking away from the couple’s bond–but that can be said of any activity with an inappropriate focus of time, dollars and energy.

On the other hand, you can forget this rationale: “Honey, I actually want you more if I watch porn!” Although porn can have a very temporary effect of making men want to have sex with the nearest acceptable person—such as their spouse—the longer-term impact is not positive for the marital bond. Simply put, porn makes men less excited by and attracted to their mates. Experiments by Dr. Douglas T. Kenrick , Dr. Dolf Zillman and others show that men who have recently viewed porn rate their own partners as substantially less desirable and attractive than men who watch non-porn material. (To a much lesser degree, this is true of watching gorgeous creatures generally; even men who have recently seen an episode of “Charlie’s [fully-clothed] Angels” rate photos of a normal, unknown woman as plain…plain.)

We’ve paid a lot of attention to men’s perceptions; they buy and watch the vast majority of the porn, and that’s where most of the research has focused. What of women’s post-porno experience? In a nutshell, women are more physically turned on by porn in the moment than they admit; women worry about their mates finding them less appealing after the women have seen porn; women see themselves as less desirable after watching porn; and women flatly reject the idea that they would want to be raped.

So, Sam and Gina: You’re both partly right. Sam, you’re almost certainly not less in love with your wife for having seen a few extra boobies, although unless hers are truly supreme, you may find yourself less attracted to hers than before. And Gina, if your physique compares unfavorably to the perfect pay-per-view bodies, you’re feeling appropriately threatened vis-à-vis your desirableness to your mate. And both of you: In no case is porn actually helping your marriage.

What’s a guy or girl to do? Obviously, avoid the violent stuff. As for non-violent porn, it’s no marital happiness promoter, but it’s not necessarily the home-wrecker it’s been cast as, either.

Cheers,
Duana

Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of blog Love Science: Research-based relationship advice for everyone (www.LoveScienceMedia.com). Although many relationship advice columns exist, Love Science is the only one that presents not only what to do and how to do it–but the science and research behind the advice. Published free bi-weekly, Love Science is also Amazon.com’s best-selling relationship and behavioral science blog for Kindle. Feel free to Ask Duana *your* question at Duana@LoveScienceMedia.com.

All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2009

5 Responses

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  1. Rachel said, on September 17, 2009 at 12:11 am

    I think that it’s funny that Utahns look at porn more then any other state! Me being a “mormon” and living in Utah thinks that it’s very true. With our standards that we’re supposed to be living, sex isn’t to happen until marriage. So that’s why folks are so hooked on porn cause no one is putting out. (I myself not being one of them😉 figured I’d rather have sex then be a porn freak)! It’s sad really that folks result to looking at nasty images that aren’t all too realistic. We should focus on more uplifting things like service and charity and keeping busy. I know when I am idle that’s when I get into trouble lol!!!

  2. matthew said, on September 21, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Very interesting article; thanks for taking the time to write it.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into some of your phrasing, but I get the impression that you don’t like to think of porn as “bad”; or, perhaps, you are avoiding making a moral judgment on the industry. For instance, when you write that excessive porn takes time away from the family, you follow that with, “but that can be said of any activity with an inappropriate focus of time, dollars and energy”. And, when you mention at the end that porn is not helpful to marriage, you also state that “it’s not … the home-wrecker it’s been cast as”. Again, maybe I’m being too quick to leap to a conclusion, but it seems to me that both those statements were delivered without any pertinent data; there seemed like throwaway statements.

    Thanks again for the article – very interesting reading.

    • Krissy said, on January 18, 2010 at 7:45 am

      Yes you are being too quick to leap to a conclusion. It’s a short blog I don’t think she has the time or room to relay all the statistical data and conclusions. Of course she is “avoiding making a moral judgement” she is a scientist! It’s not her place.

  3. Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. said, on October 1, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Hi, Matthew, Interesting you should bring that up. I’m no fan of the porn industry by any means (including how sex workers are treated, for instance). Like other women, my evolved mating psychology tells me to hate any image which makes me “less than” by comparison”. But I try to write from the standpoint of what the data would indicate rather than my own personal biases.

    That said–all facts come with a point of view, and people differ in how extreme they are in interpreting the porn data. As the research now stands, my take is that family life is *not* helped by porn–marriages aren’t made better, couples aren’t brought closer, and in fact, men show slightly less love for and commitment towards their partners even after relatively light viewing.

    What’s needed next are studies that show us what happens when men view a high number of hours (say, an hour daily) versus a low amount (say, a few images a month). I am guessing that the amount has a substantial impact on a man’s feelings towards his wife/girlfriend…and that it’s not good news for her or the relationship.

    Thanks for bringing up an interesting point!

  4. Fiyola Hoosen said, on October 4, 2009 at 2:35 am

    Really Utah and not a place like NY or LA??

    Perhaps frequent porn watching is a case of boredom or living in surbubia or just generally living in more restricted societies or communities.


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