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You Don’t Need to Watch Porn to Be Influenced by It

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Pornography can influence women even if they’re not watching it themselves.

porn, relationships, self-esteem, sexual behavior, researchPornography use: It’s a topic of much debate. For starters, the frequent portrayals of sexual objectification of and violence against women in pornography have led to concerns about the influence that pornography may have on the sexual attitudes of its users. However, it seems that pornography can influence you even if you are not watching it yourself.

Stewart and Szymanski (2012) have examined the relationship between men’s pornography use, both frequency of use and problematic use, on their female partner’s self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, and sexual satisfaction. This study was an extension of previous qualitative research that had shown that “the resounding message [of pornography users’ girlfriends] was one of inadequacy and an inability to measure up to the images of perfection depicted in pornographic media”, and that men’s pornography use was often experienced as infidelity by their girlfriends.

The authors found that men’s pornography use was negatively associated with their girlfriends’ self-esteem, relationship quality, and sexual satisfaction, but only when such use was considered problematic (Stewart & Szymanski, 2012). Perceptions of mere frequency of pornography was negatively related to relationship quality only. It thus seems that problematic pornography use has a greater impact on one’s partner’s feelings than more ‘normal’ use (Stewart & Szymanski, 2012). However, only men’s pornography use as perceived by their female partners was measured in this study. It may be that women with lower self-esteem, relationship quality, and sexual satisfaction are more likely to perceive their boyfriends’ pornography use as problematic, due to a negative bias, when it may not be that problematic or excessive by more objective standards.

In addition, as Stewart and Szymanski (2012) also note, the correlational nature of the study makes it difficult to draw any causal conclusions. It may just as well be the case that women who are not happy with their relationship or sex life, have male partners who feel the same way. These men may thus turn to pornography to make up for what they are missing in their relationship. This may be especially the case for relationships of a longer duration, which seems to be supported by the finding that perceptions of partner’s problematic pornography use was negatively associated with sexual satisfaction only for women in a long relationship (about 2 years).

This study, as well as previous qualitative studies, have shown that women do not need to watch pornography themselves to be (negatively) influenced by it. The mere perception of their partner’s problematic use of pornography can change women’s feelings about themselves, their relationships and their sex lives. And if the reverse is also true, this may result in a reinforcing spiral that could be detrimental for a relationship.

Stewart, D., & Szymanski, D. (2012). Young Adult Women’s Reports of Their Male Romantic Partner’s Pornography Use as a Correlate of Their Self-Esteem, Relationship Quality, and Sexual Satisfaction Sex Roles, 67 (5-6), 257-271 DOI: 10.1007/s11199-012-0164-0

Photo: me vs gutenberg/Flickr

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  • bigone4u

    Useless study. Women are jealous of any attention a man gets from another woman or vice versa. Recently, a news report told the story of a dental assistant who was fired because the dentist’s wife thought the assistant was beautiful and paying too much attention to him. No academic would dare do a politically incorrect study of men’s jealously of a female partner’s use of porn. After all, many of the men in porn have large measurements that a man can’t match.