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Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality across 30 National Surveys

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Numerous studies have examined the association between pornography use and various measures of relationship quality. Yet scholars have also pointed out the limitations of many such studies, including inconsistent findings for men and women, non-representative samples, and negatively-biased measures that could result in misleading findings. The purpose of this study was to establish a dominant pattern in the association between pornography use and relationship quality in a way that mitigated these issues. Data were taken from 30 nationally-representative surveys, which together included 31 measures of relationship quality: 1973-2018 General Social Surveys (1 repeated measure); 2006 Portraits of American Life Study (13 measures); 2012 New Family Structures Study (12 measures); and 2014 Relationships in America Survey (5 measures). This allowed for 57 independent tests examining the association between pornography use and relationship outcomes for married Americans and 29 independent tests for unmarried Americans. Along with bivariate associations, full regression models were estimated with sociodemographic controls and interaction terms for gender. For married and unmarried Americans alike, pornography use was either unassociated or negatively associated with nearly all relationship outcomes. Significant associations were mostly small in magnitude. Conversely, except for one unclear exception, pornography use was never positively associated with relationship quality. Associations were only occasionally moderated by gender, but in inconsistent directions. While this study makes no claims about causality, findings clearly affirmed that, in instances where viewing pornography is associated with relationship quality at all, it is nearly always a signal of poorer relationship quality, for men and women.
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Forthcoming in Archives of Sexual Behavior
Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining
Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality across 30 National Surveys
Samuel L. Perry
University of Oklahoma
ABSTRACT
Numerous studies have examined the association between pornography use and various
measures of relationship quality. Yet scholars have also pointed out the limitations of many such
studies, including inconsistent findings for men and women, non-representative samples, and
negatively-biased measures that could result in misleading findings. The purpose of this study
was to establish a dominant pattern in the association between pornography use and relationship
quality in a way that mitigated these issues. Data were taken from 30 nationally-representative
surveys, which together included 31 measures of relationship quality: 1973-2018 General Social
Surveys (1 repeated measure); 2006 Portraits of American Life Study (13 measures); 2012 New
Family Structures Study (12 measures); and 2014 Relationships in America Survey (5 measures).
This allowed for 57 independent tests examining the association between pornography use and
relationship outcomes for married Americans and 29 independent tests for unmarried Americans.
Along with bivariate associations, full regression models were estimated with sociodemographic
controls and interaction terms for gender. For married and unmarried Americans alike,
pornography use was either unassociated or negatively associated with nearly all relationship
outcomes. Significant associations were mostly small in magnitude. Conversely, except for one
unclear exception, pornography use was never positively associated with relationship quality.
Associations were only occasionally moderated by gender, but in inconsistent directions. While
this study makes no claims about causality, findings clearly affirmed that, in instances where
viewing pornography is associated with relationship quality at all, it is nearly always a signal of
poorer relationship quality, for men and women.
Keywords: pornography, romantic relationships, marriage, satisfaction
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INTRODUCTION
A burgeoning literature has sought to clarify the association between pornography use
and various indicators of relationship quality, both for those in dating and marriage relationships
(see systematic narrative reviews in Campbell & Kohut, 2017; Manning, 2006; Newstrom &
Harris, 2016; Rasmussen, 2016; and the meta-analyses in Wright & Tokunaga, 2018; Wright,
Tokunaga, Kraus, & Klann, 2017). Despite the fairly large number of studies that have examined
this issue, there has been a curious lack of consensus on what the data reveal. Some scholars, for
example, have concluded that the trends are quite consistent. For instance, in his “historical and
empirical review of research on pornography and romantic and family relationships, Rasmussen
(2016, p. 185) argued that the preponderance of evidence suggest pornography tends to be
“problematic” for relationships, concluding, “The evidence for pornography’s influence on the
stability of romantic and committed relationships is strong. The effects described are grounded in
established theory and operate through well-defined processes, and the data produce remarkable
agreement.” Similarly, in their meta-analysis of 50 different studies examining pornography’s
connection to relational and intrapersonal satisfaction, Wright et al. (2017, p. 336) concluded
regarding men specifically, “…the convergence of results across cross-sectional survey,
longitudinal survey, and experimental results points to an overall negative effect of pornography
on men’s sexual and relational satisfaction.”
And yet, other surveys of the relevant literature have argued that the association between
pornography use and relationship quality is far from clear, owing to a number of important
limitations in previous research. In their review of 26 empirically-based studies on the topic
spanning 15 years, Newstrom and Harris (2016, p. 412) characterized the majority of research as
“exploratory and descriptive,” and suggested that the findings on pornography’s “effects” on
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couples’ relationships have been entirely mixed: “Findings indicate that there are both positive
and negative effects of pornography use within committed relationships.” They attributed much
of the ambiguity in previous research to the widespread use of convenience sampling,
inconsistent units of analysis (focusing on dyads or individuals), as well as under-theorizing.
And more recently, in Campbell and Kohut’s (2017) review of research on pornography and
romantic relationships, they drew similar conclusions to Newstrom and Harris. Specifically,
Campbell and Kohut (2017, p. 6) argued that certain data limitations and assumptions “make it
extremely difficult to draw firm conclusions concerning the associations between pornography
use and relationship processes and/or outcomes.” Among the limitations they described were
using individual rather than dyadic data; differences in measurement of “pornography” making
cross-study comparisons difficult (though Wright et al. 2017 recently demonstrated that different
pornography measurements do not moderate the association between pornography use and
relationship quality); assuming causality in cross-sectional designs; failure to acknowledge
gendered assumptions; and “harm-focused” approaches that may bias findings.
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The current study aimed to address several (though certainly not all) of these limitations
identified by previous researchers in order to establish a dominant trend in the association
between pornography use and relationship outcomes. Drawing on data from 30 nationally-
representative surveys together including 31 measures of relationship quality, this study
conducted 29 independent tests of the association between pornography use and various
relationship outcomes for unmarried Americans and 57 tests for married Americans.
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Campbell and Kohut (2017, p. 7) argued that much of previous research (citing studies like Lambert et al., 2012;
Stewart & Szymanksi, 2012) “assumes, assesses, and subsequently confirms that pornography is detrimental to
relationships.” Particularly problematic, it was argued, is that studies often do not measure non-negative outcomes,
but rather structure questions in ways that either confirm or fail to confirm negative effects. This potentially places
critical limits on what can be learned about pornography’s association with relationship outcomes.
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Associations were tested at the bivariate level and with sociodemographic controls, thus
accounting for potential spuriousness between pornography use and a variety of relationship
outcomes (see Hald, Kuyper, Adam, & de Wit, 2013). Interactions were also tested for gender.
While these national surveys cannot overcome the limitation of focusing on individuals (rather
than dyads) or being cross-sectional, they did allow for numerous individual tests of the
association between pornography use and relationship outcomes using (1) nationally
representative samples rather than convenience samples; (2) measures of pornography use that
include both continuity and discontinuity across data sets, thus allowing for comparison; (3)
numerous non-biased measures of relationship quality that allow pornography use to be
associated with positive or negative outcomes; (4) explicit tests for differences in potential
associations by gender, thus allowing for the examination of different experiences of
pornography use and relationship quality for men and women; and (5) separate analyses for
married and unmarried participants thus allowing for a comparison of associations.
As virtually all reviews of previous research acknowledge, the majority of studies
focusing on the link between pornography use and relationship outcomes have found that
persons who view pornography more often tend to report poorer relationship quality (Campbell
& Kohut, 2017; Manning, 2006; Newstrom & Harris, 2016; Rasmussen, 2016; Wright &
Tokunaga, 2018; Wright et al. 2017). Importantly, however, the majority of such studies have
been cross-sectional and thus cannot demonstrate whether pornography use has an “effect” on
relationships or, conversely, whether persons in poorer relationships seek out pornography as a
means of release or coping. While some longitudinal and experimental research has suggested
that pornography use does indeed seem to have an influence on couples’ relationship quality and
stability (Lambert et al., 2012; Perry, 2017a, 2018; Perry & Davis, 2017; Perry & Schleifer,
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2018; Wright & Tokunaga, 2018; Wright et al. 2017), other studies have suggested that
pornography use could be a consequence of poorer relationship quality (Muusses, Kerkhof, &
Finkenauer, 2015; Peter & Valkenburg, 2009); and still others have argued that the link between
pornography use and relationship quality is bi-directional (Muusses et al., 2015).
While it was expected that the association between pornography use and relationship
quality to be negative following the majority of empirical studies and reviews (see Rasmussen,
2016; Wright et al. 2017), the current study made no assumptions about directionality and thus
avoided claims suggesting that either pornography use or relationship troubles were the causal
agent at work. It also included controls in each analysis in order to mitigate the likelihood that
any observed bivariate association was due to some third sociodemographic factor related to both
pornography use and relationship outcomes such as gender, race, income, education, or religion.
Complicating our understanding about the link between pornography use and relationship
quality has been the consistent assumption and finding that patterns and contexts of pornography
use tend to be different for women and men (Campbell & Kohut, 2017; Wright et al., 2017).
While men’s romantic and sexual relationship outcomes are often thought to be closely tied to
their pornography use, corresponding to higher use frequencies and the assumption that they are
using pornography more often to masturbate (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011; Maddox, Rhoades, &
Markman, 2011), studies have also found that women’s pornography use can sometimes
correspond to higher relationship or sexual satisfaction, possibly a function of their using
pornography within the context of a romantic relationship, not as an alternative for sexual
intimacy (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011; Poulsen, Busby, & Galovan, 2013). Reversing the causal
arrow, it may be that women who are sexually secure and enjoying intimacy with their partner
are simply more open to viewing pornography. The current study tested for whether women and
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men experience the association between pornography use and relationship outcomes differently
by testing for interactions between pornography use and gender for each of the 31 measures of
relationship quality across the 30 individual surveys. Drawing on previous literature, the
expected direction of the associations was that pornography use would be a stronger indicator of
poorer relationship quality for men than for women (see Wright et al., 2017; see also Doran &
Price, 2014; Minarcik, Wetterneck, & Short, 2016; Morgan, 2011; Muusses et al., 2015; Perry,
2017a; Perry & Davis, 2017; Stack, Wasserman, & Kern, 2004).
Another dynamic that this study provided for comparison is the potential difference that
marital status makes in the connection between pornography use and relationship quality.
Because of greater cultural expectations surrounding fidelity in marriage as compared to dating
relationships, pornography use might be perceived, both by the consumer and their spouse, as
more “off limits” in a way that makes it a stronger indicator of relational dissatisfaction for the
viewer or occasion for offense by a spouse who discovers it (see review and meta-analysis in
Wright & Tokunaga, 2018; see also Bridges, Bergner, & Hesson-McInnis, 2003; Olmstead,
Negash, Pasley, & Fincham, 2013; Schneider, 2000). Thus it was expected that any associations
that might exist between pornography use and relationship quality for married Americans would
be weaker or even potentially non-existent for unmarried Americans.
METHOD
Subjects
Analyses for the current study were all based on data from representative samples of
married and unmarried American men and women, which are described below.
1973-2018 General Social Surveys
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The first series of analyses came from 27 independent cross-sectional waves of the
General Social Survey (GSS). The GSS is a nationally representative, face-to-face survey of the
non-institutionalized, English-Spanish speaking American adult population in the United States.
The GSS is funded by the National Science Foundation and has been conducted since 1972 (the
1972 wave did not ask about pornography use). While earlier waves of the GSS were
administered roughly every year, since 1994 the GSS surveyed roughly 3,000 Americans in even
numbered years. Unfortunately, not all questions for the GSS are asked of the entire survey
sample in a given year, and thus some years for the GSS include only small samples of men and
women who were asked questions about pornography use. Despite several limitations in the
actual pornography use measure (a yes/no question asking about viewing an X-rated movie in the
previous year), because the GSS has been repeated so often with consistent measures of
pornography use and marital happiness, it provides a useful data set to examine trends in
associations between pornography use and relationship quality. Additionally, in Wright et al.’s
(2017) meta-analysis comparing associations between various measures of pornography use and
relationship quality, they found that the type of pornography use measures (e.g., dichotomous,
continuous single-item, or continuous multi-item) did not moderate the association between
pornography use and relationship outcomes. All analyses used the “wtssall” survey weight for
the GSS.
2006 Portraits of American Life Study
Fielded in 2006, the Portraits of American Life Study (PALS) was intended to be the first
wave of a nationally representative panel survey with questions focusing on a variety of topics
including social networks, moral and political attitudes, and religious life. The PALS sampling
frame included the civilian, non-institutionalized household population in the continental United
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States who were 18 years of age or older at the time the survey was conducted. Surveys were
administered in English or Spanish. From April to October 2006, face-to-face interviews were
conducted with 2,610 respondents in their homes. Interviewers used audio computer-assisted
self-interviewing (ACASI) for more sensitive questions (e.g., how often they view pornography).
PALS data included a sampling weight (pawt2 in the data set) that, once applied, brings the
PALS sample in line with the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) 3-year
average estimates for 20052007. For more in-depth information about the sampling and data
collection process for PALS, see Emerson, Sikkink, and James (2010).
2012 New Family Structures Study
The New Family Structures Study (NFSS) was completed by 2,988 American
participants ages 18 to 39 between July 2011 and February 2012. Data collection was conducted
by Knowledge Networks, an independent research firm that is now part of the GfK group.
Knowledge Networks recruited the first online research panel, called the KnowledgePanel, that
is representative of the U.S. population. Members of the KnowledgePanel are randomly recruited
by telephone and mail surveys, and households are provided with access to the Internet and
computer hardware if needed. Unlike other Internet research panels sampling only individuals
with Internet access who volunteer for research, this panel was based on a sampling frame which
included both listed and unlisted numbers, those without a landline telephone and was not
limited to current Internet users or computer owners, and did not accept self-selected volunteers.
An evaluation of the Knowledge Networks’ Internet probability sample survey methodology
compared favorably to online nonprobability samples as well as random-digit-dial telephone
surveys (Regnerus, Gordon, & Price, 2016). The main survey completion rate was 61.6 percent.
Cases in the NFSS were assigned a weight (WEIGHT4 in the data set) to adjust for sampling
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deviations and ensure that the survey was representative of Americans ages 18-39. For more
information about the sampling and data collection of the NFSS, see
www.familystructurestudies.com (n.d.).
2014 Relationships in America Survey
The Relationships in America (RIA) survey was distributed to a national probability
sample of 15,738 adults between the ages of 18 and 60 years old in January and February 2014.
Data collection was sponsored by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture and
also conducted by Knowledge Networks/GfK using the Knowledge Panel strategy described
above for the 2012 NFSS. The main survey completion rate for the RIA survey instrument was
62 percent. Cases in the RIA sample were assigned a weight based on the sampling design and
their probability of being selected, ensuring a sample that was representative of American adults
aged 18-60. These sample weights were used in all analyses. For a more comprehensive
discussion of sampling and data collection procedures, as well as key outcomes in the RIA, see
Litschi et al. (2014).
Measures
Relationship Quality Outcomes
Each of the surveys included measures that can be used to better understand the
experiences of men and women in their committed romantic relationships. Questions were asked
of both married and unmarried participants regarding their current relationship. Because these
questions were from surveys of the general population and were not designed or worded with the
explicit goal of connecting them to pornography use, this study can avoid potential bias that
could attend studies that were designed with the goal of detecting pornography’s supposed
harmful effects on relationships (see this critique in Campbell & Kohut, 2017). Because there are
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31 total (1 in the GSS + 13 in PALS + 12 in NFSS + 5 in RIA = 31 measures), space will not be
taken to describe each one here. Table 1 lists all of these relationship outcome measures along
with all other variables used in the analyses from the GSS, PALS, NFSS, and RIA.
To be sure, because these different measures in the PALS, NFSS, and RIA are each
capturing some aspect of relationship quality, they are consequently measuring similar
constructs, and thus many of the continuous-level measures could hang together as an index,
particularly for the PALS and the NFSS. While I will report outcomes when such measures are
included together as an index in ancillary analyses (see Footnotes 3 and 4), because the goal of
this study was to present the dominant trend in associations between pornography use and
relationship quality, the decision was made in the main analyses presented here to keep these
relationship measures separate in order to provide the maximum number of independent tests.
This also made more sense given that the measures for the GSS and RIA could not be combined
into an index. Finally, this also allowed for more nuance into such associations that have been
presented either with multi-item scales of relationship quality using PALS (Perry, 2016, 2017a)
or GSS data presented only in aggregate, not by year (Doran & Price, 2014; Wright et al., 2017).
Pornography Viewing
Along with a variety of different relationship outcomes across the surveys, each survey
contained a measure of pornography use. The GSS asked respondents whether they have viewed
an X-rated movie in the previous year, to which respondents could answer yes or no. Among
married participants, 20% answered yes across all years, though this percentage was higher for
more recent waves of the GSS and among participants who were younger and male. This is the
most limited pornography use measure in that the language of “X-rated movie” is rather dated
and the binary yes/no response option precludes researchers knowing how the frequency of
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pornography use might relate to relationship outcomes. Nevertheless, Wright et al. (2017) have
demonstrated that outcomes with this GSS measure did not differ from those data with different
measures of pornography use. This, in addition to its considerable strengths as a data set, has
made the GSS an often-used source for predicting relationship outcomes and attitudes (e.g.,
Doran & Price, 2014; Perry & Schleifer, 2018; Wright, Tokunaga, & Bae, 2014).
The other three surveys all included pornography use measures that were each asked in
roughly comparable ways with multiple response values, addressing one of the limitations
identified by Campbell and Kohut (2017; cf. Willoughby & Busby, 2016), namely, that of
inconsistent usage measures. PALS asked respondents “In the past 12 months, how often have
you viewed pornographic materials?” Responses ranged from 1 = never to 8 = once a day or
more. The modal response for both married and unmarried participants was 1, and the mean was
approximately 2 = “once or twice.” The NFSS asked a similar question” “During the past year,
how often did you view pornographic materials (such as internet sites, magazines, or movies)?”
Participants could answer from 1 = never to 6 = every day or almost every day. The modal
response for both married and unmarried participants was 1, and the mean was roughly 2 = “once
a month or less.” Asking about pornography use in a slightly different way from studies that used
“how often” type measures, the RIA asked about pornography use in terms of participants last
time intentionally viewing it: “When did you last intentionally look at pornography?”
Participants could answer 1 = I’ve never intentionally looked at pornography to 10 = Today.
Higher numbers indicate that the participant was more likely to be a frequent consumer of
pornography. The modal response for both married and unmarried participants was 1, and the
mean response was around 4 = “Over one month ago.” While slightly different in wording,
responses to this RIA question yielded roughly comparable outcomes to those of the GSS, NFSS
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(Regnerus et al., 2016) and PALS (Perry 2016, 2017a, 2018; Perry & Davis, 2017) suggesting
sufficient continuity.
Controls
Analyses presented in Tables 2-5 each included regression models with controls added.
While different data sets include other control variables that could be included for theoretical
reasons (e.g., sex frequency, masturbation, personality characteristics; see Perry, 2019a), such
questions were not available across all data sets and thus the decision was made to include only
sociodemographic controls that would be available in all data sets. While differences in the
survey samples and measurements result in differences across these controls (see Table 1 for
descriptions of each variable), each regression analysis included controls to adjust for potential
confounders (age, gender, education, household income, race, parental status, and worship
attendance), each commonly identified as correlates of both pornography use and various
relationship outcomes. For example, frequent consumers of pornography are more likely to be
younger, male, better educated, higher income, black, childless, and irreligious (Perry, 2017b,
2019b; Perry & Schleifer, 2019; Wright, 2013; Wright, Bae, & Funk, 2013). Similarly, people
with better relationship quality also tend to be male and higher socioeconomic status. Yet they
are also more likely to be older, white, and religious (Doran & Price, 2014; Perry, 2016).
Statistical Analysis
The analysis proceeded as follows. Tables 2-5 present biviarate correlations and
regression coefficients for the pornography use measure and relationship measures for each
individual survey. This resulted in 29 independent tests of the association between pornography
viewing and various relationship outcomes for unmarried Americans (12
2
in PALS + 12 in NFSS
2
While PALS has 13 measures of relationship quality, one of those questions asks explicitly about “marital
separation” and thus only 12 are used for unmarried Americans.
13
+ 5 in RIA = 29 independent tests) and 57 independent tests for married Americans (1 × 27
waves of the GSS + 13 in PALS + 12 in NFSS + 5 in RIA = 57 independent tests). Though this
study acknowledges that the data are cross-sectional and the direction of any observed
association between pornography use and measures of relationship quality can go in either
direction, regressions were modeled with relationship quality measures as the outcome variable
and pornography use as the predictor following the vast majority of previous studies.
Bivariate associations are presented in the left column; regression coefficients from
binary logistic or ordinary least squares regression are presented in the middle column; and
regression coefficients for interaction terms (pornography use × male) in interaction models are
in the far right column. Ns for each analysis are listed in the column next to the correlation or
regression coefficient. To conserve space, coefficients for control variables are not presented.
RESULTS
General Social Survey (1973-2016)
Table 2 presents correlations and logistic regression coefficients for married Americans
reporting that they viewed an X-rated movie and affirming that their marriage was “very happy”
across each of the 27 waves in which the GSS asked these two questions together. At the
bivariate level, 63% (17/27) of the associations did not attain statistical significance at the .05
level (56% if the marginal associations at p < .10 are considered due to smaller sample size).
Looking at the 37% (10/27) of the bivariate associations that were significant at .05 or better,
each one was small in magnitude (r < .15) and negative. Nearly all of the correlations that did not
attain statistical significance were negative as well. When GSS years (1973-2018) were
aggregated together, the correlation was also significant, small in magnitude, and negative.
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When binary logistic regression models were conducted for each year predicting being
“very happy” in one’s marriage on viewing an X-rated movie and sociodemographic controls,
only 15% (4/27) of coefficients attained statistical significance at .05 (22% if marginal cases are
included). The remaining 85% of tests showed a non-significant association between viewing an
X-rated movie and marital happiness with controls in place. When the same logistic regression
model was conducted with all GSS years (adding a control variable for year of GSS), the
association between viewing an X-rated movie and being “very happy” in marriage was
significant beyond the .001 level and negative.
Were these associations different for men and women? Roughly 11% (3/27) of the
interaction terms were statistically significant at .05 (19% if marginal associations are included),
and each was in the expected direction with the negative association between watching an X-
rated movie and marital happiness being stronger for men. The model from the aggregated GSS
showed a highly significant (p < .001) interaction term and confirmed this general trend.
Taken together, the independent-year tests suggested that viewing an X-rated movie in
the previous year was more often unassociated with being “very happy” in one’s marriage either
at the bivariate level or with controls in place. Most models showed the relationship between
viewing an X-rated movie and marital happiness did not differ for men and women, and when it
did, the association was stronger for men as expected. All aggregated results showed viewing an
X-rated movie was negatively associated with marital happiness and this association was
stronger for men.
2006 Portraits of American Life Study
Table 3 presents correlations and regression coefficients for pornography viewing
frequency in the previous year and various measures of relationship quality for both unmarried
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and married Americans in the 2006 PALS. For unmarried Americans, 50% (6/12) of the bivariate
associations were non-significant, while the other 50% were significant, ranging from small to
moderate in magnitude (r between .16 and .31 in absolute value). The direction of each
association pointed to poorer relationship outcomes corresponding to higher frequencies of
pornography use. When sociodemographic controls were added using regression models, one of
the significant associations dropped out, leaving 42% (5/12) of tests showing a significant
association with relationship outcomes. Specifically, with controls in place, unmarried persons
who viewed pornography more often were more likely to report that their partner harshly
criticized them and tended to report lower levels of relationship happiness, satisfaction with the
affection they received, their sex life, or decision-making in the relationship. Two significant
interactions with gender indicated that the negative association between pornography viewing
and relationship happiness and experiencing kindness from one’s partner was stronger for men.
For married participants, another measure of relationship quality (experiencing a marital
separation in past 3 years) was added. The results for married persons were not substantively
different from those of unmarried persons. Over 69% (9/13) of the bivariate associations were
significant, though small in magnitude (r all below .14). The direction of each significant
association indicated that more frequent pornography use was associated with poorer relationship
outcomes for married Americans. When controls were added in regression models, two
previously significant associations became non-significant and one became marginal, while other
non-associations became significant. This was the case in the two other surveys as well, which
suggests suppressor effects, namely, when the inclusion of certain controls in a multivariate
model removes some of the unexplained variance between the key predictor and the outcome,
resulting in a larger, more statistically significant effect for that key predictor (in this case
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pornography use). With controls in place, married Americans who viewed pornography more
frequently reported less affection (marginal) or complements from their spouse; they were less
likely to be happy in the relationship or satisfied with the affection, sex-life, or decision-making;
they were more likely to believe their spouse had cheated; more likely to have cheated
themselves romantically (marginal) or sexually; and more likely to have experienced a marital
separation in the past 3 years (marginal). None of the interaction terms for pornography use and
gender were significant at the .05 level. Two marginally significant associations suggested that
the negative association between pornography viewing and receiving compliments or satisfaction
with decision-making may be stronger for women than for men.
Similar to findings for the GSS, bivariate and adjusted associations between pornography
viewing and relationship outcomes tended to be either non-significant or significantly associated
with poorer relationship outcomes, for both unmarried and married Americans. In only two
instances were these associations significantly different for men and women at the .05 level, and
each was in the predicted direction.
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2012 New Family Structures Study
Table 4 presents correlations and regression coefficients for pornography viewing
frequency in the previous year and measures of relationship quality for unmarried and married
Americans in the 2012 NFSS. Looking at unmarried Americans, one quarter (3/12) of the
associations were statistically significant (50% if marginal associations are included) and all
were small in magnitude (r all below .17). Significant associations were in the expected direction
3
In ancillary analyses (available upon request), an index was constructed from the continuous-level measures of
relationship quality presented in Table 3, after having been standardized into Z-scores (alpha = .82). Associations
between pornography viewing and this index were statistically significant at the bivariate level (unmarried: r = -.24,
p < .001; married: r = -.11, p < .001) and with controls in OLS regression models (unmarried: b = -1.24, p < .001;
married: b = -.58, p < .001). Gender interactions were non-significant.
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with unmarried persons who viewed pornography more often reporting more frequently thinking
their relationship was in trouble and discussing ending the relationship with their partner.
Frequent viewing was also negatively associated with self-rated relationship happiness. Once
controls were included in regression models, nearly 42% (5/12) of associations became
statistically significant, and all in the expected direction. Specifically, unmarried Americans who
viewed pornography more frequently were more likely to report thinking about ending their
relationship, thinking their relationship was in trouble, and discussing ending the relationship.
They were also less likely to agree that their relationship was “pretty much perfect,” and tended
to report lower relationship happiness.
Two significant interactions suggested conflicting trends. The positive association
between viewing frequency and thinking one’s relationship was in trouble was stronger for men,
but the positive association between pornography viewing and actually talking to one’s partner
about separating was stronger for women.
Among married Americans, less than half (5/12) of the bivariate associations between
viewing frequency and relationship outcomes were statistically significant (50% including
marginal associations). Significant associations were small in magnitude (r all below .13),
though all in the expected direction with higher pornography viewing frequency corresponding
to poorer marriage outcomes. When controls were added in regression models, a number of the
associations either became significant or increased in significance. Over 80% (10/12)
associations were statistically significant at the .05 level with one marginal association. All but
one association was in the expected direction. Specifically, viewing pornography more often was
associated with more frequently thinking one’s marriage was in trouble, discussing ending the
marriage, and repeatedly breaking up. It was also negatively associated with characterizing one’s
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relationship as “good” or “strong, agreeing that one felt like a team with their spouse, that their
relationship made them happy, or that their relationship was nearly perfect. Frequent
pornography use was also negatively associated with self-rated marital happiness with controls in
place.
The one exception to this trend was that pornography viewing frequency seemed to be
negatively associated with a married participant talking with their spouse about separating. This
association, though barely attaining statistical significance (p = .049), would contradict the
theory that pornography use tends to be associated with more negative relationship outcomes.
Two significant interactions were in the opposite of the expected direction. Specifically,
they indicated that the positive association between pornography use and repeatedly breaking up
appeared to be stronger for women, while the negative association between pornography use and
reporting one’s relationship made them happy was also stronger for women.
Findings from the 2012 NFSS suggest that the association between pornography viewing
and relationship outcomes is not as strong or consistent for unmarried persons as for married
persons, though this may be due to differences in sample size. Numerous bivariate associations
were either non-significant or small in magnitude, with more significant associations emerging
with controls in place. With one curious exception, the significant associations indicated that
more frequent pornography use is associated with poorer relationship quality.
4
2014 Relationships in America Survey
4
In ancillary analyses (available upon request), an index was created from the continuous-level measures presented
in Table 4, after having been standardized into Z-scores (alpha = .94). Associations between pornography viewing
and this index were significant at the bivariate level for married participants (r = .08, p = .011), but not unmarried
participants (r = .06, p = .076). In OLS models with controls in place, pornography use was only marginally
associated with this relationship quality index for unmarried Americans (b = -.37, p = .063), though this association
was quite significant for married Americans (b = -.72, p < .001). Gender interactions were non-significant.
19
Table 5 presents correlations and regression coefficients for participants’ most recent
pornography viewing and relationship outcomes for unmarried and married Americans in the
2014 RIA. Among unmarried Americans, 80% (4/5) bivariate associations were statistically
significant and small in magnitude (r all below .20). Each significant association was in the
expected direction. When controls were included in regression models, 100% (5/5) associations
were statistically significant and all in the expected direction. Unmarried Americans who viewed
pornography more often (as indicated by when they reported last using it) were more likely to
think about leaving their partner, talk with their partner about separating, cheat sexually, and
experience physical violence. They also tended to report lower relational happiness. The only
statistically significant interaction term (at the .05 level) indicated that the positive association
between viewing pornography and thinking about leaving one’s partner was stronger for men.
Turning to married Americans, 100% (5/5) of the bivariate correlations were statistically
significant, though they were small in magnitude (r all below .16). All regression coefficients
were also significant with controls in place. The direction of the effects pointed to the trend that
more frequent pornography use was associated with poorer marital outcomes, in this case, being
more likely to think about leaving one’s spouse, talk about separating, cheat sexually, or
experience physical violence, while also reporting lower marital happiness. The two significant
interaction terms were in conflicting directions. The positive association between pornography
viewing and thinking about leaving one’s spouse was stronger for men, but the positive
association between pornography use and talking about separating was stronger for women.
Together, results from the 2014 RIA consistently showed that the association between
pornography viewing and relationship outcomes for married and unmarried Americans were
20
statistically significant and all in the expected direction, with pornography viewing frequency
being linked with poorer relationship quality.
Analysis of the Analyses
Figure 1 illustrates the general patterns that were observed in Tables 2-5 across the
regression models (with sociodemographic controls). Because the GSS did not include a
relationship outcome for unmarried Americans, and PALS also had a question that asked
specifically about marital separation, there were only 29 independent tests for unmarried
Americans specifically across the 2006 PALS, 2012 NFSS, and 2014 RIA. Roughly 52% of the
tested associations were statistically significant and pointed to a negative outcome. In other
words, in 52% of the associations for unmarried Americans, those who viewed pornography
more frequently reported poorer relationship quality by various measures. The other 48% of
associations were non-significant and 0% were situations in which pornography use was
associated with a positive relationship outcome.
Among married Americans, treating the GSS as 27 independent data sets resulted in 57
individual tests of pornography’s association with marriage outcomes. The 2% of associations in
which pornography use was significantly associated with a positive outcome was the result of the
one association in the 2012 NFSS (Table 4) in which married persons who viewed pornography
more often seemed to be less likely to talk to their spouse about separating. By contrast, 44
percent of the associations were significant and in a direction that suggested pornography use
(either at all or in greater frequencies) was associated with poorer marital quality. Ultimately,
however, the largest percentage (54%) of associations were not statistically significant. The bar
on the far right, however, shows that this preponderance of non-significant associations was
primarily because of numerous non-significant associations in the individual GSS waves, where
21
samples were often quite small. When the GSS was treated as an aggregate (see Doran & Price,
2014; Patterson & Price, 2012), only about one quarter of associations were non-significant and
71% were significant signaling a poorer relationship outcome. Thus, in broadest terms, the
analyses of nationally representative data with a variety of relationship outcomes have shown
that pornography use is generally either unassociated with relationship quality or it is an
indicator of poorer relationship quality. By contrast, more frequent pornography use only rarely
(one instance in this study) corresponded to better relationship quality in the general population.
DISCUSSION
Despite the numerous studies conducted on the association between pornography use and
committed romantic relationships, there remains some disagreement among scholars as to
whether there are clear trends. Part of the challenge has been that data were often taken from
small, non-representative populations, using measures or designs that could be negatively-biased,
and findings could often be curiously different for men and women. Using 31 measures of
relationship quality across 30 nationally-representative surveys, the current study sought to
mitigate these issues in order to establish a dominant trend in the association between
pornography use and relationship quality for representative samples of unmarried and married
men and women. That dominant trend seems to be that pornography use in the general
population―either at all or in higher frequencies―is either unassociated with romantic
relationship quality or is weakly associated with poorer relationship quality. This was true for
married and unmarried Americans alike as well as for men and women. Conversely, more
frequent pornography use was almost never associated with better relationship quality, at least on
average. Moreover, consistent with Wright et al. (2017), these patterns held across different
22
measures of pornography use, including dichotomous measures (GSS), those asking about
general frequency (PALS, NFSS), and those asking about most recent use (RIA).
To be sure, this study has made no claim as to the direction of the association between
pornography use and relationship quality nor could it do so with these data. While other studies
using the panel component of PALS (e.g., Perry, 2017a, 2018; Perry & Davis, 2017) or the GSS
(e.g., Perry & Schleifer, 2018; Wright et al., 2014) have sought to establish a directional effect
between pornography use and relationship outcomes, the goals of this study were to establish a
dominant pattern in associations across a maximum number of relationship outcomes and
surveys. Since this study cannot determine directionality, it could very well be that any observed
association between pornography viewing and poorer relationship quality can be explained by
self-selection (i.e., Americans in struggling relationships seek out pornography as an escape or
alternative), just as it could be that frequent pornography use is contributing to the relationship
struggles. As suggested by Muusses et al. (2015), it could also be both.
Beyond the fact that all these data were cross-sectional, they are also only of individual
Americans rather than dyads. Thus, the study was unable to address one of the primary critiques
of previous research on pornography use and relationship quality (see Campbell & Kohut, 2017;
Newstrom & Harris, 2016), in that it cannot examine the relationship quality of someone whose
partner is viewing pornography nor is it able to examine relationship outcomes of couples who
view pornography together. Some of the confusion about findings linking pornography use with
relationship outcomes stems from these two limitations. In their recent narrative review and
meta-analysis of literature examining heterosexual men’s pornography use and their female
partner’s response, Wright and Tokunaga (2018) demonstrated the general trend that women
who perceived their male partner as pornography consumers tended to be less relationally or
23
sexually satisfied, and tended to be more insecure about their own bodies. Moreover, because
such Americans who use pornography together with their partner (and thus might experience
positive returns to their pornography use) would also be included in these samples, the findings
presented here suggest that these are a minority among pornography users. That is, whether or
not coupled pornography use might be beneficial for some couples, the stronger pattern among a
larger percentage of Americans is that pornography consumption happens more frequently in
relationships that are not doing well comparatively.
Interestingly, the tests for interactions also showed that in the vast majority of instances,
gender did not significantly moderate the association between pornography use and relationship
outcomes. And the relatively few situations where these interactions were significant painted
rather inconsistent results. Sometimes it seemed that the quality of men’s romantic relationships
were more closely tied to pornography use, while other times it seemed that the association was
stronger for women. At the very least, the consistent lack of a moderating effect for gender
would challenge assumptions that women’s pornography use tends to be associated with better
relationship quality, while men’s is associated with poorer relationship quality due to different
use patterns. Rather, for both men and women, married and unmarried, pornography use tended
to be either unassociated with relationship quality or associated with poorer relationship quality.
There also seemed to be little discernable difference between those in marriage
relationships verses unmarried romantic relationship in terms of the association between
pornography use and relationship outcomes. Despite research suggesting that pornography use
might be viewed as more of a violation in marriage relationships perhaps due to more expansive
and stringent expectations for sexual “fidelity” (Bridges et al., 2003; Olmstead et al., 2013;
Schneider, 2000), there were relatively few instances where associations in the 2006 PALS, 2012
24
NFSS, or 2014 RIA survey were statistically significant for married Americans and were not
significant for unmarried Americans, despite some potentially large differences in sample size.
Despite the broader trend that pornography use tended to be an indicator of poorer
relationship quality in the majority of significant associations, the exception (in the 2012 NFSS;
Table 4) must be considered as an important qualifier. On the face of it, the finding that married
persons who viewed pornography more often were less likely to talk to their spouse about
separating would contradict the idea that pornography use is associated with poorer relationship
outcomes. Unfortunately, the interpretation of this association is not so clear. It could also be that
persons who view pornography more often are simply less likely to talk to their spouse at all, not
just about separating. Moreover, given that 9 of the other 12 outcomes for married participants in
the NFSS all point to the conclusion that viewing pornography more often is linked with poorer
marital quality, this finding is anomalous and perhaps an outlier. However, to the extent that this
association is capturing a real relationship, it requires that scholars provide appropriate
qualification when drawing conclusions about pornography’s association with relationship
outcomes. To the extent that the two are related at all (and in many instances they were not),
pornography use tends to be an indicator of poorer relationship quality, though not always.
Conclusion
This study sought to establish a dominant trend in the association between pornography
use and relationship quality using representative samples of married and unmarried men and
women and 31 measures of relationship quality across 30 nationally-representative surveys.
Trends demonstrated that pornography use in the general population (whether men or women,
married or unmarried) is either unassociated with romantic relationship quality or associated with
poorer relationship quality. Pornography use is almost never an indicator of better relationship
25
quality in general. And indeed, these patterns hold true across slightly different measures of
pornography use and after adjusting for relevant sociodemographic factors.
There are implications for clinicians and therapists. Despite the inconsistency or
ambiguity that some recent scholars have claimed regarding pornography’s association with
relationship outcomes (e.g., Campbell & Kohut, 2017; Newstrom & Harris, 2016), the current
study in addition to findings of recent reviews and meta-analyses (e.g., Rasmussen, 2016; Wright
& Tokunaga, 2018; Wright et al., 2017) suggests that future research may proceed under the
general assumption that pornography use, to the extent that it is associated with relational quality
at all, is nearly always an indicator of poorer relationship quality on average, regardless of
marital status or gender. From there, however, other questions need to be asked. While the
findings of this study suggest that, in general, pornography use signals relational problems, other
studies have shown that this association is attenuated (or even reversed) among the minority of
couples who view pornography as a part of sexual activity (e.g., Maddox et al., 2011) or if
persons or their spouses/partners do not feel religiously or morally-conflicted about their
pornography use (e.g., Perry, 2016, 2019b; Perry & Whitehead, 2019). And still others suggest
that the association between pornography use and relational outcomes may be more about the act
of solo-masturbation rather than viewing pornography per se (e.g., Perry, 2019a). Thus, despite
what this study’s findings tell us about general trends, clinicians and other relationship
counselors need to inquire about the specific relational and moral contexts within which
pornography is being used.
26
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30
Table 1: Variables used in analyses.
Measure
1973-2018 General Social Surveys
Viewed X-rated movie
Participants “very happy” in marriage
Age
Gender
Years of education
Race
Number of children
Total household income
Religious service attendance
Year of survey
2006 Portraits of American Life Survey
Pornography viewing frequency
How often spouse/partner expressed affection in past year
How often spouse/partner compliments you for the work you
do
How often spouse/partner performs acts of kindness
How often spouse/partner insults or harshly criticizes
How often spouse/partner hits or slaps
How happy with relationship
How satisfied with affection received
How satisfied with sex life
How satisfied with decision-making
Believes spouse/partner has cheated
Yes/No: Participant cheated romantically
Yes/No: Participant cheated sexually
Yes/No: Experienced marital separation in last 3 years
Age
Gender
Bachelors degree or higher
Race
Lives with children
Total household income
Religious service attendance
2012 New Family Structures Study
In the past year how often did you view pornographic materials
Yes/No: Ever thought about leaving your spouse/partner?
Yes/No: Have you and your spouse/partner talked about
separating?
How often have you thought your relationship is in trouble?
How often have you and your spouse/partner discussed ending
relat.?
How often have you broken up and then got back together?
Agree/Disagree: we have a good relationship.
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is very healthy.
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is strong.
Agree/Disagree: my relationship makes me happy.
Agree/Disagree: I feel like part of a team with partner.
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is pretty much perfect.
Relationship Happiness Scale
31
Age
Gender
Educational attainment
Race
Number of biological children
Total household income
Religious service attendance
2014 Relationships in America Survey
When did you last intentionally look at pornography?
Yes/No: Ever thought about leaving your spouse/partner?
Yes/No: Have you and your spouse/partner talked about
separating?
Yes/No: Participant cheated sexually.
Relationship Happiness Scale
Experienced physical violence in current relationship
Age
Gender
Educational attainment
Race
Number of biological children
Total household income
Religious service attendance
32
Table 2: Correlation and logistic regression coefficients predicting married participants being “very
happy” in their marriage by viewing an X-rated movie (1973-2018 GSS).
Year of General
Social Survey
X-Rated Movie
(Pearson’s r)
X-Rated Movie
(with Controls)
Interaction Term
X-Rated Movie × Male
(with Controls)
r
n
b (OR)
n
b (OR)
n
1973
-.06*
1100
-.27 (.76)
996
-.27 (.76)
996
1975
-.04
1056
-.25 (.78
945
-.02 (.98)
945
1976
-.05
1041
-.33+ (.72)
908
-.18 (.84)
908
1978
-.11***
1068
-.63*** (.53)
889
.47 (1.60)
889
1980
-.04
977
-.16 (.85)
812
.46 (1.58)
812
1983
-.01
1067
-.08 (.92)
876
-.67+ (.51)
876
1984
-.03
930
.01 (.99)
752
-.93* (.39)
752
1986
-.08*
914
-.19 (.83)
753
.32 (1.38)
753
1987
-.07*
1022
-.25 (.78)
837
-.04 (.96)
837
1988
-.07+
606
-.29 (.75)
498
-.57 (.57)
498
1989
-.01
608
-.05 (.95)
505
.18 (1.20)
505
1990
-.01
539
.05 (1.05)
418
-.16 (.85)
418
1991
-.07+
633
-45* (.63)
485
-.57 (.57)
485
1993
.01
652
.07 (1.07)
510
-.44 (.64)
510
1994
-.01
923
-.01 (.99)
707
-.89* (.41)
707
1996
-.07*
1082
-.16 (.85)
791
-.28 (.76)
791
1998
-.03
1032
-.04 (.96)
775
-.51 (.60)
775
2000
-.10**
1019
-.35+ (.70)
725
-.26 (.77)
725
2002
-.03
484
-.06 (.94)
368
-.55 (.58)
368
2004
-.02
520
.03 (1.03)
399
-1.01* (.36)
399
2006
.01
1088
.10 (1.11)
795
-.68+ (.51)
795
2008
-.08*
742
-.23 (.79)
554
-.53 (.59)
554
2010
-.14***
691
-.88*** (.41)
518
-.01 (.99)
518
2012
.01
688
-.03 (.97)
537
-.22 (.80)
537
2014
-.11***
890
-.49* (.62)
704
-.09 (.92)
704
2016
-.04
947
-.21 (.81)
638
.05 (1.05)
638
2018
-.09*
750
-.42 (.66)
512
-.66 (.52)
512
Years 1973-2018
-.05***
23,065
-.20*** (.82)
18,207
-.26*** (.77)
18,207
Note: b = unstandardized coefficients; OR = odds ratios. Controls for individual years include gender,
age, number of children, years of education, total household income, race, and religious service
attendance. Controls for decades and all years together include standard controls with an additional
control for year of survey.
+ p < .10; * p <.05; ** p < .10; *** p < .001 (two-tailed test).
33
Table 3: Correlation and regression coefficients predicting relationship outcomes by pornography viewing frequency (2006 PALS).
Relationship Outcome
Porn Frequency
(Pearson’s r)
Porn Frequency
(with Controls)
Interaction Term
Porn Frequency ×
Male (with Controls)
r
n
b (OR)
n
b (OR)
n
Only Unmarried Participants
How often spouse/partner expressed affection in past year
.04
176
-.08
161
-.14
161
How often spouse/partner compliments you for the work you do
.01
178
.01
163
-.08
163
How often spouse/partner performs acts of kindness
-.04
177
-.07
162
-.33*
162
How often spouse/partner insults or harshly criticizes
.25***
178
.24***
163
-.19
163
How often spouse/partner hits or slaps
.11
178
.03
163
.04
163
How happy with relationship
-.26***
177
-.26***
162
-.25*
162
How satisfied with affection received
-.16*
177
-.16**
162
-.15
162
How satisfied with sex life
-.27***
174
-.22***
158
-.23+
158
How satisfied with decision-making
-.31***
178
-.28***
163
-.03
163
Believes spouse/partner has cheated
.08
176
.06
160
-.09
160
Yes/No: Participant cheated romantically
.16*
153
.19 (1.21)
149
16.1a
149
Yes/No: Participant cheated sexually
.11
176
.22 (1.25)
172
.01 (1.01)
172
Only Married Participants
How often spouse/partner expressed affection in past year
.01
1,448
-.05+
1,318
.09
1,318
How often spouse/partner compliments you for the work you do
-.03
1,455
-.07*
1,319
.16+
1,319
How often spouse/partner performs acts of kindness
.02
1,457
-.04
1,322
.13
1,322
How often spouse/partner insults or harshly criticizes
.08**
1,456
.02
1,321
-.07
1,321
How often spouse/partner hits or slaps
.06*
1,459
.01
1,323
-.01
1,323
How happy with relationship
-.10***
1,461
-.10***
1,325
.01
1,325
How satisfied with affection received
-.13***
1,458
-.11***
1,325
.02
1,325
How satisfied with sex life
-.12***
1,434
-.11***
1,310
-.07
1,310
How satisfied with decision-making
-.10***
1,461
-.08***
1,324
.10+
1,324
Believes spouse/partner has cheated
.13***
1,444
.11***
1,313
.01
1,313
Yes/No: Participant cheated romantically
.04
1,205
.34+ (1.40)
875
14.87a
875
Yes/No: Participant cheated sexually
.19***
1,449
25*** (1.28)
1,041
-.13 (.88)
1,041
Yes/No: Experienced marital separation in last 3 years
.06*
1,460
.15+ (1.16)
1,048
-.25 (.78)
1,048
Note: b = unstandardized coefficients; OR = odds ratios. Yes/No questions use binary logistic regression. All other questions use OLS regression. Control
variables include gender, age, children in the home, bachelors degree or higher, total household income, race, and religious service attendance.
a Cheating was such a rare occurrence for women in the sample that the odds ratios are too large to report.
+ p < .10; * p < .05; ** p < .10; *** p < .001 (two-tailed test).
34
Table 4: Correlation and regression coefficients predicting relationship outcomes by pornography viewing frequency (2012 NFSS).
Relationship Outcome
Porn Frequency
(Pearson’s r)
Porn Frequency
(with Controls)
Interaction Term
Porn Frequency ×
Male (with Controls)
r
n
b (OR)
n
b (OR)
n
Only Unmarried Participants
Y/N: Ever thought about leaving your spouse/partner?
.08+
494
.26*** (1.30)
534
-.12 (.89)
535
Y/N: Have you and your spouse/partner talked about separating?
-.04
222
-.08 (.92)
228
-.90* (.41)
228
How often have you thought your relationship is in trouble?
.16***
1,024
.12***
994
.13**
994
How often have you both discussed ending relationship?
.08**
1,025
.06**
995
.06
995
How often have you broken up and then got back together?
.03
1,028
.01
998
-.01
998
Agree/Disagree: we have a good relationship.
.01
1,025
.01
995
-.01
995
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is very healthy.
-.04
1,026
-.03
996
.07
996
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is strong.
-.03
1,027
-.02
997
-.03
997
Agree/Disagree: my relationship makes me happy.
.03
1,021
.02
991
.00
991
Agree/Disagree: I feel like part of a team with partner.
-.05+
1,025
-.04
995
-.04
995
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is pretty much perfect.
-.06+
1,028
-.06*
998
.06
998
Relationship Happiness Scale
-.10**
1,026
-.18***
998
.05
998
Only Married Participants
Y/N: Ever thought about leaving your spouse/partner?
.01
1,126
.15+ (1.16)
1,135
.05 (1.05)
1,135
Y/N: Have you and your spouse/partner talked about separating?
-.06
229
-.34* (.71)
254
.37 (1.45)
254
How often have you thought your relationship is in trouble?
.09**
1,128
.11***
1,070
.02
1,070
How often have you both discussed ending relationship?
.11***
1,123
.09***
1,065
-.05
1,065
How often have you broken up and then got back together?
.12***
1,118
.07***
1,059
-.17***
1,059
Agree/Disagree: we have a good relationship.
-.05
1,123
-.06*
1,065
.05
1,065
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is very healthy.
-.03
1,125
-.06*
1,066
.04
1,066
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is strong.
-.02
1,110
-.04
1,051
-.01
1,051
Agree/Disagree: my relationship makes me happy.
-.06+
1,119
-.07**
1,060
.12*
1,060
Agree/Disagree: I feel like part of a team with partner.
-.03
1,118
-.06*
1,060
.10
1,060
Agree/Disagree: our relationship is pretty much perfect.
-.09**
1,116
-.16***
1,058
-.09
1,058
Relationship Happiness Scale
-.08*
1,126
-.22***
1,069
.10
1,069
Note: b = unstandardized coefficients; OR = odds ratios. Yes/No questions use binary logistic regression. All other questions use OLS regression.
Control variables include gender, age, number of biological children, educational attainment, total household income, race, and religious service
attendance.
+ p < .10; * p < .05; ** p < .10; *** p < .001 (two-tailed test).
35
Table 5: Correlation and regression coefficients predicting relationship outcomes by pornography viewing frequency (2014 RIA Survey).
Relationship Outcome
Porn Frequency
(Pearson’s r)
Porn Frequency
(with Controls)
Interaction Term
Porn Frequency × Male
(with Controls)
r
n
b (OR)
n
b (OR)
n
Only Unmarried Participants
Y/N: Ever thought about leaving your spouse/partner?
.10***
1,273
.14*** (1.15)
1,256
.12* (1.12)
1,256
Y/N: Have you both talked about separating?
.06*
1,271
.07*** (1.12)
1,257
.08+ (1.08)
1,257
Y/N: Participant cheated sexually
.19***
1,507
.12*** (1.12)
1,916
-.08+ (.92)
1,916
Relationship Happiness Scale (1 = worst, 10 = best)
.01
1,904
-.06**
1,832
-..03
1,832
Experienced physical violence in current relationship
.06**
1,905
.04***
1,833
-.02+
1,833
Only Married Participants
Y/N: Ever thought about leaving your spouse/partner?
.10***
7,402
.14*** (1.15)
7,900
.06* (1.06)
7,900
Y/N: Have you both talked about separating?
.08***
7,391
.12*** (1.13)
7,904
-.07* (.93)
7,904
Y/N: Participant cheated sexually
.15***
1,539
.10*** (1.11)
1,685
-.05 (.95)
1,685
Relationship Happiness Scale (1 = worst, 10 = best)
-.09***
7,441
-.08***
7,240
-.02
7,240
Experienced physical violence in current relationship
.11***
7,462
.02***
7,262
.01
7,262
Note: b = unstandardized coefficients; OR = odds ratios. Yes/No questions use binary logistic regression. All other questions use OLS regression.
Controls variables include gender, age, number of biological children, educational attainment, total household income, race, and religious service
attendance.
+ p < .10; * p <.05; ** p < .10; *** p < .001 (two-tailed test).
36
Figure 1: Breakdown of outcomes from regression models predicting relationship outcomes on
pornography use measures.
48 54
26
52 44
71
023
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
90%
100%
Out of 29 Tests for
Unmarried Out of 57 Tests for Married
(GSS disaggregated) Out of 31 Tests for Married
(GSS aggregated)
Non-Significant Significant (Negative Outcome) Significant (Positive Outcome)
... These mixed findings have suggested that joint use of pornography (Kohut et al., 2018;Huntington et al., 2021;Newstrom & Harris, 2016;Willoughby & Leonhardt, 2018) and utilization of pornography among female J o u r n a l P r e -p r o o f partners (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011;Willoughby & Leonhardt, 2018) may be associated with null or positive relationship outcomes. Other scholars have noted that the significant associations between pornography use and relationship quality are often small in effect and sensitive to both contextual factors and measurement differences across studies (Perry, 2020;. This discrepancy in findings has led to numerous commentaries from scholars arguing for a more nuanced and context-based approach to studying the link between pornography use and relationship quality (Kohut & Campbell, 2018;. ...
... Similar to pornography use, simple face valid measures of sexual satisfaction can be a useful starting point and expanding with a more established measure in the literature could be advantageous (Mark et al., 2014). Furthermore, though sexual script theory suggests that pornography use may have a more proximal connection to sexual satisfaction by influencing sexual expectations and behaviors Wright, 2011), research also indicates that pornography use's influence may permeate broader relational outcomes (Wright et al., 2017;Perry, 2020;Perry, 2018). ...
... Relationship satisfaction is frequently assessed in pornography research (Perry, 2020;Wright et J o u r n a l P r e -p r o o f al., 2017), and stability has occasionally been assessed as well (e.g., Perry, 2018;Perry & Schleifer, 2018). Results from these studies suggest an inconsistent negative association between pornography use and both relationship satisfaction and stability. ...
Article
While scholars have increasingly explored associations between pornography use and relationship quality, this research has been limited by various methodological and conceptual problems. One specific limitation noted by previous scholars is the assumption that such associations are always linear. Using a national sample of 3750 individuals in committed relationships from the United States and detailed measurement of both pornography use and relationship quality, curvilinear associations between pornography use and relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and relationship stability were explored. Curvilinear associations were found between pornography use alone and relationship satisfaction and stability, as well as between pornography use with one's partner and sexual satisfaction and relationship stability. Most of these effects were small in magnitude. In the case of associations with sexual satisfaction and relationship stability, these relationships became more negative at higher levels of pornography use. The one exception was the association between pornography use alone and relationship satisfaction which became weakly positive at higher levels of pornography use. Biological sex moderated relationships between pornography use and relationship stability in that most associations were significant only for males. Results provided strong evidence for curvilinear associations between pornography use and relationship quality indicators.
... On a relational level, studies have focused on partnered people and examined differences between solitary and joint pornography use Vaillancourt-Morel et al., 2019). Research has shown that partnered people who use pornography alone more frequently tend to report less relationship quality (e.g., Lambert et al., 2012;Perry, 2020b;Willoughby et al., 2016;Wright et al., 2017), are more likely to engage in extradyadic behaviors (Gwinn et al., 2013), and are more likely to break-up with their partner (Perry & Davis, 2017;Perry & Schleifer, 2018). These negative correlates of solitary pornography use are particularly evident when one partner uses pornography and the other does not (e.g., Daneback et al., 2009;Kohut et al., 2018;Willoughby et al., 2016). ...
... Against our expectation, changes in solitary or joint online pornography use were unrelated to sexual satisfaction (H2 and H6), perceived intimacy (H3 and H5), perceived health (H7), or sleep quality (H8). These findings are partly aligned with past evidence showing negative consequences of solitary pornography use for relationship quality (Lambert et al., 2012;Perry, 2020b;Willoughby et al., 2016;Wright et al., 2017), especially when both partners have discordant patterns of pornography use (e.g., Daneback et al., 2009;Kohut et al., 2018;Willoughby et al., 2016), and positive consequences of joint pornography use to relationship quality (Huntington et al., 2021;Kohut et al., 2018;Rodrigues, Lopes, et al., 2021;Willoughby et al., 2016;Willoughby & Leonhardt, 2020;Wright et al., 2017). Using online pornography alone during lockdown might have been a way to satisfy one's sexual needs at the onset of the pandemic, particularly when the partner was unavailable or uninterested in having sex (Hille et al., 2021). ...
Article
Full-text available
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced several people into social isolation and research has shown a paradoxical effect on people's sexual functioning. Some people experienced decreases in sexual desire and sexual satisfaction, whereas others experienced heightened sexual desire and made new additions to their sexual repertoire, including more online pornography use, during the lockdown. Yet, studies failed to examine its interpersonal and intrapersonal correlates, distinguish between solitary and joint use, or explore differences between partnered and single people. We examined if changes in solitary or joint online pornography use since the lockdown were associated with sexual functioning, sexual satisfaction, perceived health, and sleep quality. We conducted an online cross-sectional study with convenience sampling in Portugal (N = 303 participants; 56.3% men; Mage = 31.32, SD = 10.55; 71.0% in a relationship) during May and July 2020. Partnered participants who reported increases in solitary online pornography use also reported decreases in their sex life quality. For partnered and single participants, increases in joint online pornography use were associated with increases in sex life quality. Single participants who reported increases in solitary online pornography use also perceived better health and sleep quality, and those who reported increases in joint online pornography use also reported more intimacy with casual partner(s) and better sleep quality. These findings suggest that online pornography might have beens used as a sexual pleasure tool to connect with a stable or casual partner(s) in a time when social interactions were restricted.
... Research to date has linked adolescents' viewing of pornography with a variety of attitudinal and behavioral outcomes at the individual level (for systematic reviews, see, Alexandraki et al., 2018;Koletic, 2017;Peter & Valkenburg, 2016). The same level of attention has not been paid to linking pornography viewing to adolescents' romantic relationship characteristics, despite an abundance of interest in this intersection in adult populations (e.g., Perry, 2020). Furthermore, while joint pornography viewing (i.e., watching pornography together with a romantic partner) has been studied and related to characteristics of adults' romantic relationships (e.g., Kohut et al., 2018;, very little is known about adolescents' joint pornography use (Rothman & Adhia, 2015). ...
Article
Research into adolescent pornography use has identified numerous individual-level behavioral and attitudinal correlates. However, associations between adolescents' pornography viewing and their romantic relationships remain understudied. Furthermore, very little is known about adolescents' watching pornography with their romantic partners (i.e., joint pornography use). The present study of adolescents (n = 755, 59.9% girls, M age = 15.72 years old [SD = 1.34]) is among the first attempts to link adolescents' pornography viewing behaviors to their romantic relationship attitudes and behaviors. We hypothesized that adolescents' viewing would be associated with poorer self-reported relationship skills, more negative relationship behaviors, and increased involvement in sexual activity, such as sexting. Partial support for these hypotheses was found. Frequency of overall viewing was associated with lower relationship and refusal skills. Lifetime joint pornography viewing was associated with higher rates of dating violence victimization and perpetration in the past six months and with more abusive behaviors from one's partner and more verbal conflict in the current dating relationship. Results, though cross-sectional, suggest that pornography viewing in adolescence is associated with poorer romantic outcomes. Implications for adolescent development and for healthcare providers and educators are discussed.
... Although several studies aimed to examine potential mediators and moderators, additional replicative research on these variables is needed. Furthermore, theory on pornography and satisfaction specifically [7••], theory on sexual media use and sexual socialization more generally [8], and theory broadly focused on processes and contingencies involved in media effects [35], suggests that additional moderators and mediators are in need of exploration. Through continued theory-driven tests and additional process and contingency oriented meta-analysis, subsequent research will add even greater clarity to the extant body of scholarship on pornography and satisfaction among people in romantic relationships. ...
Article
Full-text available
Purpose of review The effect of pornography on romantic relationships has been long discussed in popular culture and by researchers. The aim of the current review is to discuss the most recent findings probing the potential effect of pornography consumption on relationship and sexual satisfaction for individuals who are in romantic relationships. Recent findings Currently, there has only been one meta-analysis, which shows that pornography consumption and sexual and relationship satisfaction are negatively related for men but not for women (Hum Commun Res. 43(3):315-43, 6). Potential mediators of this link include a preference for pornographic over partnered sexual excitement, the devaluation of intimate sexual communication, decreased partnered sex due to masturbatory displacement, and upward comparisons between one’s own sex life and sex in pornography. Potential moderators include frequency of consumption and whether pornography use is alone for masturbation or partnered as a coupled sexual enhancement. Summary Future studies examining previously discussed potential moderators and mediators are needed to replicate findings and provide extension to theory directed toward pornography’s effects on romantic relationships. Additional meta-analyses on process and contingency are also needed to further synthesize the research on pornography’s effect on partnered sexual activity. Clinical implications are discussed as related to problematic pornography use.
... Research related to couples' use of pornography has focused less often on sexual repertoire and more often on sexual and relationship satisfaction, with little attention paid to associations with sexual pleasure (McKee et al., 2021). Meta-analyses and reviews of studies find a small negative association between pornography use and both relationship and sexual satisfaction (Perry, 2020;Wright et al., 2017). Although little research has examined the role of pornography in couples' sexual repertoires, the 3AM framework would suggest that scriptsituation correspondence, or the congruency between media depictions and reality, can strengthen the relationship between pornography consumption and the viewed script's activation and application (Wright, 2011). ...
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Using data from a 2014 U.S. nationally representative probability survey and a 2014 content analysis of 2562 male–female videos from two popular pornographic websites, this study aimed to: (1) compare the prevalence of survey respondents’ event-level sexual behaviors with those depicted in mainstream pornography online videos; (2) compare event-level condom use with condom use prevalence in pornographic videos; (3) compare event-level orgasm with prevalence of orgasms in pornographic videos; and (4) assess whether respondents’ partnered use of pornography was associated with the sexual behaviors in which they report engaging. We found that kissing, male orgasm, female orgasm, and condom use were significantly less prevalent in the pornographic videos than in survey respondents’ most recent sexual experiences. Conversely, penile–anal intercourse and fellatio were significantly more prevalent in the pornographic videos than in participants’ reports of their most recent sexual experience. There were no significant differences between the prevalence of cunnilingus or sex toy use represented in the videos as compared to survey respondents’ reports. Finally, we found that individuals who reported partnered pornography use during their most recent sexual experience were more likely to report having engaged in oral sex, penile–anal intercourse, and sex toy use and were also more likely to report female orgasm during their most recent sexual experience.
... One of the most commonly voiced concerns is pornography's potential impact on committed partnerships (Duffy et al., 2016;Manning, 2006;Rasmussen, 2016). On the aggregate, pornography viewing is associated with extramarital liaisons, decreased relationship satisfaction, and increased odds of divorce (Doran & Price, 2014;Perry, 2020b;Perry & Schleifer, 2018;Wright et al., 2017), though these associations are contextual. For example, while solo viewing (particularly male solo viewing in heterosexual dyads) is associated with decreased relationship satisfaction, joint viewing by partners is not, and may even be associated with higher satisfaction (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011;Maddox et al., 2011;Solano, 2019). ...
Article
Pornography’s effects have received renewed attention, with particular concern about how viewing impacts committed partner relationships. Given that secrecy and deception about pornography viewing are linked with negative relationship outcomes, we sought to identify variables associated with persons’ endorsement of hiding it. We explored this in two studies. Results from a regression analysis suggest that consumer moral disapproval of pornography and experiences of shame were associated with hiding behavior. Results from a path analysis suggest that the positive relationship between sexual conservatism and endorsement of hiding viewing from one’s committed partner is mediated by both moral incongruence (associated with viewing) and perception that pornography causes a host of harms. Persons with moral qualms related to their viewing were especially likely to endorse hiding it if they were shame-prone. These findings point to the importance of sexual values and shame in relation to persons hiding their viewing; they also suggest that individuals who internalize messaging that pornography causes serious harms are more likely to keep their viewing secret. This suggests that practitioners, policymakers, and advocates need to be circumspect about their messaging, avoiding shame-inducing rhetoric, while keeping in mind the centrality of people’s values in informing attitudes and behaviors about pornography.
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Recent meta-analytic and other large-scale multi-sample studies have established that pornography use is generally associated with lower relational satisfaction. Nevertheless, much remains unknown about the potential boundary conditions of this relationship. Using data from a campus-representative probability sample of more than 750 graduate students in a committed romantic relationship, this exploratory study examined whether the association between more frequent pornography consumption and lower relational satisfaction was moderated by gender, sexual orientation, race, relational length, religious participation, and moral disapproval of pornography. The bivariate correlation between more frequent pornography use and lower relational satisfaction was small, but significant and replicative of prior meta-analytic results. Planned two-way interaction analysis indicated that this association was moderated by gender, with men, but not women, evidencing the negative association. None of the other potential moderators yielded significant two-way interactions. A supplementary three-way interaction analysis, however, suggested that the negative association between pornography consumption and relational satisfaction was primarily carried by White men. These results provide optimism for the replicability of previous findings on pornography and relational satisfaction and suggest that moderated models should incorporate race, in addition to gender, when predicting relational satisfaction from pornography use.
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Book
Few other cultural issues alarm conservative Protestant families and communities more than the seemingly ubiquitous threat of pornography. Thanks to widespread access to the internet, conservative Protestants now face a reality in which every Christian man, woman, and child with a smartphone can access limitless pornography in his or her bathroom, at work, or at a friend’s sleepover. Once confident of their victory over pornography in society at large, conservative Protestants now fear that “porn addiction” is consuming even the most faithful. How are conservative Protestants adjusting to this new reality? And what are its consequences in their lives? Drawing on over 130 interviews, as well as numerous national surveys, Addicted to Lust shows that, compared to other Americans, pornography shapes the lives of conservative Protestants in ways that are uniquely damaging to their mental health, spiritual lives, and intimate relationships. Samuel Perry demonstrates how certain pervasive beliefs within the conservative Protestant subculture unwittingly create a context in which those who use pornography are often overwhelmed with shame and discouragement, sometimes to the point of depression or withdrawal from faith altogether. Conservative Protestant women who use pornography feel a “double shame,” both for sinning sexually and for sinning “like a man,” while conflicts over pornography in marriages are escalated with patterns of lying, hiding, blowing up, or threats of divorce. Addicted to Lust shines new light on one of the most talked-about problems facing conservative Christians.
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As pornography use becomes more commonplace in the United States, and increasingly so among younger cohorts, a growing literature is considering its potential connection to key social and cultural institutions. The current study examines the relationship between pornography use and one such institution—marriage. We draw on three-wave longitudinal data from 2006-2014 General Social Survey panel studies to determine whether married Americans' pornography use predicts their likelihood of divorce over time and under what social conditions. We employ a doubly robust strategy that combines entropy balancing with logistic regression models. We find that the probability of divorce roughly doubles for married Americans who begin pornography use between survey waves (N = 2,125; Odds Ratio = 2.20), and that this relationship holds for both women and men. Conversely, discontinuing pornography use between survey waves is associated with a lower probability of divorce, but only for women. Additional analyses also show that the association between beginning pornography use and the probability of divorce is particularly strong among younger Americans, those who are less religious, and those who report greater initial marital happiness. We conclude by discussing data limitations, considering potential intervening mechanisms and the possibility of reverse-causation, and outlining implications for future research.