New National Survey Finds that Porn Use Decreases Relationship Satisfaction


Published on November 9, 2021

National Review Online

A new national survey published today reports that one in five couples have experienced conflict in their relationship related to pornography and that porn use is generally associated with lower relationship quality. About 25 percent of men in the study reported actively hiding porn use from their partner, and even higher percentages of women raised concerns that their partner was hiding his porn use.

The National Couples and Pornography Study — called “The Porn Gap” in its final form as a research report — was commissioned by the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, and conducted by three prominent relationship researchers: Brian Willoughby, professor in the School of Family Life at BYU and a research fellow at the Wheatley Institution; Galena Rhoades, a research professor in psychology at the University of Denver; and Jason Carroll, associate director of the Wheatley Institution and professor in the School of Family Life at BYU.

Notably, this is the first major study to include matched couples as its subjects, allowing researchers to track responses from both male and female partners. The survey comprises two national datasets, one that surveyed individuals in committed couple relationships and a second that included matched partners, in which both partners or spouses completed the survey.

The individuals in the study were collected independently from a Qualtrics data panel. The first dataset consisted of 3,750 individuals in committed heterosexual couple relationships, selected to create a demographically diverse sample, and the second consisted of 713 matched heterosexual couples.

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Though the survey found that a clear majority — more than 70 percent — of respondents were at least somewhat accepting of viewing porn, a significant number of respondents reported conflict, distrust, or dissatisfaction arising in their relationship as the result of porn use.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox

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About a third of women, for instance, reported being concerned that their partner was more attracted to porn than to her and fearing that he was thinking about pornography while being intimate. Another third of women said they feared that their partner was hiding details about his porn use.

The survey also shows that men tend to have more permissive attitudes toward porn use than their female partners do, and they appear to overestimate the porn use of women, while women underestimate the porn use of men. More than half of married men and about two-thirds of dating men said they think that porn can enhance foreplay, while a majority of both married and dating women disagreed with that sentiment.

Another notable finding is that young men are about two and a half times more likely to view porn daily than older men. About 17 percent of men under 30 said they view porn every day, while just under 7 percent of men over 30 said the same.

But perhaps the survey’s most troubling finding is the way that porn use can lead to secrecy, distrust, and dissatisfaction in relationships. Only about half of respondents said that they can discuss porn openly with one another, but most had never discussed boundaries or set rules for porn use in their relationship. In their summary of the results, the researchers surmise that the relatively low levels of conflict around porn use reported by some couples might be due at least in part to lack of awareness about a partner’s viewing of porn or a general avoidance of the issue altogether.

Meanwhile, researchers found that couples in which both partners reported no porn use had the highest levels of relationship stability, commitment, and satisfaction. More than 90 percent of respondents in such a partnership reported that their relationship was highly stable, committed, and satisfying. Furthermore, the survey found a consistent decline in stability, commitment, and satisfaction as the relative frequency of porn use increased. Couples in which both partners reported viewing porn on a daily basis, for instance, had a 45 percent decrease in stability and a 30 percent decrease in commitment compared with couples reporting no porn use.

While these results indicate some variety in couple experiences surrounding pornography, they certainly suggest that the presence of porn in some relationships can lead to lack of communication, dishonesty or secrecy, poor boundary-setting, and overall instability and dissatisfaction.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center


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