Analysis of “Perceived Effects of Pornography on the Couple Relationship: Initial Findings of Open-Ended, Participant-Informed, Bottom-Up Research” (2017)

Update: In this 2018 presentation Gary Wilson exposes the truth behind 5 questionable and misleading studies, including this study (Kohut et al., 2017): Porn Research: Fact or Fiction?

COMMENTS: Is the intention behind this Taylor Kohut study to (attempt to) counter the nearly 60 studies that show porn use has negative effects on relationships? The two main problems with this study are:

1) It does not contain a representative sample. Whereas most studies show that a tiny minority of females in long-term relationships use porn, in this study 95% of the women used porn on their own. And 83% of the women had used porn since the beginning of the relationship (in some cases for years). Those rates are higher than in college-aged men! In other words, the researchers appear to have skewed their sample to produce the results they were seeking.

The reality? Cross-sectional data from the largest nationally representative US survey (General Social Survey) reported that only 2.6% of married women had visited a “pornographic website” in the last month. Data from 2000, 2002, 2004 (for more see Pornography and Marriage, 2014). While these rates may seem low, keep in mind that (1) its only married women, (2) represents all age groups, (3) its “once a month or more”: most studies ask “ever visited” or “ visited in the last year”.

2) The study used “open ended” questions where the subject could ramble on and on about porn. Then the researchers read the ramblings and decided, after the fact, what answers were “important,” and how to present (spin?) them in their paper. In other words, the study did not correlate porn use with any variable assessing sexual or relationship satisfaction. Then the researchers had the gall to suggest that all the other studies on porn and relationships, which employed more established, scientific methodology and straightforward questions about porn’s effects were flawed. Is this really science? The lead author’s website and his attempt at fundraising raise a few questions.

In reality, almost 60 studies have linked porn use to poorer sexual and relationship satisfaction (In the list of studies 1 & 2 are meta-analyses, study #3 had porn users attempt to quit using porn for 3 weeks, and studies 4 through 8 are longitudinal). While a few studies have correlated greater porn use in females to slightly greater sexual satisfaction, the vast majority of studies have not (see this list: Porn studies involving female subjects: Negative effects on arousal, sexual satisfaction, and relationships). As far as we know all studies involving males have reported porn use linked to poorer sexual or relationship satisfaction.

A bit more about this study. There were 430 participants who provided a total of 3963 responses to 42 open-ended questions about the effects of pornography use on their couple relationship. The researchers identified 66 “themes,” with each theme represented by between 621 and 5 individual responses. Despite these fatal flaws and despite the negative effects reported by some of their sample, the researchers claimed porn’s impact was overwhelmingly positive.

A few excerpts from the study showing that some couples reported significant negative effects from porn use:

  • Porn Replaces Partner: 90 Responses involved the perception that pornography was replacing or was in competition with partnered sex. Some responses provided a rationale by mentioning that pornography is easier, more interesting, more arousing, more desirable, or more gratifying than sex with a partner. Alternatively, some porn users pointed out their partners’ may feel like they are in competition with pornography
  • Decreased Arousal Response: 71 Responses discussed how pornography use is desensitizing, decreases the ability to achieve or maintain sexual arousal, or to achieve orgasm. Note as above, it can was sometimes difficult to differentiate true arousal responses from sexual interest responses so there is overlap with Decreases Interest in Sex
  • Sexual Desensitization (subtheme): 17 of 71 Responses that specifically described desensitization as the effect of pornography use. Often the context is vague, making it difficult to infer much meaning from surrounding context. In other places it is explicitly connected to impaired sexual arousal
  • Addiction: 60 Responses revolved around too much use,‘‘reliance’’ or dependence on pornography, pornography using being obsessive, or becoming a sex addict. The reliance and dependence terminology suggests theoretical connections with decreased sexual interest and arousal as well as desensitization, though this terminology was used infrequently in discussions of addiction in this sample
  • Loss of Intimacy or Love: 42 Responses concerned a loss of intimacy or love. There was some diversity in this category of responses. Some indicated that pornography makes sex more recreational and less about love or closeness, while others said that their partner does not like their porn use, which creates a distance in the relationship. A couple of comments suggest that distancing is a function of the discrepancy between desired pornography-inspired behavior and actual sexual behavior with a partner. Finally, at least one participants suggested that porn use contributes to a fear of intimacy
  • Mistrust: 29 Responses discussed how pornography use contributes to mistrust or damaged trust
  • Reinforces Stereotypes About Sex and Gender: 28 Responses were concerned pornography’s perpetuation of sexism, contribution to male domination or degradation of women, or reinforcement of sexual objectification
  • Damaged Relationship: 28 Responses described how pornography use damages or puts strain on relationships, marriages and sex life. There was some discussion of how people want less sex from a partner because the partner uses pornography
  • Relationship Dissolution: 23 Responses involved how pornography use contributes or may contribute to relationship dissolutions. The reasons that were offered for this consequence were diverse: porn contributes to infidelity or is perceived as possible infidelity, porn use negatively impacts sexual behavior, or porn use leads to a loss of interest in having sexual relations with the current partner
  • Less Enjoyment of Real Sex: 17 Responses suggested that pornography makes real sex more boring, more routine, less exiting, or less enjoyable. A minority of responses described a loss of intimacy, or loving component of having sex together
  • Less Satisfied with Partner: 17 Responses indicated that pornography use lowers interest in, or satisfaction with, or desire for, or attraction to a sexual partner. Partners feel like they are in competition with porn or porn stars

Arch Sex Behav. 2017 Feb;46(2):585-602.

Kohut T1, Fisher WA2,3, Campbell L2.


The current study adopted a participant-informed, “bottom-up,” qualitative approach to identifying perceived effects of pornography on the couple relationship. A large sample (N = 430) of men and women in heterosexual relationships in which pornography was used by at least one partner was recruited through online (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and offline (e.g., newspapers, radio, etc.) sources. Participants responded to open-ended questions regarding perceived consequences of pornography use for each couple member and for their relationship in the context of an online survey. In the current sample of respondents, “no negative effects” was the most commonly reported impact of pornography use. Among remaining responses, positive perceived effects of pornography use on couple members and their relationship (e.g., improved sexual communication, more sexual experimentation, enhanced sexual comfort) were reported frequently; negative perceived effects of pornography (e.g., unrealistic expectations, decreased sexual interest in partner, increased insecurity) were also reported, albeit with considerably less frequency. The results of this work suggest new research directions that require more systematic attention.

KEYWORDS: Pornography; Relationship quality; Relationship satisfaction; Relationships; Sexual satisfaction; Sexually explicit material

PMID: 27393037

DOI: 10.1007/s10508-016-0783-6

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