The 4-page Nicole Prause commentary can be found here. It’s one of several commentaries (mostly by Prause allies, such as David Ley, Taylor Kohut and Sam Perry) on the following paper: An Organizational Framework for Sexual Media’s Influence on Short-Term Versus Long-Term Sexual Quality (Leonhardt et al., 2018). These commenters don’t care for Leonhardt et al.’s core thesis that “several forms of sexual media can negatively influence long-term sexual quality.”
Nevertheless, there is much empirical support for Leonhardt et al.’s assertions:
- Porn’s effects on relationships? Over 60 studies link porn use to lower sexual and relationship satisfaction (including 7 longitudinal studies). As far as we know all studies involving males have reported more porn use linked to poorer sexual or relationship satisfaction.
- Porn and sexual problems? This list contains 30 studies linking porn use/porn addiction to sexual problems and lower arousal to sexual stimuli. The first 6 studies in the list suggest causation, as participants eliminated porn use and healed chronic sexual dysfunctions.
What do Prause, Ley, Kohut, and Perry present to counter the preponderance of empirical research? Distraction, irrelevant arguments, and a few cherry-picked outlier papers, which do not hold up to closer scrutiny. In a coordinated campaign, where all four authors cite each other, they argue that masturbation, not porn use, is the actual cause of both relationship problems and sexual dysfunctions. Their sole support for this remarkable assertion is a solitary paper by Samuel Perry. It did not contain accurate data on masturbation frequency, which means its claims are little more than an hypothesis at this point. There is no solid evidence to support their assertions that masturbation, not internet porn use, is the culprit, but there is much contradictory evidence (see above). Moreover, no urologist agrees with these sexologists that masturbation causes sexual dysfunction – and Prause contradicts herself in the commentary itself by also claiming that masturbation “appears to improve general health.”
Prause’s commentary is a unconvincing attempt to debunk many of the empirically well supported negative effects related to internet porn use. Prause promotes the idea that using porn is actually beneficial…for most everyone…at any age. Aside from the bits about porn being safe for kids (below), Prause’s commentary is little more than bits and pieces copied from three earlier Prause pieces, which YBOP has critiqued:
- For an analysis of nearly every talking point and cherry-picked study Prause, Kohut and Ley ever cite, see this extensive critique of a 2018 piece published in SLATE magazine: Debunking “Why Are We Still So Worried About Watching Porn?”, by Marty Klein, Taylor Kohut, and Nicole Prause.
- For a critique of the claims in Prause’s 240-word letter to Lancet see this extensive response: Analysis of “Data do not support sex as addictive” (Prause et al., 2017).
- YBOP has long since addressed most of the cherry-picked, often irrelevant, studies and questionable claims in its response to Prause’s 2016 “Letter to the editor”: Critique of: Letter to the editor “Prause et al. (2015) the latest falsification of addiction predictions“ (2016)
Two Highly Dubious Papers vs. Over 60 Studies
In lieu of rehashing the above critiques, we provide an example from Prause’s current commentary. Near the end Prause presents all of the supporting material she can muster to “prove” her assertion that porn use has no negative effects on sexual relationships. Prause offers only two dubious citations, while ignoring over 60 other studies (including 7 longitudinal studies) that undermine her latest commentary:
The primary hypothesis of the proposed model was a bit surprising given that a large, preregistered, replication attempt found no evidence for poorer relationship quality (attraction, love) in romantic partners attributable to VSS (Balzarini, Dobson, Chin, & Campbell, 2017). When asked directly, couples in relationships most commonly believe that their VSS viewing has no negative effects on their relationships and cite mostly positive effects (Kohut, Fisher, & Campbell, 2016). Further, others have failed to find direct effects of VSS on relationship satisfaction (except indirectly in men already low in intimacy; Veit, Štulhofer, & Hald, 2016). Many predictions of the proposed model appear already falsified by existing data. Such a model might be more useful to characterize the role of masturbation or sexual desire discrepancies.
Prause’s two supporting citations (which she repeatedly tweets) come from the lab of close friend and co-author Taylor Kohut. Neither is what it appears to be.
STUDY #1: Kohut, Fisher, & Campbell, 2016 (For more see critique of “Perceived Effects of Pornography on the Couple Relationship: Initial Findings of Open-Ended, Participant-Informed, Bottom-Up Research.”) The two primary methodological flaws (tactics?) of this study are:
1) Study did 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? 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 – 2004 (for more see Pornography and Marriage, 2014). While these rates may seem low, keep in mind that (1) it asked only married women, (2) it represented all age groups, (3) it asked if porn-site use was “once a month or more,” while most studies ask “ever visited” or “ visited in the last year.”
2) Study did not correlate porn use with any variable assessing sexual or relationship satisfaction. Instead, the study employed “open ended” questions where the subjects could ramble on about porn. (It was qualitative rather than quantitative.) Then the researchers read the ramblings and decided, after the fact, what answers were “important,” and how to present (spin?) them in their paper. Then the researchers boldly suggested that all of 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 Kohut’s website and his attempt at fundraising raise a few questions, as does his 2016 study where he claimed that using porn is related to greater egalitarianism & less sexism (a finding countered by nearly every other relevant study ever published).
STUDY #2: Balzarini, Dobson, Chin, & Campbell, 2017 (For more see Does exposure to erotica reduce attraction and love for romantic partners in men? Independent replications of Kenrick, Gutierres, and Goldberg.)
This 2017 study attempted to replicate a 1989 study, which exposed men and women in committed relationships to erotic images of the opposite sex. The 1989 study found that men who were exposed to the nude Playboy centerfolds rated their partners as less attractive and reported less love for their partner. As the 2017 effort failed to replicate the 1989 findings, the authors insisted that the 1989 study got it wrong, and that porn use cannot diminish love or desire. However, the replication likely “failed” because our cultural environment has simply become more pornified and hardcore. The 2017 researchers didn’t recruit 1989 college students who grew up watching MTV after school. Instead their subjects grew up surfing PornHub for gang bang and orgy video clips.
In 1989 how many college students had seen an X-rated video? Not too many. How many 1989 college students spent every masturbation session, from puberty on, masturbating to multiple hardcore clips in one session? None. The reason for the 2017 results is evident: brief exposure to a still image of a Playboy centerfold is a big yawn compared to what college men in 2017 have been watching for years. Even the authors admitted the generational differences with their first caveat – but didn’t alter their conclusions or headlines in the press:
First, it is important to point out that the original study was published in 1989. At the time, exposure to sexual content may not have been as available, whereas today, exposure to nude images is relatively more pervasive, and thus being exposed to a nude centerfold may not be enough to elicit the contrast effect originally reported. Therefore, the results for the current replication studies may differ from the original study due to differences in exposure, access, and even acceptance of erotica then versus now.
In a rare instance of unbiased prose even David Ley felt compelled to point out the obvious:
It may be that the culture, men, and sexuality have substantially changed since 1989. Few adult men these days haven’t seen pornography or nude women—nudity and graphic sexuality are common in popular media, from Game of Thrones to perfume advertisements, and in many states, women are permitted to go topless. So it’s possible that men in the more recent study have learned to integrate the nudity and sexuality they see in porn and everyday media in a manner which doesn’t affect their attraction or love for their partners. Perhaps the men in the 1989 study had been less exposed to sexuality, nudity, and pornography.
Keep in mind that this experiment doesn’t mean internet porn use hasn’t affected men’s attraction for their lovers. It just means that looking at “centerfolds” has no immediate impact these days. Many men report radical increases in attraction to partners after giving up internet porn. And, of course, there is also the longitudinal peer-reviewed evidence cited here demonstrating the deleterious effects of porn viewing on relationships.
Put simply, Prause is unsuccessfully attempting to counter the preponderance of studies linking porn use to divorce, breakups, and poorer sexual and relationship satisfaction.
Finally, it’s important to note that the authors of the second authority she cites are colleagues of Taylor Kohut at the University of Western Ontario. This group of researchers, headed by William Fisher, has been publishing questionable studies, which consistently produce results that on the surface appear to counter the vast literature linking porn use to myriad negative outcomes (outlying studies). Moreover, both Kohut and Fisher played major, questionable roles in defeating Motion 47 in Canada.
Prause Says Porn May be Just Fine For Kids
Unlike any previous Prause papers, Prause here delves into porn use by children as if she is an expert in this arena. (Prause has never published a paper about adolescents and pornography use, and she does not treat patients, even though she currently holds a California psychology license.)
Sometimes she seems almost reasonable; other times this commentary reads as if it’s written by the Free Speech Coalition. A few samples from Prause’s “Youth Masturbate for Pleasure” section, in which she artfully goes back and forth between porn use and masturbation, keeping readers off-guard:
Curiously, Leonhardt et al. presumed the effects of VSS on children must be negative and require familial mitigation (“[family] can mitigate the influence of sexual media,” “Healthy exploration within primary source relationships”). Realistically, parental reactions to childhood masturbation, with or without VSS, are often shaming and potentially harmful (Gagnon, 1985)….
Similarly, Leonhardt et al. (2018) write as though youth are passive, non-sexual agents, describing that they “are exposed to a sexual script” and “children receive their formative exposure.” This ignores that youth can be active sexual agents, experience sexual motivation for pleasure, and masturbate……
Leonhardt et al. (2018) present the “age of exposure” as a risk factor (in “Formativeness” section) for negative outcomes. Yet, earlier viewing of VSS has a number of positive associations……
Identifying methods to support the benefits of VSS viewing by youth who found VSS, while mitigating the risks (Livingstone & Helsper, 2009), appears more consistent with the arguments to contextualize VSS experience advanced by Leonhardt et al. (2018)…..
Prause’s “Youth Masturbate for Pleasure” section is fairly long, yet she only cites four cherry-picked pornography studies to support her position that internet porn use is no big deal for kids. Three of the four studies concern themselves with porn viewers 1) being slightly more comfortable with viewing genitals, and 2) marginally better at identifying genital structures.
Prause omits the preponderance of adolescent/internet porn studies, which paint quite a different picture. See this list of over 230 adolescent and porn use studies. As a group, the adolescent studies report myriad negative outcomes related to youthful porn use. For example, consider this review of the literature (Note: Prause does not cite literature reviews or meta-analyses because none align with her position.): The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research (2012). From the conclusion:
Increased access to the Internet by adolescents has created unprecedented opportunities for sexual education, learning, and growth. Conversely, the risk of harm that is evident in the literature has led researchers to investigate adolescent exposure to online pornography in an effort to elucidate these relationships. Collectively, these studies suggest that youth who consume pornography may develop unrealistic sexual values and beliefs. Among the findings, higher levels of permissive sexual attitudes, sexual preoccupation, and earlier sexual experimentation have been correlated with more frequent consumption of pornography….
Nevertheless, consistent findings have emerged linking adolescent use of pornography that depicts violence with increased degrees of sexually aggressive behavior. The literature does indicate some correlation between adolescents’ use of pornography and self-concept. Girls report feeling physically inferior to the women they view in pornographic material, while boys fear they may not be as virile or able to perform as the men in these media. Adolescents also report that their use of pornography decreased as their self-confidence and social development increase. Additionally, research suggests that adolescents who use pornography, especially that found on the Internet, have lower degrees of social integration, increases in conduct problems, higher levels of delinquent behavior, higher incidence of depressive symptoms, and decreased emotional bonding with caregivers.
Doesn’t match Prause’s carefully chosen support items. Nor does this more recent review of the literature: Consumption of sexually explicit internet material and its effects on minors’ health: latest evidence from the literature (2019) – Excerpts:
RESULTS: According to selected studies (n = 19), an association between consumption of online pornography and several behavioral, psychophysical and social outcomes – earlier sexual debut, engaging with multiple and/or occasional partners, emulating risky sexual behaviors, assimilating distorted gender roles, dysfunctional body perception, aggressiveness, anxious or depressive symptoms, compulsive pornography use – is confirmed.
CONCLUSIONS: The impact of online pornography on minors’ health appears to be relevant. The issue can no longer be neglected and must be targeted by global and multidisciplinary interventions.
Here’s a 2016 meta-analysis examining 135 studies: Media and Sexualization: State of Empirical Research, 1995–2015. Excerpt:
The goal of this review was to synthesize empirical investigations testing effects of media sexualization. The focus was on research published in peer-reviewed, English-language journals between 1995 and 2015. A total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies were reviewed. The findings provided consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to this content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.
Prause’s omission of these important meta-studies raises questions as to whether her contrary assertions are made objectively. As impartiality is the bedrock of scholarly literature, consider the following page: Is Nicole Prause Influenced by the Porn Industry?