Can Watching Porn Ruin Your Marriage?

A recent study found that married people who watch pornography (on their own) are more likely to end up getting divorced. The study, which was led by the American Sociological Association, found that when married people begin to watch pornography, their risk of divorce jumps from 6 percent to 11 percent. The risk is much more pronounced when it comes to wives. Married women who watch pornography are three times more likely to get a divorce.

Why is this? Is pornography inherently bad for us, or is the type of porn we are watching?

I think it is the latter. The reality is that pornography has been around for thousands of years. From pornographic stone carvings to prehistoric phalluses to sensual paintings, our desire for erotica is nothing new. The nude human form is considered by many to be a work of art, and it is healthy and normal to enjoy erotica.

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However, as evidenced by this recent study, pornography is not without its issues. First, pornography use has been associated with negative outcomes including an increased risk of sexual aggression and violence among teens. There is no denying that porn is getting more “hardcore” than ever. This is because people are becoming de-sensitized to so-called ‘vanilla’ porn. When we watch porn and masturbate, our brain is flooded with dopamine. But, over time, we need more and more stimuli in order to get the same rush of dopamine (just as with drug/alcohol abuse). Hence, we must keep seeking out ‘edgier’ porn in order to get that same thrill. Put simply: Porn is getting unbelievably intense and violent, and even mainstream porn sites offer this content or at least advertise for it.

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Second, continually masturbating to porn can lead to erection problems, as recent research suggests that men who watch porn frequently are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction. This is presumably because they become accustomed to masturbating and hence struggle to enjoy regular intercourse. Many men also use a very tight grasp (known as ‘death grip’) when masturbating, and this has been linked to erectile issues down the road.

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Third, porn can lead us to unrealistic expectations of what sex should look like and what we should look like. I don’t just mean women either (although female beauty ideals are certainly oppressive and ubiquitous in our society). However, men can also suffer from low self-esteem as a result of porn-watching. I can’t count the number of men I have worked with over the years who think that their penis size is inferior or disappointing to their partner…when, in reality, penis size is usually the last thing on her mind!

Lastly, I think we tend to turn to porn as an escape from facing our real-life sexual issues. I believe that this is the reason why pornography use can increase the risk of divorce among couples. Not because porn itself is inherently bad, but because many couples opt to use porn in a negative manner, such as hiding it from their spouse, or obsessively masturbating, or logging on to PornHub while their able and willing partner is lying in bed.

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Why do couples do this? Because porn is easy. It’s not just logistically easy (nowadays, smartphones make porn available to us 24-7), but it is emotionally and physically easy. Not only do we not have to do the work involved with sex (including staying in shape, grooming ourselves, and looking and feeling our best), but we also do not have to do the emotional work. We don’t have to work on our issues or deal with our relationship difficulties. We can just log on and zone out, ignoring our unhappiness for a few minutes longer.

So what’s the solution? More compassion in the bedroom and less YouPorn. More frank discussions of our sexual desires and less avoidance. More willingness to be bold. To be comfortable being uncomfortable. To let those feelings of awkwardness and “Am I doing this right?” exist. And then, to release those fears and doubts with gratitude. Because, at the end of the day, those thoughts come from a very pure part of yourself: The part of you that wants to pleasure your partner and satisfy their every need. That’s nothing to be ashamed of—your sexual anxiety can serve you, provided you acknowledge it and use it as a tool to better understand and your partner.

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And as for porn? Go ahead and watch it…together.