Porn, Whether It’s Good Or Bad For Us, Sure Feels Good

Study finds that most men and women who view hardcore pornography report small to moderate positive effects and few, if any, negative effects.

A somewhat, but not entirely new surprising new study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior presents data suggesting men and women fundamentally agree that porn consumption has a mostly positive effect on their lives  And the more pornography they watch, the more positive impacts they tend to report. But what’s interesting here isn’t the data, which is pretty easy to graph, but the interpretation of the results. Those who believe that pornography has more upside than downside may suggest the new study proves harms are being overstated. For those worried about the side effects of porn consumption, the data can be seen as proof that unbridled access to porn can be dangerous and psychologically altering.

“The proponents of pornography would argue that the individuals themselves are in the best position to judge such effects and that results from studies such as the current one therefore should be taken at face value,” the authors write. On the other hand, “the critics of pornography have actually described such ‘desensitization’ and gradual greater acceptance of pornography as a result of exposure as one of the most insidious effects of consumption.”

Whether pornography is objectively good or bad for those who view it is unclear from a scientific perspective (sorry, that’s how it goes with real research) and almost certainly depends on the situation. Sex therapists claim that moderate porn use can help couples get through low points in their sex lives, while other studies have drawn correlations between regular porn use and high relationship anxiety. But, until now, the question of whether or not men and women view personal consumption had not been answered.

For this new study, researchers surveyed 688 heterosexual Danish men and women between the ages of 18 and 30. They were largely liberal, highly educated, and sex educated, and they reported substantial pornography use. Nearly all (97.8 percent) of men said they had ever viewed pornography, compared to nearly 80 percent of women surveyed. Men estimated that they viewed an average of 80 minutes of pornography per week, while women claimed closer to 20 minutes per week. Men reported significantly more positive effects on their personal lives and sex lives than women, and both sexes reported barely any negative effects.

The researchers suspect this may be due to a phenomenon known as “Optimism Bias,” which is used to explain how people come to believe that they are at less risk of experiencing negative repercussions for their behaviors than the general population. It’s the same sort of bias that tells cigarette smokers that they’ll escape lung cancer; and motorcyclists that their liver isn’t going to end up on an airplane in a cooler. Another possibility is that the study was skewed toward mostly liberal Dutch citizens, who are conditioned by their society to downplay any negative effects of sexual liberation.

“However, with all of these potential biases in mind,” the researchers write. “It may also be that participants’ reports are veridical and that, at least in the context of a highly liberal and sex educated society, pornography’s impact is relatively positive and that media and popular books’ reports of highly negative effects on consumers are exaggerated or unfounded.”

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Of course, the authors also recognize that just because porn consumers think that pornography is good for them does not make it so. “We believe that it is important to include in the assessment of effects of pornography consumption peoples’ self-perceived reports of these effects,” the authors write. “We also believe that these perceptions only constitute part of the understanding of what the effects of pornography may be.”