“At 20 I started dating my now wife and hid the fact that I watched porn from her. I watched porn the entire time we dated behind her back because I had become addicted and didn’t want to admit it to her. We had sexual problems due to me watching porn, it made it hard for me to have sex with her and also watch the porn I was addicted to. I was sexually exhausted. She eventually caught me watching it after we got married and she was pregnant with our son. It broke her heart that I would do that even though we had sex. And it hurt her that I wasn’t able to perform in bed and she felt like I was choosing porn over her, and I was.”
In a previous blog, we discussed how pornography harms the individual brain. Knowing that pornography changes our very brains, how then does that affect other parts of our lives, like relationships? Research is starting to show just how much porn really does affect our interpersonal relationships with other people. Just like this personal story, pornography warped the love between two people, causing shame, blocking intimacy, and consuming daily thoughts.
The problems described in this man’s story are not unique to him. Many studies have shown that men classified with compulsive sexual behaviors, including excessive pornography use, have similar brain patterns to drug addiction models. Besides simply changing the brain, this extreme pornography usage seeps into how one sees other people and their own relationships.
This man mentioned being “sexually exhausted” by keeping this long-held secret from his wife and being unable to perform with her. Studies have shown that prolonged pornography use does in fact damage sexual satisfaction. One study of over 1,000 Dutch adolescents revealed that there was a strong negative influence of sexually explicit Internet material on satisfaction with their sex lives. Another study of male sexual activity reported that pornography was linked to a higher desire for sex, but lower overall sexual satisfaction. Other research has correlated pornography use with “negative effects on partnered sex, decreased enjoyment of sexual intimacy, less sexual and relationship satisfaction.”
Pornography has proven to be detrimental to other aspects of relationships as well. There is increasing evidence that pornography is a factor in the increase in erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. Since the early 2000s, the ED rate among men has skyrocketed from an estimated 2–5% to as high as 28%. This only coincides with the massive increase of accessible Internet pornography in the last two decades. Another study on men who sought help for frequent pornography and masturbation use commonly reported problems with ED and low desire for partnered sex. There are many that might argue pornography helps them in their love lives. However, research is only proving just how wrong this line of thinking is.
Besides personal dissatisfaction in relationships and intimacy, pornography has other negative effects that can severely damage how users see other people around them. Men who frequently were exposed to pornography and other sexually objectifying material displayed stronger attitudes that supported violence against women as well as a stronger likelihood to objectify women. Additionally, increased pornography use has been linked to other risky behaviors such as more sex partners, increased alcohol use including binge drinking, and less family-centered values in marriage. Pornography use has also been correlated with feelings of loneliness in a survey of over 1,000 participants. These negative attitudes and emotions are not healthy and are at best, shaky foundations on which to build lasting relationships.
Just like the personal testimony, pornography has the ability to create feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction, and lead to further objectification and even loneliness. It is clear that research only supports the fact that pornography can erode one of the most important parts of human life: love and intimacy. When real life relationships are being replaced with simulated, often violent and derogatory, sexual acts on a screen, it is only natural that real life suffers.