Pornography, Negative Body Image, & Eating Disorders: The Connections 

Picture this: you’re a 15-year-old girl in high school. Your days revolve around school, sports, and friends. Your phone is the lifeline to your social life. And while Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok create connections, an onslaught of pressure also comes from the glowing screen in the palm of your hand. 

You follow many celebrities on social media, all with seemingly picture-perfect bodies. The likes and “you’re-so-pretty” comments flood in each time your best friend posts a picture. A quick search shows who the kids at school follow on Instagram—many of the accounts feature filtered and Facetuned girls. And to top it off, your first boyfriend, who you’ve been crushing on since middle school, watches pornography. 

He doesn’t talk about it much, and when he does you act like you don’t care, but you’ve seen it. You know what he’s watching. It’s hard to stop wondering if he compares you to the women on Pornhub. Skipping lunch today won’t hurt, you think to yourself. Beauty is pain, after all. 

This is just an example, but it’s easy to see how the constant pressure to look a certain way could lead to a negative body image and unhealthy eating habits. Pornography compounds this in heartbreaking ways. 

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Pornography Fuels Body Dissatisfaction, a Leading Contributor to Eating Disorders

A 2020 report in the UK found that 29% of 11-17-year-olds surveyed said they felt bad about their body when they saw how people looked in pornography. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, research indicates that body dissatisfaction is a leading contributor to the development of certain eating disorders.

One 17-year-old girl shared how her boyfriend’s obsession with pornography contributed to her eating disorder. She explained

“Somehow I got the sick, twisted idea in my head that as long as my boyfriend was hooked to porn, I would have to get skinnier; more beautiful. Even more messed up? He knew about my disorder, and he knew he was the biggest trigger to my unhealthy habits. He knew this, and yet he had no intention of changing.”

Teens, Adults, Men, Women, Sexual Minorities . . . All are Affected

High schoolers aren’t the only ones who suffer from poor body image and disordered eating as a result of pornography—adults do, too. 

One study found that women who viewed pornography reported lower body image and criticism from their partners regarding their bodies, among other insights. Greater pornography use is also associated with men having concerns over their own body image

Women don’t even have to watch pornography themselves for it to influence body dissatisfaction and eating disorder symptoms. Research shows that women’s body image is negatively impacted by male partner pornography use and that men who view pornography report being more critical of their partner’s body. One study looked at the relationship between perceived partner pornography use and eating disorders among college women and found that previous (but not current) partner pornography use was linked to poorer self-esteem and higher eating disorder symptomology. A 2019 study showed that women whose male partners watch pornography on a regular basis are more likely to report symptoms of an eating disorder. 

Further, these impacts aren’t specific to heterosexual relationships. One study found associations between gay men’s pornography consumption, unhappiness with their body image, and even depression. Another study of sexual minority men in Australia and New Zealand found that greater pornography use was associated with higher body dissatisfaction, greater eating disorder symptoms, and lower quality of life. 

Finding Support & Getting Help

If you struggle with disordered eating or a pornography habit, help is available. 

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The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


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