Is Porn Bad?: How Pornography Can Affect Mental Health And Relationships

Whether you’re planning to watch porn for the first time or are already a regular viewer of porn, you’ve likely heard that pornography can be detrimental to both your mental health and relationship. In this article, we’ll be explaining pornography’s impact on mental health, its role in relationships, as well as what you can do if you find that porn is negatively affecting you.

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Whether you’re planning to watch porn for the first time or are already a regular viewer of porn, you’ve likely heard someone say that “porn is bad”. But in what ways does porn damage one’s mental health or relationships? And is porn really all that bad? In this article, we’ll be explaining pornography’s impact on mental health, its role in relationships, as well as what you can do if you find that porn is negatively affecting you.


How Pornography Can Affect Your Mental Health

The Good: Normalising Sexual Desires

While many make pornography out to be a force for evil, porn can have a number of positive effects on mental health for some people. We humans possess a great range of desires. And over time, both our personal preferences and social norms surrounding sex tend to vary.


However, the topic of sexuality often remains rather hush-hush. We can start to wonder if our sexual fantasies are strange or abnormal. Thus, porn can help you take your first step towards discovering and normalising what really turns you on in the bedroom.

The Good: Exploration & Validation Of Sexual Orientation

Especially for sexual minorities, it can be hard to openly discuss sexual identity with others. Some studies have therefore pointed out that pornography can aid in the exploration of one’s sexual orientation, give LGBTIQ+ individuals heightened sexual confidence, and also serve as a form of sexual education.

The Bad: Performance Anxiety

However, porn can also give rise to various mental health issues, one of them being performance anxiety. A recent study conducted on problematic pornography usage highlighted that some heterosexual men reported having unrealistic expectations of sex for both themselves and their partners, as well as increased anxiety about their sexual performance after watching porn.

The Bad: Body Image & Self-esteem Issues

Furthermore, watching porn has also been consistently associated with issues related to body image and self-esteem. As a result of the repeated exposure to porn stars’ ideal bodies, many viewers of porn develop unrealistic expectations of their own bodies, which can be highly damaging to self-esteem. 


According to a study conducted in 2014, pornography use causes dissatisfaction with one’s own sexual body image, with penis-size dissatisfaction being a prominent concern among porn viewers.


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How Pornography Can Affect Your Relationship

The Good: Open Exploration Of Sexual Fantasies

When it comes to relationships, appropriate use of pornography can help to encourage open conversation about erotic desires between couples, and serve as a starting point for you and your partner to explore these sexual fantasies as a couple. This can aid in bonding, as well as add a little spice to your sex life.

The Bad: Poorer Relationship Quality & Satisfaction

However, it must be noted that pornography is more often deterimental to romantic relationships. According to a study on pornography and relationship quality, porn is consistently associated with lower relationship quality. Another study also found that males who regularly watch porn are significantly less satisfied in their sexual and romantic lives.


For some couples, your partner’s disapproval of your pornography use or the type of porn you watch could also cause tension within the relationship, or lead to your partner feeling inadequate.


According to a study conducted in 2018, problematic pornography usage and relationship dissatisfaction can also be mutually reinforcing. When unhappy with their relationships, participants reported an increased tendency to experience a loss of control over how often they watch porn.

The Bad: Sexual Violence & Coercion

Furthermore, porn often portrays violent behaviour during sex, which has been suggested to increase gender-based violence within relationships, reduce the tendency towards respectful communication, and thus damage relationships between romantic partners as a whole.

The Bad: Sexual Desensitisation

Finally, some researchers also suggest that excessive usage of pornography can make one feel desensitised during sexual activity, and as a result become less responsive to sexual advances made by their partner.


According to a 2016 study, excessive pornography usage may alter the brain’s limbic system, thus tampering with sexual motivation and giving rise to sexual dysfunctions such as desensitisation. Furthermore, the relatively novel and extreme content often found in porn videos can produce or reinforce unrealistic expectations about sex, such that sex with one’s real-life partner comes to feel lacklustre.


Is Porn Addictive?

While researchers remain divided on whether porn truly is addictive, watching porn can definitely lead to compulsive sexual behaviour. According to a study published in 2015, pornography can stimulate sex addicts to seek more extreme and novel images, thus producing a vicious cycle of compulsive porn-viewing.


Of course, watching porn will not always lead to addiction, and simply viewing porn from time to time isn’t a cause for concern. However, if you experience the following, it may help for you to reach out to a mental health professional to manage your addiction:


  • You find yourself struggling to resist watching porn.
  • You struggle to enjoy sex without first watching porn.
  • You spend hours on porn sites, at the expense of your sleep or responsibilities.
  • You force your partner to carry out sexual acts shown in porn films, even when they are uncomfortable doing so.

What To Do If Porn Is Affecting You Negatively

If you exhibit any of the above signs, or find that porn is otherwise affecting you or your partner negatively, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help. Here at Noah, our 1-on-1 therapy sessions provide you with a safe, private and confidential place to discuss and work through your experiences, feelings and thoughts. All our sessions are held online, so you can eliminate the commute and wait time of an in-person session and have your session at home.


Simply complete an online evaluation, and book an appointment at a time that is convenient for you. And rest assured that all the therapists we work with are licensed and registered with either the Singapore Register of Psychologists (SRP) or the British Psychological Society (BPS), and have been carefully vetted and trained to meet important healthcare requirements.  


The Takeaway

To sum up, pornography isn’t all good or bad. It may help normalise desire, validate one’s sexual orientation, and even aid in open conversation about sexual fantasies within relationships. 


However, pornography can easily give rise to performance anxiety, body image concerns, as well as poorer relationship quality and satisfaction. If you and/or your partner are currently struggling with any of the negative impacts of problematic pornography usage, consider reaching out to a therapist for help.

Disclaimer


Articles featured on Noah are for informational purposes only and should not be constituted as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. If you're looking for a healthcare provider, click here.


References


Petterson, L., Waling, A., Rissel, C., Lim, M., Temple-Smith, M., & Flood, M. (2020, July 8). Is watching porn bad for your health? We asked 5 experts. The Conversation. (Link


Cormier, Z. (2021, July 13). Is porn bad for you? BBC Science Focus Magazine. (Link


Pietrangelo, A. (2019, July 9). Is Pornography Really That Bad? Healthline. (Link


Villines, Z. (2020, August 27). Porn: Is it bad for you? Medical News Today. (Link


McCormack, M., & Wignall, L. (2016). Enjoyment, Exploration and Education: Understanding the Consumption of Pornography among Young Men with Non-Exclusive Sexual Orientations. Sociology, 51(5), 975–991. (Link


Hillier, L., & Harrison, L. (2007). Building Realities Less Limited Than Their Own: Young People Practising Same-Sex Attraction on the Internet. Sexualities, 10(1), 82–100. (Link)


Pornography as a Source of Education About Sex and Sexuality Among a Sample of 15-29 Year Old Australians. (2017, May 1). ScienceDirect. (Link)


Sniewski, L., & Farvid, P. (2020). Hidden in shame: Heterosexual men’s experiences of self-perceived problematic pornography use. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 21(2), 201–212. (Link)


Cranney, S. (2015). Internet Pornography use and Sexual Body Image in a Dutch Sample. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27(3), 316–323. (Link)


Perry, S. L. (2020). Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality in 30 National Surveys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(4), 1199–1213. (Link)


Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography Consumption and Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis. Human Communication Research, 43(3), 315–343. (Link


Daspe, M. V., Vaillancourt-Morel, M. P., Lussier, Y., Sabourin, S., & Ferron, A. (2018). When Pornography Use Feels Out of Control: The Moderation Effect of Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44(4), 343–353. (Link)


Park, B., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W., & Doan, A. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 6(3), 17. (Link)


Lim, M. S. C., Carrotte, E. R., & Hellard, M. E. (2015). The impact of pornography on gender-based violence, sexual health and well-being: what do we know? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 70(1), 3–5. (Link)


Banca, P., Morris, L. S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Voon, V. (2016). Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 72, 91–101. (Link)


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Published On
February 3, 2022

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