Pornography Use within Romantic Relationships: The Associations between Sexual Communication, Pornography Use and Relationship Outcomes

C. Gautreau

There has been a growing interest in understanding whether and how pornography use is associated with relationship quality and sexual satisfaction for individuals in long-term, committed relationships. Research examining this question is mixed.  Moreover, the methodological limitations of past work make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions. We investigated four questions: (1) Using valid measures to assess pornography use, is there an association between pornography use and relationship outcomes; (2) Is pornography-related communication a stronger predictor of relationship outcomes, as compared to frequency of use; (3) Does the association between pornography-related communication and relationship outcomes remain significant after controlling for general relationship communication; and (4) How often do individuals avoid discussing pornography with their relationship partner?

Study 1 (N = 780) explored our first research question. Participants in long-term committed relationships reported on their own pornography use, their partners’ pornography use, and their sexual and relationship satisfaction. Women who estimated that their partners used pornography more frequently reported lower relationship satisfaction. Men who reported using pornography more frequently were less sexually satisfied and reported lower relationship satisfaction. Men who estimated that their partners used pornography more frequently were more sexually satisfied.

Study 2 (N=773) investigated research questions 1, 2 and 3. Individuals in long-term committed relationships completed the same measures used in Study 1, with the addition of measures of overall relationship communication quality and quality of pornography specific communication. We replicated the findings from Study 1. Moreover, the quality of overall communication and the quality of pornography-related communication were found to be important predictors of relationship outcomes, and attenuated many of the associations of participants’ perceptions of their partner’s pornography use with relationship outcomes. The quality of pornography-related communication was also positively associated with relationship quality for women and sexual satisfaction for women and men, over and above quality of overall relationship communication.

Study 3 (N = 191) examined our fourth research question. Participants in long-term committed relationships reported how often they avoided discussing various relationship topics with their partner, including pornography use. We found that men avoided discussing pornography use with their partner than women and men avoided discussing pornography use significantly more than several other topics.

Broadly, our findings show that it is important to shift the academic debate on whether pornography use is beneficial or hurtful to relationships to examining under what relationship contexts pornography use can exert a negative or positive influence on the relationship.

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