Porn use linked to lower sexual performance for men – but higher sexual performance for women, study finds

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Frequent pornography use is related to different sexual outcomes for young men and young women, according to new research published in the journal Psychological Medicine. The longitudinal study, one of the largest of its kind, indicates that a higher frequency of porn use is associated with a worse sex life among men. But the opposite appears to be the case among women.

“Research investigating the impact of pornography on young women’s and men’s sexuality is basically divided in two categories: (i) some scholars argue that porn use sets unattainable standards of sexual comparison and generates anxieties about one’s sexual performance, whereas (ii) other scholars argue that porn can be a source of sexual inspiration and could actually be used to become a better sexual partner,” explained study authors Nicolas Sommet and Jacques Berent, a lecturer at the University of Lausanne and a lecturer at the University of Geneva, respectively.

“Disentangling these two opposing views is difficult, mainly because many of the existing studies use small sample sizes and cross-sectional designs, which impedes our ability to draw reliable conclusions from the literature. We therefore became interested in clarifying the association between porn use and sexual performance in men and women, by conducting a large-scale study that followed tens of thousands of participants over the course of three years.”

The researchers conducted a three-wave longitudinal study that included yearly assessments of frequency of porn use, sexual self-competence, and sexual functioning. “We collaborated one of the most popular French YouTubers at the time of the research, and we were able to collect responses from more than 100,000 young men and women,” Sommet and Berent explained. The first wave of the survey recruited 101,572 French-speaking men and women from five different countries, including 8,608 heterosexual couples. A total of 21,898 participants completed all three waves.

The researchers found that more frequent porn use was associated with lower sexual performance for men but higher sexual performance for women.

“We find that the more men watch porn, the more they report having doubts about their sexual performance, the more they report having sexual problems (e.g., in terms of sexual drive, erection, biological functioning) and — for heterosexual couples — the more their female partner report being sexually dissatisfied,” Sommet and Berent told PsyPost.

“We find the reverse trend for women: The more women watch porn, the higher their feelings of sexual competence, the lower their number of sexual problems, and — for heterosexual couples — the more satisfied their male partner is on certain aspects of their sexuality (e.g., on the quality of the sexual exchanges).”

This was true even after the researchers controlled for variables such as age, education, nationality, sexual orientation, number of lifetime sexual partners, relationship status, length of the relationship, frequency of masturbation, frequency of sexual intercourse, knowledge about sexuality, and social desirability.

“Importantly, these gender differences were also observed over time (i.e., an increase in porn use over time is associated with a reduction in sexual performance for men, and an improvement for women), which increases the plausibility (but not the certainty) that a causal link exists between porn consumption and one’s sexual performance,” Sommet and Berent told PsyPost.

The finding that women who use pornography tend to have better sexual performance is in line with a previous study, which examined 2,433 women from the United States and Hungary. But Sommet and Berent cautioned that the effect should not be overstated.

“Despite the fact that the associations between porn use and sexual performance for both men and women were robust (i.e., in clear and consistent directions), the overall size of these associations were often modest,” the researchers explained. “This means that — contrary to certain popular beliefs — porn cannot be seen as the main factor to blame for sexual issues among men, and cannot be considered as some sort of sexual panacea for women.”

The average age of the sample was 21.45 years and most of the participants identified as heterosexual. “An important caveat is that our study was focused on the effect of heteronormative porn, among heterosexual men and women – more studies are needed to investigate the effect of non-heteronormative porn on non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual individuals,” the researchers said.

“We believe that, overall, our findings can be seen as revealing the irony that porn — which is a male-dominated industry that targets a male-dominated audience — is linked with the erosion of the quality of men’s sex lives and the improvement of women’s sex lives,” Sommet and Berent concluded.

The study, “Porn use and men’s and women’s sexual performance: evidence from a large longitudinal sample“, was published February 9, 2022.

Porn use linked to lower sexual performance for men – but higher sexual performance for women, study finds

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