When Does Men’s Porn Use Reduce Sexual Satisfaction?

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People report different motives for using pornography. To illustrate, they use pornography for reasons related to distraction, fantasy, curiosity, stress reduction, boredom avoidance, and of course, sexual pleasure.

Despite years of research, it is still unclear whether the benefits of pornography (e.g., pleasure; learning new sexual techniques) outweigh its costs (e.g., reduced sexual satisfaction; lower relationship satisfaction).

Perhaps studying the frequency and quantity of porn consumption does not provide all the information we need in terms of the effects of porn on happiness and well-being. So what else should we study?

Perhaps the discrepancy between real-life sexual experiences and expectations for sexual behavior or appearances (as encouraged by porn). That is what a recent study by Kuan and colleagues, from Canada and the US, suggests.

Published in SAGE Open, this research is discussed below. Note, the study focused on men only.

Investigating the effects of pornography on relationship and sexual satisfaction

Data were collected during two waves, in 2016 (N = 105) and 2017 (N = 100).

Sample: 205 heterosexually active men (who reported using sexually explicit internet materials once or more times a week); average age of 32 years old (range of 18 to 58 years); 72% White, 13% Black; 43% college graduate, 14% high school graduate; 91% in a monogamous relationship.

Measures:

  • Consumption of sexually explicit internet materials. There were two questions: “How many days do you typically view sexually explicit internet material (SEIM) or internet pornography weekly (days per week, either streamed or downloaded)?” And, “On a day when viewing the downloaded or streamed SEIM (or internet pornography), how much time do you normally spend on it?”
  • Ideal-actual sexual discrepancy. A combination of items from different scales was used, including the Sexual Preference Scale (e.g., talking dirty during sex) and the Sexual Script Overlap Scale (e.g., partner being well endowed).
  • Sexual satisfaction. The Satisfaction with Sex Life Scale (“I am satisfied with my sex life”).
  • General self-esteem. The Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale (“I feel that I have a number of good qualities”).
  • General life satisfaction. Satisfaction with Life Scale (“The conditions of my life are excellent”).
  • Negative affect. A scale was developed to assess negative affect (e.g., feeling discouraged, lonely). The items were adopted from the brief Positive and Negative Affect Schedule.

The role of ideal-actual sexual discrepancy in satisfaction and well-being

Analysis of data showed support for the role of ideal-actual sexual discrepancy in men’s well-being and sexual satisfaction in intimate relationships.

Ideal-actual discrepancy refers to the difference between expectations for appearances, attitudes, or behaviors—which are created by sexually explicit internet material and online pornography—and actual sexual experiences with female partners.

The study found somewhat different results depending on the age cohort examined. Specifically, men in their 30s who spent more time viewing internet pornography experienced a large ideal-actual sexual discrepancy with their female sexual partners. The large discrepancy explained the link between increases in consumption of internet pornography and decreases in sexual satisfaction.

For those in their late teens and 20s, increased pornography use and large ideal-actual sexual discrepancy together resulted in reduced sexual satisfaction.

How do we explain these age differences?

The Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model suggests individual differences and environmental factors impact vulnerability to the effects of pornography. Depending on these factors—such as an individual’s personality or stage of life (whether they are still exploring their sexuality), motivation for porn consumption (escape vs. curiosity), and the environment (peer pressure)—viewing pornography can have either lesser or greater negative effects.

Regardless of these differences, common to all age groups was this association: The larger the mismatch between ideal and actual sex, the lower the sexual satisfaction and well-being.

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Source: StockSnap/Pixabay

Takeaway

The quantity or frequency of pornography consumption is not as good an indicator of the negative effects of porn use, as is the ideal-actual sexual discrepancy.

Specifically, in the research above, men reported lower well-being and sexual satisfaction (e.g., reduced self-esteem/life satisfaction) only when there was a larger difference between their ideal sexual appearances/behaviors and their actual sexual relationships with a partner.

As the authors explain, the “exaggerated and unrealistic sexual practices” in porn set up “an impossible or undesirable expectation of female partners,” and that “produces discrepant sexual experiences for heterosexual men and dissatisfaction with their experiences and their partners.”

What are examples of unrealistic or extreme sexual practices? Many porn videos feature scenes of men dominating women, often aggressively. Such scenes may lead viewers to expect or even seek similar violent sexual experiences. This can cause relationship conflict or even abusive behavior.

Subsequently, the realization that they cannot, in real life, dominate and control their female partners will likely impact these men’s self-esteem and masculinity in a negative way.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/202206/when-does-men-s-porn-use-reduce-sexual-satisfaction

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