Is Watching Porn Bad for You?

Warning signs of harmful pornography use

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

For some people, watching pornography is an acceptable expression of their sexuality, while for others, it's a problem. Pornography itself isn't "bad" or "wrong," but it does have benefits and drawbacks that can vary based on each individual person.

What Is Porn?

Pornography is difficult to define because it means different things to different people. Most commonly, it refers to sexually explicit printed or visual materials (such as videos, pictures, or writings) intended to arouse sexual excitement.

Thanks to the Internet, porn is far more easily and widely available than it once was. There is also a huge spectrum of what might be considered porn, from woman-centered erotica to harmful material that depicts brutality, violence, or abuse of children.

Benefits

People’s attitudes about porn influence how beneficial it is for them, and people who use it regularly tend to feel more positively about the role it plays in their lives. They characterize it as something that:

  • Increases their sexual knowledge
  • Improves their attitudes about sex
  • Betters their overall quality of life

Porn is most frequently used for masturbation, which has its own set of health benefits. In general, masturbation can help people feel more comfortable with their bodies, their sexuality, and their sexual fantasies. For men specifically, more frequent ejaculation (including through masturbation) may improve prostate health and lead to lower rates of prostate cancer.

Pornography (and masturbation) can also provide an outlet for you to explore your body and your sexuality, which can be an empowering, confidence-boosting experience. Women, in particular, seem to benefit from this aspect of porn.

Porn can also be positive for people in the LGBTQ community, provided it represents their viewpoints and isn’t focused only on heterosexual relationships.

For some couples, watching porn together may offer benefits to the relationship (assuming that both partners have the same positive attitude toward porn). In one study, people who viewed pornography together with their partner reported a higher-quality relationship with better communication, sexual satisfaction, and commitment compared to people who viewed porn alone.

Risks

Exposure to any sexual media, even non-pornographic forms, can influence your sexual attitudes and behavior. This can cause problems any time you encounter a movie, TV show, or work of fiction that depicts sex in an unrealistic manner, but it also makes specific types of porn more concerning.

Porn that promotes unrealistic body images, risky or unsafe sexual behavior, sexism, or violence may be particularly problematic. This is even more of an issue for adolescents and younger adults whose sexuality isn't established yet.

Frequent porn use may also lead to desensitization toward sex—specifically, men who use porn more often show less activity in areas in the brain that are normally activated during sex. It's not clear whether this is caused by porn, or if men who are already desensitized to sex are more likely to use porn.

Porn should be used in moderation. Porn can be addictive, in the same way that other gratifying behaviors like gambling can be.

Marriage Problems

Porn in and of itself may not be an issue in all relationships, provided it's legal, adult material made with consent. Where issues arise is when there is a disconnect between partners or if one partner is using it in an unhealthy way.

Like anything else having to do with sex, if porn use is mutual and consensual, it benefits a marriage. It can keep a couple's sex life fresh and vital. If it isn't, then there could be a problem.

Some spouses may consider pornography to be insulting, degrading, and even a form of cheating. But others may not feel the same and, as a result, may not understand their partner's anger or hurt about their use of porn.

It's important to communicate openly and honestly about the role that porn plays in your sex life. In general, talking with your partner about sex can ensure you're on the same page and bring you closer together as a couple.

Warning Signs of Harmful Porn Use

An obvious sign of harmful pornography use is a lack of sex in your marriage. Additional warning signs that you or your spouse may have an unhealthy relationship with porn include:

  • Allowing easy access to pornographic magazines, videos, and computer files to other family members
  • Demanding an unusual amount of privacy on the computer
  • Dismissing a partner's feelings on the issue
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Feeling anxious, stressed, or moody when unable to access porn
  • Feeling unable to stop viewing porn despite negative consequences
  • Lying about or hiding porn use
  • Neglecting family, social, or work obligations to view porn
  • Refusing to discuss the issue
  • Spending an increasing amount of time watching porn
  • Staying up late at night to spend time on the computer

While porn can be addictive, a porn addiction isn't formally recognized as a mental health condition. However, if you do believe that you or your spouse has an unhealthy relationship with porn, therapy may help.

If Your Partner Is Watching Porn

When your marriage has obviously been hurt by pornography and your partner won't stop watching porn, you may have to face the reality that you may not be able to change their behavior. However, you can try to address the issue and improve your relationship.

Here are some tips on how to broach the topic of porn with your spouse and get back on track:

  • Try not to judge. If your partner's use of porn is harmful or hurtful to you, the first step is to talk to them without being judgmental.
  • Let them explain. Ask your partner what they like about porn. Listen calmly and respectfully to what your spouse has to say. Perhaps there are things they want both of you to try, or maybe they are watching porn out of boredom or habit.
  • Share your feelings. Take the time to calmly and clearly articulate why you feel the way you do about porn. Again, do this in a loving, non-judgemental way. You don't want your partner to feel like they are being attacked or blamed.
  • Go to counseling. Consider seeking the help of a couples counselor or sex therapist if you can't resolve the issue alone. You can also seek marriage counseling to see if there are other problems in your marriage that may be leading to excessive pornography use.

Talking about sex and pornography can be difficult, emotionally charged, and even awkward, but just like most difficult topics, getting on the same page is key.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, porn use is not inherently bad, but if you're experiencing problems in your relationship due to it, consider couples counseling or individual therapy. A trained counselor can help you better understand how and why porn is causing issues in your life and determine a healthy way to move forward.

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