By: Michelle Flynn
While many research studies have examined individual or couple pornography use, differences between partners’ pornography use have gone unexplored. Researchers at Brigham Young University tackled this gap in research by surveying 1755 heterosexual couples across the United States. Couples were asked about how frequently they use pornography, their acceptance of pornography (e.g., whether it is an acceptable means of expressing sexuality, if it is degrading/objectifying), relationship satisfaction, relationship stability, relational aggression (defined as negative tactics intended to weaken someone’s feelings of social acceptance), and positive communication. Each couple’s difference in pornography use was calculated by subtracting the male partner’s pornography use from that of the female partner.
The researchers found that:
- Couples reported less positive communication, more relational aggression, and less relationship stability and satisfaction when there was a greater difference in partners’ pornography use. This relationship was weaker when couples or female partners reported higher acceptance of pornography use.
- Greater differences in pornography use were related to lower positive communication in couples, and in turn to worse relationship outcomes for both partners.
- Greater differences in pornography use were related to less female sexual desire, which in turn was related to lower relationship satisfaction and stability for both partners.
- Greater differences in pornography use were related to more male relational aggression, which in turn was related to lower relationship satisfaction and stability for both partners.
How can these findings be explained?
The researchers wrote that differences in pornography use might indicate disagreement on the nature, purpose, and function of sexual intimacy. Therefore, the non-using or low-using partners’ sense of security in the relationship might be influenced by discrepancies in pornography use. Viewing pornography use as acceptable may serve as a buffer for potentially negative outcomes of one partner’s high pornography use.
It is important to note that couples in this study were not followed over time, so causation cannot be determined; that is, it is not clear if differences in pornography use lead to worse relationship outcomes, or if poor relationship quality leads to differences in pornography use. Furthermore, only heterosexual couples were surveyed and those who took part in the study generally reported high relationship quality and stability, so the results may not apply to all couples. Despite these limitations, the findings suggest that pornography use differences within couples are a meaningful component of relationship wellbeing that warrants further attention.
Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., & Brown, C. C. (2016). Differences in pornography use among couples: Associations with satisfaction, stability, and relationship processes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(1), 145-158.