Is pornography bad for you? Plus, the questions to ask instead

By

Walter Alejos

|

April 7, 2021

open laptop user wondering if watching porn is bad
Wondering if watching pornography is “bad”? It might be time to change the question.

Is pornography bad? It’s a question sex therapists are often asked, but it isn’t the question you should be asking. Why? Because it bypasses the issue that really needs your attention and curiosity.

What we look at in sex therapy isn’t whether something like porn is good or bad. Instead, we focus on your relationship with pornography. Doing this can help you build a foundation for sexual, emotional, and psychological health.

For people with anxiety and depression, purposefully engaging in pleasurable activities can improve mental health.
Wondering if watching pornography is “bad”? It might be time to change the question.

Is pornography bad? It’s a question sex therapists are often asked, but it isn’t the question you should be asking. Why? Because it bypasses the issue that really needs your attention and curiosity.

What we look at in sex therapy isn’t whether something like porn is good or bad. Instead, we focus on your relationship with pornography. Doing this can help you build a foundation for sexual, emotional, and psychological health.

Does it feel good or bad?

Love it or hate it, you probably have your own opinions about pornography. The spectrum is broad—from people who find it morally reprehensible and destructive to others who find it immensely pleasurable and life-enhancing. When your relationship with porn is healthy, it can be a healthy part of your sex life.

Suppose you’re someone who feels badly about looking at erotic images or videos. In that case, it can be a lonely issue given the taboo nature of sex and all the mixed messages you get through culture, media, and the internet.

If you’ve tried to stop watching but failed, you may even consider yourself a porn addict. You can see this reflected in the language we use when describing the behavior. How often have you heard or used the phrase “using porn” as if it’s a drug?

Common myths about pornography

Let’s start by debunking some of the popular myths about watching porn.

Myth 1: Pornography is addictive.

While watching pornography may feel addictive, there is not enough scientific evidence to support this claim. In fact, the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) doesn’t support the classification of sex or pornography addiction as a legitimate mental health disorder and finds the addiction model lacking in evidence and methodological rigor.

Watching porn can undoubtedly be a source of distress and challenging feelings for some. But talking about this experience as “porn addiction” tends to stigmatize sex and prohibit the exploration and understanding of its function.

more effective and person-centered model considers factors such as gender, sexual orientation, religion, desire discrepancies, cultural norms, and impulse-control issues.

Myth 2: Watching porn causes erectile dysfunction (ED).

There is little to no evidence to support the claim that watching pornography causes ED.  Outside of medical and physiological issues, the most common cause of ED is sexual performance anxiety.

Men who frequently watch pornography may find partner-sex more anxiety-producing than solo sex. This happens because masturbation bypasses any worry you might otherwise have about the needs of your partner and how you’ll measure up.

Myth 3: Watching porn destroys relationships.

Numerous factors hurt relationships. These are issues like dishonestly, mistrust, fears of intimacy, infidelity, anxiety, and depression. Learn more about what to do if depression is hurting your love relationship.

A large number of the people who report watching visually stimulating imagery on a regular basis are in successful relationships.

Some couples who watch pornography together actually report increased erotic satisfaction. It’s usually the secrecy, value conflict, desire discrepancies, and a disagreement about pornography, rather than the pornography itself, that cause relationship distress.

You and your partner don’t have to agree on everything, but it’s essential to find ways to communicate and accept each other’s needs.

Learn more about premature ejaculation here.

Myth 4: Porn causes depression.

It’s safe to say that pornography itself doesn’t cause depression. In fact, a 2007 study found that the majority of people who regularly watch pornography believe that it enhances their life.

Another study found that If you experience negative emotions around viewing pornography, it’s likely due to your relationship with pornography.

Depending upon your personal set of morals, culture, religious views, and gender, watching pornography may lead to a conflict of values. This happens when your beliefs and behaviors don’t line up. When this happens, it’s not unusual to experience feelings of guilt, which is a prevalent symptom of depression.

When porn leads to pain

While many of the myths about watching pornography are false, porn can nonetheless be at the center of deep pain. What it’s like to watch porn and the emotional experience associated with that behavior is unique to each person. That’s why the experience deserves an individual exploration.

Moral incongruence

For many people, pornography conflicts with moral and religious beliefs. This can be especially troubling if you enjoy porn or use it as a coping mechanism.

2017 study found that moral incongruence due to religious or cultural beliefs is a significant source of pain. Beyond that, people who experience a moral incongruence are more likely to label their behavior an addiction.

Getting in the way of daily life

Maybe you find that pornography feels too good or is too distracting. Staying up late, losing out on sleep, not completing work, or missing out on social obligations can be signs that your watching behaviors are causing issues.

Relational conflict

If a couple has differing views on pornography, it can be a significant source of distress. For example, a Norwegian study found that couples were more likely to fight about pornography if one watched and the other didn’t.

As previously stated, it’s a myth to believe that pornography itself ruins relationships. However, addressing dishonesty, mistrust, and fear of intimacy can be extremely painful. Blaming relationship conflict on something like pornography can seem like a simple alternative. But it’s unlikely to resolve the deeper challenges.

Ethical concerns

Some have ethical concerns about the production of pornography. Is the talent being treated appropriately? Are the themes empowering or damaging to the groups portrayed?

For this reason, it may be helpful to separate consumption from production. If you’re concerned about exploitation, find the production companies that focus on things you believe in. These might include feminism, fair pay, and other ethical considerations. Experiment and see if there are certain brands or sites you enjoy without inhibition or fear that you’re contributing to harming others.

Ambivalence

Sometimes understanding the pain can be confusing when you feel ambivalent about your behaviors. Ambivalence, not to be confused with indifference, is a powerful and active feeling.

To be ambivalent about something means you are equally attracted and repelled by it at the same time.

On the one hand, you may find watching pornography exciting and a satisfying distraction for daily troubles. On the other hand, watching pornography may lead to feelings of guilt and shame. Unpacking your ambivalence can be a helpful step in freeing yourself from distress.

The benefits of porn

People watch porn for a good reason, and there are even some notable benefits to watching it. Is porn healthy? It can be. Here are some of the positive effects of watching pornography.

It feels good

Let’s start with the obvious: watching pornography can be an extremely pleasurable experience. The physical sensations that accompany masturbation while watching porn can be intoxicating. In the same way that we enjoy books or watch movies, you can lose yourself in fantasy or fulfill your desire for novelty by searching for scenarios that you may not be able to experience in real life.

Solo sex is easier

Masturbating to pornography can be easier than partner sex. You don’t have to tend to the needs of another person. There’s no risk of bad performance. You get to focus solely on yourself and your own pleasures and desires. You get to do it whenever it feels best for you.

It’s a safe way to explore arousal

Pornography is a great way to explore sexual fantasies and kinks. It’s a safe space for you to get to know what turns you on and to experiment with different types of sexual fantasy. Also, it can boost sexual satisfaction, especially for women.

It helps you de-stress

Many people watch pornography because it’s an effective way to de-stress. It’s not uncommon for people to self-soothe through masturbation when they’re experiencing difficult emotions. It can also be a way to channel erotic energy if you’re in a relationship with a low frequency of sex or a mismatch in desire.

What’s your relationship with porn?

People often wonder, is pornography bad for you? The reality is that porn is neither good nor bad. It’s your relationship to pornography that needs attention.

So instead of getting stuck on the usual questions, let’s look a little deeper at your relationship with porn and the feelings you have about your behavior.

How would you describe your relationship with pornography? You can use the following questions to help guide your exploration:

  • What function does it play in your life?
  • Is it for pleasure?
  • Is it a coping mechanism?
  • Are your behaviors congruent with your values?
  • If you’re in a relationship, does your partner share your views?

When to seek help

If your relationship with pornography is causing issues, you may choose to seek professional help. The reality is that what feels okay for some people might be distressing for others.

There’s no objective standard for what constitutes “too much” porn because your relationship to pornography is unique to you.

Still, your answers to the following questions can help you decide if it’s time to reach out for professional help:

  • Are you distressed about your porn-watching behaviors?
  • Does your behavior impair or get in the way of daily functioning?
  • Are your behaviors around pornography congruent with your values?
  • Does watching porn cause pain or difficulty in your relationships?

If your relationship with pornography is causing you distress, mental health professionals like therapists can help you unpack the difficulty. Even more importantly, mental health professionals can help you learn to relate to sexuality in a way that doesn’t cause so much pain.

If your relationship with pornography is causing conflict in your relationship, a couples therapist can provide a safe container to explore and resolve underlying challenges.

Takeaway

  • There are many myths and differing views on pornography.
  • The distress from watching porn is often due to a conflict between values and behaviors.
  • Many people watch porn as a coping mechanism to regulate difficult emotions, painful relationship dynamics, or internal sexual conflicts.
  • When you understand the function pornography plays in your life, you have a better chance of relieving distress.
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  10. Ley et al. (2014). The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the “Pornography Addiction” Model. Current Sexual Health Reports. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11930-014-0016-8
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By

Walter Alejos

|

April 7, 2021