Can You Be Addicted to Porn?

But other studies have found that watching porn can be part of a healthy sex life, especially for sexual minorities, women, and couples. In one study, Taylor Kohut, a psychologist at Western University, in Ontario, found that couples who watched porn together “reported more open sexual communication and greater closeness than those that did not.” Another of his studies found that most partnered people think porn has had “no negative effects” on their relationship, and many also thought that watching porn improved their sexual communication, sexual experimentation, and sexual comfort. “There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that couples that watch porn together, it can improve their sex lives,” says Paul, who wasn’t involved in those studies. If the United States is in a sex recession, pornography could help Americans get back in the black.

Porn might also be helpful for individuals whose sexuality has not always been widely accepted. For LGBTQ people living in conservative areas, watching pornography might be the only sexual experience they’re able to access. One study found that for women, watching porn “was associated with their own and their partner’s higher sexual desire and with higher odds of partnered sexual activity.” In a recent paper arguing that pornography does not qualify as a public-health crisis, Rothman and a colleague write, “For some, pornography use is associated with health-promoting behaviors, including increased intimacy, ‘safer’ sexual behaviors (e.g., solo masturbation), and feelings of acceptance.”

Anti-pornography groups dismiss all of these findings. They say that the porn-positive studies are outliers in a sea of research showing porn’s detrimental effects on relationships.

But here’s the thing: Kohut has observed that in relationships, what seems to matter is that partners have similar opinions about porn. If you both like porn, he suggests, watching it will probably be fine for your sex life. Some couples might even find that they can build intimacy by showing porn to each other, as a way to tell each other what you like. But if only one of you watches porn, and the other hates it, you might encounter relationship tensions like those of couples who fight over marble countertops or in-laws or baby names. The secret to a happy relationship that includes porn, in Kohut’s view, is to find someone who likes it the same amount as you do.

A recent Atlantic/Leger poll of 1,002 Americans largely supported this acceptance of porn. We presented participants with a list of questions about porn, and many of them yawned and said, “So what?” Most Americans have watched porn, according to the poll. But most spend less than 20 minutes a week watching it, and 79 percent of those who watch porn said they don’t feel addicted to it (17 percent of respondents who had watched porn in the past year said they had ever felt like they were addicted to pornography). Only 6 percent of people said they’d begun watching porn when they were younger than 12. Most said that watching porn had no effect on them or their relationships, and 79 percent of those with children said they didn’t struggle to control their children’s access to porn. And just like public-health experts, most respondents—53 percent—said they didn’t think porn was a public-health crisis. Only 25 percent said it was.

Porn makes for an easy target. But legislators focused on labeling it as a public-health crisis should consider what problems they are actually trying to solve. Many researchers and adult-entertainment workers support measures that would reduce kids’ access to porn, ensure that porn videos portray only consenting adults, and mandate fair wages for sex workers. Calling adults’ legal use of pornography a “public-health crisis” doesn’t do any of that.

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