Researchers Explore Pornography's Effect On Long-Term Relationships


The following is a transcript of Hidden Brain Radio Morning Edition with Shankar Vedantam and Rachel Martin October 9, 2017.

Married men and women who use pornography are more likely to get divorced than men and women who do not, researchers say. Porn is a driver in making relationships worse, increasing the divorce risk.


Here's one measure of how much time people are spending viewing online porn. Just one leading pornography website says people spend 4.5 billion hours there. New social science research explores how pornography affects long-term romantic relationships. Our co-host Rachel Martin talked with NPR's social science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: What is in this new study?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Well, the new study is building on an existing body of work, Rachel, which has found that pornography has a negative effect on personal relationships. I was speaking with Samuel Perry, a sociologist at the University of Oklahoma. And he told me that a lot of this earlier work has suffered from a problem, which is it's difficult to disentangle causation from correlation.

SAMUEL PERRY: The issue is not whether there's a correlation there. I mean, it's - study after study shows that there's a negative correlation between, say, pornography use and relationship quality. But is it people in unhappy relationships turn to pornography? Or is it pornography itself contributed to the relationship decline?

VEDANTAM: So to disentangle correlation from causation, Rachel, you usually have to conduct an experiment. In this case, that would be very hard. I mean, you can't say, I'm going to take 2,000 couples, force half of them to watch porn, while half of them don't and then measure which couples stay together. That would be unethical.

MARTIN: So how have researchers addressed this problem, then?

VEDANTAM: Well, Perry and his colleague Cyrus Schleifer used high-quality survey research that asked about 2,000 couples about their satisfaction with their relationships and also about their use of sexually explicit media. By surveying the same couples repeatedly over time, you can see which couples start to use porn, which couples stop and what happens to their relationships.

PERRY: We found that married Americans who began pornography were roughly twice as likely to be divorced. It's a difference of, say, 6 percent likelihood of divorce for people who never begin pornography use to about 11 percent to people who did begin pornography use between waves.

MARTIN: So what happens? I mean, what does porn do in a relationship that leads people to grow distant?

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