New Study Shows Surprising Effect Porn Has On Men

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How powerful can an image be?

In 1989, researchers Kenrick, Gutierres, and Goldberg published a powerful study examining the impact of pornography on relationships and attraction. In the study, men were shown photos from Playboy and other types of erotica.

After viewing these images of naked women the men reported that they found other women — especially their wives — to be less attractive. They also reported that they felt less in love with their wives after viewing the pornographic images.

This research has been heavily cited in both academic literature and the general media's discussions about the effects of pornography. The fact that porn could make men feel less attracted to — and less in love with — their wives is commonly used as a foundation for arguments against porn.

However, the latest research reveals that porn no longer appears to have this effect — if it ever did.

There is an ongoing “replication crisis” underway in today's social-science research. 

In essence, recent studies have attempted to replicate the findings of some of the most influential research used to inform our current thinking about psychology and the social sciences. Surprisingly, attempts to replicate many of these research findings have failed, suggesting that in many cases the original studies were limited by statistical strategies, methodological flaws, or misinterpretation by enthusiastic scientists eager to publish sensational findings in a marketplace that feeds on hype.

As part of this trend, Balzarini, Dobson, Chin, and Campbell recently attempted to see if they could recreate the findings from the 1989 study mentioned above. In particular, they wanted to see if the impact of porn on feelings of attraction and love for ones’ romantic partner still holds true. 

In each trial of their study, the researchers were unable to replicate the original findings.

Which means that there is no longer evidence to support the belief that exposure to either pornography or nude images of idealized women leads men to feel less attraction toward, or less love for, their partners.

There are at least two possible explanations for the difference.

1. Sample size.

While the study conducted in 1989 involved only 63 subjects, the updated study involved a total sample of 630 subjects. The researchers, therefore, suggest that the original study's sample size was simply too small to detect a real effect or to draw generalizations from that would apply to the larger general population.

This raises the very important issue that we cannot draw sweeping meaning from studies with small, non-representative samples.

2. Cultural shifts over time.

It may also be that the culture, men, and sexuality have substantially changed since 1989. Few adult men these days haven’t seen pornography or other depictions of nude women who they are not married to. Nudity and graphic sexuality are common in popular media — from Game of Thrones to perfume advertisements — and in many states, women are permitted to go topless in some locations.

So it's possible that the men who took part in the more recent study have learned to integrate the nudity and sexuality they see in porn and everyday media in a manner which doesn’t affect their attraction or love for their partners. Perhaps the men in the 1989 study had been less exposed to sexuality, nudity, and pornography.

In any case, we can put to bed the belief that porn kills love or that exposure to it reduces the love men feel for their partners.

There are men who feel diminishing love or attraction for their partners for other reasons, and these men often turn to pornography to find solace, excitement, arousal, and soothing.

But we shouldn't necessarily blame porn for these relationship struggles.

That’s a cheap, deceptive, and untruthful answer that helps no one and hurts many.

 

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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