Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality in 30 National Surveys

Arch Sex Behav. 2020 May;49(4):1199-1213. doi: 10.1007/s10508-019-01616-7. Epub 2020 Jan 2.


Numerous studies have examined the association between pornography use and various measures of relationship quality. Yet scholars have also pointed out the limitations of many such studies, including inconsistent findings for men and women, non-representative samples, and negatively biased measures that could result in misleading findings. The purpose of this study was to establish a dominant pattern in the association between pornography use and relationship quality in a way that mitigated these issues. Data were taken from 30 nationally representative surveys, which together included 31 measures of relationship quality: 1973-2018 General Social Surveys (1 repeated measure); 2006 Portraits of American Life Study (13 measures); 2012 New Family Structures Study (12 measures); and 2014 Relationships in America Survey (5 measures). This allowed for 57 independent tests examining the association between pornography use and relationship outcomes for married Americans and 29 independent tests for unmarried Americans. Along with bivariate associations, full regression models were estimated with sociodemographic controls and interaction terms for gender. For married and unmarried Americans alike, pornography use was either unassociated or negatively associated with nearly all relationship outcomes. Significant associations were mostly small in magnitude. Conversely, except for one unclear exception, pornography use was never positively associated with relationship quality. Associations were only occasionally moderated by gender, but in inconsistent directions. While this study makes no claims about causality, findings clearly affirmed that, in instances where viewing pornography is associated with relationship quality at all, it is nearly always a signal of poorer relationship quality, for men and women.

Keywords: General Social Survey; Marriage; New Family Structures Study; Pornography; Portraits of American Life Study; Relationship satisfaction; Relationships in America Survey; Romantic relationships.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Erotica / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult