The Story: A recent poll shows pornography is affecting relationships between men and women—and reveals how indulging in porn is becoming an acceptable sin.
The Background: A national poll on couples and pornography was commissioned by the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. The poll finds that a majority of men and women in a national sample express some level of approval for pornography use.
The survey consisted of two national datasets—one with individuals in couple relationships and a second with matched partners for which both partners or spouses completed the survey. The results show who is most likely to use porn, both individually and as a couple.
In dating relationships, women were almost twice as likely as men to report never viewing pornography (36 percent versus 19 percent). Men were also more than two and a half times more likely to be viewing pornography alone in a weekly pattern compared to dating women.
Among those in married relationships, only a quarter of married men reported no current pornography use while over half of all married women reported no pornography use over the last year. A third of married men reported frequent use, but less than 1 in 16 married women reported similar levels. Men under 30 years of age are nearly two and a half times more likely to view pornography on a daily basis than their older peers—17.3 percent compared to 6.9 percent for men over age 30.
Almost 1 in 3 men agree that it’s acceptable for teens to view pornography, compared to only about 1 in 10 women. Roughly half of both men and women agree that pornography viewing is acceptable for adults. The only exception is married women, who are generally less accepting of pornography than both men or women in dating relationships.
One in five couples (20 percent) reported some degree of conflict in their relationships due to pornography. Also, 1 in 4 men reported actively hiding their pornography viewing from their partner. A significant number of women expressed concerns about their partner’s pornography viewing, with almost 1 in 3 dating women reporting they worry about their partner being more attracted to pornography and their partner thinking about pornography while being intimate.
One in five couples reported some degree of conflict in their relationships due to pornography.
Almost 1 in 3 dating women and 1 in 4 married men and women agreed they were worried that their partner was withholding some details about their pornography viewing.
Couples where both partners report that they don’t use pornography report the highest levels of relationship stability, commitment, and satisfaction. At least 90 percent of these couples report that their relationship is stable, committed, and satisfying to them as a couple.
In contrast, as the frequency of pornography use increases, the relationship stability, commitment, and satisfaction consistently decrease. Lower levels of relationship quality were consistent across couples with a similar level of use between partners (both monthly users and both daily users) and couples with a reported gap in use between the partners.
In comparison to couples who avoid pornography, couples where men use pornography regularly and women use pornography occasionally were 18 percent less likely to report that their relationship is stable, 20 percent less likely to be strongly committed, and 18 percent less likely to report that they have high relationship satisfaction. Although not a common pattern, couples where both partners view pornography on a daily basis report a 45 percent decrease in stability and a 30 percent decrease in commitment levels compared to couples where neither partner views pornography at all.
The research also found that romantic couples appear to now utilize pornography not only as an isolated individual behavior but as a regular part of their couple intimacy. Overall, about 1 in 5 men in relationships reported viewing pornography with their partner at least weekly.
What It Means: The fact that hidden porn use causes conflicts in marriage will not be surprising to Christians. Over the past few decades we have, as a community, developed programs and strategies for helping couples in such situations. Unfortunately, an even greater struggle may be when porn use is not hidden.
A most disturbing finding in this new research is that “general acceptance of pornography use among adults does not seem to be merely passive acceptance.” As the researchers point out,
In the minds of many adults, viewing pornography is not a neutral experience. When asked about the potential benefits of pornography use, many men and women appear to believe that pornography use may enhance their sex life. Over 50 percent of married men and over 65 percent of dating men agree that pornography can help enhance foreplay. However, less than 40 percent of married women and less than 50 percent of dating women agree.
Almost half of those surveyed (47.6 percent) self-identified as Christian, which means a significant number who claim to follow Christ not only use pornography but think it’s beneficial. Could this be a sign that pornography is becoming an “acceptable sin”?
In his book Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, Jerry Bridges defines a “respectable” sin as a sin that doesn’t make us feel guilty very often and one we will almost never be called out on. Examples of common respectable sins are slander and gossip. You’ll almost never be called out for such sins (especially on social media), though you might be mocked for thinking such sins are an affront to God.
Fortunately, pornography is not yet in the category of respectable sins. But it appears to be turning into an acceptable sin—a sin that is tolerated within certain boundaries. For instance, as this poll shows, far too many Christian men and women seem to believe pornography is acceptable when viewed together, as a sexual activity within their relationship.
Such couples need to be reminded of two relevant truths. First, remember that while there are numerous reasons why you shouldn’t indulge in pornography, one of the most important is that it puts your soul in danger of hell. Scripture makes it clear that engaging in sexual immorality—which includes sinfully allowing yourself to enjoy displays of sex acts or sexual body parts—will lead to eternal damnation (Matt. 5:27–30).
There are numerous reasons why you shouldn’t indulge in pornography. One of the most important is that it puts your soul in danger of hell.
“‘The sexually immoral’ includes people who indulge in pornography,” says Andrew David Naselli, who paraphrases 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 as: “Don’t think that you can get away with an unrepentantly sinful lifestyle. Don’t think that you can live that way and still be a citizen of God’s kingdom. Unrepentantly sinful lifestyles do not characterize citizens of God’s kingdom.” Couples using pornography must repent. Now.
Second, remember that you cannot love your spouse or romantic partner and encourage them to indulge in pornography. You cannot love your husband or your wife or your boyfriend or your girlfriend and encourage them to engage in unrepentant rebellion against God. You cannot truly love them and, for your own sexual gratification, lead them to do something that will send them to hell. You may think you love them, but you’re fooling yourself—you’re not fooling God.
Don’t believe the lie that porn use among committed couples is an acceptable sin. It’s a sin that will harm your relationship today and lead you to hell tomorrow. Fortunately, it’s a sin that can be covered by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7). Repent and recommit to purity. If you are in Christ, then you are a new creation: the old has gone, the new is here (2 Cor. 5:17). Live in accordance with the truth you claim to believe—while you still can.