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Porn Use Can Make Women Feel Confident in Bed, but It Negatively Impacts Men’s Performance: Study

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Jul 13, 2022

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“Pornography is injurious to the sex lives of men.” That’s not a warning pornographic videos come with, but according to a new study, perhaps, they should. For women, on the other hand, porn use may not nearly be as bad — although it may be more nuanced than the study prima facie suggests.

Published in the journal Psychological Medicine, this was a longitudinal study conducted across three years and involved more than 100,000 participants. The researchers measured the frequency of the participants’ porn use, their sexual self-competence, and their sexual functioning. The conclusion they drew is a treatise on irony. Greater porn use among heterosexual men resulted in them “having doubts about their sexual performance,” besides dealing with sexual problems “in terms of sexual drive, erection, [and] biological functioning.” Not only that, but their female partners were also found to be more dissatisfied.

Among women, the researchers observed a “reverse trend” of sorts. They noted, “The more women watch porn, the higher their feelings of sexual competence, the lower their number of sexual problems, and… the more satisfied their male partner is on certain aspects of their sexuality.” In other words, porn use among women was linked to more confidence in bed.

The irony of the findings isn’t lost on the authors. “Our [study] reveal[s] the irony that porn — which is a male-dominated industry that targets a male-dominated audience — is linked with the erosion of the quality of men’s sex lives and the improvement of women’s sex lives,” they wrote.


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Past research backs the findings of the present study. According to a report from 2017, porn can make it difficult for men who consistently rely on it for pleasure, to perform sexually in real life. Explaining why that might occur, Joseph Alukal, director of male reproductive health at the New York University, explained, “[Men] believe they’re supposed to be able to do what goes on in these movies, and when they can’t it causes a great deal of anxiety.”

Why, then, is porn’s impact on women so vastly different? Perhaps, it’s because rather than treating it as a benchmark for how to perform in bed, many women use porn as a way to explore their sexuality — something they may not have the space to do within the confines of heterosexual intercourse that often hinges on male pleasure. Not only that, social conditioning can lead women to treat their sexual desires with shame — preventing them from discussing its intricacies openly with their peers, or even experimenting with their bodies. As such, porn can, on occasion be the non-judgmental confidante they wish they had met in their teenage years.

“[Porn is] a way to see what you like and what you don’t like. If something… intrigues you, you may try it in real life. If it turns you off, you’ll know to throw the brakes on before it ever happens. It can be a sort of kickstart to a new road for you and your partner to explore, but it can also keep you off a path you absolutely don’t want to be on,” says Aly Walansky, a lifestyle writer from New York, who believes, “watching porn made me [feel] more confident in bed.”

Samantha Blake, a life and empowerment coach for women, wrote about porn being an eye-opener about sex for her. “For the longest time, I thought men wanted to do all the work, that they enjoyed being the dominant one, and that women’s role in sex was to be the recipient, so to speak… However, I learned that in a lot of cases, nope, there’s plenty for us to do… I wish someone would have told me this long ago,” she wrote in 2020, adding that “in the process of viewing different scenes, I began to realize how little I knew about sex, about relationships — even how little I knew about my own body.”


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However, porn use isn’t sugar-spice-and-everything-nice in terms of its impact on women. A 2019 study had found that recalling pornographic content while being intimate with their male partners, prevented women from enjoying sex — because it triggered insecurities in them about the way they look. Subsequent research has also shown that for many women, watching porn may lead to the development of body image issues. And, as is obvious, shame and anxiety about their body can cause people to dissociate during intercourse — if not avoid physical closeness altogether — leading to reduced sexual satisfaction for them.

But given that feminist porn — the more inclusive counterpart of what “porn” largely represents — is still far from mainstream, it’s important to take the findings of the present study with a pinch of salt. In a vaccuum, perhaps, it does translate into confifence, pleasure, and every other positive thing under the sun for women’s sex lives. However, mainstream porn reeks of sexism and misogyny, often through its excessive reliance on non-consensual sex — besides “idealizing” borderline unrealistic body types with augmented curves, perfectly chiseled abs, and super-flexible. As such, discounting the negative impact of porn on women’s sex lives — simply because a large number of female participants believe it can be confidence-boosting — might be a rather one-dimensional take, irrespective of the degree of truth embedded in it.

Another limitation of the study was that its conclusions are based on the experiences of cis-gendered, heterosexual individuals. The researchers acknowledged it too, writing, “An important caveat is that our study was focused on the effect of heteronormative porn, among heterosexual men and women. There is, admittedly, a critical need to conduct more studies and explorations to truly “investigate the effect of non-heteronormative porn on non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual individuals.”

In the meantime, another survey finding comes to mind: couples who watched porn together once a week reported a highly satisfying sex life. So, there’s an idea for people who aspire to a more enriching sex life with their partner.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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