Cyberpornography Causes Varying Levels of Distress Among Users, Study Suggests

Recreational use of cyberpornography does not appear to be harmful for most people, but some may need interventions to address compulsions and distress, according to a new Journal of Sexual Medicine study.

The effects of cyberpornography on sexual health have been under debate. Some experts believe its use can provide entertainment and education as well as stimulate greater desire and arousal. However, others feel that cyberpornography use is associated with negative outcomes, including sexual dissatisfaction, distress, addiction, compulsion, and unrealistic expectations.

Past research has noted three categories of cyberpornography users: recreational, at-risk, and compulsive. The current study uses these categories as a framework to describe user profiles and the effects of cyberpornography on their sexual health.

Eight hundred thirty people between the ages of 18 to 78 participated in the study. Their average age was 25 years. Seventy-two percent were women, and 36% were in a committed relationship. Most identified themselves as heterosexual; six percent were homosexual, and 12% were bisexual or another sexual orientation.

The researchers used a variety of tools to assess cyberpornography use, sexual satisfaction, dysfunction, compulsivity, and avoidance. The participants also reported how many minutes they spent using cyberpornography each week and how often they did so with a partner.

Using this data, the researchers determined the characteristics of three general profiles that fell on a continuum from recreational to compulsive.

Almost 76% of the participants were recreational users, They used cyberpornography for an average of 24 minutes each week. These users tended to have more sexual satisfaction and lower degrees of sexual compulsivity, avoidance, and dysfunction. Women and couples were more likely to fall into this category.

About 12% of the participants, mostly men, were considered compulsive users. This group used cyberpornography for an average of 110 minutes weekly and were more likely to be sexually compulsive and feel distress over their pornography use. They were also more likely to make a greater effort to use pornography and avoid sexual relations with a partner.

The third category, called the highly distressed non-compulsive profile, included about 13% of the participants. This group used cyberpornography the least – an average of 17 minutes each week. But they reported the highest degree of cyberpornography-related emotional distress among the three profiles. “For this significant minority of users, high distress might be the result of shame, self-disgust, and self-punishment after watching pornography,” the authors wrote.  They added, “This internalized shame state, potentially based on strict societal, moral, relational, or religious disapproval, is associated with less sexual satisfaction and compulsivity and more sexual dysfunction and avoidance.”

They cautioned that the study’s findings could not necessarily be generalized to other populations because of the large percentage of female participants. Also, other factors, such as specific pornography content, secrecy, personality, culture, and religions could contribute to emotional distress, they said.


The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Vaillancourt-Morel, Marie-Pier, PhD, et al.
“Profiles of Cyberpornography Use and Sexual Well-Being in Adults”
(Article in Press. Published online: December 21, 2016)