A new study says yes, but experts are skeptical.
It’s no secret that people watch porn. In fact, Pornhub reported in its year in review that it got a whopping 23 billion visits last year so, yeah—people watch porn.
And, while that’s pretty much a given, new research suggests a link between watching porn and decreased relationship satisfaction—for guys, at least.
For the meta-analysis, which was published in the journal Human Communication Research, scientists looked at 50 studies that followed more than 50,000 people, and found that men who watch porn are more likely to be dissatisfied with their love lives than those who don’t watch porn. Surprisingly, there was no significant link between porn-viewing and relationship satisfaction for women.
Before you freak out and assume that your relationship is screwed because your guy watches XXX flicks, know this: The research was correlational, not causational—meaning, scientists just discovered that men who watch porn are more likely to be unhappy in their relationships; not that watching porn causes men to be unhappy in their relationships.
While it’s totally possible that a man can regularly watch porn and be happy with his boo, relationship issues tend to come before increased porn use, says David Ley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in sexuality issues and author of Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man’s Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure.
"Men might use porn as a coping mechanism in response to sexual or emotional issues within relationship,” he says. “Problematic male porn use is almost universally a sign that there are other problems to be addressed."
New York City sex therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of She Comes First, says that some men may also be conflicted about their porn use and have shame around it, which impacts how they feel about their relationships. “We still live in a society where watching porn is highly stigmatized and many men feel like they have to hide it from their partners,” he says.
But both experts stress that men can use porn and be happy in a relationship. “It’s perfectly possible for a man to be able to enjoy masturbation while watching porn and fantasizing and still engage in healthy partnered sex,” Kerner says. In fact, it may even make men more likely to get it on with their partners.
“Some studies show that watching porn puts you in a more aroused state and makes it more likely to initiate and be interested in partnered sex,”
But, if a guy can talk to his partner about what porn does and doesn’t mean to him (like a mindless orgasm vs. a desire to cheat or feeling sexually unsatisfied), it doesn’t have to be a big issue in a relationship, Ley says.
Overall, experts say porn use doesn’t mean a relationship is in trouble—provided everyone in the relationship is okay with it, of course.
“I’ve seen many couples add porn to their individual lives or relationships with great positive benefits,” Kerner says.