Science

Is watching porn during Covid-19 bad for your health? We asked 5 experts

Let’s be honest: during lockdown, it was hard to resist the allure of internet intimacy.

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Let’s be honest: during coronavirus lockdown, it was hard to resist the allure of internet intimacy. Rates of watching porn skyrocketed in Australia during isolation.

But have you ever wondered what effects consuming adult content can have on your health?

We asked five experts whether watching porn is bad for our health.

3 out of 5 experts said yes

Their main concerns were about the creation of unrealistic expectations, links with gender-based violence, and the potential for addiction.

But some suggested education can help offset some of these possible harms, and porn can play a positive role for LGBTIQ+ young people.

Here are the experts’ detailed responses:

Megan Lim - Public Health - Yes

…but, this is mostly due to a lack of alternative information.

There is extensive evidence linking viewing pornography with negative health behaviors, attitudes, and outcomes, including mental health issues, sexual risk behaviors, and gender-based violence. But research with young people indicates many of these harms would be offset if they had access to better sex and relationships education.

Pornography frequently contains content supporting traditional gender roles and gender inequality — it shows men as dominant and women as submissive. We know most young people view pornography before they have any real-life sexual experience. They report pornography is now a key component of their sexual development, and its themes become integrated into their real-life sexual practices and relationships.

Many young Australians report school-based sexuality education is hetero-normative and only teaches them what to avoid. They, therefore, rely on the internet and pornography for the information they want about sex and relationships. It’s vital young people receive a better education that provides them with positive and diverse information about sex, pleasure, and relationships.

These messages also need to be supported by society as a whole. The gender inequality seen in pornography reflects gender inequality in society.

Meredith Temple-Smith - Health Research - Yes

Given little evidence of health benefits, but evidence of harm, I say yes, watching pornography is bad for your health. How bad it is will vary across genders, maturity level, type of pornography, and potential for addiction. It’s challenging to show a clear cause and effect relationship between pornography use and health outcomes. Watching pornography is sensitive and, for some, shameful pastime.

It’s difficult to get accurate usage information to determine long-term health and mental health impacts. Some studies suggest those unable to access information about sex elsewhere, such as LGBTIQ+ young people, may successfully use porn for education.

But for young heterosexuals with little prior experience, viewing porn can cause unrealistic expectations about sexual activities desired by their partners. It can also discourage respectful communication. Violent behavior is often modeled and normalized in pornography which is not conducive to healthy attitudes or relationships. Watching porn may also cause performance anxiety and body-image issues.

Pornography can affect both those who use it and those who appear in it. People on both sides of the screen need a harm minimization approach to protect them from sexually transmissible infections, sexual coercion, and violence.

Michael Flood - Gender and Sexuality - Yes

Yes. Watching pornography is bad for people’s relationships, their sex lives, and their treatment of others. Sex is great, but porn is not.

First, pornography teaches sexist and sexually objectifying understandings of gender and sexuality. Pornography use leads to less egalitarian and more sexist attitudes, as shown in meta-analyses, experimental, and longitudinal studies among adolescents and adults.

Second, pornography use is consistently associated with poorer relationship quality. Men who use pornography have lower levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction. Women whose male partners use pornography report reduced intimacy, self-objectification and bodily shame, and sexual coercion.

Third, pornography teaches sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviors. People who use pornography have more violence-supportive attitudes, as shown in both meta-analyses and further recent studies among adolescents and adults. People who use pornography are more likely to use actual violence, as meta-analyses in 2000, 2015, and 2017 showed. Experimental studies find people shown pornography exhibit increases in sexually violent attitudes and behaviors. Longitudinal studies find pornography use predicts later sexually violent attitudes and behaviors, including sexual aggression and sexual harassment.

Pornography is a powerful and unhealthy sexual influence for youth and adults alike.

Andrea Waling - Sex and Sexuality - No

No, but it depends on how it is used.

Pornography can create a more open and permissible environment for couples to explore erotic fantasies together and facilitate greater intimacy and connection. It can also enable sexual confidence and positive community formation for LGBTIQ+ people.

Pornography can be a helpful aid in masturbation, which is known to relieve stress and anxiety. Masturbation can also improve self-esteem for partnered women and support a better understanding of sexual physiology. It can even have a number of physical health benefits including lowering the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

Unrealistic expectations in pornography, however, may also contribute to body image issues and eating disorders, and poorer relationship satisfaction. Researchers are divided as to whether or not pornography viewing can be addictive, and whether or not pornography is a direct cause of sexual violence.

Nevertheless, mental health concerns may be more related to the stigma surrounding pornography watching, rather than pornography itself. Also, pornography may be used as a coping strategy for experiences of depression and anxiety, rather than a direct cause.

Chris Rissel - Public Health - No

Australians watch a lot of pornography. A nationally representative random sample of about 20,000 Australians aged 16 to 69 years found 62% of males and 20% of women had looked at pornography in the past year.

There can be benefits of watching non-violent sexually explicit material. It can provide general sexual education about anatomy, sexual positions, and practices. It can also enhance the pleasure of masturbation. The last Australian Study of Health and Relationships in 2014 found around 72% of Australian men and 42% of Australian women had masturbated in the previous year.

Few Australians think pornography is harmful. Some 4% of men and 1% of women reported they were addicted to pornography, with about half of these people reporting using pornography had a bad effect on them. These rates were higher for younger people.

There is a risk high exposure to pornography distorts the perception of what sex is like, particularly for young people who may have no real-life comparison.

Pornography covers a very wide spectrum of tastes and genres, including material at the extremes. The causal pathway that degrading or rough pornography causes violence against women is not established — it's possible aggressive or violent men chose to watch that kind of pornography.

This article was originally published on The Conversation by Liam Petterson at The Conversation Australia. Read the original article here.

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