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Surprising Science

The Psychological Effects of Pornography

What if it turns out that pornography use actually reduces the desire to commit violent sexual crimes? It is a controversial idea, but one supported by recent scientific studies.

What’s the Latest Development?


In a 2009 study conducted at Utah State University, psychologist Michael Twohig asked 299 undergraduate students whether they considered their pornography consumption problematic; for example, causing intrusive sexual thoughts or difficulty finding like-minded sex partners. Then he assessed the students with an eye to understanding the root causes of their issues. “It turns out that among porn viewers, the amount of porn each subject consumed had nothing to do with his or her mental state.” 

What’s the Big Idea?

What mattered most in Twohig’s study was whether the subjects tried to control their sexual thoughts and desires. The more they tried to clamp down on their urge for sex or porn, the more likely they were to consider their own pornography use a problem. The findings suggest that suppressing the desire to view pornography, for example, for moral or religious reasons, might actually strengthen the urge for it and exacerbate sexual problems. The effects of pornography—positive or negative—have little to do with the medium itself and everything to do with the person viewing it.


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