Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Correlates of Pornography Use on Young Adult Heterosexual Men in Romantic Relationships

By Szymanski, Dawn M.; Stewart-Richardson, Destin N. | The Journal of Men's Studies, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Correlates of Pornography Use on Young Adult Heterosexual Men in Romantic Relationships


Szymanski, Dawn M., Stewart-Richardson, Destin N., The Journal of Men's Studies


Pornography refers to the "the explicit description or exhibition of sexual subjects or activity in literature, painting, pictures, books, films, etc., in a manner intended to stimulate sexual excitement rather than aesthetic feelings" (Oxford English Dictionary, 2008). The pornography industry is one of the most lucrative economies, generating an estimated annual income of more than $13 billion dollars in the United States alone and having greater revenues than Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, eBay, and Netflix combined (Ropelato, 2007). Research indicates that pornography use has increased over the past decade (Ropelato). In addition, males tend to use pornography more than females with differences producing large effect sizes (for a meta-analysis see Peterson & Hyde, 2010). Furthermore, men tend to feel more positively about pornography than women (Carroll, Padilla-Walker, Nelson, Olson, McNamara, & Madsen, 2008). With the abundance and wide-spread use of pornography, we have to question how this affects men who are the main "audience" of pornography. However, very little research exists examining the psychosocial, relational, and sexual correlates of men's pornography use on young adult men in heterosexual romantic relationships. Thus, the purpose of this study is to examine theorized antecedents (i.e., gender role conflict and attachment styles) and consequences (i.e., poorer relationship quality and sexual satisfaction) of men's pornography use on young adult men in heterosexual romantic relationships.

THEORIZED ANTECEDENTS OF MEN'S PORNOGRAPHY USE

Two correlates and potential antecedents to men's pornography use are gender role conflict and attachment style. Gender role conflict is defined as a psychological state in which socialized gender roles have negative consequences on others and the self and occurs when restrictive and sexist gender roles result in personal rigidness, devaluation, or even violation of the self or others (O'Neil, Helms, Gable, David, & Wrightsman, 1986). O'Neil et al. posited that fear and devaluation of femininity and sexism in men's lives produce gender role conflict along several dimensions including "success, power and competition; restrictive emotionality; restrictive affectionate and sexual behavior between men; and conflicts between work and family relations (p. 343)." Gender role conflict has been found to be related to negative and stereotypical thinking about women, hostility towards women, acceptance of rape myths, sexual entitlement, sexually aggressive behavior and/or the likelihood of forcing sex, and positive attitudes toward and tolerance for sexual harassment (for a review, see O'Neil, 2008). Given these findings, it seems logical that men with rigid and restrictive notions of masculinity may have a tendency to view materials that depict women in a sexually stereotypical manner, degrade women, and/or convey the message that women's bodies may be stared at, touched, and used by a man at any time he so pleases (Kilbourne, 1999).

Male gender role conflict has also been found to be related to problems with attachment including more fearful and avoidant attachment styles, more difficulty with identifying and expressing emotions, less self-disclosure in intimate relationships, more difficulty with intimacy, dysfunctional patterns in romantic relationships, marital discord, and greater dissatisfaction in coupled relationships (for a review, see O'Neil, 2008). Thus, men with high levels of gender role conflict may use pornography as a way to deal with their deficits in interpersonal functioning and to avoid the intimate aspects of a romantic relationship. Given the previous research on gender role conflict and sexism and interpersonal functioning, we hypothesize that gender role conflict will be positively correlated with increased pornography use, because using pornography fits in with traditional notions of masculinity, allows men to feel power and control over women, and creates sexual arousal without the need for interpersonal intimacy. …

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