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What Is Pornography?

Pornography, often colloquially referred to as porn, is any sexually explicit material—written, visual, or otherwise—that is intended to sexually arouse. While pornography has existed in some form for millennia, today it’s most readily available online—though it continues to be widely available in literature, audio, magazines, and more.

The increasing presence of the Internet in daily life has led to a rapid spread of porn: The world’s largest such site claims that in 2018, it had a daily average of 92 million unique viewers, the vast majority of them males.

What effect does the ubiquity of porn have on individuals and relationships? Is it a harmless pastime or a pernicious addiction? Is it a fun way to add spice to a couple's sex life, a relationship destroyer, or potentially both?

The debate over whether pornography is detrimental to sexual development and mental health has picked up steam in recent years—particularly as researchers have debated the existence of “porn addiction,” a concept unheard of until recently. That supposed disorder has no universally accepted diagnostic criteria and is not included in the DSM-5.

Is Porn Problematic?

Pornography's many detractors argue that the use of porn damages intimacy and relationships, as well as fostering the subjugation of women. Some women feel betrayed when they discover that a partner views porn. Nevertheless, some experts suggest it may be a way for some men to satisfy sexual fantasies they are not comfortable discussing with their partner.

There is research suggesting that porn may help stem sexual offenses, promote a greater understanding of sexual diversity, and help people better access their own desires and sexuality—which they can then communicate to their partners.

While some people are comfortable with their relationship with porn, it continues to be a sensitive subject for the many other individuals, both male and female, who report feeling confused, embarrassed, conflicted, or ashamed about their own pornography use.

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