What Is Pornography?

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

The ever-increasing presence of the Internet in daily life has also meant the rapid spread of porn: A survey by the world’s largest porn 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? A fun way to add spice to a couple's sex life, a relationship destroyer, or potentially both?

In recent years, the debate over whether pornography is detrimental to sexual development and mental health has picked up steam—as has the idea of “porn addiction,” which was unheard of until just a few years ago. (That supposed disorder, while widely discussed, still has no universally accepted diagnostic criteria and is not included in the DSM-5.)

Innocuous or Problematic?

Is pornography innocuous or problematic? Its 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 their partner views porn. Nevertheless, 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 individuals, both male and female, who report feeling confused, embarrassed, or conflicted about their own pornography use.

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