Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Impact of Watching Pornography at Work

The effect of adult content on productivity, integrity, and professional ethics.

Key points

  • Research reveals that 70% of Internet pornography happens during work hours, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • There is a link between viewing pornography and unethical behavior.
  • Dehumanization of co-workers may lead to sexual harassment or contribute to a hostile work environment.

Pornography is a controversial subject in society. Sexually explicit material has personal and professional implications, including exploitation of the men and women employed in the industry. Couples who use pornography together may be adversely impacted in expectations and self-confidence, as I have discussed in a previous column. But research indicates pornography may affect more than just personal relationships.

Image by Robinraj Premchand from Pixabay
Source: Image by Robinraj Premchand from Pixabay

Pornography and Busines Ethics

I taught business ethics for over a decade at San Diego State University, covering a wide variety of examples of how morality and integrity impact individual behavior and beliefs in a professional setting. It appears that such behavior is influenced not only by what we think, experience, and believe but also by what we watch.

N.W. Mecham et al. (2021) examined the impact of pornography on unethical behavior in business.i They noted pornography use was not confined to the boundaries of one’s own home, citing a 2018 survey which found that almost 60% of respondents admitting watching pornography at work, and other research noting that 70% of Internet pornography happens during work hours, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. They gave examples of the types of behavior that such viewing may entail, including drawing the blinds and tilting one’s computer screen to view explicit material for hours on end discreetly. This resulting impact on efficiency can harm both the individual team member and the organization or company over time in lost productivity and profit. But watching pornography has additional negative consequences.

Moral Disengagement and Dehumanization

Using survey data estimating a nationally demographically representative sample, Mecham et al. found a positive link between viewing pornography and intentionally unethical behavior. They noted that unethical behavior in business contributes to a wide variety of harmful outcomes for organizations, including conspiracy, fraud, and other types of self-serving conduct by employees.

Regarding causality, Mecham et al. found the relationship between pornography and unethical behavior to be mediated by an increased amount of moral disengagement stemming from the dehumanization of other people due to pornography use. They used a research-based definition of dehumanization as “the psychological process of viewing and treating others as objects or as a means to an end rather than as humans.” They recognized the prevalence of dehumanizing activity within the most popular pornographic material, reflecting the common belief that pornography increases dehumanization, especially women.

Mecham et al. concluded that watching pornography can contribute to unethical behavior, noting specific outcomes relating to dehumanization. They observed the harmful impact of treating customers like objects rather than with respect would likely decrease customer satisfaction. They also keep that dehumanization may adversely impact an organization’s ability to attract, develop, and retain talented female employees, especially when people in leadership positions are using pornography and aggressively engaging in dehumanizing behavior.

Mecham et al. also noted that the inclination to dehumanize co-workers might lead to sexual harassment or contribute to a hostile work environment, which can not only decrease organizational productivity but spark expensive litigation.

On the Job and Clock

Ethical employees are productive and dynamic on the clock because they have their heads in the game. Distraction and dehumanization have no place within an efficient workplace and are fueled by watching graphic material. In addition to how both employers and employees are affected by lost time, pornography-related dehumanization takes an emotional toll personally and professionally. There is counseling and help available for employees willing to take the initiative to break the habit and recapture positive affect and productivity.


[i] Mecham, N.W., Lewis-Western, M.F , and Wood, D.A. 2021, “The effects of pornography on unethical behavior in business.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 168, no. 1, pp. 37–54.

More from Psychology Today

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today