Couples may want to think twice before they store their secret porn stash under the bed to avoid being caught red-handed. Partners who come clean about watching porn to their significant others have happier and better relationships, according to a recent study.

The issue of pornography may become relevant for couples at some point in their relationship. The link between pornography use and relationship satisfaction has been examined by psychologists who have considered it to be a threat or an enhancement to sexual enjoyment and happiness in a relationship. This is contingent upon whether both partners choose to be honest or be discreet with each other about their pornography consumption.

"Being honest about pornography use with a partner indicates that the person is comfortable with their own sexuality and the things that sexually titillate, stimulate, arouse, and turn-on their excitation,” said Dr. Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist and author in Beverly Hills, Calif. Honesty and an open dialogue are what hold people together and lead to greater relationship satisfaction. However, when couples do not disclose their porn use to their partner, Walfish believes this secrecy can be felt as a “betrayal and raise mistrust, suspicions, and put a wedge of distance between the partners.”

Published in the Journal of Sex and Martial Therapy, a team of Canadian researchers, Kevin Alderson and Marley Resch, investigated honesty regarding pornography use and mutual consumption between partners, along with honesty and mutual use as predictors of relationship satisfaction in heterosexual couples. Three hundred and forty female participants, 18 to 41 years old,  who were in committed heterosexual relationships with partners who used pornography, were recruited from a University in western Canada.

The women completed the Pornography Distress Scale and Couples Satisfaction Index online, which consisted of questions ranging from the mutual use of pornography, whether or not women perceived that their partners were honest about pornography use, and the levels of distress and relationship satisfaction attributed to pornography use. In the study, distress was defined as the presence of disturbing perceptions associated with pornography, such as the belief that pornography use is a form of infidelity.

The findings revealed women whose partners were honest about pornography use reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction and lower levels of distress, according to Scientific American. Mutual use of pornography was correlated with lower levels of distress, but the researchers found there were no differences in reported relationship satisfaction.

Couples who engage in watching porn together and have a mutual agreement on what’s considered to be acceptable pornography are more likely to have thriving relationships because of their level of honesty and communication. “When both partners are equally open sexually and emotionally pornography can be an 'exciting wonderful foreplay',” Walfish said. “Often, watching can stimulate ideas, themes, and scenarios that can illicit spontaneity and adventure for the couple."

On the contrary, female participants whose partners were deceitful about pornography consumption reported more relationship dissatisfaction and personal distress. Moreover, women who rarely or never used pornography with their partners reported higher levels of distress than those who reported more frequent mutual use of pornography. Interestingly, the researchers found a decrease in relationship satisfaction when men frequently disclosed their pornography use to their female partners.  

Resch and Alderson hypothesized this may be attributed to the fear women may feel they are constantly being compared to females depicted in porn, and they may resent their partners being aroused by images of other women. “Female partners may find pornography to be a source of competition in that they may not be satisfying their partners’ needs; the more disclosure that men provide to their female partners, the more upset that women feel as they find out that their partner is using more porn than originally expected,” the researchers wrote. Overall, honesty about porn consumption in relationships is advised for couples, but the frequency of porn could possibly yield different outcomes.

According to the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, the acceptance of pornography use in a relationship has generally been found to be higher among men than women. However, recent research has shown some women have become more accepting of pornography to an extent. In a study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found 70 percent of men and almost half of women reported circumstances — whether alone or with their partners — where pornography use was acceptable in a relationship. Many women indicated they would become less accepting of pornography use if it became habitual and developed into an addiction.

While partners may wish to be honest about their porn, many run into the trouble of how to come forward about their consumption. Walfish suggests for partners to first ask themselves questions such as: “Why is it that it was kept discreet in the first place?” “Is it because their partner is inhibited and might judge them for this type of behavior?” “Does the person feel shame about their own pornography usage?” The answer to these questions may determine if it could or could not be easy to talk to a partner. “Often, it takes a skilled professional to do a thorough dating and sexual history with each partner to help each partner assess themselves,” Walfish said.

For pornography use, honesty may just be the best policy.

Source:

Alderson KG and Resch MN. Female Partners of Men Who Use Pornography: Are Honesty and Mutual Use Associated With Relationship Satisfaction? Journal of Sex Marital Therapy. 2013.

Fincham FD, Negash S, Olmstead SB et al. Emerging adults' expectations for pornography use in the context of future committed romantic relationships: a qualitative study. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2012.