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This site has previously dealt with the question of whether porn use reduces bad sexual behaviour, sex-crime. A recent Washington Post story, Americans aren’t getting married, and researchers think porn is part of the problem, suggests that the rise of free Internet porn may contribute to the declining rate of marriage in young adult males. In particular the story suggests:

A team of researchers ... determined that the rise of free Internet pornography is not only correlated with a pronounced decline in percentage of young adult males who are married, but might actually be contributing to the trend.

They argue:

In order to test the hypothesis, Malcolm adjusted for a number of variables, including age, income, education, religiosity, and employment, all of which have been shown to correlate with marriage. He also adjusted for the possibility marriage has an impact on pornography use, and never the other way around.

The researchers, while careful to say that their findings fall short of being conclusive, insist that the relationship between the two also "likely runs in the direction that we assert."

Is this plausible? Is the research reliable, are their stats any good and are the results compatible with other evidence (e.g. behaviour in countries other than the USA)?

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    Not good enough for an answer, but they open with "Traditionally, one of the reasons to enter into a marriage was sexual gratification", which is a completely wrong assumption. People have been having regular sex outside of marriage since the 60's. Then, the article proceeds to compare pornography and prostitution multiple times which is clearly as sign of heavy bias. They completely mix up marriage and cohabitation. That article is a total mess. – Sklivvz Dec 23 '14 at 15:14
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    Also, AFAICT, the paper is not peer-reviewed yet. – Sklivvz Dec 23 '14 at 15:17
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    @EbenezerSklivvze - it's not as simple as you make it out to be. Research shows that married people have more/better sex. So their assumption is not wholly wrong. Random link: scienceofrelationships.com/home/2011/8/18/… – user5341 Dec 23 '14 at 16:54
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    Also, pornography and prostitution aren't identical, but they do presumably have a similar effect of allowing people to obtain sexual gratification without the need of a romantic partner. (of course, so does the hookup culture of the 2000s and free sex of the 60s, so you do have a point) – user5341 Dec 23 '14 at 16:55
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    @Himarm please read the paper before commenting. They clearly do not mean "in antiquity". They mean "up to the 90's". – Sklivvz Dec 23 '14 at 20:25
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The cause and effect relationship might be the other way around. People are using pornography because they aren't getting married (or having other forms of intimate relationships) as much as they used to.

Current western society has become highly dependent upon technology. People seldom use their phones to talk anymore. They would rather send a text message or use a social site than interact in person. Even people in the same room will text each other.

Men and women are not copulating anymore. At least not as much. And what has demographers most on edge is the yotounger generation choosing celibacy.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Wikipedia), at the beginning of the 21st century, 73 percent of adults between 18 and 30 in the United States were sexually intimate twice a month. This plummeted to 66 percent by 2016. Birthrates also continue to decline. The CDC reported that the number of births in the U.S. dropped another 2 percent between 2016 and 2017 to 60.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The birthrate decline generally began with the Great Recession of 2008 and has never recovered. This resulted in 2018 having the nation’s lowest number of births in 32 years.

This trend is not solely related to people having less sex, but it is clearly related.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher (Wikipedia), who works for the dating site Match.com, readily admitted, “The data is that people are having less sex.” She was quoted in a comprehensive article in The Atlantic magazine in early 2019 on the decline of sex.

“I’m a Baby Boomer, and apparently in my day we were having a lot more sex than they are today!” A survey conducted by Match.com has been gathering statistics on people’s sex lives for eight years. “Every year the whole Match company is rather staggered at how little sex Americans are having—including the Millennials.”

Redefining Sex

Note: this is excerpted from a religious based magazine, but facts are facts, and it provided a nice summary of the situation. I'm not trying to convert anyone.

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I find it highly unlikely that you can prove anything like this hypothesis by any statistical method. Even if some researchers believe it. Beeing a sceptic I find that the world is full of believers in flat earth, no visit to the moon and so on. (Or sorry, not meant to offend, religion).

Remember the old cautioning tale from statistics that: the number of drowning cases increase a lot as the sale of ice cream increase -- hence we should ban sale of ice cream.

Now, could this be more or less true historically. There is a nice little graph of marriage rate here: Usa - Marriage rate 1990-2017 It clearly shows a decline in marriage rate starting around 1990, about the time when internet porn started to appear. Hence, proved? Or not?

Look at this, slightly longer seriesMarriages in England and Wales from 1932 and onwards. Seems like the decline, at least there started around 1972 -- as far as I remember a lot earlier than internet porn ( arguably internet started around 1969 but not a lot of people had access until much later, www came around 1991 ). History of the internet

Well, even if it wasn´t true historically, it could still be a factor now, or? Well, they did adjust for quite a few factors, so maybe the figures come out. Or, perhaps, they simply adjusted the for the factors until they got the answer they were searching for? Has happened before, or?

  • Marriage rates are linked to a lot of things. The claim says that one of those things is pornography. This doesn't really address that claim. – BobTheAverage Nov 5 at 2:10
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Summary: Since the original paper was published, more papers have come out with similar conclusions. It seems likely that individuals with higher pornography use are less likely to get married.


When I see an interesting scientific finding, I am always skeptical. Science works in fits and starts, and it can take decades before a new hypothesis becomes a proven (or disproven) fact. For an individual scientific finding, the best test of realness is what other peer researchers have to say about it.

These 11 scientific papers have cited the original. 4 other items at that link are either political or religious in nature, and I have discarded them. 1 other item is a duplicate. 4 scientific papers have a title that seems directly relevant to the question. Lets look at those first:

A pair of papers by S.L. Perry, looks at data and finds that greater pornography use leads to more breakups and fewer marriages. Both papers are longitudinal surveys; they follow a group of subjects over time and ask them questions about their porn use and relationship status among other things. This supports the claim.

This letter by M. Regnerus, is a positive response to this full article by Leonhardt et al. They argue that their evidence shows pornography is bad for long term sexual quality. They acknowledge that the literature has shown some positive effects of pornography, but argue that these positive effects are short term only. This also supports the claim.

This Ph.D. Thesis by A. Shaw looks at the effects of pornography on people in committed relationships. In the abstract Shaw writes that solo pornography use is associated with lower relationship satisfaction. This indirectly supports the claim.

Shaw also reviews a lot of scientific literature for and against the claim, inlcuding a criticism of the entire field of research on this topic.

In their review research linking pornography use to relationship functioning, Kohut and colleagues (2016) argued that a majority of research on pornography is harm-focused, seeking to demonstrate its adverse effects on individuals and their relationships: “Much of the empirical research concerning pornography’s impact on couple relationships can be legitimately characterized as a confirmatory search for the presumed harms of exposure” (p. 1). Kohut and colleagues (2016) went so far as to suggest that this negative bias is so pervasive and accepted in the field that few researchers have explicitly acknowledged this partiality. To directly address concerns that pornography research has overlooked possible neutral or positive effects, Campbell and Kohut (2017) recently used experimental methods to demonstrate benefits from pornography use (see below). Although that study represents an important first step, there remains a strong need in the field for unbiased studies of the effects of pornography use on individuals’ lives.

After some discussion, Shaw says "With the current study, I will take an unbiased approach, acknowledging that there may be negative effects of pornography use while at the same time examining potential neutral and positive impacts."

This Ph.D. dissertation references the study in the claiming paper, but describes it as using a "problematic method which relied on conflating respondents’ self-reported Internet use with self-reported pornography use..." This undermines, but does not refute the claim.

I have spent a couple hours skimming through these studies, which is not enough time to really comprehend them. Every single one of them references a dozen more studies, which would take hundreds of hours to read. This may be too big of a question for a non-expert like me to answer. Science may not have found a definitive answer to the claim, or the answer may not be as simple as presented in the claim.

From what I have seen, there is a substantial body of evidence generally supporting the claim that pornography use may discourage marriage or other long term relationships. As discussed above, there is some criticism of the entire body of evidence as biased, but I don't think it is enough to convince me to disregard the data collected by the above authors.

  • This answer could be improved by discussing whether any of the studies in question randomized a pornography intervention, and if not, how the lack of randomization would impact the claim. – De Novo supports GoFundMonica Nov 4 at 3:26
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    @DeNovosupportsGoFundMonica even better if some of the participants would watch placebo porn... – IMil Nov 4 at 5:17
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    Horse & Cart! Does pron use lead to marriage breakup, or does a failing marriage lead to porn use because one's partner isn't available? – Loren Pechtel Nov 4 at 8:54
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    @LorenPechtel or is porn watching associated with some other variable that has a causal relationship with a failing marriage (confounding) – De Novo supports GoFundMonica Nov 4 at 16:25
  • @DeNovosupportsGoFundMonica The question was not about pornography interventions, and data from such an experiment would only be loosely relevant to the claim. In the social sciences both randomized controlled trials and longitudinal surveys have their own strengths and difficulties. I definitely don't have the expertise to peer review these people's work, and I doubt that most Skeptics.SE users do either. – BobTheAverage Nov 5 at 1:57
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Sex outside of marriage has been going on since the first two people figured out how to have sex. Pornography is almost as old, it started the next day.

There has been a steady decline in marriage for decades before the internet. A better cause would be that people are waiting later to get married if at all. In past decades, with an agrarian culture, more children meant more hands to help on the farm. But now, rural lifestyle is less common, with income covering less, and a lower mortality rate for children it makes sense to have fewer children. The press to marry and procreate is decreased. Long lifespans for all makes the urge to marry and procreate less pressing. Also since WW2 we have lengthened childhood. Children no longer toil in mines and factories, nor are expected to take on adult responsibilities. All in all, the decline has many factors, trying to choose one is just someone looking to prove their theory. Even if they have to bend facts.

One chart shows the decline in marriage: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/23/144-years-of-marriage-and-divorce-in-the-united-states-in-one-chart/?utm_term=.d0eee1c7f5cc

The average age of marriage does seem to have increased over the period 1890-2010, much more sharply for women than for men.

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    Please add references to your answer. – DenisS Jun 27 '17 at 13:25
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    Almost every part of this answer needs references from "steady decline in marriage" to "people are waiting later to get married" to "since WW2 we have lengthened childhood" not to mention how all this information actually answers the question. – Jamiec Jun 27 '17 at 14:11

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