Watching Porn Can Hurt Your Self-Esteem and Confidence

Fight the New Drug
9 min readMay 22, 2023

Who doesn’t want to be a better, more confident partner when it comes to sex? The problem is, porn can get in the way of that happening.

Studies show that pornography can distort people’s perceptions of sex, intimacy, body image, sexual performance, and much more.

And not only that, research is shedding light on a previously little-known fact about porn: it can be unhealthy for your brain.[1][2]

Thanks to all the research that has been done in recent years, people are finally starting to realize that pornography is anything but harmless entertainment, and it can affect your life and health in negative ways.

Also, research on how porn affects how you view yourself, your partner, and your relationships is becoming just as prevalent. When people view porn, it can not only warp their view of others, but it can also twist their view of themselves, as well.

So, if research shows that porn can harm individuals and relationships, doesn’t it stand to reason that people and their partners would be much better off without it?

Sex is healthy; comparing it to porn is not

Sex can be an awesome part of a loving relationship for mutually consenting partners. Physically connecting with someone you love can be one of the most freeing experiences, especially when there’s no self-consciousness, and you can be together with just you and your partner, exactly as you both are.

But when it comes to porn, it can turn this intimate connection into a rehearsed performance that’s less about the emotional bonding that happens when people have sex.

Think about it this way: when sexual climax is reached with a partner, that individual can often become more attractive to us.[3][4][5] Their positive characteristics are accentuated, and the negative is pushed aside.

But when someone consumes porn, it can be easy to compare the sexual encounter they’re experiencing with the porn they’ve consumed, intentionally or even unintentionally comparing the two to see which is sexier. And research shows that this comparison can be what causes some people to enjoy sex with a partner less.[6]

Here’s a study that illustrates this point. In 2019, academics surveyed over 700 women in the US between the ages of 18–29 to better understand how porn compares to heterosexual women’s thoughts and feelings during sex.[7]

First off, they shed some light on the amount of porn in these women’s lives. For example, 83% said they had seen pornography before, 43.5% said they use porn for arousal, and then half of those women said they only use porn about once a month.

Given what is known about porn being overwhelmingly aggressive toward women[8] and how hypersexualized media diminishes girls’ self-esteem and body image,[9] the researchers assumed porn would negatively affect women’s sexual experiences. They weren’t wrong.

After analyzing the survey results, researchers found a significant link between porn consumption and thoughts of porn during sex with a partner. This included a higher recall of porn images during sex with a partner, more reliance on porn for achieving and maintaining arousal, and even a preference for porn over sex with a partner.

Here’s where it gets a little confusing. There was no direct link between watching porn and feeling insecure about sex. Instead, there was an indirect link between thinking about porn during sex and insecurities. So what’s the difference? It’s pretty subtle, but pretty important.

Basically, in a sexual encounter, if a woman starts to think about the porn she’s just watched, she may feel insecure about her performance. That’s when the enjoyment of the whole experience is lessened.

The more porn a woman watches, the more she thinks about porn during sex and relies on thoughts of porn to stay in the mood.

The more she thinks about porn during sex, the more she feels insecure about her appearance during sex, and she no longer enjoys real-life intimate parts of sex like kissing or caressing — the parts porn cuts out. It doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable cycle, does it?

The researchers didn’t think so either. Their final conclusion was that porn consumption may not improve a woman’s sexual experience with a partner.

Nobody, guy or girl, likes being unfairly compared to someone (or something) else, especially while in a moment of intimacy. And when that something else is porn, it can become more damaging. In fact, research shows that the increase of pornography in society is a cause for an increasing number of women seeking plastic surgery to change their bodies.

If you think those unrealistic depictions don’t work their way into consumers’ beliefs, expectations and actions think again.[10] In a recent survey of 16 to 18-year-old Americans, nearly every participant reported learning how to have sex by watching porn,[11] and many of the young women said they were pressured to play out the “scripts” their male partners had learned from porn.[12]

They felt badgered into having sex in uncomfortable positions, faking sexual responses, and consenting to unpleasant or painful acts.

Guys can get insecure, too

This is not just a single-gender issue, it’s an everyone issue. Let’s talk about how porn affects men’s self-image as well. For men who think that viewing porn could somehow make them feel more manly or sexy, think again.

In one older study done on both straight and gay men, viewing pornography was correlated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction. Pornography exposure was correlated with social physique anxiety for gay men and a higher tendency of developing an eating disorder.[13]

In a similar more recent study, a group of college men who viewed porn rated how they viewed themselves in terms of body satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and overall emotional well-being. After analyzing the data, it turns out that guys who view porn are much more likely to have anxiety in relationships and withdraw from them more than guys who aren’t viewing porn. Their sense of emotional security was lower overall than guys who do not view pornography.[14]

It only makes sense that, like women, guys are also more insecure about themselves after viewing porn due to the inaccurate portrayal of bodies and sexuality. Research also shows that guys who view porn report feeling more inadequate about their sexual performance.[15]

Not only that, but there have been studies demonstrating links found between porn consumption and, “muscularity and body fat dissatisfaction indirectly through internalization of the mesomorphic ideal, [negative links] to body appreciation directly and indirectly through body monitoring, [positive links] to negative affect indirectly through romantic attachment anxiety and avoidance, and [negative links] to positive affect indirectly through relationship attachment anxiety and avoidance.”[16]

Also, negative body image among boys/men isn’t the only thing fueled by the idealized male bodies they see in the media, but also by the idealized images of women. One study found that men were more self-conscious about their own bodies after viewing magazines featuring photos of sexualized women.[17]

Translation? Watching porn can fuel self-esteem issues, check your body to see if you’re measuring up, and avoid romantic encounters because of anxiety.

Choose love, not porn

Even aside from all of this, consider that porn doesn’t show real pleasure for both partners in a heterosexual relationship. Consider that in a study of popular porn videos, researchers found that 78% of men were shown having an orgasm, compared to just 18.3% of women.[18]

In other words, porn sells toxic ideas about mutual pleasure not being important and packages it as a sexual fantasy. Also, based on popular themes in mainstream porn, porn can teach consumers that it’s normal for women not to enjoy sex and men to always take charge in the bedroom — which are unhealthy ideals, obviously — and consumers are buying it, watching it, and re-watching it.

But what if someone didn’t even have the opportunity to compare themselves or a partner to porn or have sexual and relationship expectations warped by porn?

If you’re struggling with an unwanted porn habit, and you’re struggling with self-esteem or your partner is suffering as a result, there’s help.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope — sign up today.

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Citations

  1. Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., Lapa, T. R., Karr, J., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419
  2. Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257–266. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.046
  3. Fisher, H. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2004, p. 52­53.
  4. Lemonick, M.D., The Chemistry of Desire, Time Magazine, January 19, 2004.
  5. Wise, R.A. Dopamine, learning and motivation. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 5, 483­494 (2004).
  6. Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing sexually-explicit materials alone or together: Associations with relationship quality. Archives of sexual behavior, 40(2), 441–448. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4
  7. Johnson, J. A., Ezzell, M. B., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2019). Pornography and Heterosexual Women’s Intimate Experiences with a Partner. Journal of Women’s Health, 28(9), 1254–1265. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2018.7006
  8. Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A descriptive analysis of the types, targets, and relative frequency of aggression in mainstream pornography. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. doi:10.1007/s10508–020–01773–0
  9. Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784]
  10. See, e.g. Peter, J. & Valkenburg, P. M., (2016) Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research. Journal of Sex Research, 53(4–5), 509–531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441 (Pointing out that “existing research has produced consistent evidence that adolescents’ pornography use is related to their sexual attitudes.”)
  11. Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736–746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908
  12. Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736–746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908
  13. Duggan, S. J., & McCreary, D. R. (2004). Body image, eating disorders, and the drive for muscularity in gay and heterosexual men: the influence of media images. Journal of homosexuality, 47(3–4), 45–58. https://doi.org/10.1300/J082v47n03_03
  14. Tylka, T. L. (2015). No harm in looking, right? Men’s pornography consumption, body image, and well-being. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 97–107. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035774
  15. Sun, C., Bridges, A., Johnson, J. A., & Ezzell, M. B. (2016). Pornography and the male sexual script: An analysis of consumption and sexual relations. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(4), 983–994. doi:10.1007/s10508–014–0391–2
  16. Tylka, T. L. (2015). No harm in looking, right? Men’s pornography consumption, body image, and well-being. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 97–107. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035774
  17. Field, A., Sonneville, K., Crosby, R. (2014) Prospective Associations of Concerns About Physique and the Development of Obesity, binge drinking, and drug use among adolescent boys and young adult men. JAMA Pediatrics 168(1). 34–39.
  18. Séguin, L. J., Rodrigue, C., & Lavigne, J. (2018). Consuming Ecstasy: Representations of Male and Female Orgasm in Mainstream Pornography. Journal of sex research, 55(3), 348–356. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1332152

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Fight the New Drug

Fight the New Drug exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects.