12 minute read

Effects of Porn: What Watching Porn Does to You and Those Around You

Last Updated: September 23, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. He has also served as a Bible teacher, pastoral assistant, and music director at his local church. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

What are the effects of watching porn? Are there any? Some have argued it’s a safe way to enjoy guilt-free sex without harmful effects. One author at New York Times expressed this viewpoint:

“[P]ornography can certainly have benefits. Counselors sometimes suggest it to help people become comfortable with a particular fantasy they or their partner may have. Pornography can reboot a couple’s sex life. It can give you ideas, or help you get in touch with what turns you on.”1

Most people think something similar about porn—but is this accurate? Contrary to popular opinion, watching porn can come with many side effects and unintended consequences. In this article, we’ve outlined the latest research on the effects of porn and what this means for you personally, for your relationships and the people around you, and for society at large. 

Effects of Porn on You

First, you should consider the consequences of porn for you personally—what happens to you when you watch porn? What side effects might you experience?

Porn Is Addictive

World-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Donald Hilton studied the effects of porn extensively. He found that it works similarly to drugs. It’s a “super-stimulus” that hijacks your natural pleasure chemicals in a way that easily leads to addiction.2 Likewise, nearly every study on compulsive porn use supports the addiction model.3

Nobody sets out to get addicted to porn, and most porn users don’t consider themselves addicts. If that’s you, then you should at least try going without porn for 30 days. Can you do it? If not, you may be addicted. Realizing this powerful effect of porn can rock your life.

For more, see Why Is Porn So Addictive? 4 Reasons It’s Tough to Resist.

Effects on Your Work, School, or Goals

At Covenant Eyes, we help people overcome the temptation to watch porn. Often, people come to us when the effects of their porn habit are interfering with their other goals. Some time ago, I received an email from a man who lost his job with a six-figure salary because he couldn’t stop watching porn at work. I also heard from a doctoral student who was in danger of failing his classes because of porn.

Like these folks, many people invest hundreds and even thousands of hours into porn—time they can never get back. The cost of missed opportunities is a very expensive effect of porn.

May Cause Irrational Behavior

Irrational behavior ties in closely with porn’s addictiveness and its effect on your other goals. One of the surest signs of porn addiction is when a person continues to watch it despite facing negative consequences.

This could be like the people I mentioned, who put their careers on the line even though they understand the risk of getting caught. Or it could be people who continue watching porn, despite the fact that they believe it’s wrong and earnest desire to quit.

If you find yourself acting out with porn in ways that make no sense, you need to seek help! Find an ally to encourage you and keep you accountable and a qualified counselor or therapist to work through the addiction.

Effects on Your Psychological Health

Porn can have an impact on your mental health. Even if you don’t engage in irrational behaviors because of porn, you may inadvertently harm your mental and emotional well-being with porn. Here are some well-documented effects that porn can have on mental health:

Have you experienced any of these symptoms related to watching porn? Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone who can help you.

Effects on Your Brain

Studies out of the UK and Germany have found striking results from looking at brain scans of porn addicts. In a UK study out of Cambridge, researchers discovered that the brains of porn users light up like drug addicts.4

The German study reported that the brains of porn users had actually grown smaller, especially the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and critical thinking. For more on this, see Brain Chemicals and Porn: How Porn Affects Your Brain.  

Effects on Your Body

Not only does porn affect your brain, but porn has physical effects on your body. Specifically, porn has been found the culprit in many cases of sexual dysfunction. In men, this commonly manifests in the phenomenon of porn-induced erectile dysfunction. You can read about this here.

Likewise, recent studies have found that porn was a contributing factor in women’s sexual dysfunction. For a more complete survey of the effects of porn on the body, see our article The Link Between Porn and Sexual Dysfunction.

Porn Can Make You Lonely and Isolated

Did you know porn brings loneliness? The Institute For Family Studies found that increased porn use correlates closely with increased loneliness:

“Our study suggests a close and painful partnership between pornography and loneliness for some users. From our survey of over 1,000 individuals around the world, we developed a statistical model that suggests an association between pornography use and loneliness, each increasing in tandem with the other. Each incremental increase in loneliness was associated with an increase in pornography use.”5

Many people turn to porn because it gives a feeling of connectedness and belonging. Unfortunately, that artificial feeling cannot last. Instead, seeking out porn will compound those feelings, driving a person deeper into isolation and shame.

Spiritual Effects of Porn

When we asked Covenant Eyes members why they came to us for help, the number one reason they gave was to improve their relationship with God. Porn hurts people’s relationships with God. If you’re a Christian struggling with porn, you already know this is true!

Now, there’s compelling scientific research to back this up. A 2017 study by sociologists Perry and Whitehead found that pornography influences religious views, and may contribute to the rising secularization of American culture.6

Effects of Porn on Relationships

We’ve looked at how porn affects you personally, but that’s not where it stops. The effects of porn spread to your relationships and the people around you. In 2020, Dr. Samuel Perry looked at data from 30 national studies on pornography and concluded, “[F]indings clearly affirmed that, in instances where viewing pornography is associated with relationship quality at all, it is nearly always a signal of poorer relationship quality, for men and women.”7

Let’s take a closer look.

Decreased Sexual Satisfaction

Many studies corroborate to show decreased sexual satisfaction from couples who watch porn.8 We noted already that porn has negative effects on sexual health. Even where porn use hasn’t resulted in outright sexual dysfunction, it often results in an unhappy sex life. This shouldn’t surprise us, given how porn trains your body and brain to respond to pixels rather than a real person.

Decreased Trust

People often quote Friedrich Nietzsche, “I’m not upset you lied to me. I’m upset that from now on I can’t trust you.” When someone secretly watches porn, it can bring deep mistrust into a relationship. A young woman recently contacted us after discovering that her boyfriend was watching porn:

“I just feel like our whole relationship has been a lie when he’s done this in secrecy and been looking at all these horrible videos while I went on having no idea about any of it. “

A wife who’d just given birth to her first child discovered that her husband had been looking at porn. She told us:

“I don’t feel like I can trust him or be intimate with him knowing about this.“

It’s important to note that broken trust from porn can be found in other types of relationships as well, especially parents and children.

Betrayal Trauma

Connected to broken trust is the phenomenon of betrayal trauma. Psychologists who have studied the effects of sexual unfaithfulness in marriage have found a surprising similarity to the post-traumatic stress suffered by combat veterans. Despite being very different circumstances, the symptoms manifested are often the same.

Dr. Kevin Skinner writes, “After conducting research for more than ten years and with more than 3,000 individuals, I can confidently say trauma is very common in women and men who discover their partner’s secret sexual behaviors.”

Effect on Marriages, Dating, and Family

Another effect of porn is the breakdown of marriages. Covenant Eyes author Abby Willmarth writes in Porn in Marriage: It’s Harmful Effects and How to Heal Them, that tens of thousands of marriages (and possibly many more) end each year because of porn. Some experts have suggested that over 50% of divorce cases involved pornography. 

Divorce is not the only effect. Other research suggests that for many younger people, porn is preventing them from getting married or even dating.

We can understand how couples might disagree about porn, and how that affects their relationships. But beyond dating and marriage, porn impacts families. Dr. Jill Manning testified before the senate that:

“When a child lives in a home where an adult is consuming pornography, he or she encounters the following four risks:

1. Decreased parental time and attention

2. Increased risk of encountering pornographic material

3. Increased risk of parental separation and divorce

4. Increased risk of parental job loss and financial strain”9

For more, see 6 Ways That Porn Affects Your Relationships.

Effects of Porn on Society            

Considering how many adults are consuming porn regularly, it’s difficult to fathom just how widespread the socio-economic damage has been. However, researchers have been able to track some of these effects with greater specificity.

Objectification of Men and Women

In the early 1980s, the radical feminist Andrea Dworkin argued that far from liberating women sexually, pornography was a tool of male oppression. Whether or not you agree with Dworkin’s assessment, the evidence nonetheless indicates that porn negatively affects the view of women in society.

In the article 4 Ways Porn Warps the Male Brain, Matt Fradd explains how porn teaches men to objectify women. But porn doesn’t only objectify women! Newer research has found that men also tend to compare their body parts to porn actors and view themselves as less attractive after watching porn.10

Desensitization to Sexual Violence

Drs. Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant conducted extensive research on the effects of watching porn and found that it desensitized people to sexual violence. You can read more about their findings in our free ebook, Your Brain on Porn. Newer studies have further corroborated this research. 11

It makes sense: If you watch sexual violence played out on the screen as something that’s good and pleasurable, that affects you deeply. Even though most people do not act commit acts of sexual violence just because they’ve watched violent porn, it nonetheless makes these acts seem more acceptable.

 Connection With Sex Trafficking

Lastly, one of the most serious effects of watching porn is that it perpetuates the sex trafficking industry. Most people who watch porn have no idea that this activity contributes to horrific human rights violations and abuses. After all, the porn actors and actresses choose to upload this content, right?

However, recent investigations have found even mainstream porn sites are often complicit in hosting CSAM (child sex abuse material), rape, and other illicit sexual content.

Can You Reverse the Effects of Porn?

If you or someone you love suffers from the effects of porn, you likely feel discouraged, scared, or angry. Can you do anything about it? Can you undo the devastation caused by years of addiction to pornography?

The good news is, yes, you absolutely can! At Covenant Eyes, we’ve walked alongside more than one and a half million people on the journey away from porn. Although watching porn has consequences, many have found hope, freedom, and redemption.


1 Candida Royalle, “Pornography Can Be Good For Consumers,” New York Times, November 11, 2012. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/11/11/does-pornography-deserve-its-bad-rap/pornography-can-be-good-for-consumers.

2 Donald Hilton Jr., “How Pornography & Drugs Changes Your Brain,” Salvo (2010), accessed at https://salvomag.com/article/salvo13/slave-master

3 Your Brain On Porn, “Neurological studies (fMRI, MRI, EEG, Neuro-endocrine, Neuro-pyschological) on porn users and sex addicts,” accessed at yourbrainonporn.com/relevant-research-and-articles-about-the-studies/brain-studies-on-porn-users-sex-addicts/#brain

4 Valerie Voon ,Thomas B. Mole, Paula Banca, Laura Porter, Laurel Morris, Simon Mitchell, Tatyana R. Lapa, Judy Karr, Neil A. Harrison, Marc N. Potenza, Michael Irvine, “Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours,” PLOS ONE 9 (2014): https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419

5 Mark Butler, “Is Pornography Use Increasing Loneliness, Particularly for Young People?” Institute for Family Studies, July 3, 2018. Accessed at https://ifstudies.org/blog/is-pornography-use-increasing-loneliness-particularly-for-young-people

6 Samuel L. Perry and George M. Hayward, “Seeing is (Not) Believing: How Viewing Pornography Shapes the Religious Lives of Young Americans” Social Forces (2017):1757-1788. doi: 10.1093/sf/sow106

7 Samuel L. Perry, “Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality in 30 National Surveys,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49 (2020): 1199–1213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01616-

8 Fight the New Drug, “Porn Can Hurt the Quality of Your Relationships,” April 14, 2022. https://fightthenewdrug.org/porn-can-hurt-the-quality-of-your-relationships/

9 Jill Manning, “Pornography’s Impact on Marriage and the Family: Testimony before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights in the Committee on Judiciary, United States Senate on November 9, 2005,” The Heritage Foundation, accessed at https://www.heritage.org/testimony/pornographys-impact-marriage-and-the-family/

10 Paul J. Wright, Robert S. Tokunaga, Debby Herbenick, and Bryant Paul, “Pornography, Sexual Insecurity, and Orgasm Difficulty,” Health Communication (2021). doi: 10.1080/10410236.2021.1958985. See also International Andrology London, “The Porn Hypothesis – Findings Prove Porn Consumption Fuels the Desire For Penis Enlargement Surgery in the UK,” accessed May 18, 2022 at https://london-andrology.co.uk/news/the-porn-hypothesis-findings-prove-porn-consumption-fuels-the-desire-for-penis-enlargement-surgery-in-the-uk/.

11 Brooke A. de Heer, Sarah Prior, Gia Hoegh, “Pornography, Masculinity, and Sexual Aggression on College Campuses,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 36 (2021): 23-24. doi:10.1177/0886260520906186