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Defeat Lust & Pornography 9 minute read

Watching Porn at Work? The Consequences of Risky Browsing

Last Updated: August 22, 2023

 “I was completely blindsided a month ago. My husband of 23 years lost his job because of viewing porn at work. He was in a high level position. It was his second offense. He had been given three days off work w/out pay 2 years ago because of it. He lied to me then and said he had some vacation days he needed to take.“

“Recently I was suspended from work without pay for looking at porn at work. My prayers and worship feel flat. I feel broken and apart from God. I confess this to my pastor. While he was comforting, he withdrew me from a ministry planned for the fall. This is killing me. I feel alone.”

“I don’t remember my first encounter with porn. However, my problems also exploded with internet access… I had graduated college with a social work degree, and was working when I first got internet access. My addiction exploded. I was caught using work computers to look at porn, and was fired. Additionally, an ethics complaint was filed with the state licensing board. My license was suspended.”

These are real comments we received from people who suffered the consequences of watching porn at work. Pornography in the workplace can devastate careers, employee morale, and relationships. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common questions and issues related to porn at work. 

How common is watching porn at work?

First, how many people would actually watch porn at work? It may seem shocking, but the available data suggests A LOT. In 2014, the Barna group conducted a survey of 1,000 adults in the U.S., which revealed that 63% of men and 36% of women had watched porn at work:

“Nearly two-thirds (63%) of men admit to viewing porn while their bosses assume they are busy working. More than a third (36%) of women are also sneaking a peak at porn while on the job. The rate for self-identified Christian men and women virtually mirrors these national averages.”1

Likewise, a UK survey of 2000 men and women found that 59% had watched porn at work:

“As much as 70% of traffic on porn sites like Passion Palace and Planet Love take place during work hours, according to SexTracker, a service that monitors usage of such sites. SexTracker estimates that one in five white-collar male workers is accessing pornography at work.”2

We can find data from various sources indicating that a lot—maybe even most—porn is being viewed on the clock. Keep in mind, these surveys were conducted years before COVID and the sharp increase of employees working from home. If anything, the amount of people watching porn on the job has increased in recent years.3

Is it OK to watch porn at work?

If it’s that common, is watching porn at work really a problem? After all, the lines between work and leisure time are becoming increasingly blurred with more people working from home. Despite the trends, many (if not most) employers would consider this misconduct.

Can you get fired for watching porn at work?

If you’re wondering, yes, you can get fired for looking at porn on the job—we saw this already in the comments earlier. In recent years, a number of high-profile public figures have lost prominent positions because of porn at work, including politicians and news commentators. Generally, most workplaces have policies in place that forbid watching porn in their offices or on company-owned devices.

With personal devices, however, it’s often less clear. When you work from home or you decide to watch pornography during a break at work, employers often fail to specify their policies.

Is it illegal to watch porn at work?

Despite most employers’ policies, watching pornography at work is not illegal per se (in the USA). However, depending on the situation, porn very quickly can become a legal issue. If another person is exposed to porn, it may be considered sexual harassment.

State laws vary significantly in how they deal with sexual harassment. Many states require sexual harassment training. In cases of sexual harassment, an employer will usually enforce disciplinary action. Depending on the severity, or in the case of repeat offenders, an employee may be fired, whether out of principle or to avoid liability.4

Why do people watch porn at work?

Part of it is the phenomenon of “quiet quitting”—people who put in the minimum effort required by their jobs to avoid getting fired. Gallup reports that up to half of employees in the U.S. are “quiet quitters,” doing the least possible amount of work. For those in this camp, they watch porn just to pass the time, just like their colleagues browse social media or shop online.5

In the previously mentioned UK survey, 59% of respondents cited sexual arousal as their reason, but nearly as many said boredom. Around 20% watched porn at work because of stress. That partially explains why this happens. But given the greater likelihood of being fired for porn, why do so many people risk it?

Wendy and Larry Maltz share Mitch’s story in their book The Porn Trap. Mitch was a happily married man in his 50s. He was a high school teacher with a successful career. But he had a long history with porn, and eventually, he was caught looking at porn on his work computer and subsequently fired.

“Mitch realized that his porn habit, as he described it, was compulsive, but it seemed similar to other compulsive activities that were part of his life that he considered benign. ‘I had to read the paper every morning, I had to watch a little porn after school, and I had to have my late-night snack. If I didn’t do these things it bothered me. Porn was the only really bad compulsion I had. And I didn’t really consider it bad, just not something I would want anyone else to know about.”6

This “compulsive” aspect of porn addiction is what often drives people to risky or even irrational behavior.

What happens when people watch porn at work?

Some workplace porn watchers get caught and fired, but most do not. So how does all this porn impact our work? A decade ago, the internet security company Webroot estimated a cost of 16.9 billion dollars annually in productivity costs. They based this on the speculation that less than a third of workers were watching porn on the clock for a little more than 1.5 hours a month.7 If we apply the same calculation to today’s workforce with today’s average wages, the estimated loss exceeds 40 billion dollars annually.8

This number is only an educated guess, but it is a conservative guess based on available data. And the fact that tens of billions of dollars in labor goes to porn every year should sober us.

How else does porn impact the workplace?

Even more concerning than the time wasted are the negative effects porn has on workplace ethics and morale. In 2021, researchers out of Brigham Young University explored the way watching porn shapes other behaviors at work. What they found is disturbing:

We can identify at least one mechanism by which pornography causes unethical behavior—by increasing dehumanization of others.”9

A second way they found that porn affects the workplace is “delay discounting.” The researchers explain, “Delay discounting is discounting future outcomes or preferring an outcome today over a more valuable future outcome.”10 They’re saying that porn feeds a tendency to instant gratification. See Porn and Delay Discounting: The Price of Instant Gratification.

This fits with neuroscientific research that associates watching porn with diminished critical thinking. That’s because using porn repeatedly can reshape the brain, literally destroying our willpower.

What should you do if you catch someone watching porn at work?

If you’re an employer and you’ve just discovered an employee watching porn, what steps should you take? First, it’s important to have a policy in place regarding porn at work. It’s important to include enough detail to account for various circumstances.

One employee who was fired for watching porn on his personal device retaliated by suing. Because the man had viewed porn during his lunch break, he won the case and was awarded back pay. Make sure you’ve covered all bases in your policy so employees are clear on what is and isn’t acceptable.

If this is the first time you’ve had to address these issues, take the opportunity to create a clear policy and explain to the employee what is and isn’t acceptable. Many employers activate porn blocking on their corporate networks. While this cannot eliminate all porn, it can make it more difficult to find and help prevent accidental exposure.

Pointing toward recovery?

We’ve already noted the various reasons that people watch porn at work. While there are many possible reasons for this reckless behavior, you should seriously consider that an employee may be dealing with a compulsive unwanted porn habit.

In this case, if the employee earnestly wishes to change their behavior but feels unable to, providing an opportunity for treatment from a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT) or other counseling may be appropriate.  

(For more details, see Help for Addicts: Finding the Right Treatment).

Covenant Eyes provides accountability reporting software for people who wish for a trusted friend or loved one to see reports of their activity (our software cannot be used by employers who wish to monitor their employees). Voluntary accountability to an “ally” is an important part of any serious recovery plan.

How do you break the habit of watching porn at work?

If you’re someone who struggles with the temptation to view porn at work, I hope this information helps you find the motivation to quit. At Covenant Eyes, we understand that quitting feels impossible for many people, even in the face of serious consequences.

That’s why we’ve created many free resources to help you get started on the journey away from porn. Check out our blog post, How to Quit Porn: 6 Essential Steps.


1Proven Men Ministries, Ltd., “2014 Survey: Find out how many employees are watching porn on company time,” Cision PR Newswire, August 19, 2014. Accessed on November 21, 2022 at https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2014-survey-find-out-how-many-employees-are-watching-porn-on-company-time-271854721.html

2Tommie McDonald, “How Many People Watch Porn at Work Will Shock You,” Sugarcookie, January 26, 2018. Accessed November 21, 2022 at https://sugarcookie.com/2018/01/watch-porn-at-work/.

3Michelle Conlin, “Workers, Surf at Your Own Risk,” Bloomberg, June 12, 2000. Accessed on November 21, 2022 at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2000-06-11/workers-surf-at-your-own-risk/.

4Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, “Is Pornography at Work Sexual Harassment?” August 29, 2019. Accessed on November 21, 2022 at https://www.eandblaw.com/employment-discrimination-blog/2019/08/29/pornography-at-work-sexual-harassment/.

5Jim Harter, “Is Quiet Quitting Real?” Gallup Workplace, September 6, 2022. Accessed November 21, 2022 at https://www.gallup.com/workplace/398306/quiet-quitting-real.aspx.

6Wendy and Larry Maltz, The Porn Trap, 122.

7Webroot, “Internet Pornography by the Numbers; A Significant Threat to Society,” accessed on November 21, 2022 at https://www.webroot.com/us/en/resources/tips-articles/internet-pornography-by-the-numbers. This calculation is based on just 28% of workers watching pornography for an average of 1 hour and 28 minutes per month.

8Webroot estimates were based on a labor force of 132 million people in 2012 with an average hourly wage was $23.23. Newer numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate an average hourly wage at $32.58 with a labor force of 164 million people in 2022. See https://www.bls.gov/charts/employment-situation/employment-and-average-hourly-earnings-by-industry-bubble.htm and https://www.statista.com/statistics/193953/seasonally-adjusted-monthly-civilian-labor-force-in-the-us/.

9Nathan Mecham, Melissa Lewis-Western, & David Wood, “The Effects of Pornography on Unethical Behavior in Business,” Journal of Business Ethics 168 (2021): 38. 10.1007/s10551-019-04230-8.

10Ibid, 40.

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