Guest Column: The Art & Science of Pornography Surveys?

Source. Guernica (colonized portion of anti-war painting). Picasso, Artist

by Ralph Greco, Jr.


Pornography* Surveys scare, as the Scots and Irish say, the “shite” out of me!

Why? It’s not because I write the naughty stuff. I do. Rather, I just received a press release to report on the National Couples and Pornography Survey 2021. In Hoping to investigate pornography, gender, and relationships and examine the potentially wide-ranging and complex ways that pornography can influence relationships between men and women,” this survey (which you can read here) was built from two national datasets.

But as I always do when reading any statistical analysis, reporting (and especially anything to do with pornography), the bias, vague questioning, and inaccuracies of language makes me doubt the veracity of yet another survey. And in this case, as I mentioned, when it comes to modern-day accountings on the good or bad of pornography (and it’s almost always bad), I fear I’ll find the usual underlying agenda to eviscerate the hetero male. So, what better material to use as a condemnation of this often-maligned section of the species (of which I am one) than proving the fait accompli that heterosexual men are indeed most stimulated by visual content of a dirty nature?  As a side bar the reader may know, Sex and pornography addiction still are not recognized by the DSM 5 or the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association. Why? Pornography is not necessarily a sign of a pathology.


The above said, here are just some of the points of which I take umbrage.


1 in 5 couples reported conflict in their relationship related to pornography. 

Did the 1 in 5 find conflict in how they related to porn, or that there was a conflict in their relationship because of porn?

A majority of people (over 70%) are at least somewhat accepting of pornography viewing, about 25% of men report actively hiding their viewing from their partner and about a third of women expressed concerns about their partner being more attracted to pornography and thinking about pornography when being intimate. About a third of women were also worried that their partner was withholding some details about their pornography viewing.  

“Least somewhat” “actively hiding,” “about a third,” “expressed concerns,” “being intimate,” and “withholding some details,” again, this language is too vague for me to trust conclusions born from it.

While many couples reported low to no conflict about pornography use, it is possible that much of this lack of conflict is based on an avoidance of the issue or based on not realizing the extent of a partner’s pornography viewing given the lack of accurate assessments of pornography use.

It might also be ‘possible,’ and I could argue that it’s damn likely, that this “lack of conflict” is not based on avoidance or “not realizing the extent of a partner’s pornography viewing given the lack of accurate assessments of pornography use,” and that the survey’s bias is in looking for a problem where this is NOT one.

It’s the old ‘There ain’t no there, there’ conundrum.

Couples where both partners report that they do not use pornography at all reported the highest levels of relationship stability, commitment, and relationship satisfaction, with 90% or above of these couples reporting that their relationship is stable, committed and satisfying.

Again, what exactly do the terms “relationship stability,” “commitment,” and “relationship satisfaction” mean in this context?

Beyond all this, what is the socioeconomic breakdown of the people surveyed here? Did they have religious affiliations, and were they admitting to them? Had these couples been married previously, what were their ages? And let’s do a deep dive into the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture and the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University that released this survey.

I’d love to know who funds either or both.

Way back before electricity was invented, I took my one and only linguist course in college. I recall one of the first things the teacher said to us all when we explored the science behind surveys. He advised, “When they start counting, you best start questioning.”

Part of the challenge of pornography is defining it. How has pornography been defined over the last couple hundred years? How has the definition changed during that period? Who decides? Why isn’t war it’s associated violence considered part of the definition? The questions are lengthy.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must spin my mouse over to Clips4Sale.

*As noted under NPJ’s privacy policy – former US Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan observed, “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”