Skip to main content

Do You Feel in Control? Sexual Desire, Sexual Passion Expression, and Associations with Perceived Compulsivity to Pornography and Pornography Use Frequency

Abstract

Previous scholars have found that when individuals feel that pornography use is uncontrollable, it is linked to more extreme negative outcomes than frequency of use. With a Mechanical Turk sample of 1421 individuals, we used structural equation modeling to evaluate how multiple aspects of sexual desire (sexual drive and dyadic desire) and multiple aspects of sexual passion expression (harmonious, obsessive, and inhibited) were associated with both pornography use frequency and perceived compulsivity to pornography. In general, sexual desire was more connected to pornography use and sexual passion was more connected to perceived compulsivity. Specifically, sexual drive was associated with higher pornography use, whereas both obsessive and inhibited sexual passion were associated with higher perceived compulsivity. The study should help scholars, clinicians, and policy makers to identify factors that can help to overcome potentially problematic pornography use and approach this subject with more nuance.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. We recognize that a variety of sexual content may be perceived as pornographic (Willoughby & Busby, 2016). For the purposes of our study, we define pornography as sexually explicit material intended to arouse the viewer. For a more detailed discussion of how pornography should be defined and measured, see Kohut et al., 2019

References

  • Bai, H. (2018). Evidence that a large amount of low quality responses on MTurk can be detected with repeated GPS coordinates. Retrieved from: https://www.maxhuibai.com/blog/evidence-that-responses-from-repeating-gps-are-random.

  • Basson, R. (2001). Human sex-response cycles. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 27, 33–43.

    Google Scholar 

  • Basson, R. (2003). Biopsychosocial models of women’s sexual response: Applications to management of “desire disorders”. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 18, 107–115.

    Google Scholar 

  • Beach, F. A. (1956). Characteristics of masculine “sex drive”. In M. R. Jones (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation vol. 4 (pp. 1–32). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: A content analysis update. Violence Against Women, 16, 1065–1085.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Brotto, L. A., Basson, R., & Luria, M. (2008). A mindfulness-based group psychoeducational intervention targeting sexual arousal disorder in women. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 1646–1659.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Brotto, L. A., & Smith, K. B. (2014). Sexual desire and pleasure. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology: Vol. 1. Person-based approaches (pp. 3–35). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Browne, M. W. & Cudeck, R. (1993). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In Bollen, K.A. & Long, J.S. (Eds.), Testing structural equation models. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 136–162.

  • Buhrmester, M. D., Talaifar, S., & Gosling, S. D. (2018). An evaluation of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, its rapid rise, and its effective use. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 149–154.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Busby, D. M., Holman, T. B., & Taniguchi, N. (2001). RELATE: Relationship evaluation of the individual, family, cultural, and couple contexts. Family Relations, 50(4), 308–316

  • Busby, D. M., Chiu, L. H., Leonhardt, N. D., & Iliff, E. (2019a). Sexual passion in committed relationships: Measurement and conceptual issues. Family Process, 58, 734–748.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Busby, D. M., Leonhardt, N. D., & James, S. (2019b). A closer look at sexual passion in relationships. Journal of Child and Family Studies. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-019-01682-4.

  • Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., Chiu, H., & Olsen, J. A. (2020). Measuring the multidimensional construct of pornography: A long and short version of the pornography usage measure. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01688-w.

  • Butler, M. H., Meloy, K. C., & Call, M. L. (2015). Dismantlin powerlessness in addiction: empowering recovery through rehabilitation behavioral learning. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 22(1), 26–58.

  • Campbell, L., & Kohut, T. (2017). The use and effects of pornography in romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 6–10.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Carroll, J. S., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Nelson, L. J., Olson, C. D., Barry, C., & Madsen, S. D. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography acceptance and use among emerging adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23, 6–30.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carvalho, J., Štulhofer, A., Vieiera, A. L., & Jurin, T. (2015). Hypersexuality and high sexual desire: exploring the structure of problematic sexuality. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12(6), 1356–1367.

  • Chmielewski, M., & Kucker, S. C. (2019). An MTurk crisis? Shifts in data quality and the impact on study results. Social Psychological and Personality Science. Advance online publication, 11, 464–473. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550619875149.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cooper, A., Delmonico, D., & Burg, R. (2000). Cybersex users, abusers, and compulsives: New findings and implications. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7(1–2), 5–29.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cooper, A., Morahan-Martin, J., Mathy, R. M., & Maheu, M. (2002). Toward an increased understanding of user demographics in online sexual activities. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28, 105–129.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cooper, A., Scherer, C. R., Boies, S. C., & Gordon, B. L. (1999). Sexuality on the internet: From sexual exploration to pathological expression. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 30, 154–164.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coplan, R. J., Prakash, K., O’Neil, K., & Armer, M. (2004). Do you ‘want’ to play? Distinguishing between conflicted-shyness and social disinterest in early childhood. Developmental Psychology, 40, 244–258.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Fernandez, D. P., Tee, E. Y. J., & Fernandez, E. F. (2017). Do cyber pornography use inventory-9 scores reflect actual compulsivity in internet pornography use? Exploring the role of abstinence effort. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 24, 156–179.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gagnon, J. H. (1990). The explicit and implicit use of the scripting perspective in sex research. Annual Review of Sex Research, 1, 1–43.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gagnon, J. H., & Simon, W. (1973). Sexual conduct: The social sources of human sexuality. Chicago: Aldine Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gola, M., Lewczuk, K., & Skorko, M. (2016). What matters: Quantity or quality of pornography use? Psychological and behavioral factors of seeking treatment for problematic pornography use. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13, 815–824.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Grubbs, J. B., Exline, J. J., & Pargament, K. I. (2015). Internet pornography use: Perceived addiction, psychological distress, and the validation of a brief measure. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 41, 83–106.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grubbs, J. B., Exline, J. J., Pargament, K. I., Hook, J. N., & Carlisle, R. D. (2015). Transgression as addiction: Religiosity and moral disapproval as predictors of perceived addiction to pornography. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 125–136.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Grubbs, J. B., Kraus, S. W., & Perry, S. L. (2019). Self-reported addiction to pornography in a nationally representative sample: The role of religiousness and morality. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 8, 88–93.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Grubbs, J. B., & Perry, S. L. (2019). Moral incongruence and pornography use: A critical review and integration. Journal of Sex Research, 56, 29–37.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Grubbs, J. B., Perry, S. L., Wilt, J. A., & Reid, R. C. (2019). Pornography problems due to moral incongruence: An integrative model with a systematic review and meta-analysis. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48, 397–414.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Grubbs, J. B., Stauner, N., Exline, J. J., & Pargament, K. I. (2015). Perceived addiction to internet pornography and psychological distress: Examining relationships concurrently and over time. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 1056–1067. https://doi.org/10.1037/adb0000114.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Hatfield, E. & Rapson, R. L. (1990). Passionate love in intimate relations. In B. S. Moore & A. Isen (Eds.), Affect and social behavior (pp. 126–152). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Katz, E., Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1974). Utilization of mass communication by the individual. In J. G. Blumler & E. Katz (Eds.), The uses of mass communication: Current perspectives on gratifications research (pp. 19–32). Beverly Hills: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kline, R. B. (2016). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling. New York City: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Klusmann, D. (2002). Sexual motivation and the duration of partnership. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31, 275–287.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kohut, T., Balzarini, R. N., Fisher, W. A., Grubbs, J. B., Campbell, L., & Prause, N. (2019). Surveying pornography use: A shaky science resting on poor measurement foundations. Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2019.1695244.

  • Lafreniere, M. A. K., Jowett, S., Vallerand, R. J., Donahue, E. G., & Lorimer, R. (2008). Passion in sport: On the quality of the coach-player relationship. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 30(5), 541–560.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lam, K. (2019). States call pornography a public health crisis; Porn industry decries ‘fear mongering.’ USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/09/pornography-public-health-crisis-states-adopt-measures-against-porn/1159001001/

  • Laumann, E. O., Paik, A., & Rosen, R. C. (1999). Sexual dysfunction in the United States: Prevalence and predictors. JAMA, 281, 537–544.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Leonhardt, N. D., Busby, D. M., & Valdez, C. (2020). Pursuit of harmony: relational and individual predictors of sexual passion expression. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01769-w.

  • Leonhardt, N. D., Spencer, T. J., Butler, M. H., & Theobald, A. C. (2019a). An organizational framework for sexual media’s influence on short-term versus long-term sexual quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48, 2233–2249.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Leonhardt, N. D., Spencer, T. J., Butler, M. H., & Theobald, A. C. (2019b). Sexual media and sexual quality: Aims, distinctions, and reflexivity—Response to commentaries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48, 2291–2303.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Leonhardt, N. D., & Willoughby, B. J. (2019). Pornography, provocative sexual media, and their differing associations with multiple aspects of sexual satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36, 618–641.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leonhardt, N. D., Willoughby, B. J., & Young-Petersen, B. (2018). Damaged goods: Perception of pornography addiction as a mediator between religiosity and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use. Journal of Sex Research, 55(3), 357–368.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Levine, S. B. (1987). More on the nature of sexual desire. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 13(1), 35–44.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levine, S. B. (2003). The nature of sexual desire: A clinician’s perspective. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(3), 279–285.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Luster, S. S., Nelson, L. J., Poulsen, F. O., & Willoughby, B. J. (2013). Emerging adult sexual attitudes and behaviors: Does shyness matter? Emerging Adulthood, 1, 185–195.

    Google Scholar 

  • MacDonald, K., & Feifel, D. (2012). Dramatic improvement in sexual function induced by intranasal oxytocin. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 9, 1407–1410.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human sexual response. Boston: Little, Brown.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCarthy, B., & McDonald, D. (2009). Assessment, treatment, and relapse prevention: Male hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 35, 58–67.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meston, C., Gorzalka, B. B., & Wright, J. M. (1997). Inhibition of subjective and physiological sexual arousal in women by clonidine. Psychosomatic Medicine, 59, 399–407.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Muthen, L. K., & Muthen, B. O. (1998-2012). MPlus user’s guide. 7th. Los Angeles: Muthen & Muthen.

  • Nobre, P. J. (2009). Determinants of sexual desire problems in women: Testing a cognitive-emotional model. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 35(5), 360–377.

    Google Scholar 

  • Novak, S. P., & Clayton, R. R. (2001). The influence of school environment and self-regulation on transitions between stages of cigarette smoking: A multilevel analysis. Health Psychology, 20, 196–207.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Olmstead, S. B., Negash, S., Pasley, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). Emerging adults’ expectations for pornography use in the context of future committed romantic relationships: a qualitative study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 625–635.

  • Paolacci, G., Chandler, J., & Ipeirotis, P. G. (2010). Running experiments on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Judgment and Decision making, 5, 411–419.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pfaus, J. G. (2009). Pathways of sexual desire. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 1506–1533.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Philippe, F. L., Vallerand, R. J., Bernard-Desrosiers, L., Guilbault, V., & Rojotte, G. (2017). Understanding the cognitive and motivational underpinnings of sexual passion from a dualistic model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(5), 769–785.

  • Prause, N., & Pfaus, J. (2015). Viewing sexual stimuli associated with greater sexual responsiveness, not erectile dysfunction. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3(2), 90–98.

    Google Scholar 

  • Regnerus, M. D., Gordon, D., & Price, J. (2016). Documenting pornography use in America: A comparative analysis of methodological approaches. Journal of Sex Research, 53, 873–881.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rosenberg, H., & Kraus, S. (2014). The relationship of “passionate attachment” for pornography with sexual compulsivity, frequency of use, and craving for pornography. Addictive Behaviors, 39(5), 1012–1017.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Steele, V. R., Staley, C., Fong, T., & Prause, N. (2013). Sexual desire, not hypersexuality, is related to neurophysiological responses elicited by sexual images. Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology, 3, 20770.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93(2), 119–135.

  • Suri, S., & Watts, D. J. (2011). Cooperation and contagion in web-based, networked public goods experiments. PLoS One, 8356, e16836.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sussman, S., Lisha, N., & Griffiths, M. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation Health Professional, 34(1), 3–56.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vaillancourt-Morel, M. P., Daspe, M. E., Charbonneau-Lefebvre, V., & Bosisio, M. (2019). Pornography use in adult mixed-sex romantic relationships: Context and correlates. Current Sexual Health Reports, 11, 35–43.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vallerand, R. J., Mageau, G. A., Ratelle, C., Leonard, M., Blanchard, C., Koestner, R., Gagne, M., & Marsolaid, J. (2003). Les passions de l’Ame: On obsessive and harmonious passion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 756–767.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2012). Understanding sexual objectification: A comprehensive approach toward media exposure and girls’ internalization of beauty ideals, self-objectification, and body surveillance. Journal of Communication, 62, 869–887.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wetterneck, C. T., Burgess, A. J., Short, M. B., Smith, A. H., & Cervantes, M. E. (2012). The role of sexual compulsivity, impulsivity, and experiential avoidance in internet pornography use. The Psychological Record, 62, 3–18.

    Google Scholar 

  • Willoughby, B., Leonhardt, N., & Augustus, R. (2019). Untangling the porn web: Creating an organizing framework for pornography research among couples. Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication., 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2019.1698003.

  • Willoughby, B. J., & Busby, D. M. (2016). In the eye of the beholder: Exploring variations in the perception of pornography. The Journal of Sex Research, 53, 678–688.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Dr. Sarah Coyne and Dr. Jeremy Yorgason for the helpful review of earlier drafts.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nathan D. Leonhardt.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Leonhardt, N.D., Busby, D.M. & Willoughby, B.J. Do You Feel in Control? Sexual Desire, Sexual Passion Expression, and Associations with Perceived Compulsivity to Pornography and Pornography Use Frequency. Sex Res Soc Policy 18, 377–389 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-020-00465-7

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-020-00465-7

Keywords

  • Pornography
  • Compulsivity
  • Sexual desire
  • Sexual drive
  • Sexual passion