Utah governor Gary Herbert recently made headlines when he signed a resolution that declared porn a "public health crisis." The legislation is largely symbolic—it calls for research, education, and policy changes, rather than an outright ban—but it got us thinking about the impact pornography has on us and our relationships.

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Thanks to the internet, porn is more readily accessible than ever before. In a recent survey of high school seniors, almost 80 percent admitted to watching adult content and more than one in five do so regularly. Adolescents and web porn: a new era of sexuality. Pizzol D, Bertoldo A, Foresta C. International journal of adolescent medicine and health, 2015, Aug.;():0334-0139.

That kind of widespread exposure doesn't necessarily mean it's doing harm. So far scientists have shown a correlation between watching porn and a loss of brain plasticity, which can affect learning and memory. Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption: the brain on porn. Kühn S, Gallinat J. JAMA psychiatry, 2014, Aug.;71(7):2168-6238. But as the old adage goes, "Correlation does not imply causation." In other words, we need more research to determine if watching porn really does alter our brains.

Porn also has the potential to damage our relationships. A survey with self-selected participants in Psychology Today found that three out of four women experienced intense feelings of fear after discovering their partner's porn habit.

This research seems to suggest you should say good-bye to sites like PornHub and Xtube for good, but that's not necessarily the case, says Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist. "People can get into compulsive behaviors that disrupt their lives, but therein lies the key," she says. "The behavior has to disrupt one’s life."

Kirk suggests asking these questions to see if porn is negatively impacting your life or relationships:

  • Does it cause you to miss work or important family gatherings?
  • Has it led to financial problems?
  • Is there a loss of intimacy between you and your partner?
  • Has porn become a replacement for intimacy with your partner?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, don't panic just yet. Kirk says these issues can usually be resolved through a typical course of therapy.

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