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Porn Addiction Really Can Ruin Relationships

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Porn Addiction Really Can Ruin Relationships

… and why real intimacy beats virtual pleasure, even if it’s more work.

The dangers of porn addiction

I’m a psychotherapist, not a global exploitation expert, and I don’t have a huge political agenda: I simply work really hard with couples to help them learn to love each other better—especially sexually. I may disappoint many of you here by not condemning porn. So be it. But some people use erotic images and books to effectively bridge into the lovemaking experience with their partner. And not every man who uses porn prefers it to a warm, real woman; in fact, most don’t. One couple I know rents sexy movies on weekends to spice things up and neither complains that they feel less connected.So visual eroticism has its place. Yet I’m starting to worry about a growing trend—men who use porn in place of their partners.

A generation ago, these men might not have felt comfortable sneaking down to the corner mart to buy the latest skin magazine. They wouldn’t dream of having a Playboy subscription, lest their daughters discover it. They are not sex addicts. They don’t view pubescent girls or sexual violence. They’re normal Joes who would sometimes rather look at a pouting picture to drain off their sexual tension than to negotiate sexual relations with their wives.

Let’s face it: If you’re a male, porn is easy sex. And the variety is stimulating. Men, who can ejaculate in about two minutes with the right imagery, today have endless access to fast sex every day—and any time of day.

But I worry because of this very ease.

Male bodies are often such efficient sexual machines that porn, I believe, can cut a groove in a man’s psyche—a track, a rut. I am concerned that variants on a favorite image—small-breasted Asian women, large-breasted red-haired women, whatever turns someone on—can create a visual route to orgasm that becomes unmatchable by actual sensual experience.

Their wives may not fit their preferred image—young, air-brushed. Their wives are not ever-ready for sex, either—they likely have prerequisites that might include a little talk and connection. Not to mention, their wives might not be content with everything in bed and even dared to have directed their sexual technique. As feminist and societal commentator Naomi Wolf writes in The Porn Myth: Why Porn Turns Men Off to the Real Thing:

“How can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond ‘More, more, you big stud!’)—possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?”

Porn promises rapture. It may look wilder than anything a couple has been able to create in their bedroom. Marriage combines ecstasy and the mundane. Bill-paying, diaper-changing, and chores muddy the waters of desire. Being on the same page at the same time is a difficult negotiation.

Men, if your spouse will only have sex with you once a month and you supplement with porn, you have my sympathies. But if you’ve ditched the fight about having a vibrant sex life and just gone the easy route, well, you don’t. I think it’s wrong—for you, for her, and for your marriage. Even more,not sharing your sexual energies with your partner is detrimental to the goal of marital love, which in my spiritual tradition includes the pledge,“With my body, I thee worship.”

More and more women who do want sex with their husbands, but feel abandoned and displaced by screen images, tell me in therapy, “He never initiates anymore. He will even turn me down.” But testosterone tests show that he’s healthy. Then, rounding the corner in her home, she hears the scurrying of mouse clicks as her husband tries to clear the screen of pornography and appear busy with work. At first, she doesn’t want to appear a scolding mother, so she laughs it off. She doesn’t want to shame him, so she doesn’t say anything, until one day she’s on his computer and there are so many redirects to porn that she can no longer ignore what’s going on.

It’s only pictures, he swears. Real contact of any sort—chat rooms, emails, meetings, Skype sessions—are over the line, he says, and aren’t happening. But one thing is for sure: He’s avoiding intimacy, closeness and sexuality. Maybe these men hoard their bodies because sex is too much work. Maybe they’re afraid of the loss of power if they give their partner what she’s demanding. Maybe they can’t merge sexually with another and come out whole, so they stay away from it altogether.

Maybe it’s complicated.

Does looking at porn cause porn addiction? Vulnerability to any substance (booze, drugs, sugar) or behavior (compulsive porn use, gambling) begins with early childhood failures at having our relational needs met. Long before the first peek, puff, bet, or drink, people grow up with holes in their souls. Alcohol doesn’t make alcoholics. Porn doesn’t make sex addicts. But for some people with susceptibility, porn addiction fills the vacuum left where love should have been.

Easy access, affordability, and anonymity fuel porn addiction, says Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., noted sexual addiction expert and author of (among others) Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction and In the Shadows of the Net. “Sexual addicts make sex a priority more important than family, friends, and work. Sex becomes the organizing principle of addicts’ lives. They are willing to sacrifice what they cherish most in order to preserve and continue their unhealthy behavior,” summarizes Carnes, whose website SexHelp.com offers a screening test for potential sex addicts, as well as resources for help.

I know men who are ruining their lives, marriages, and finances paying for prostitution and voyeurism; looking at porn at work and getting caught and fired; spending money needed for bills on porn; and needing ever-riskier behavior to match the initial high, and being unable to stop. For those suffering porn addiction, the thrill of orgasm has long since faded against the oppressive reality that their lives are sinking and unmanageable.

If you just discovered that your husband is looking at porn, even a lot, hold off on the hysteria and don’t quickly accuse him of being a sick addict. But at the same time, don’t close your eyes. A major talk about what sex means in your relationship should be brewing. If you’ve ignored your intimate life—thinking you’d get to it sometime after the laundry was done and the children were grown—rethink that. But if you’ve wanted sex, been lonely in bed, initiated frequently, and been rejected, get to the bottom of these problems now.

Making love to women is hard. Sexuality is complex and complicated, relational and physical for us. Our minds wander easily and we don’t have the biochemistry that makes arousal simple and fast. It takes a lot of energy to keep us interested under the sheets—and we are absolutely equally responsible for making it interesting. Eroticism takes personal courage on the part of both spouses. But sex is glue in a marriage—in fact, it’s cement. There’s unparalleled joy in feeling connected to another real person through deep physical intimacy. Sex is the pinnacle of this connection, and it requires a man—a real man—to negotiate the rigorous landscape of making love to a real woman.

Author’s Books – Click for Amazon Reviews

In 2000, Laurie Watson founded the Loving and Living Center (now Awakenings) to collaborate with the Raleigh-area medical community by providing psychotherapy focused on sexual health and couples’ counseling. Laurie has two decades of experience with a psychodynamic therapeutic approach that assumes people’s deepest needs are for connection, intimacy, and relationship. Lasting erotic sexuality in long-term relationships indicates a good balance of closeness and space between the partners. Laurie provides talk therapy for couples and individuals to find this equilibrium and restore (or gain) more happiness sexually and emotionally.

Accreditations:

Licensed Professional Counselor
Licensed Marriage Family Therapist
Certificate in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Newport Psychoanalytic Institute, CA
Certified Sex Therapist with American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists
MA, Marriage, Family Therapy, Azusa Pacific University, CA, 1989
Laurie teaches sexuality courses at local universities such as: UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, and East Carolina University as well being a popular guest speaker for churches, clinical practices and medical specialties. Her first book—Wanting Sex Again: How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage—was published on December 4, 2012 and is available on Amazon.

Laurie was a guest on The Katie Show on July 24, 2013 talking with Katie Couric about her book and discussing advances in medical treatments for low libido in women.

Laurie has been married for 25 years and has three sons.

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