Attention Men: The Dangers of Pornography

When a couple comes to my office because the husband is (or promised to stop) viewing pornography, it is usually the wife who has been so hurt that she insists that they seek help. The husband usually comes in contrite, embarrassed, feeling shameful, or even defensive of his choice to view it (“All guys do it.”). I know that I am stereotyping here, because viewing pornography is not only a male issue, but statistically speaking it is much more common in men than women. Therefore, I will be speaking directly to males here. If your situation is different, and it is the woman who is viewing pornography, please know that these same truths still apply.

After many years of dealing with these situations I have come to several conclusions, but the bottom line is that viewing pornography will have disastrous implications on a couple’s sex life.

I want to begin my listing of the ways that viewing porn is hurtful by stating my overall premise:  Pornographic content is pure fantasy and totally unreal. Most of the men reading this will view that statement as obvious and would probably tell me that, because they know it is unrealistic, it doesn’t create any problems for them. That is the first problem: denial and self-deception.

Here are the real ways that viewing porn hurts your sex life.

1. It hurts your wife. Looking at pictures of someone else does not lead her to desire you more. I have so many painful, tearful, angry, quotes from wives that I would like to share here, but I won’t because I want to focus on how it hurts you sexually as a man. (Maybe I’ll write another piece on the ways it hurts wives and relationships.) For now, the fact that it does hurt them needs to inform your decision. I have heard many a woman painfully say that her husband’s viewing of porn, after he knows how hurtful it is to her and their relationship, means to her that he discounts, devalues, and ignores her feelings. The conclusion they reach is that “I am not important to him!”

2. It leads to false beliefs. At a conscious or unconscious level, the following beliefs or fears become true for you.

The sexual performance of the male actors becomes the measure for your own performance. “If he can do it that long, that well, that way, then I should be able to also.” There is also the possible belief that creeps in that “I would be able to if I had a wife that looked like that woman.” If you take those ideas into your sex life, you will miss the point completely about yourself and the necessity of a trusting, loving relationship for creating the atmosphere for healthy sexual intimacy.

Another hurtful factor is that the physical endowment of the actors becomes the standard of measurement for your own equipment. It isn’t only bigger, but it seems to function better and longer, too. It is important to understand that many men of all ages sometimes, or regularly, have difficulty getting or staying aroused. The porn stars certainly don’t seem to have this issue, at least during “that” take of the video or picture. This idea puts a lot of pressure on men, and it increases anxiety if they fear arousal issues. The anxiety then creates the almost certainty of difficulty. Men don’t tell each other about the times that it occurs for them, and that it especially happens during times of stress.

Come on now, you know this is what you think. You know intellectually that the actors, male and female, are chosen for their very specific, atypical physical properties. Unconsciously, they become standards to which you, or your wife, can’t measure up.  That has a very negative impact on your view of yourself as a real man, and you wonder if you or your wife can view you as “enough” in terms of size or performance.

3. It contributes to unrealistic expectations. Viewing pornography can also lead men to mistakenly believe that everyone, men and women, are always wanting and are always ready to have fantastic sex. It sure appears that way in porn. But the operative word here is “appear”. In the real world, surveys as well as clients, indicate that the frequency with which people have sex varies extremely. I am often asked the question, “what is the average frequency that couples have sex per week?” That question is irrelevant! Some people have sex annually, and some have sex three times a day. The only thing that is relevant is that people have sex as often as they both prefer. That is the only number that is important. When we compare ourselves to some “norm”, we miss the point. The norm is what we decide that we prefer for us.

4. It leads to misunderstanding. There can also develop a view about women that they “should enjoy” walking around stark naked and fully comfortable without any clothes. Men, if you think that, you are clueless about the epidemic of body image issues and eating disorders that many, if not most, women battle. There really are women who do enjoy that, and in my profession they are usually referred to as “exhibitionists”. The statistic on those women run somewhere around 2%.

In the real world women do have concerns that don’t seem to be a part of  fantasy women’s thinking. Real women consider things like relationships, their own sexual preferences and satisfaction, health issues (STD’s), and preventing pregnancy. At least they do if they are mature and emotionally healthy. Expecting your wife to think and feel differently will hurt your sex life right after it has hurt your relationship with her.

5. It limits intimacy. You will painfully and sadly limit the pleasure that is possible in your sex life if you don’t spend time (around 30 minutes) enjoying each other’s bodies in pleasurable but non-sexual ways before your begin using your genitals. Learn how to touch her, massage her, kiss her how and where she enjoys, or anything else you know she desires.  What is most important is that it sends the message to her that you care deeply about her, her pleasure, and that you are focused on her, not just getting what you selfishly want. Because women value the sensual, loving, and lengthy lead time before intercourse, they rarely enjoy the kind of sex you watch in porn.

Want a better sex life? Then spend at least half your time in bed not using what’s between your legs. “Pornography ignores whole-body sensuality,” says sex therapist Dennis Sugrue. “That’s a big reason why porn-style sex isn’t satisfying. That’s also a big reason why so many women hate it.”

If you think you might have a problem with pornography or are worried about your sexual intimacy, you might want to consult a therapist.

Choosing Life Without Regrets

There was a time in my career when I worked in a medical hospital with patients who were facing death.  Though people develop differing attitudes when they know that their death is imminent, many express feelings of regret.

In the hope of encouraging you to consider living life in ways to avoid these, here is what a lot of people say they regret.

1.  Choosing not to live their lives in ways that they really wanted, but how they were expected to live them.

These are the people who discovered their passions but did not pursue them.  They had dreams but never acted on them.  They let the opinions of others or culture dictate their decisions.  What they chose wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t as fulfilling as what might have been.  Frequently their sadness at life’s end is around the pursuit of money and “things” instead of relationships and their own true preferences.

2.  Working much and living little.

They worked instead of being involved in the lives of their children, whether it was their sports involvements, recitals, plays, or even homework.  They didn’t spend enough time just enjoying the relationship and “playing” with their spouse.

They worked hard to create a “lifestyle” instead of making a living so they could savor life.  There seems to be a movement recently to simplify in order to satisfy.  It’s difficult in our “get all you can get” culture to choose to downsize lifestyle and enlarge living, but the needed perspective and painful regret appear when health is lost.  Then it is too late.  Some of the most painful statements start with “I wish I had/hadn’t…”  At the end, newer, bigger, better, and more don’t mean much.

3.  Fearing to break the silence and speak the truth.

People often express regret at not having had the courage to appropriately express their true feelings.  The usual result is thinking less of themselves for keeping quiet instead of being pleased with themselves for speaking their truth and running the risk of “upsetting someone else, hurting their feelings, avoiding conflict” or whatever excuse they used to support their fearful silence.

Over time, bottling negative feelings creates resentment and bitterness toward others AND toward the one whose voice is silent by choice.  Bottling the positive feelings leads to sadness from missed opportunities and relationships not beginning or being nourished.

Speaking your truth with courage can add to the depth of a healthy relationship or the end of an unhealthy one.  That’s seems like a win-win to me.

4.  Neglecting to maintain and to nurture valued friendships of old.

The usual reason given is simply choosing to be busy with things that are now seen (with the benefit of hindsight and impending death) as far less important than those wonderful, rewarding, and rare relationships.

Realizing that loving relationships are the most valuable commodity human beings can possess comes too late when you only have weeks or days to live.  If nurturing them over time and benefiting from them for years has been missed, they will also be missed as special support during those last days.

They will be missed, not because of preoccupation, but because of the absence of intending to pay attention to those we truly value.

5.  Failing to CHOOSE to be happy.

Huh?  Yes, happiness is a choice.  We can consciously choose to focus on being positive, using language “in our head” that gets us out of the rut of familiarity, frees us from unhealthy or unpleasurable behavioral patterns, overcomes our fear of change, relieves us of the weight of pretending to be satisfied with our lives, allows us to laugh more and be serious less, and encourages more smiles than looks of fatigue, boredom, and sadness.  We can do this consciously and intentionally.

If you don’t know what it would take for you to be successful at achieving this goal, give it some serious thought, talk about it with someone you love, go to a comedy club, rent a funny movie, or call a therapist.

Like Nike said, “Just do it!”, before it’s too late.

I Hate Valentine’s Day!

By Jerry Duncan, M Div, LMFT and Jill Early, M Ed, LPC-Intern

When the 14th starts looming over the mid-February horizon, MANY people who are not in the mythical, perfectly loving, and romantic relationship start thinking something like:  “Oh no, another Valentine’s Day SEASON!  It’s like Christmas… they start advertising at Halloween about the perfect gifts and how wonderful the SEASON is going to be.  I’ll be glad when it’s over!”

This group of people often feel the pain and/or sadness of not being in a “special” relationship for any of the reasons that are a real part of life… breakup, divorce, death, thinking they are unlovable or unwanted, etc.  Like most people, they have accepted the myth as truth that it SHOULD be a super special day.  However, day 45 of the calendar year is just like days 44 and 46, in terms of relationship.

There are at least three things on which to focus that have the potential for being helpful if Valentine’s day creates these kinds of feelings.

  • Honestly evaluate what our role might be in not being in one of the so-called SPECIAL relationships, learn from that evaluation, and make a plan for how to change ourselves in the next 364 days so that we can experience what we might prefer.
  • Accept and rejoice that we are not faced daily with the challenge and effort required to create and maintain a healthy relationship that might slightly resemble the mythical one which is the focus of Valentine’s Day.
  • Focus on the other significant relationships we have and challenge ourselves to give THEM the experience of knowing how they are important, loved, adored, valued, and cherished by at least one person, us.  How wonderful it might feel to anticipate the day knowing that we were going to offer those SPECIAL feelings for someone else to fully experience and enjoy.  How wonderful it might feel to go to bed (yes, alone) that night with the feeling it would give us knowing what we had done for someone else that day.  Focusing outward on what we can extend to others can be even more rewarding than focusing on what we lack.

Decoding Valentine’s Day

By Jill Early, M Ed, LPC Intern and Jerry Duncan, M Div, LMFT

Valentine’s Day is a time designated for demonstrating how much we value another person. Some people associate it with things like chocolates, jewelry, expensive dinners, and/or greeting card companies making billions of dollars.  Unfortunately, it is also a time when many people feel anxious about whether they are right in their “guessing” what would demonstrate that sense of being valued for the other person.

Therein lies the problem in most relationship decisions.  We tend to operate as though “I should just know” or “he/she should just know” when it comes to most decisions regarding what helps the other person feel loved in a close relationship.  This could include holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, weekends, social preferences, or simply where to go to dinner. This belief often leads to a fear of simply asking or simply telling each other our preferences. We act as if telling each other what we prefer diminishes the thoughtfulness of what is given, done, or expressed, and then “it doesn’t mean as much”.

This belief also reveals another relationship challenge called “ignorance”.  That word may sound pretty harsh and is laden with emotion; therefore a definition is important for clarity.  It means the absence of information.  Our culture, our families, our schools, (pick someone to blame if you want), only teach us to talk, not communicate.  If we ask for the solution to above-mentioned problem, most don’t know the answer because we were never taught or had it modeled for us.

The solution is to learn how to:

  • express our honest feelings
  • ask for information that we need but don’t have
  • discover what another person INTERPRETS as being an expression of love, adoration, and being highly valued

Consider these steps:

  • Both partners read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Discuss what you read
  • Clearly TEACH the other person what helps YOU genuinely believe you are loved

An example for Valentine’s Day that can be applied to everyday situations might sound like this:

“Because I love you so much, it is really important to me that I make Valentine’s Day the best day it can be for you in ways that you would most want for me to do them.  Would you be willing to let me know what some of those ways might be?”  The answers will vary widely from the usual to the unexpected, from jewelry/chocolate/flowers to vacuum out my car, clean the big window in the den, give me a massage that isn’t sexual, or just ignore it altogether.  The list of answers could be infinite and surprising.

May you have the courage to ask then act on what you learn.  May your Valentine’s Day and your relationships be more rewarding and intimate because of your efforts!