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.