Pornography is nothing new. Pornographic images can be found in some of the earliest cave drawings, etchings and sculptures. While porn itself is not new, the manner in which we consume porn has changed considerably over the years. The Internet has made pornography easy, anonymous, and if you are shrewd enough, practically undetectable.
Buying porn used to require a potentially embarrassing trip to the convenience store or adult film shop. Previously, we had to make an active effort to get porn. Now, porn is practically throwing itself at us. And some of us seem to have a hard time resisting its advances: Among male Internet users, 66 percent of men ages 18 to 34 look at online porn at least once a month, according to comScore. Women are also taking the bait—in one study, 50 percent of women admitted looking at pornography.
Some people are not bothered by their partner’s use of porn. Some couples even watch pornography together. But in relationships where one partner strongly disproves of his/her partner’s porn usage, the habit can create conflict, emotional distance, and distrust.
Many of the more dramatic warnings about pornography—that it inevitably leads to sexual violence, infidelity, etc.—have not been conclusively proven by research. That does not mean excessive pornography consumption is entirely without consequence, however. Like any other addictive behavior, porn can impact the user and create problems in his/her intimate relationships.
If pornography is creating a strain in your relationship, consider the following:
For the chronic porn-user
Examine your intake
How much time do you spend viewing porn? According to one study, people who engaged in online sexual activity for less than an hour a week felt that it had little impact on their lives. However, people who engaged in sexual online activity for 11 or more hours a week said it affected both their self-image and their partner.
Examine your attitude
Do you feel any negative emotions (guilt, fear, etc.) connected with your porn usage? Do you feel in control of your habit—or powerless to resist it?
Consider the law of diminishing returns
Porn usage can escalate. According to psychiatrist Norman Doidge, a heavy porn user is like a drug addict “who can no longer get high on the images that once turned him on. The danger is that this tolerance will carry over into relationships … leading to potency problems and new, at times unwelcome, tastes.”
Consider the emotional impact on your partner
How does your partner feel about your porn habit? Does it create insecurities about his/her appearance or sexual performance?
Examine the impact on your sex life
Has pornography changed your view of normal sexuality? Does it take more for you to become aroused or satisfied with a real-life partner? Psychiatrist Norman Doidge observes, “Internet porn sites are filled with ads for Viagra-type drugs. Today young men who surf porn are tremendously fearful of impotence, or ‘erectile dysfunction’ as it is euphemistically called. The misleading term implies that these men have a problem in their penises, but the problem is in their heads… It rarely occurs to them that there may be a relationship between the pornography they are consuming and their impotence.”
Determine if you want/need help
If you feel addicted to porn (and you don’t want to be), seek external help. A therapist, support group, or even trustworthy friends can help you identify triggers and stay accountable.
For those in a relationship with a chronic porn user
If you partner is constantly looking at porn, it can be easy to interpret this behavior as a personal rejection. Try to understand that porn is highly-addictive (and therefore hard for many people to resist). Remember that most people do not expect their real-life partners to look or behave like porn stars.
If you are uncomfortable with your partner’s interest in porn, tell him/her how it makes you feel. Don’t attack; simply communicate your feelings on the subject.
Establish accountability measures
Does your partner want help with his/her porn problem? Many porn users want to cut back or stop, but feel powerless to do so. Internet filters can help but are not fail-proof. A tech-savvy user can often find ways of covering his/her tracks online. To overcome his/her addiction, your partner will likely need additional support and accountability.
Whether there is inherent danger in the act of viewing pornography is still up for debate. However, pornography can cause considerable tension in a relationship, if two partners disagree about what is or isn’t acceptable. If porn is causing conflict in your relationship, take time to process through the issue together … with respect, patience and understanding.