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Is Porn Addiction Bad for Relationships?

Is Porn Addiction Bad for Relationships?

Janet and Ben came in for couples’ therapy because she had caught him watching internet porn. He was looking at “Cheerleaders Gone Wild” videos, with girls who barely looked 18. To her it was a betrayal. Ben, for his part, was unrepentant, describing it as his curiosity and nothing more. He was only doing it because she was withholding sex from him. Her trust was shattered and he was angry.

After the birth of their three children, Janet was understandably exhausted. They had argued about the children and along with Ben’s career stress, they had become estranged. But instead of talking about it, they both went into their own worlds. Ben became career-driven and off the reservation into the privacy of his porn while Janet became Super Mom. Herein lies one of the thorny issues about porn: easy accessibility.

At this point, I set about researching the consequences of porn addiction on marriage and families. It was an interesting ride and was much more serious than I initially realized. Like any form of addiction, the internal effects seem to be very powerful and the parts of the brain that porn gains access to are unconscious and rather insidious. Let me say as well that with porn—when it becomes addictive for its users—the difficulty lies in how much one uses it and the extent that it shuts down sexual activity with one’s mate. Couples who participate in porn together can experience excitement and even greater intimacy. However, for those who participate in secret, to the degree that it constitutes an addiction, that is where the primary trouble occurs. The manner and intensity of their involvement is the critical element, as to the degree of damage it could possibly cause in the shutting down of the sex life in a marriage.

Some of the conclusions I came to were these: the internet provides not only photos and videos but online “relationships” that cater to specific sexual proclivities. Porn is a very elastic business. The entrepreneurs produce every variety of sexual interest that exists in people’s brains. They understand that online sex stimulates the release of dopamine, which interestingly enough is the addiction-maker in the brain, but also is what makes men monogamous. So the very thing that creates a homebody can intensify the need for excitement through porn. Also, with porn addiction, continued porn use tends to increase, and the need for new stimulation and the desire to find more intense stimulation lead to more provocative porn sites. For an addicted user, porn use can create more and more progressively exciting images so that the person using it finds himself (or herself) immersed in a fantasy world, which makes the real world pale in comparative intensity.

Porn is not inherently bad, but porn addiction is ultimately isolating: it’s a turning away from one’s partner, towards a hyper-exciting newness that stimulates dopamine, which both heightens stimulation and creates addiction. A percentage of men and women may become addicted, which may lead them to prefer online sexual relationships over complicated real ones. The once-attractive wife (or husband) can become mundane and uninteresting, especially if they had been having other relationship difficulties. In contrast, there is a constant parade of new attractive porn actors and actresses who are designed to make porn users’ brains turn cartwheels in excitatory transformative intensity. The images are then further reinforced by orgasm. Look out, Pavlov, the computer beckons and the sexual bell rings.

Some signs of porn addiction include:

  • Increasing porn use despite negative consequences
  • denial of the problem
  • irritability toward spouse regarding internet porn
  • using it to escape from relationship issues
  • lying to others about the importance of cybersex or engaging in illegal acts
  • the preoccupation with internet sex and loss of intimacy with their mate (Carnes 2001).

The addictive use of internet porn is frequently a symptom of larger relationship issues that have not been worked through. In the case of Janet and Ben, there were many issues that had lain dormant in their relationship. They both failed to bring out the things that bothered them and instead turned away from each other in different ways. As their distance increased, so did Ben’s interest in pornography. Once she discovered the porn, it only intensified her anger and resentment toward him, until they were no longer able to sustain their relationship. They were both responsible for waiting way too long to address their differences, which opened the door for his porn addiction to put the cap on the emotional and sexual divide.

Porn addiction affects entire families and causes a myriad of internal issues. The non-porn-using partner may feel unwanted, unable to compete with online images, degraded, stupid or weak. They are also liable to see their partner as a bad and selfish partner, like they are “living a lie.” Porn addicts are often up late viewing images, they become more moody, and may tend to neglect family, spouse, job and friends. They are often more distant and care less about the feelings of their spouses and children. As we can see, the problems with porn addiction are always the secrecy and overuse (not the porn itself). With relationships, the more things we don’t talk about, the more they will affect the overall sense of intimacy.

So how do couples work through this issue? First off, suspend the addictive overuse of internet porn. Second, try to find the stimulation with your partner. If s/he becomes the go-to person for sex, then it’s more likely that both of you will do some groundwork to create a satisfying sex life. Clear away the deadwood in your relationship. Don’t run from your problems: face them and work them out. If all else fails, get some therapy. Find things to do together that work for both of you, like play and fun. In the most profound sense, a loving relationship will always trump mere stimulation. The challenge is to create a loving and connected relationship that stimulates sexuality. Be willing to roll up your sleeves and get to a place where you can be on your own island, where the world goes away and you can be sexually close.

 

 

Read about healthy and empowering ways to use porn:

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Dr. Bill Cloke

Dr. Bill Cloke has worked with individuals and couples for 30 years. He received a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California and holds a PhD in psychology from California Graduate Institute. A frequent talk-radio and TV psychologist, he is also a contributor to PsychologyToday.com and other popular websites and has lectured at UCLA. Bill Cloke lives with his wife in Los Angeles. To learn more about Bill Cloke, and for more resources on creating healthy, happy relationships, visit happytogetherbook.com.

47 comments

+ add your own
4:53AM PDT on Jul 12, 2013

we also need to be sexually healthy and nothing compares to this that I believe can help any one on that matter even interms of relationship and self esteem. Try----ConquerSeries.com

9:24AM PDT on Jun 9, 2013

Don't forget about sex toys! Women will justify sex toys all day long, regardless of the usage. Matter fact, we would be oppressing women do ask to reduce or mentioned not needed.

2:38AM PDT on Apr 28, 2013

Thank you for the article

6:16AM PDT on Apr 17, 2013

Of course, it's bad.

10:54AM PST on Jan 1, 2013

I can't imagine how porn would be a beneficial tool for anything other than getting totally confused by what having a great intimate relationship is really about. Our body really only has so many ways to be made love to and cruel demeaning acts that drug addicted exhibitionists or just poor souls looking to make money or maybe being forced to commit acts of depraved indifference to their body and self esteem doesn't seem to be a healthy way to strengthen a relationship. I find it offensive that anyone of sane mind would think these women participating in obviously degrading acts and the men that participate have the ability to help people with relationships as they are going down a very long road of repetitious and i imagine uncomfortable boring acts to maintain whatever lifestyle they have become accustomed to and sometimes the road that looks easy turns out to be the longest and hardest road to travel on. I think instead of watching porn people should show some compassion towards these extremely young and troubled people and have a good cry over them.

4:15PM PDT on Oct 19, 2012

of COURSE it hurts relationships. I personally believe my body should be enough. If a man needs to look at other women's bodies to get off, then he isn't ready to settle with one woman. I am thin, a double D, young, fit and fun. Willing to try new things ect. Somewhere out there a man would be VERY thankful to have me. If my current didn't see me as enough, I'd move on to someone who did

10:55AM PDT on Oct 15, 2012

Couples, if they are open and honest, can share porn and expand their sex life. Porn is not bad or good. It's a tool just like any other tool. It doesn't have to destroy a relationship.

8:15PM PDT on Oct 6, 2012

David L, no research or studies?

http://pornharms.com/

It is a real problem, that not only casues relationship problems, but also damages people's sexualities, bodies, minds, and lives. It also affects culture while in exploiting people.

1:33PM PDT on Oct 1, 2012

David L, it is very obvious you haven't even given any thought to any other perspective, such as how it feels to be the non-porn-watcher who is laying in bed every night wondering why your significant other suddenly doesn't want to have anything to do with you anymore when you know perfectly well you still got the looks and personality that most men love. When he does all he wants you to do is S&M crap, anal sex, or some other porn infected idea. There is absolutely NO intimacy in these kind of relationships. Yea, porn didn't CAUSE the problem, but any psychologist will tell you if you have a problem with your significant other you need to work at solutions that bring you TOGETHER, not tear you apart. Porn addiction is VERY real and it is one of the most destructive things that can happen to a relationship outside of drugs and booze. So, do your own research, DL, before you spout off your own defensive opinion....

2:46PM PDT on Sep 30, 2012

Any form of addiction is harmful in some ways or others. Here, it has a lot to do with the person disconnecting from the relationship (and therefore their partner) without necessarily realizing it. I would agree that, most times than not, it is due to problems in the couple not being addressed clearly. Sex is a very concrete form of connection : if you feel unloved, forgotten or misunderstood, it is hard to find the desire to connect with the person. In that case, Porn is an escape. It's the easy way out of a situation you'd rather not deal with...

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