Pornography & Relationships
Porn is Great for Relationships. Isn't it?
Hands up who hasn’t watched porn?
Hands up who feels good about it?
Porn is a complex issue.
Questions like is it good? Is it healthy? Does it help my relationship? Is it liberating for women? For men?
We are all so bound up in our own perspectives that it is hard to answer them without making sure you aren’t grinding your own axe....so to speak.
For years now we have been hearing that “watching porn doesn’t harm anyone”.
But the difficulty is that scientific research shows when it comes to relationships, that isn’t necessarily true.
Let’s Talk About Sex, baby…let’s talk about you and me..
In 1991 a band called Salt n Pepa released an evergreen song called “Let’s Talk About Sex”.
I love that track.
The Relationship Counselling Charity Relate borrowed that title for their 2017 report “The Way We Are Now - Let’s Talk about Sex” . Their research showed that the increasingly widespread availability of porn made possible by technology “does seem to be creating difficulties for many couples”.
Almost half their relationship counsellors and therapists report seeing an increasing number of people where pornography is causing a problem in their relationship. Sadly the full first line of the Salt n Pepa song doesn’t apply to porn “Let’s talk about sex baby, let’s talk about you and me” … since internet porn largely eliminates the You and makes it about Me – the viewer.
When the “You and Me” disappears in a relationship, trouble isn’t far behind.
Porn and a Generational Shift in Attitude after #MeToo
In a study called “Till Porn Do Us Part? A Longitudinal Examination of Pornography Use and Divorce” –( a title which kinda gives the game away) scientists found that chances of divorce doubled for couples who started using porn, especially among young couples.
Young couples? Wouldn’t they be the most open about using porn within their relationship?
On the contrary. A report by (Maas et al, 2018) shows that pornography can cause anxiety in women, lowering their self-esteem and making them feel insecure about their partner, imagining “sexual fantasies or real life sexual scenarios that a partner might be having outside the relationship” . This potential impact on your partner's self-esteem is echoed by other reports. These highlight that if your partner finds pornography problematic this will have a negative impact on her sense of self worth, which would in turn affect your relationship (Stewart & Szymanski, 2012). You don't have to look far to find evidence of this; Relationship Service Provider Click Relationships, which provides relationship support online, shows many women expressing exactly this uncertainty.
And in the wake of the #MeToo scandals it seems there is a generational shift occurring about pornography which is increasingly being seen by younger generations as problematic, even as contributing to “rape culture”.
So much so that some students are organizing to ban the use of pornography on campus, insisting on anti-porn locks on wi-fi access. The students spearheading this movement are male.
Younger generations are clearly taking a fresh look at the dynamics of male/female relationships in public and private domains.
And they do not appear to find the status quo acceptable.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner they outlined their objections to porn as being "it is not acting....The overwhelming majority of contemporary pornography is literally filmed violence against women ... 88% of porn scenes include physical aggression and 49% include verbal aggression".
Perhaps part of this backlash is due to the way that pornography has changed since the advent of high speed internet.
Fast Click Porn – Crack Cocaine for the Brain
Your average man can see more hot women – and more of their body parts - in ten minutes than his grandfather could in a lifetime. But this kicks in changes in the ancient, primitive part of our hunter-gatherer brain an effect called the Coolidge Effect.
This phenomenon got it’s name from a popular anecdote about a visit that U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and his wife supposedly made to a chicken farm. The story goes something like this:
“Mrs. Coolidge, observing the vigor with which one particularly prominent rooster covered hen after hen, asked the guide to make certain that the President took note of the rooster’s behavior. When President Coolidge got to the hen yard, the rooster was pointed out and his exploits recounted by the guide, who added that Mrs. Coolidge had requested that the President be made aware of the rooster’s prowess. The president reflected for a moment and replied, ‘Tell Mrs. Coolidge that there is more than one hen.’”
The Coolidge effect is this; a spike of dopamine kicks in whenever a new, available, female presents herself for sex. That dopamine makes him able to mate again more quickly with a new female partner than with his existing female partner.
With so much internet porn variation available just a click away those dopamine spikes hit the male brain so fast and so frequently that it actually rewires the brain in a way that resembles a chemical addiction.
And like any addiction, the addict keeps needing more quantity, and often more extreme content, to continue to be aroused. The fast-click porn user ends up, like any addict, in the classic binging and craving cycle, where the object of the addiction makes everything and everyone else, uninteresting.
Porn Is Not Sex
Additionally, Internet porn is qualitatively different from traditional ordinary pornography, as depicted by the Playboy magazine (in days gone by). In fact, Playboy eventually gave up featuring mere naked women because the sight of a naked woman no longer raised enough interest. Real sex with a real partner can suffer even more than ordinary porn, since it involves emotional connection, listening, touching, pleasing another person… You can see how this could affect a relationship. Especially since evidence suggests that there is a risk that women’s self esteem and happiness in a relationship could be impacted by their partners use of porn (Stewart & Szymanski, 2012).
Secrets and Lies
Alongside this there are immense issues of coercion, of secrets within relationships, lies being told, unrealistic expectations placed on us and our partners. For the record, “50 Shades” isn't real, isn't realistic but has had real consequences as so many couples struggle to match what is apparently achievable with our own realities. Often, as disappointment leads to disengagement and separation, even our children suffer.
So if I were to say porn were healthy for us, you couldn’t trust another word I wrote...because the non-porn industry sponsored evidence screams that this is harming us
Some of us of course are prepared to take the hit of watching porn and acknowledge the damage it causes us. We justify to ourselves that “I understand the risks and costs....and I am prepared to accept them”. I love this aspect of manhood...the willingness to take a bullet for something we believe in. Yet porn isn't so much a bullet to the chest (or wallet)...but rather a bomb we set off whose collateral damage is unpredictable and widespread. And that’s without even looking at the broader moral questions.
Pornography: the Industry
The porn industry is a global, multi-billion dollar industry.
For every article we read about porn actresses feeling liberated in their industry there are 10 about those who are exploited. From sex cam rings to single mums literally giving their bodies away to feed their children, porn is a destructive and life time damaging disaster. As men we try to drown out the consequences and we convince ourselves that this woman wants it, they like it, they would do it even if they weren't paid because, oh boy, having sex in front of strange men is all real women want. Right?
We know that isn't right.
We block the idea that this woman is someone's mum, or son, or daughter. We look at our children and pray this catastrophe doesn't happen to them....whilst justifying watching someone else's (most commonly) daughter all the same.
I return to my opening question....so who hasn’t watched porn?
Perhaps the very normalcy of its usage has inadvertently provided the moral basis of its acceptance. So perhaps a better question to ask is....if you are uneasy about porn, what are you going to do about it?
I have resolved to aim for a higher standard and reject the exploitation of women...and of men. I have resolved to accept the evidence and reject the damage done to me and my peers. I have determined to not go along with friends saying “It harms no one” and point out, however uncomfortably, to the evidence that it harms so many.
I believe that as men we can do better than ignore the reality of our sisters...literally our sisters...being harmed in this way. Let us face some uncomfortable truths, make the difficult decisions, and resolve to not fill our heads with images that are not oasis’ of gratification...but mirages of deceit.
Lets stop lying to each other...and ourselves.
Dealing with the Addiction - There is Hope
There are a lot of men who want to give up watching porn...but somehow can't. You are not alone! We'll look at the addictive aspect in our next article, and at the movement of thousands of men who are supporting each other through kicking the habit.
For Online Relationship Support Check out Clickrelationships.
2. Perry, S.L., & Schleifer, C. (2017). Till Porn Do Us Part? A Longitudal Exmaination of Pornography Use and Divorce. Journal of Sex Research, 00(00), 1-13.
3. Maas, M. K., et al. (2018). A Dyadic Approach to Pornography Use and Relationship Satisfaction Among Heterosexual Couples: The Role of Pornography Acceptance and Anxious Attachment. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(6). 772–782.
4. Brown et al 2017 A Common-Fate Analysis of Pornography Acceptance, Use, and Sexual Satisfaction Among Heterosexual Married Couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 575-584.
5. Stewart, D., & Szymanski, N. (2012). Young Adult Women’s Reports of Their Male Romantic Partner’s Pornography Use as a Correlate of Their Self-Esteem, Relationship Quality, and Sexual Satisfaction. Sex Roles, 67(5), 257-271.