We know a majority of young men use porn today, and yet it's still often a surprise when women find out their partners are participating. I think this is normal; something’s different when you’re in a committed relationship. For many women, there’s a sense that after he’s found the right women, perhaps he won’t look at other women online as much. For some this may be true, but for many others, their habit has become a full-swing obsession in the background by the time they get married. As a result many women are faced with what feels like only two options, use porn with him or lose him.
Despite increasing numbers of women looking at porn, for many, trying porn isn’t what the woman wants in the first place, so much as something she considers as an attempt to keep the stability in the relationship. Since marriage is something she’s built her life around, it can be frightening to face hearing of a spouse’s outside interests, and many women try it out as a coping mechanism. If a husband’s addiction is in full swing, he may even blame her for being boring in bed as an attempt to defend his porn use. Even if women remember that this is the brain on porn speaking, not reality, it is still very hurtful. Even so, here’s why you’re better off not joining in.
It directs attention away from your relationship as two people growing closer together.
Perhaps the simplest explanation for why joining in porn with your spouse won’t help your relationship is that it directs attention away from each other as amazing, whole, and unique persons. It attaches sexual pleasure to images of other people, and people as things, and this hurts you both—but women in especially painful ways.
As one anonymous writer shared with Verily in 2016: “excessive porn use can become a very unstable crutch in a relationship and very hard to remove, even for those who want to. And in that way, it can be remarkably hurtful for both parties, getting in the way of the only thing of lasting value in life. As a recent T-shirt puts it, ‘Porn kills love.’ My experience shows what can happen when you take that train to the end of the line. Thank goodness for me, I was able to switch trains and go back.”
Porn is not like a shared hobby. It’s more like a shared drug habit.
It can be tempting to think of porn as just a fun activity to do together; it’s supposed to be exciting and pleasurable, right? But unlike a shared hobby, porn use is more comparable to a shared drug habit—something that doesn’t add any lasting benefit, can actually hurt both of you, and is not compatible with the mature behavior required of two people trying to be responsible adults and start a family.
Even couples who have added porn to their relationship can notice, when porn is added to the picture, they can get sort of high on the feeling. Some people say they experience that sensation as the difference between love and lust. Whatever you call it, there’s no doubt that porn adds an intensity; the question is, is it good for your relationship? Turns out, if you look beyond the temporary excitement in the moment, all answers point to no.
The way porn works, it makes real sex less interesting.
If the 2013 film Don Jon had a worthwhile takeaway, despite the many porn-like scenes it took to get there, it was this: If porn increases in the relationship, intimacy decreases. This has many repercussions in the bedroom and beyond.
This is brain science, by the way. Author and psychiatrist Norman Doidge wrote about this in his bestselling book The Brain That Changes Itself: “Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated. . . Since neurons that fire together wire together, these men got massive amounts of practice wiring these images into the pleasure centers of the brain, with the rapt attention necessary for plastic change. They imagined these images when away from their computers, or while having sex with their girlfriends, reinforcing them.”
As a result, many men today experience difficulty getting aroused by real women. It’s fair to say that for most women, the thought of their husbands not being attracted to them can be very hurtful if not traumatic. This is probably why many women compare discovering their husband’s porn use to discovering infidelity and cite it as a reason for divorce.
By the time you realize it’s not helping, you will likely have multiplied your problems.
But, why are people getting divorced over this?, you might wonder. Couldn’t he just stop if his wife told him it made her feel uncomfortable? Unfortunately for many, frequent porn use can grow from a habit, to an obsession, to an addiction. And unfortunately porn addiction is not a made-up term. As Doidge put it, “the addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor. Not all addictions are to drugs or alcohol. People can be seriously addicted to gambling, even to running. All addicts show a loss of control of the activity, compulsively seek it out despite negative consequences, develop tolerance so that they need higher and higher levels of stimulation for satisfaction, and experience withdrawal if they can’t consummate the addictive act.”
So even for couples who use porn with good intentions to spice up their relationship (as such mainstream sources as Oprah have unwittingly recommended), by the time they realize it’s not helping, it will likely have multiplied their problems. He or both of you may have developed addictions. Like alcoholism, porn addictions don’t go away; they become lifelong challenges to recover from, and introduces all range of destructive elements to relationships such as secrecy, excuses, blaming, and relapse. Remember, no one ever plans to get an addiction, so if you’re starting to question porn’s influence in your relationship, now’s the time to run—not walk—away from it.
Porn sexualizes inequality of the sexes, which there’s no room for in healthy relationships.
We know that the images we consume regularly influence our decisions and affect how we see the world; otherwise the world of advertising wouldn’t exist! Unfortunately, the world of porn routinely displays something that is toxic to any healthy relationship: inequality of the sexes. One study in 2010 found that as many as 88 percent of scenes depicted physical aggression against women, and nearly half contained verbal aggression. Not only are these images displayed, they are displayed positively, with women appearing to enjoy them. If the sexes are having communication problems in the arena of sexual consent today—which we know they are—then the mixed messages in porn are fanning the flames.
Thankfully, there are increasing numbers of quality resources today for both men and women—both spouses with addictions and those suffering from a sense of spousal betrayal. Entire areas of therapy have been developed that serve both parties—Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) and Certified Clinical Partner Specialists (CCPS)—and rippling out from these are countless books, online communities, and anonymous 12-step groups available to couples seeking recovery.
Remember no matter how alone you may feel along the journey, there are so many women (unfortunately!) who are on this road with you. Find a support group you can trust; you’ll be better equipped to express your emotions to women who understand while hearing stories of those who have weathered the storm; best of all, you’ll learn how to hold higher expectations for your marriage.
Mary Rose Somarriba, who completed a 2012 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship on the connections between pornography and sex-trafficking, is a contributing editor for Verily.