Pornography and its impact on adult sexual relationships is controversial. Pornography is any form of media created to arouse the user sexually, especially such media that is distributed commercially. At this time, pornography is a multimillion dollar industry. Hard-core pornography is of particular concern due to the images depicting penetration, aggression and raw sexual interactions between adults.
Since pornography's migration from magazines and videos to a digital format, it is readily accessible, easily kept private and anonymous. Women at times view porn, yet men are still by far the biggest users. Unfortunately, pornography use can impact marital intimacy in significant ways.
What are the signs that indicate a person may have a problem with pornography?
"Detachment during sex, avoidance of sex and in some cases repeated requests to use porn with sex" are typical signs, according to Michael Taylor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Louisville, Kentucky. According to Taylor, excessive private use of computers and other electronics is another red-flag. Janie Lacy, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Addiction Specialist in Orlando, Florida also becomes concerned when a spouse has a "loss of interest in the sexual relationship or, the other extreme of an insatiable sexual craving.
There may also be pressure to try new or unusual sexual acts that were not previously discussed or practiced in the relationship." Both therapists warn that such behaviors may be paired with increased emotional disconnection by the pornography user. It is also helpful to know the history of your spouse's access to pornography earlier in his or her life (for example, at an exceptionally young age) and general use prior to marriage.
What are the signs that pornography is now damaging the marriage?
Dr. Barbara Winter, a Psychologist and Certified Sex Therapist in Boca Raton, Florida, states, "A gradual or marked move into cyberspace has to take away from something, and it typically is the attachment in the marriage and/or the family. This detachment results in a reach for something else, such as porn, to soothe or balance one's emotional state." She says that at this point, "The marriage becomes neglected. Partners become lonely, isolated and betrayed."
Lacy believes "Pornography can lower the sense of self-esteem and self-worth of the wife because she may compare herself to the women that her husband is viewing on the screen." She sees it as a slippery slope to addiction. It may also lead to "an increase in the progression of rougher or more deviant sex." This contributes to the husband becoming more focused on his needs and not those of his wife.
All of the experts agree that a detachment of emotion during sex, and detachment from the relationship as a whole, is very dangerous to the viability of the marriage. "Pornography is a poor substitute for the bonding version of sex. The vulnerability is removed in pornography, and that makes it too simplistic to produce the security and bonding that are a significant part of the physical interaction of a couple," notes Taylor.
He is also troubled by the exploitativeness of women in porn and the "instant gratification" one gets from porn use. Men may become "impatient" or "impersonal" during sex, ignore needed foreplay or day to day flirtations that lead to sex. These are "powerfully connecting moments in couple's lives" that should not be taken for granted. He emphasizes, "Men are at particular risk for using sex as a substitute for having to use emotional skills they are unsure of or uncomfortable with, and porn reinforces that."
Should wives try to view porn with their husbands to "please" them?
This is not a case of, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” That does not work to solve this issue. Wives who regularly view porn with their husbands because they believe it will make their husbands happy will suffer negative consequences.
They generally feel "sadness, betrayal, rejection, resentment, distrusting, used, not good enough," according to Lacy. She cautions that this should not become a repetitive habit in the marriage. Taylor sees in his practice that women are often willing to "spice up" the relationship but do not want to use porn as a "simplistic substitute." He thinks that "experimenting" is understandable, but where there is potential for addiction, "pleasing can reinforce or excuse avoidant or abusive dynamics."
What should a wife do if she believes that porn is now a problem?
Wives need to be assertive. If it seems like a minor problem, the wife should "Discuss how she feels unimportant, degraded, disconnected or lonely and help him tune back into her core needs for love, safety and security" says Taylor. If there is an active addiction, expect denial. It is fine to insist that the husband go to counseling to deal with the issues. It is best to seek out a certified sex addiction specialist or certified sex therapist, even if the the wife has to get the ball rolling. Marriage counseling will be a critical part of the healing process as well. Both Taylor and Winter think that going to a qualified professional, even together initially, is a good first step. Winter cautions "Most partners deny, deny, deny, and it often takes a brutal threat (to leave) to get someone to admit to his or her issues. Treatment for an addict and their partner can last 3-5 years so the commitment must be fierce."
Overall, pornography use is a risky venture that can wreak havoc on a relationship if used in excess. The best way to deal with sexual issues is to talk it out and explore together how to improve your sex life. There are many other healthy options to try that will not put your marriage in danger. Keeping the emotional connection and communication in your marriage is critical. If pornography crops up, it may be viewed as an opportunity to express sexual needs or assess if it is a problem requiring expert help.
Do not “sweep it under the rug.” This is one often overlooked addiction that can destroy your marriage if you do not get yourselves back on track.