Porn: When It Helps & When It Hurts

Porn: When It Helps & When It Hurts

Porn: When It Helps & When It Hurts

Thumbnail: 
Internet Porn
Dek: 
Some couples use it to sex up a relationship. For others, it spells the end.

Nowhere do you find stranger bedfellows than in porn—and I'm not even talking about the performers. Seldom do feminists, fundamentalists and the federal government find themselves on common ground, but all three are currently united in an anti-porn ménage a trois. On the other side of the issue are free-speech advocates, porn stars and the 40 million Americans who, according to Internet Filter Review, regularly visit X-rated websites.

The only thing everyone agrees on? There's more porn now than ever, thanks to the wonders of technology.

Like most things, porn was a lot harder in the old days. Back then, getting your hands on anything steamier than Playboy required donning a pervy-looking raincoat, driving to the seamy side of town, skulking into a shop with blinking "XXX" neon lights, browsing the wares in the company of some scary characters before getting up the courage to bring your purchases to the cashier. And then you still had to sneak the plain brown bag into the house.

Now, porn is delivered instantly at the click of a button, steaming hot, right into your living room.

For some people, it's a piquant condiment for their sex lives. "As a single woman who doesn't have a lot of sexual partners right now, it comes in handy when my imagination isn't up to par," says Zoe,* a writer in New York. Her personal not-so-guilty pleasure? Erotic stories, as well as the occasional movie. "A well-written story, that takes you through all the stages of sexual arousal to orgasm, is heaven. I wouldn't say that porn replaces real sexual experiences, but it helps when things are slow."

But it's not just for soloing. "It's also a great relationship enhancer. My ex-husband and I used it as a toy—almost like a dildo—on Friday nights," she recalls.

She finds that writing porn is an even bigger aphrodisiac. "I started writing it with my long-distance boyfriend who lived in England," she says. "It's the biggest turn on—for me and him. I get excited writing the story, then reaching the climax on page, all of which affects my body in the same way."

But while porn can be an occasional titillating treat for some, for others it's a debilitating daily binge that can go on for hours, months and years, costing users their sexual health, marriages, families, friends, jobs and self-esteem. In fact, the stories end up sounding a lot like the ones of crackheads: staying up all night using porn for ten hours straight; getting fired for accessing it at work; blowing $600 or more on it a month, and not having enough left over for basic expenses; craving more and more extreme types of porn to get turned on; even doing it in front of kids.

"For some people, porn can be a serious problem that devastates their lives," explains Wendy Maltz, a sex therapist in Eugene, OR, and the co-author (with her husband Larry) of The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography. "Eight to fifteen percent of people [who use porn] have extremely serious sexual problems," she says.

It's one thing to look at porn on occasion with a partner, she explains. But it's another thing altogether "to masturbate to it regularly, in secret, and then lie about it. You can end up creating a sexual relationship with porn that pre-empts a real relationship with a present or future partner." In other words, porn ends up being more fulfilling than any real woman.

That was the experience of Kate, a 45-year-old from Chicago. When she and her husband first got together, she discovered that he would often look at porn for several hours at a time—even after they had just made love. "Also, I wasn't happy about our sex life. My husband is younger (29) and he was like a lot of 20-something guys who had used a lot of porn but weren't very good at actual sex. At first I bought into people telling me that I had a problem with it because I had low self-esteem. Then I realized, ‘Hey, I have pretty good self-esteem. Why can't I have a satisfying sex life with a partner who is interested in my pleasure and not how to do twelve dumb positions he saw on some XXX porn that don't feel good at all?'"

A year into their relationship, she confronted him. "I told him, ‘I have nothing against porn. But I don't want to be with someone who uses this much porn and I don't like the effect it has on our relationship." Kate is one of the lucky ones: her husband agreed to go to counseling and has been porn-free for five years.

While Kate's husband was willing to work on changing his behavior, other men refuse to even recognize that they have a problem. Though her husband has always claimed he isn't into porn, six months ago, twenty-five-year-old Amy, a newlywed from Lee's Summit, MO, walked in on him "relieving some stress," as she puts it, while looking at an adult website. He is an IT professional, so at first she believed his explanation that he needed to look at porn as part of a work project involving retrieving licensing agreements.

What he didn't know was that Amy had the password to his computer; when she checked his internet history, she found that he was looking at porn every day, downloading movies and pictures from at least ten different websites. In addition, she says, he had 300 to 400 movies on one of his drives.

"Personally I didn't have a problem with porn, but he has always told me he's not interested in it," she explains. "But there have been multiple times he's been ‘relieving stress,' so I know that's not the case. I would just like an honest answer, but so far have been unable to get it. I want to trust him, but I don't. Right now, I wish the porn would just disappear—I can't stand it."

Maltz's work with sex addicts has led her to adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward porn. "I do not think that using porn as a sexual outlet is ever benign," she says. "You don't know when you can cross over from casual curiosity to dependency. That switch can happen very quickly, and then it can be very difficult to go back. And trying to quit can be as hard as getting off hard drugs."

Below, signs your partner might have a problem, according to Maltz's book, The Porn Trap:

-Possessing porn materials or accessing porn sites on the web
-Unaccounted absences or time
-Excessive or late night computer use
-Social and emotional withdrawal
-Changes in bedtime rituals
-Lying and secretive behavior
-Defensiveness when questioned about porn use

*Names have been changed.

Want more? Check out these stories from YourTango:

Join the Conversation