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Porn: Why Does My Man Watch? Is He a Sex Addict?

Chances are he's just self-soothing with one hand.

Until 1980, people (i.e. men) interested in porn had to visit the few thousand adult theaters peppered around the nation's cities, suburbs, and rural areas. People talked about "trench coats" and "dirty old men." Then home video arrived, and soon every rental outlet had an adult section. Viewing soared. Some men's spouses became alarmed and a new term entered the lexicon, "porn addiction."

Since the late-1990s when the Internet took off, porn sites have become one of the top destinations. Today, more than 25 billion Web pages present every type of X-rated fare imaginable for free 24-7-365 on everything from desktop computers to smart phones. And today, many people (mostly women) consider "porn addiction" a major problem.

Is it? In my opinion, no. A small fraction of men watch so much so compulsively that it is a problem. They need therapy. But the vast majority of porn viewers are guys who enjoy a little X-rated action while masturbating. Is this "addiction"? No.

The Audience: Men Solo

Who views porn? Overwhelmingly, men by themselves. According to Adult Video News, the pornography trade magazine, 71 percent of X-rated media is viewed by men alone, 19 percent by heterosexual couples, 7 percent by gay male couples, and 2 percent by women (by themselves or lesbian couples). Men who use porn solo account for almost three times as much as all other users combined.

No surprise there. Men become aroused visually, while women become aroused by touch. That's why men love women in skimpy outfits and lingerie (they view it) while women prefer bubble baths and spa treatments (they feel it). In addition, pornography celebrates men's erotic fantasies, a world where women are perpetually horny, available, enthusiastic, and happy to service men endlessly while ignoring courtship, intimacy, marriage, birth control, infection prevention, and their own sexual satisfaction.

Critics charge that porn causes rape. It doesn't (see my earlier blog post). Porn causes only one thing--masturbation. Generating erotic fantasies takes effort. Why expend the energy when porn provides all the fantasies you could ever want?

All the research on porn and my interviews of sex therapists agree that men who use porn don't consider it relationship betrayal. They don't love their spouses or girlfriends any less, nor do they judge their lovers harshly compared with the women they see on screen. And except for the small group of compulsive porn consumers, the vast majority of men don't consider it a substitute for their lovers.

Women's Fears

Many women feel differently. Illinois State University researchers visited Internet relationship sites and collected posts by wives and girlfriends who had discovered that their men viewed porn. They did not consider it an innocent masturbation aid. They felt traumatized and confused, and couldn't understand why their lovers would spend time this way. They equated porn with infidelity, proof that their lovers no longer desired them. They also experienced deep feelings of loss--of the man's affection, his sexual interest, and intimacy and trust in the relationship. They often described themselves as feeling old, fat, ugly, and worthless because of their lovers' porn habits.

Clearly men and women differ about porography's meaning. For most men, porn represents  self-soothing, a way to take a break from daily hassles by masturbating. Women often self-soothe by taking hot baths or shopping. The shopping analogy is apt. Women's horror at the time many men spend viewing porn resembles men's incredulity at the time many women spend shopping. "You don't need it. You have so much at home." "I just like to see what's out there."

Women's Insecurities

One reason women recoil from porn, Fair Oaks, California sex therapist Louanne Weston, Ph.D., explains, "is that many women feel insecure about their bodies, especially compared with the women in porn." Since the Internet, porn bodies have become more diverse with every type of woman imaginable--every age, race, ethnicity, weight, and breast size. But this new diversity doesn't change anything. The women in porn flaunt it, shake it, and crave sex constantly. Few real women are like that.

Women also find porn distressing because they think they should be able to fulfill all of their man's needs. But they can't fulfill men's needs around masturbation, which, by definition, happens solo. "Too many women," Weston says, "think marriage is a license to run their man's sex life. They believe that once men say, ‘I do,' they should no longer want to masturbate. That's naïve."

"Men like porn," says Palo Alto sex therapist Marty Klein, Ph.D. "because it appeals to their fantasies of unlimited sex without responsibility. But women feel threatened because they fear men think they're fat and ugly."

"The men I counsel have no desire to toss their partners aside for women in pornography," says Bloomfield Hills, Michigan sex therapist Denny Sugrue, Ph.D. "But they like porn for fantasy while masturbating. They don't reject their lovers' bodies, and they don't see viewing as cheating or a sign of relationship dissatisfaction."

Do Men in Relationships Have a Right to Masturbate?

Masturbation is our original sexuality. The vast majority of men were masturbating enthusiastically and frequently long before they met their spouses. Why deny yourself apple pie once you've discovered peach?

Some women whose posts the Illinois researchers collected had spouses who viewed pornography daily for hours, refusing real sex, and sometimes losing their jobs. When anything sexual interferes with one's ability to work and love, that's not healthy. Men who can't control their porn consumption should consult a sex therapist. Visit the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, or the American Board of Sexology.

But as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with otherwise well-adjusted men casually consuming porn while masturbating. What do you think?

References:

Bergner, R.M and A. Bridges. "The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications," Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2002) 28:193.

Bridges, A.J. et al. "Romantic Partners' Use of Pornography: Its Significance for Women," Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2003) 29:1.

 

San Francisco journalist Michael Castleman, M.A., has written about sexuality for 36 years. more...

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