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His Porn, Her Pain

Men use it to enhance solo sex, but many women see it as cruel betrayal.

Recently, an anguished woman emailed my site, GreatSexAfter40, objecting to an article I’d written for AARP.com in which I said that it was fine with me if men use porn to help them become erotically aroused before partner sex. I thought our exchange might resonate for readers of PsychologyToday.com. I’d be very interested to hear what you think.

Here’s her post: You say in your AARP article there is no harm in a man looking at porn to get aroused. What about the emotional harm it does to his wife? What about the low self esteem it cause his wife to know her husband can only get aroused by looking at younger women and not her? Why would any woman want to have sex with her husband when she isn’t the one who is turning him on and she isn’t the one he is thinking of while he is having sex. No harm in porn – I THINK NOT!

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Here’s my reply: I’m very sorry that you’re in pain over your husband’s use of pornography. You are by no means alone. Many women feel exactly as you do. I’ve heard many women say what you’ve said—often in almost exactly the same words.

And you’re right. In my recent article for AARP.com on the difficulties older men have becoming erotically aroused, I said it was fine with me if they used porn to become excited. I also said that many women disagree with me and feel deeply offended by porn. Evidently, you’re among them.

Given how upset you sound, I doubt that my words can change how you feel. But I hope you’ll allow me to explain, from a man’s point of view, why so many men view so much porn. It has nothing to do with no longer feeling turned on by their wives or girlfriends. I’ve talked to many men who view porn regularly, and they insist they feel erotically excited by the women they’re involved with and enjoy making love with them. In addition, men’s use of porn has nothing to do with preferring “younger women” to their wives or girlfriends or wanting to leave their partners for them. Today, porn depicts women of all ages from 18 year olds to women in their seventies. The vast majority of men who view porn love their wives or girlfriends and wouldn’t leave them for a porn starlet even if they could. So from a man’s point of view, your fears are unfounded. He still loves you and wants you. Then why does he view porn? For fantasies that make masturbation more enjoyable.

Let me ask you a question: After a long day, how do you unwind? What do you do to self-soothe? Some women take long hot baths. Others go shopping. Some read. Others watch TV—not necessarily because they’re truly interested in the programs, but because it’s a mindless yet pleasant way to unwind.

Many men also self-soothe by reading or watching TV. But many do it by masturbating while viewing porn. I realize that you hate this and find it incomprehensible. But surveys of Internet use consistently show that porn sites are among men’s top destinations—and not just your husband. Hundreds of millions of men regularly visit the billions, yes billions, of porn pages on the web.

To masturbate, one needs friction and fantasy. Over time, many men’s own fantasies get stale and lose their power to arouse, so men turn to someone else’s fantasies—porn. Porn use has nothing to do with feeling critical of their lovers or sexually uninterested in them. It’s all about the men themselves, and their need for fresh solo-sex fantasies.

Do you have cable TV? On cable, there are many scenes of hunky guys having R-rated (and sometimes X-rated) sex with beautiful women. If you watch them, should your husband feel offended or threatened that you prefer “those men” to him? Of course not. TV isn’t part of your real life. It’s a fantasy. Men feel the same way about porn.

Which raises a crucial question: Do you think your husband has a right to masturbate? Many women do not. They believe that once a man is coupled, his girlfriend of wife should meet all of his erotic needs. From a man’s point of view, this is naïve. Your husband was masturbating long before he ever met you. Why give up apple pie once you’ve tasted cherry? Women CANNOT meet men’s real, deep need to self-soothe with one hand because, by definition, masturbation is a solo activity. Many women’s objections to porn are really veiled objections to the men in their lives masturbating. So do you think your husband has a right to masturbate? I guarantee that he believes he does.

While I support men’s right to masturbate—and use porn to make it more enjoyable—I am also quite critical of porn for depicting a Neverland of sexual abundance without relationships or responsibility, a world where women exist solely to sexually service men. In fantasy, that’s fine. I’m all for freedom of fantasy. But porn has become so ubiquitous that many men have difficulty distinguishing between porn sex and real lovemaking. They try to imitate what they see in porn, and that’s a big mistake because it makes them lousy lovers and greatly increases their risk of sex problems, notably premature ejaculation and erection impairment. You might want to read my blog post of a while back, The Real Problem with Porn: It’s Bad for Sex.

Some women in your situation confront their husbands and demand that they stop viewing porn. The men typically become contrite and swear they will refrain—but they don’t. They just go underground the way Americans drank alcohol during prohibition. Is that what you want? Your husband hiding from you? Viewing porn behind your back?

Like I said, I doubt that my words will change how you feel. But in my opinion, unless his porn use makes him miss work, totally ignore you, or refuse to make love with you, it's not a red flag about him or you or your relationship. It’s just the way he self-soothes. So I stand by what I wrote in that AARP.com piece. If men, especially older men, feel a need to view porn to become sufficiently aroused to enjoy partner sex, it may not be fine with their lovers, but it’s fine with me.

 

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

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