Sexual Intelligence

Sex—and culture, politics, psychology—and sex

Better Sex: Porn or Women

Sex with a partner is still among the best things life has to offer.

I’m in New Zealand this week training a marvelous group of psychologists and sex therapists. In addition to issues such as intimacy, sexual exploitation, infertility, power dynamics, and paraphilias, we of course discussed pornography.

Inevitably, someone raised a very common concern—that there’s an epidemic of young men with erection problems. This is supposedly caused by all their masturbating to porn—getting accustomed to the perfect stimulation from their hand, thereby reducing their interest in, and satisfaction from, sex with a real woman.

Rolled into a single idea, there’s one fact, one misunderstanding, and one complete inaccuracy.
* Yes, young men are learning about sex from masturbating to porn, which is unfortunate.
* However, there is no epidemic of ED in young men.
* And there’s definitely no epidemic of young men preferring masturbation to partner sex.

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For proof of the latter, go to any high school or college campus anywhere and ask a bunch of male students what they dream of sexually. Except for one or two extreme loners, none of them will say “I dream of the day when I can masturbate to porn anytime I want, and never have to mess with dating or having sex with an actual person.” Young men today want what young men have wanted since the beginning of time: a willing young woman (or young man) with whom to kiss and hug and have sex.

(Of course, there have always been a few young guys too shy, inhibited, guilt-ridden, or even disgusted to want partner sex. That hasn’t changed, and there’s no reason to think there are more of them now.)

Where’s the data about young men’s alleged increasing erectile problems? It doesn’t exist. While some people think only middle-aged and older men have erection problems, people (including Shakespeare) have known for hundreds of years, and scientists have known for at least 75 years, that millions of men age 29 and younger have erectile dissatisfaction. I haven’t seen any increase in this number since I started practicing sex therapy in 1980 (some 20 years before internet porn became popular), and neither have any of the urologists or psychologists with whom I work.

What has changed is that guys who can’t get it up now join internet support groups, making them more visible. Some are asking for Viagra, making them more visible. And some join sex addiction or porn addiction groups, making them more visible.

But a huge number of young men jack off to internet porn, so how about the competition between the perfect hand and the imperfect vagina? Hasn’t the perfection of the (constantly) masturbatory hand made even the healthiest vagina feel loose, boring, and pathetic?

I think it’s simple. If sex were about only one thing—physical stimulation—one’s own hand would provide better sex (for both women and men) than anything else, no question. But sex is about more than friction: It’s about touching and being touched, kissing, nibbling, and smelling, feeling desired, whispering and giggling, pleasing someone else, and feeling part of the ongoing human erotic parade.

Sex with Mary FiveFingers may provide more perfect stimulation and a more reliable orgasm, but when it comes to sex, that isn’t everything. In fact, it’s hardly anything. That explains all those hundreds of millions of happily masturbating men who also want sex with a partner.

Most young men want to have sex not only with a vagina, but with the person at the other end of the vagina. Of course, most young men are missing some of the skills they need to enjoy both a vagina and its owner. And yes, internet porn is definitely giving its consumers unhelpful ideas about sex. The answer is not for young men to stop masturbating or watching internet porn (which are two different things, right?). It’s for young men to acquire more social, psychological, and sexological skills.

Let’s note, too, that the rhythm of modern communication—texting, email, social media—is also undermining everyone’s ability to read facial cues and voice tone, as well as have the longer conversations that enjoyable (sexual) relationships inevitably require. This is especially true of young people, who haven’t lived in any other world.

So yes, a vagina alone (tight or loose, moist or dry) can’t compete with the world’s most perfect hand—your own. But sex with an actual human? If a person can relax, communicate, and participate, partner sex offers way more than perfect friction. It offers connection, excitement, validation, arms, legs, hair, smiles, and a chance to explore the universe with a companion. Our hands are great, but they aren’t very good company.

Internet porn has a lot to answer for, but not for undermining men’s desire for women, and not for ruining the enjoyment of sex with a live woman (or man). Imperfect as the friction inevitably is (for both parties), sex with a partner is still among the best things life has to offer. And as pornified or textified as most young men might be, it’s still what they want.

Marty Klein is a certified sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist. He has written five books and 200 articles about sex; his TV appearances include 20/20 andNightline. more...

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