The Intelligent Divorce

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Sex, Porn, and the Challenge of Intimacy

Are Today's Men Just Not Wired to Connect?

Does your boyfriend or husband watch too much porn? Is it affecting your sex life? Could be…

Hollywood’s answer to what's becoming an everyday dilemma is Don Jon (2013), starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in which even Scarlett Johansson has to compete for attention with Gordon-Levitt’s porn habit. It’s so bizarre it's funny. But there's also some truth to it.

Too many men are being taught about intimacy from actors in porn clips. In therapy sessions, I find more women troubled by the habits and demands of their lovers. We’re a wired nation. Should we be surprised that it’s spreading to the bedroom?

The Porn-Wired Man:

Pornography is not going away, and for many men, it's a harmless distraction. (We will set aside the political critique of the porn industry for this article.) As Psychology Today blogger David Ley reports, "Porn can affect people, but it does not take them over or override their values." Without doubt, many men view pornography and still have perfectly satisfying relations their partners. 

Yet, for other women, sex with a porn-wired man can be less enjoyable. According to Robert Weiss, another PT blogger and an expert on sex addictions, “Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that a man’s porn use can adversely affect the self-esteem of his girlfriend or wife (or male partner if he is gay), and research is now backing this up.”

I work with teens and adults, and I’ve observed more than a few women complaining about porn-inspired sex rather than intimacy-inspired sex. They sense that they’re being judged for having less-than-ideal bodies, among other things. Who, after all, can compete with an imaginary beauty that provides for every need?

Other common complaints include:

  1. There’s less caressing during sex, as in porn videos. They sense that a script’s been written and that they need to comply. While many women look forward to intimacy as part and parcel of their sex life, porn promotes stimulation, not closeness. Some women want more.
  2. Porn-wired men experience sexuality in a fetishistic manner. They’re not excited about this woman they're with; instead they’re fixated on and excited about the image of an idealized, random woman. I am not in favor of censorship, but it’s fair to say that porn promotes the image of carefree, non-obligatory, casual excitement with a woman who's available on command and gone just as quickly. Her body provides a video-based cyber-excitement that an ordinary attractive woman fails to meet.
  3. It’s one thing if both members of the couple are into porn; in that case it can be part of the play of sex. But, when one partner is preoccupied with porn, it introduces a triangle into the relationship. To quote one woman: "I understand that it is okay for a wife to arouse her husband, but I have a hard time differentiating the arousal he would get from viewing porn from the arousal he gets from me."

Bring on the Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone secreted by both men and women that is often labeled "the love hormone" because it helps us bond with one another. Oxytocin is secreted in its highest amount when women breastfeed; a mother with her newborn child is about as intimate as human beings can get. Oxytocin promotes the feeling of warm attachment to another person. Add love and endorphins, which mimic narcotics and the experience of orgasm, and you have the great bonding experience that sexuality can truly be.

Oxytocin is naturally secreted by women during sex, but less so for men. Perhaps that’s one reason women yearn for closeness as much as sex. The average woman finds touching, hugging, and foreplay as important as intercourse. A man who can gaze into a woman’s eyes, caress her face and hold her just so can make sex so very pleasurable. 

On the other hand, what kind of bond do actors create in a porn video? The closest you may get is a film on bondage, and where’s the oxytocin rush in that? 

The Value of a Kiss

Kissing is an intimate act, and most couples enjoy it tremendously. It’s tender. It’s close. And it’s enveloping. For many, kissing and caressing are part of the intimacy of sex, of knowing your partner, her body, his essence, before coitus. 

As such, most prostitutes refrain from kissing. It’s too vulnerable, too intimate. Porn downgrades kissing as well. The porn-wired man is trained to gratify by stimulation, not let himself drift into intimacy. Kissing requires a capacity to endure some closeness and tenderness. For those men (and women) who avoid kissing, something’s amiss

For some porn-wired men, kissing is too slow and too intimate. They might rather rush to the sexual positions of their fantasies than focus on connecting. This behavior can eventually result in alienating their partner for good.

Living With Your Porn-Wired Man

If you are in a relationship with a guy preoccupied with porn, you may be experiencing a loss of intimacy. For some such men, therapy can help explore the issues that take them away from their partners. Indeed, porn may be an outlet for a depressed or anxious person who needs help.

Occasionally, pornography is a true addiction, like narcotics or gambling. Sex addicts can be treated, and twelve-step programs are incredibly useful. If you decide to stick it out with such a partner, you’ll have to deal with feelings of betrayal and self-questioning. Success can be had, but it won’t come easily. If you have something special with this partner, plan to endure some hurt, but it may be worth it. If you have had enough, few will blame you.

Without doubt, it’s important to express what you want in bed. Sex is an exciting and intimate playing field, when you’re both on the same team. If one partner isn’t happy with the game plan, it should be vocalized immediately.

If there’s to be wired-sex, let it be between the two of you. There are fireworks galore in good sex; neurons firing, mirroring, satisfaction, the glow of oxytocin and endorphins, dopamine rushes, orgasm, fantastic memories, and great longing.

In Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt gets there. I wish the same for both of you.

________________________________

For more from Dr. Banschick:

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Kindle)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Amazon)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Yourself (Kindle)

The Intelligent Divorce- Taking Care of Yourself (Amazon) 

Course - Raising Healthy Kids Despite DivorceSign Up

 

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Mark Banschick, M.D., is a psychiatrist and author of The Intelligent Divorce book series.

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