Hotter Nights (and Days)

The surprising secrets to better sex—and a happier relationship.

Fifty Shades of Porn

Which Porn Is Good/Bad For Your Relationship

By Susan Kolod, Ph.D.

The book, Fifty Shades of Grey, has been at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for the last 8 weeks. Female patients, mostly women in their 30’s with small children, often report that careers, lack of sleep, family and other responsibilities leave them too tired and drained for sex.   Reading this book, however, has re-invigorated their sex lives. It’s making them horny! Spouses and partners are pleased. 

The “Fifty Shades of Grey Phenomenon” has led me to consider whether there are some types of porn that are good for relationships, some that are bad, and to wonder what is the difference?

I decided to read the book to see what all the fuss is about. The book is impossible to find in bookstores because it was published by a small independent press and sold out immediately. I downloaded it onto my Kindle, remembering what my younger daughter told me a few years ago when I asked what she thought of this device.  She replied, derisively, “Kindles are for people who want to read porn without anyone knowing.”

The BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, masochism) theme of the book sparked some controversy in the media and press (e.g., Maureen Dowd). Is the book a regression to the subjugation of women or is it a helpful guide to exploring female sexuality? This political controversy is, in my opinion, secondary to the fact that the book is motivating women to “get it on”. It is making them want to have sex with their real partner and the sex is good! Who cares if it’s politically correct or not? Sexual fantasy is never politically correct.

In contrast to online porn, the book is not visual. The protagonist, Ana Steele, a 21-year old college student, is never described so it is left to the reader to imagine her.

Although the book is purportedly about kinky sex, it is squeaky clean. Every act of penetration is accompanied by the sound of foil tearing as the condom is opened. He is totally enthralled with her, can’t keep his eyes off of her, and can’t get enough of her. She calls him Mr. Grey and he refers to her as Miss Steele. This lends an old-fashioned formality to the story—kind of like Jane Austin with whips and chains. He is demanding and imperious but with the sole aim of giving her the most intense pleasure.

He is a handsome, rich, damaged person who “doesn’t do girlfriends.” The ‘turn on” involves the question of whether Ana will submit to his BDSM demands, or succeed in making this scarred, incredibly attractive person fall in love with her. The most vivid passages in the book are descriptions of Ana’s surrender to sexual ecstasy. Although she is being asked to submit, it is really she who holds the power over the man who is enthralled and when she finally surrenders, the reader thinks, “I wish someone would pay that much attention to me!”

I’m not looking at the question of whether some porn is good or bad for a relationship from a morality standpoint. Simply put, if the porn facilitates good sex in which both partners “get off”, then it is good for the relationship.  On the other hand, if porn interferes with mutually satisfying sex, it is bad for the relationship. Satisfying sex is a very important factor in healthy relationships. Aside from the obvious pleasure and intimacy that good sex engenders, the hormone oxytocin that is released during orgasm stimulates warmth and trust between partners.

Contrast the “Fifty Shades Phenomenon” with the online porn phenomenon. As compared with the rave reviews I get from my patients about the impact of this book on their sex lives, I hear complaints from both male and female patients that online porn has ruined sex with actual partners. A female patient reports that both she and her husband watch online porn and masturbate in separate rooms. When they get together, sex is unsatisfying.

Since men are more frequent user of online porn, female patients complain that their husbands’/boyfriend’s frequent use of porn has made sex with them stilted and disconnected. Male patients who watch a lot of online porn comment that sex with their girlfriends/wives has become boring. One young man explained that he could easily spend hours watching “web-cam girls” who “do what you ask them to do for money” online. This young man wonders if having sex “in person” could ever be as exciting and quickly loses interest in the woman he is seeing.

Tracy Clark-Flory, sex writer for Salon.com writes that she faked orgasms all through her 20’s.  “Most of my partners had been raised on online porn just like I had, and as I endeavored to fulfill their (and my) every smutty expectation, no one seemed dubious about the intensity and efficiency of my reactions.” Why did Clark-Flory fake it? An inner voice would nag, “You’re taking too long! He’s getting bored!”

This problem is not new. In the 60’s and 70’ during the “Sexual Revolution” women were expected, and expected themselves to be hyper-sexual and orgasmic. The reality of sex with an actual partner was somewhat different and many women felt too inhibited and shy to ask for what they wanted (assuming they knew) and to demand that. Faking orgasms was a lot easier than figuring out with another person what works. But the online porn phenomenon seems to have exacerbated the situation. Real women have to compete with fantasy girls who apparently come at the drop of a hat. With an actual partner there needs to be coordination, responsiveness, and communication. Satisfying sex involves a certain amount of choreography.

Couples need to talk to each other about whether and what kind of porn helps/hinders satisfying sex. What is good for one couple might not work for another. So the question becomes, what kind of porn will spice up YOUR sexual relationship?

Here are some questions to ask yourself and your partner:

  1. Does the porn help you and your partner sustain compelling sexual fantasies that lead to orgasm?
  2. Does the porn make you feel satisfied/ dissatisfied with your partner?
  3. Does the porn open up/foreclose possibilities for more interesting and creative, and mutually satisfying sex?
  4. Does the porn increase receptivity and attunement to your partner or distract you from your partner?

Many people have the idea that they should only be thinking about their partner when having sex and to think about other people or other scenarios is like cheating. In fact, if your partner turns you on, you are more likely to be able to create and sustain compelling sexual fantasies that lead to orgasm. Good sex involves attunement, creativity, imagination and freedom to let your mind go where it may, all in the service of enjoying yourself and facilitating your partner’s enjoyment.  If porn helps to accomplish this, then go for it!

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About the Author:

Susan Kolod, Ph.D. is a Supervising and Training Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute. She has lectured and written about the impact of hormones on the psyche with a particular focus on sexuality, menopause and the menstrual cycle. She is in private practice in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

 

© 2012 Susan Kolod, All Rights Reserved
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psychoanalysis-30

 

 

 

 

Hotter Nights (and Days)