Sex

Porn Isn’t Addictive and Sex Doesn’t Need to Be Spontaneous

Sexuality isn't an external force that takes people over or mysteriously fades.

Posted Nov 22, 2019 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

Sex can be a powerful motivator in relationships and in life in general. It can give us confidence or take it away. It can make us feel closer to a partner or further away; appreciative or used. The survival of the species depends on enough of us having enough of it. Sexuality is many things and how you feel about it may change with the circumstances.

Ultimately, though, sexuality is a part of who you are—one of many parts. It is a desire, a drive, and a feeling that you may sometimes choose to act on. As much as sexual thoughts or urges may feel hard to resist at times, they are not a mysterious external force that makes otherwise good people do things against their will. Nor is it a magical moment that romantic partners need to wait for and then act on.

And yet there is a narrative that sex somehow is different from other desires. This is especially common among those who claim that sex or porn are addictive, but is equally true among those who find their sexual desire fading in a long-term relationship and hold on to the belief that sex should be spontaneous. Whether it feels like a problem of too much sexual desire or too little, in both cases, you have the ability to actively shape your desire and make choices about how you express it.

Too Much Sexual Desire: “Porn Addiction”

One of the fundamental premises of sex/porn addiction models is the idea that some people are powerless over it, just as some people are powerless over the effects of alcohol. Therefore, treatment involves a lot of effort to limit how much the person has certain kinds of sex or watches porn. Certain kinds of sex are sanctioned as acceptable, but others are designated as pathological—and this even applies to sexual fantasies. Usually, all kinds of porn are deemed problematic and any use at all is seen as a relapse.

Copyright 123RF.
Source: Copyright 123RF.

Implicitly and explicitly woven through these treatment models is the idea that sexuality is dangerous and corrupting, and that people must be vigilant against the influence of sexual desire. Acting on some sexual desires risks sliding down a slippery slope (e.g., someone who watches standard adult porn is more likely to wind up desiring child porn. (This is false.)

These models strip individuals of agency and discredit their ability to make well-considered, thoughtful choices about sex that are congruent with their values. Instead, because sexual desire is seen as sometimes uncontrollable, others need to decide what is acceptable because the sex/porn “addict” isn’t able to make a rational decision for themselves.

It’s definitely true that some people make decisions about sex that they later regret, but those are no different than other decisions we later regret, whether it’s staying up too late at night or saying something to our partner when we’re angry. People are imperfect. But to take the position that sexuality is somehow different and more powerful than our ability to resist only makes it easier to avoid personal responsibility for one’s actions.

This is especially true when someone is caught by their partner watching porn. It’s easier to charge the other person as a porn addict than it is to have an honest discussion about where porn fits in the relationship, what your fears are about your partner watching porn, and perhaps an acknowledgment that you two should have discussed this earlier. It’s also easier, as the one who got caught, to claim that porn is somehow irresistible (especially if you’ve promised to give it up and then got caught again) than it is to admit that you knowingly went against your agreement, and to talk to your partner about the fact that sometimes you enjoy porn but you want to make sure it doesn’t negatively affect your relationship or sex life. These are harder conversations than simply blaming porn as somehow making someone do something against their will. Scapegoats, of any kind, allow us to avoid confusing, scary, and frustrating nuances. They let us off the hook in the moment, but don’t leave us any better off for next time.

Even if you feel really tempted in a horny moment, you are still making a choice—and have the ability to make a different choice. No matter how tempted you feel, porn doesn’t have any more control over your actions than you allow it to.

Too Little Sexual Desire: “Sex Should Be Spontaneous”

Those who view sexuality as a powerful but external and therefore uncontrollable force are also more likely to subscribe to the idea that sex should be spontaneous. That is, you should suddenly be consumed by desire (and so should your partner—at the same time) and that is when you should have sex. Planning sex, though, can feel weird and awkward. Or unnatural. Or unromantic. Or a bad sign for your relationship.

Copyright 123RF.
Source: Copyright 123RF.

This belief may work at the beginning of a relationship when there is typically enough sexual chemistry that no one needs to try that hard to want sex. Unfortunately, these couples’ sex lives tend to dry up when the months become years and then decades and when libido-drainers like mortgages and crying babies show up. They may still sometimes be overcome by desire, but it will be less often than it will be for those who make a point of prioritizing and nurturing their sex life. This involves taking steps to create an opportunity for that sexual desire to blossom, like creating date nights, even if this means turning the TV off and getting into bed early to talk and then see what happens. Or perhaps going with a partner’s sexual advances even when they aren’t in the mood, with the idea that they may get into the mood as things progress along. This willingness to be convinced is always consensual, but acknowledges that sometimes desire follows activity. It’s like how you could find yourself up for a cup of coffee if your partner brings you one, even if you weren’t that interested beforehand.

Spontaneous sex can be great, so go for it when circumstances allow, but don’t limit your sex life to those moments when the stars align. Instead, think about and talk with your partner about what is and isn’t helpful in fostering desire: Some relaxed time together first? A good night’s sleep beforehand? Help with getting the kitchen cleaned up? Some flirty texts during the day? A few simple actions may give your sex life a positive bump.

Needing to be a good steward of your sex life doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong. It doesn’t mean that you are less attracted to your partner (or them to you). It’s just that the demands of daily life have a way of submerging even something as exciting as sexual desire, so you need to make a point of keeping it a little more top of mind. It’s like anything else in your life: If you invest intentional energy in it, it’s more likely to bloom.