A Note on Pornography

Be informed about the effect of pornography on your relationship.

Posted May 08, 2019

Couples therapists often hear women’s concern about their husband’s use of pornography while husbands say it’s normal and that every guy does it. It’s time to look at the research to help you decide about how pornography does or does not fit into your marriage

I looked at a 2010 Scientific American review of relevant research about pornography. Here are a few of the findings:[1]

  • An online study of more than 9,000 people (most of them married men or men in a committed relationship) who used the Internet for pornography reported the following results:
    • Almost half used porn an hour or less a week.
    • Forty-five percent reported engaging in online sexual activity between one and 10 hours a week.
    • Eight percent used the Internet for such purposes for 11 or more hours a week.
    • A small but distinctive 0.5 percent reported more than 70 hours a week.
    • Even relatively light use may have a negative effect on one’s partner or spouse.
  • Frequent porn use and enthusiasm for porn was related to male dissatisfaction with a partner’s sexual performance and appearance, and doubts about the value of marriage,
  • Forty-two percent of women in one study said that their partner’s porn consumption made them feel insecure, 39 percent that the partner’s porn use had a negative effect on their relationship, and 32 percent that it adversely affected their lovemaking.
  • Almost half used porn an hour or less a week.
  • Forty-five percent reported engaging in online sexual activity between one and 10 hours a week.
  • Eight percent used the Internet for such purposes for 11 or more hours a week.
  • A small but distinctive 0.5 percent reported more than 70 hours a week.
  • Even relatively light use may have a negative effect on one’s partner or spouse.

It is informative to read what actual men say about the impact of viewing porn on their sex lives.  Here are several descriptions from a 2011 article in New York magazine entitled “He’s Just Not That Into Anyone.”[2] The men interviewed reported delayed ejaculation, a waning desire for their partners, having to play porno scenes in his mind to orgasm, faking orgasm, “sexual attention deficit disorder” from the habit of jumping quickly from porn clip to porn clip, getting home early from work to masturbate to porn, thinking his wife doesn’t measure up to the porn stars who are younger, hotter and wilder in the sack.

The Internet, of course, is full of pornography, which is viewed predominantly by men. Two tendencies of modern pornography are its greater reach via the internet and its more explicit depictions. This more explicit presentation of sex demonstrates the growing split between “erotic” and “gonzo” porn. Conventional “erotic” porn mirrors Hollywood’s storytelling style, with clear plotlines with both characters and sex serving a “romantic” end, which typically have a conventional male focus.  

David Rosen describes “Gonzo” porn in an article entitled “Is the Rise of Filthy Gonzo Porn Actually Dangerous, Or Are People Overreacting?”[3] According to Rosen, “Gonzo” porn has pushed the traditional boundaries of pornography to new extremes. It depicts sexual performances in which a male actor appears to harm the female performer during sex acts that no actual woman would want to engage in. “Gonzo” porn has no pretensions about plot and characters, sex acts are roughly enacted with more than one man involved, and videos use explicitly degrading language toward women.

There is reason to be very cautious about the potential negative effects on you and your marriage of watching (and masturbating to) pornography, particularly “gonzo” pornography.

A Postscript: Is Pornography Adultery?

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat published an article in 2008 in The Atlantic, “Is Pornography Adultery?”[4] His argument was that in hard-core pornography there are actually two sexual acts involved—the on-camera copulation and the masturbation it enables. For Douthat, these are interdependent; neither would happen without the other. His point is that this kind of pornography gets awfully close to moving from “fantasy” sexual activity to “real” sexual activity. If this is “real” sexual activity with another person, is this not getting close to what we identify as adulterous actions? 

Douthat challenged the point of view that looking at pornography is a “perfectly normal” activity, that all men do it, and that women should stop complaining and live with it because it is a low-risk alternative to “real” prostitution and affairs.

References

1.  Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld, “Sex in Bits and Bytes: What’s the Problem?” Scientific American Mind, July 1, 2010, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sex-in-bits-and-bytes/.

2. Davy Rothbart, “He’s Just Not That into Anyone: Even, and Perhaps Especially, When His Girlfriend Is Acting Like the Women He Can’t Stop Watching Online,” New York Magazine, January 30, 2011, http://nymag.com/news/features/70976/.

3. David Rosen, “Is the Rise of Filthy Gonzo Porn Actually Dangerous, Or Are People Overreacting?” Alternet, June 7, 2013, https://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/gonzo-porn.

4. Douthat, Ross.  “Is Pornography Adultery? The Atlantic. October, 2008.