Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

Just Listen

Why Men Use Porn (and How to Get Yours to Stop)

Answer In An Advice Column

Posted Jan 07, 2010

In a (.com) time, long, long ago; in a galaxy, far, far away, I was the Couples Coach at one of the internet's premiere women's sites. One of the columns I wrote in response to a reader's question regarding men using pornography generated much controversy. It also was very helpful in showing the high toll that using pornography can have on a man's life. You might want to share this with individuals and couples who are having problems with this.

Why Men Use Porn (and How to Get Yours to Stop)

Dear Dr. Mark,

I have been trying to talk to my partner about his pornography addiction for two years now. He defends its use as being only for personal pleasure. He also says he can't masturbate without it and that the intimacy he has with me is the "real" thing. The fact that he does this is ironic because he follows a spiritual path whose sacred law is that nothing shall be done to harm the women and children. We have an 8-month-old daughter now and I don't want to hide anything from her as she grows up, yet this seems like a sordid secret. Would he be able to live with himself if his daughter came to him one day and said, "Hey Dad, I want to be a pornography star"? In the meantime, it's hurting me. When I make love with him, I'm flooded by all these images and I get sick to my stomach. Even though he's tried to tell me that I'm his "Number-One Goddess," I don't believe him. When we're out, I can't help thinking that he's undressing every woman he meets. HELP!

4spirit
What would you do?

Couples Coach Dr. Mark Goulston replies:

Dear 4spirit,

You might not like what I am going to say, but please hear me out. For women, verbally venting their frustrations is a great stress reliever. No one knows why; it just is. Well, for men, an orgasm is a great stress reliever (not to say that that isn't also the case for women). No one knows why; it just is (Actually in an upcoming Usable Insight, you will discover that there is a reason why these work, based on recent findings in neuroscience).

There are two kinds of sex -- sex with love and sex just for sex's sake. Many husbands feel guilty about having sex just for sex's sake with their wives, because they feel like they are using her as a thing (as opposed to making love to the person they care about). So instead of using their wives as things, many men use pornography and masturbation (and often feel ashamed or even pathetic for doing so - one man in a couple's session when confronted yelled in embarrassment, "Meet Hilda!" and pointed to his right hand). I'm not advocating it or saying it's a wonderful practice, I'm just saying it's fairly common and not always unhealthy. Pornography and masturbation (in moderation) have probably saved more marriages than they have hurt. I think it's pretty sad, but it's just a fact of modern life. The trick of course is to do it in moderation rather than letting it become a full time substitution for real sex.

To give you an idea of the stress men feel, one man asked me a few months ago if I knew what the definition of a shower was. I told him I didn't. He told me: "A shower is the place where grown men go to cry when they're afraid they can't keep the promise they made to their wives and children to always take care of them and don't want their family to see how afraid they are."

If you can show your husband that you understand the pressure and responsibilities on him, he may feel less alone and less stressed out. And if he feels less stressed out, he may not need to resort to pornography as much. Take him aside and say to him: "Nobody, including me, knows how awful the pressure from all your responsibilities makes you feel. And nobody, including me, knows that sometimes -- even though you love me and our children -- you wish you could be single and have nobody to worry about but you. Isn't that true, honey? I'm sorry it's so tough." From there, you may be able to start a dialog about what is worrying him and help him find positive ways of dealing with the pressures in his life.