Let’s Talk Pornography

Question: I discovered that my husband is secretly using pornography on a regular basis. At the same time our sex life is pretty poor. What can I do?

Answer: Over the last decade the impact of pornography on intimate relationships has become a fairly common issue in my counselling practice. The most common scenario is this: One partner complains that the other is choosing internet sex over having sex with them. They feel threatened, jealous and left out. Who wouldn’t? For many couples this is a hard issue to discuss and often the situation is left to smolder and the relationship erodes with resentments and secrecy. So what is going on with pornography and what effect is it having?

The first thing we have to face about pornography is that it isn’t just a few marginalized deviant people using it. (Note: For the purpose of this article I will be discussing legal pornography not illegal child pornography.) It’s been reported that over 50 million Americans alone look at legal pornography each month. That’s almost a quarter of the adult population. Approximately $10 billion is spent annually on the pursuit of one dimensional internet sex. This is a new and powerful phenomenon involving many people.

As a therapist, I have seen a growing number of clients concerned about the effect of excessive use of pornography on their relationship but the concern always comes from the partner who isn’t participating and feels left out. The partner who is using pornography usually thinks it’s not at all excessive and thinks that the complaining partner just needs to be more liberal about it.

This begs the question, what exactly is excessive use of pornography? Like any other pleasurable behaviour, pornography use can turn addictive under certain circumstances. We know we are addicted to something when doing the behaviour has negative impact on our lives (e.g. Our partner is feeling neglected and threatening to leave or we are feeling guilt and shame over our behaviour). When casual pornography use turns secretive and compulsive there is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed.

The problem comes when the occasional user of pornography slips unknowingly into an addiction. This means they are likely using pornography to manage their emotions. (Orgasm increases positive neuro-chemicals) Masturbation with pornography can easily become a substitute for sex with their partners because it is so much easier and uncomplicated. The internet has provided quick and easy sexual stimulus that can help avoid working out issues in the relationship that need to be addressed. I certainly don’t believe that people using pornography excessively are intending to undermine their relationships. Like all of us, they are simply trying to cope.

My observation is that in some cases it is unaddressed issues in the relationship that set the stage for internet sex addiction. But in other cases it is simply the convenient availability of a quick uncomplicated orgasm (which makes all the bad feelings of life go away temporarily), that becomes increasingly alluring.

As with any other addiction, the addicted person is the last person to see there is a problem. (Hey, we’re all addicted to something!) From their point of view they are simply seeking an uncomplicated sexually pleasurable experience. But it is just as possible to become addicted to the neuro-chemicals of sexual pleasure as it is to alcohol or other drugs. The process and negative results are the same.

If your partner is pursuing pornography while neglecting your relationship, it’s important to find out why. Here are a few thoughts:

The first step is to be clear to him how you feel. Avoiding the topic won’t help. If you have trouble articulating your feelings, try writing them down first or speaking to a counsellor to get some clarity.

Look honestly at your relationship, sexual and otherwise. Does it need work? If you aren’t ready to bring this issue to a counselor’s office, consider some sexual self-help (more private and perhaps less threatening) to help you and your partner look at your sexual issues.

If your partner is unable to refocus on your relationship after hearing what you have to say, then see if he is willing to seek professional help with or without you.

Make sure that any counsellor you see has a neutral attitude about legal pornography because it won’t help to have your partner feel shamed about using pornography. You should be able to tell by asking the therapist first how they would handle such an issue.

If nothing changes seek help for you to help you decide your next step.

Author's Bio: 

Krisanna Jeffery, BSW, M Ed., is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Sex Educator trained at the University of Victoria and the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. She has had the privilege to work on issues of depression, anxiety, relationships and sexuality with many couples and individuals as a practicing psychotherapist since 1983, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. In 2001, she received the Professional Care Award from the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors for exhibiting special creativity and effectiveness in providing mental health care.

Krisanna has dedicated her life to helping others be the best they can be! In 2007 she published The Great Sex for Life Toolkit, a book, CD, and DVD package to help people heal and expand their sexuality. She is currently a practicing psychotherapist and speaker. More on Krisanna at www.krisanna.com. Sign up for her free newsletter, Sexual Tidbits, www.greatsexforlifetoolkit.com