It’s out of vogue for girlfriends and wives to complain about their significant others’ porn use, and a bride who asks her groom to forgo bachelor party strippers is universally seen as insecure and controlling—or at the very least an unrealistic simpleton. Only someone hopelessly outdated and provincial would turn away from Dan Savage’s advice to accept that it’s normal and healthy for people to want a variety of visual stimulus in their sexual repertoire. And yet, there are a few of us throwbacks who believe looking at pornography and paying for sex work are detrimental to relationships. Who ask our partner not just to limit strip club outings or keep porn use under discreet cover but to abstain from them altogether.
See, I’m already sounding like I wear my hair in a 1950s housewife updo and agree to nothing but once-a-month lights-out missionary position. Which is why it was gratifying to read in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity (Oct-Dec 2011) that research doesn’t exactly hold with the sophisticate theory that porn is wholly harmless to relationships:
Men’s pornography viewing has been shown to be associated with unhealthy, less stable relationships.... For example, viewing pornography has been associated with (a) a decrease in relational sexual intimacy; (b) an increase in egocentric sexual practices aimed at personal pleasure and with little regard to the pleasure of the engaging partner.... Furthermore, men who frequently view pornography express a greater dissatisfaction with their partner’s physical appearance, sexual performance, and sexual curiosity.
I realize that most modern feminists wouldn’t touch an anti-porn stance with a 10-foot stripper pole. Which makes it even more valuable to put this research out there and see if it jives with anyone’s personal experience. Has a porn habit made your boyfriend less capable of attending to “the pleasure of the engaging partner”—i.e., you and your orgasm and your overall sexual experience? Has it made one-on-one real-life sex with a real-life partner less rewarding for both involved?
Some men “prefer smut to real sex because while they’re viewing porn, they’re in control,” explain therapists Barry McCarthy and Michele Weiner-Davis in Psychology Today. No one else’s feelings or desires need to be taken into consideration during solo sessions. As McCarthy says, “Couple sex is much more complicated.”
In this era of the sexy feminist, where the liberated suburban mom takes pole dancing lessons, balking at pornography and sex work will certainly come across as prudish. But what I’m hearing is that the more porn a man consumes, the less he and his partner will enjoy their real-life sex. And who wants that? The good news for couples, Psychology Today reports, is that “even a conflict over pornography, handled constructively, can improve a relationship.” Which makes for a happy ending—for all.
Sources: Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention (article not available online), Psychology Today
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.