Thursday, November 12, 2009

Depathologizing Porn: Why Can't It Be Just an Acceptable Diversion?

Usually this site is only about straight men who have sex with men. However, I have an article featured in a national psychotherapy magazine and I thought it would be of interest to readers of this blog.

It focuses on a heterosexual couple where the husband is caught using pornography by his wife. I illustrate how I work with the couple. The way in which I treat this couple is similar to how I would work with couples entering my office for the men who are caught viewing online male on male pornography.



Depathologizing Porn
Why Can't It Be Just an Acceptable Diversion?


by Joe Kort

In more than 25 years of practice, I've heard hundreds of stories of how pornography use can damage people's sex lives profoundly and ruin their marriages. I've personally had many couples describe the shame and secretiveness of one partner's involvement with porn. Time and again, I've treated people for whom viewing porn has become a compulsion and who've come to prefer it to being with a partner. Yet I've worked with many for whom porn isn't destructive to their relationship, but, in their view, offers a source of excitement and satisfaction they wouldn't otherwise experience.

Of course, these days, it's impossible to grasp the impact of pornography on relationships without considering the role of the Internet. Years ago, finding new and titillating erotica was a time-consuming chore.In the last couple of decades, though, the range of graphic material available online has exponentially accelerated the appeal and use of porn. Trying to explain the effect of the Internet on porn consumption, sex researcher Al Cooper has written that the driving force is the "Triple-A engine of Access, Affordability, and Anonymity." While it may take alcohol 30 years to ruin an alcoholic's health, only a year's worth of heavy cocaine use can lead to a total mental and physical collapse. Now, for some porn users, the Internet has become a kind of virtual cocaine.

Yet, despite the undeniable harm that porn can do, we therapists need to bear in mind a fundamental fact: the overwhelming majority of people exposed to it don't become addicts. Patrick Carnes's research shows that sexual addiction affects three to five percent of adults, suggesting that porn use isn't about to turn us into a country of addicts glued to their computer screens. Further, assuming that porn inevitably leads to addiction can blind us to understanding its nonpathological appeal to so many people—most of them men who are quite normal in every other way.

It can make it harder for us to accept that, in many relationships, porn use may satisfy needs that have nothing to do with psychological pathology or sexual dysfunction. In fact, noted sex researcher Helen Fisher argues that the brain-inhibiting effects of antidepressants pose a much graver threat to couples' sexuality than porn. She even advises couples to go on the Internet and look at porn as a kind of hormone booster, arguing that porn "drives up dopamine levels, which drives up your testosterone."

To be sure, porn use is permeated with a sense of the forbidden that triggers intense emotion, but as therapists, we need to understand it on a case-by-case basis and be careful to separate our own biases from our clients' needs. To begin to see porn in a more normalizing light, it can be helpful to understand the ways in which porn can be incorporated into a relationship without secretiveness or shame.

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4 comments:

Brendan said...

Perhaps it comes down to the need to address childhood conditioning and its impact on guilt associated with sexuality and porn. I'm not a psychologist, but I would think that people ashamed of admitting to enjoying porn, do so because of a fundamental conditioning that sex and sexuality should be confined to marital relationships, procreation, and its religious restrictions which stem from an education received during critical formative years. I also feel that men and women just don't understand each other enough. Women will always seem to feel inadequate if a man looks for sexual gratification (porn included) which doesn't include them. And men will continue to feel guilt associated with the desire for new sexual experiences which don't involve their partners. Will we ever get it right? Probably not.

annod said...

Although I believe in the first amendment, freedom of expression, I suggest that couples or individuals explore their fascination with porn.

I find it difficult to believe that all porn actors are proud participants. Who would be proud of their daughter or niece or wife, if this is her career??

The sensationalism, along with incredible expectations, seems to cloud the beauty and satisfaction about sex. Their is nothing intimate about porn. Yet it is typically a private intimacy between two adults. There is an element of deep contact, even in one time stands, that gets pulled apart by pornography.

Where is the playfulness, adventure and sizzling sex when he has had hours of on line sex? This slice of the entertainment business seems to turn its back on the fantastic moments the private sex can bring. Exploring, seducing, stimulating, sex toys can bring new elements into the act of intercourse or other forms of sexual expression. Seems as phony as the wealthy ministers with their big congregations and money making schemes.

Some things are much better left in privacy.

Dr. John Beiter said...

Thanks Joe for addressing a highly debated and polarizing subject such as obsessive compulsive behavior regarding electronically digitized sexual images on the Internet as portrayed through a plastic or glass screen. I thought your presentation was professional, insightful. sensitive and respectful of those involved. I really enjoyed the questions you posed and how as therapists we need to look at their impact on our own attitudes when working with clients who present with just such issues and concerns. Again thanks for your courageous efforts in opening the dialogue for us to learn from.

Dr. John Beiter said...
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