…is it ok?
We are quick to pathologize porn usage both in single status and more so in relationships. Hyper-sexuality and Sexual Addiction are quickly becoming concerning labels. While not completely innocuous (which we will look at later), might porn provide the very platform many people need to preserve the last little part of themselves that has become shared and conventional?
IT'S REALLY A THING
35% of all website traffic is to porn sites. This is more than Amazon, Netflix and Twitter combined. 1 in 5 mobile searches are for porn. Well then, if this is the reality of our culture today, can we attempt to understand it better? Rather than dismiss it as perverse, can we look at some possible reasons for these astounding statistics? As a couples therapist, I see the manifestations of finding out one’s partner is “into porn”. While the varying feelings around this issue are different for each couple, some common themes are apparent. Highly disturbing is the feeling of betrayal due to secrecy. In a union that is proclaimed to be shared territory, the very idea of separate exploration and enjoyment is questionable, if not forbidden! The exclusion one partner feels from the other’s private world is most often quite unacceptable.
THE PRIMITIVE BEHAVIOR OF SECRECY
Be that as it may, privatizing parts of the self has served a purpose throughout the life cycle. Yes, we need to tweak this a bit now in adulthood, but lets first understand the primitive behavior of secrecy. We need only to witness young children playing to see the creation of secret hideouts and imaginary friends. Fundamental to development and individuation, we allow our children this creativity. Surely we all remember as young teens the thrill of being left alone in the house for an afternoon, free to experiment as we wished. I periodically hear from clients that they recall that poignant feeling as adults, when their family goes out and they are left alone to their own devices. The need to “do something bad” emerges still! I say “bad” loosely, rather it is to do something unconventional; something not allowed by parents or society.
FROM REALITY TO FANTASY
Why? This lingering desire to explore and discover something about the self that is not up for public scrutiny. The possibility of allowing another part of our selves to emerge, without judgement. Wow. How enticing. Adulthood, in itself, constitutes an open forum environment. We choose our own lifestyles, and set the rules & regs as we see fit. We sign up for major roles and do our best to adhere to the responsibilities. Piece by piece, we drift away from what Carl Jung called our Anima. A vital function of the psyche is to connect back with our original story. Everyone has a unique story of who they truly are. Much of my clinical work is to arrive at what this is. In the process of growing up, we lose touch with our innate desires. Primal needs get crushed early on and reshaped according to social construct. Only through creativity can we arrive back at our true needs. Pretty deep stuff, and I don’t mean to say we should use porn to reconnect with ourselves, but I cant help but notice the drive from reality to fantasy. And wonder what, besides the obvious, is in the fantasy?
IS IT BETRAYAL?
I have a lot of questions for couples that come in with this issue of porn use as betrayal. First and foremost is willingness to understand. What really goes on while watching porn? Is there a core erotic theme? Are you curious about what it might be and its significance for your partner? While it is easier and tempting to throw in the towel and write it off to perversion, isn't part of this commitment to understand your partners inner world? And, is the offending partner willing to talk about this, willing to allow entrance to this world, shame aside? Not an easy task, as there is much shame involved for many. I have to ask the couple to suspend this aspect for a bit. In a safe environment of non judgement, we can explore the answers to the overwhelming questions of the private sexual arena.
Another common idea is the “I’m not good enough” theme. The idea that your partner has deemed you unsatisfactory and needs better and more. If I can help the hurt partner to get past this limiting and misleading idea , we are on our way to broader horizons. Although it is quite normal to feel this way, there is so much more underlying info that lead to this mode of stimulation. This is probably the most difficult aspect to evolve from, and it has a lot to do with boundaries and ego. One cannot take full responsibility for the other’s issues. As I often say, you only get 50% at most! Lets look onward to the others’ 50%.
SEPARATE, NOT SECRET
So, here’s the caveat. While privacy may in fact preserve individuation, monogamous relationships do not allow for secrecy. Fair enough. Finding other ways to maintain individual significance is crucial to a healthy relationship, so no one feels they are melding into oneship. Couples need, and must, have separate interests. Separate not secret. Does this mean the porn must be forfeited? Definitely not. It does, however, need to be disclosed, or even better, shared. Couples that are open about porn and masturbation, are less stressed. No matter how hot the relationship started off, there comes a time when we settle down into routine. Sexual and otherwise. This creates the very safety and security we are driven toward. Ah, the gift and the curse! While many risk the precious gift they have cultivated by going for outside stimulation, or straight to the hot fling, might there be a way to envelope this gift, in an erotic context? Using your shared stories of primal needs and shadow sides, couples can co-create a new sexual menu. Time to bring porn out of the shadows; make it part of a new shared sexual arena.
When is it too much and what are the pitfalls? All that we program into the mind has its effects. Make sure you change the channel! We are neuroplastic. Our brains quickly train to light up in a specific mode and repetition reinforces its strength. It is important to have other pathways to arousal, and to orgasm. Because of porn, people are masturbating more and intimate lovemaking is becoming a struggle for many. Young adults are surprisingly reporting ED issues during sex. Yes, this can be related to excessive porn and masturbation. Becoming programmed to a higher friction of masturbatory style will decrease the ability to sustain arousal during intercourse. I hear various types of problems, from inability to climax during conventional intercourse, to total ED without oral or manual stimulation, to dependence on fetishes, and on and on. A new diagnostic category for this is surely on the horizon. Boundaries around porn use are a must, so we do not lose the art of lovemaking in the mindful zone that connects us in our union. We must be able to sustain the focus of bodily pleasure in a mindful zone, not one of distraction.
While porn provides a creative database, the overload of it causes distraction, loss of focus, and inability to climax. Used wisely and constructively, it can facilitate a connection with your own unique erotic world, and to share this with a partner is bonding. It requires trust and vulnerability, the very components of intimacy! Used unwisely, it can surely be problematic.