Is it just me or is the whole world talking about porn these days? Everywhere I turn, someone is struggling with pornography in their lives or knows someone who has.
I like to remain neutral about topics that can get moralistic so I’m not trying to be judgey about this. I have seen the destructive nature of pornography in my practice though.
I’ve tried engaging with others about this topic and some folks are very dismissive. I hear things like “boys will be boys”. I attended a training a while back and the instructor stated when porn is a problem in a relationship, it’s the objecting partner’s problem. They suggested the remedy was relaxing and watching together. I was a little judgey in that moment, appalled actually. Working with couples, it’s very common that porn is a point of contention. Telling the objecting partner, “This is your insecurity problem” when that partner is not getting their sexual or connection needs met is terribly short sighted.
If a neighbor watches porn in front of your children, it’s considered abuse. Why does it suddenly become non-abuse when your child turns 18? There’s something inherent in porn that leaves some of us vulnerable.
Now I’m not saying watching porn is wrong. Lots of couples enjoy it together as part of a healthy, happy sex life. When it leads to unrealistic expectations about sexual behavior, it’s a problem. When it is interfering with a happy, healthy sex life, that can be a problem.
When engagement with porn overshadows the actual relationship, problems abound. So, do problems in the relationship drive someone to porn or does porn cause problems in the relationship?
Just as an observation, pornography allows the viewer to be totally self-centered without the burden of engaging with another human. That’s something we can probably all relate to wanting at times. There is no performance pressure when you’re engaged with porn. No one is judging whether you’re satisfying another person or not.
While scientific studies are contradictory about whether porn addiction is “a thing”, biologically, porn impacts us physically. Consider the opinion of Kevin Majeures, a psychiatrist, specialist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and staff of Harvard Medical School. According to his research, the brain is impacted by pornography as follows.
In studies of rats, a male rat contained with a receptive female will mate, but once done, the rat is content. However, if a second receptive female is introduced, the male will again mate. This pattern is repeated every time a new female is introduced until the male rat is exhausted. This pattern has been repeated in every animal studied. This is called the Coolidge Effect. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coolidge_effect
Pornography impacts a human male’s brain in much the same way. Pornography offers the watcher a seemingly unlimited number of willing females. The lower brain is unable to discern a difference between a real female and a virtual female. Each new female that appears bumps up his sex drive again.
Dopamine is the hormone of desire. When you see something desirable, your brain pours out dopamine. This helps you focus on the object of your desire. When someone clicks and sees a new object of desire, an enormous flood of dopamine occurs and it’s on.
In our evolutionary history, humans have never been exposed to so many potential mating opportunities. With each new female introduced, a new rush of dopamine occurs. This creates a dopamine binge.
This hormonal cascade creates a vicious circle. Use of pornography overstimulates dopamine production. When the brain becomes flooded with dopamine, the brain destroys dopamine receptors to control the flood. This creates a lowered ability to utilize the dopamine. Thus, it takes even more dopamine to achieve the same thrill. It takes more time using porn, or more site visits, to get to the same stimulated state. Eventually this will not produce the desired effect and the dopamine must be boosted with shock, disgust or surprise. This means moving to kinkier and more perverse pornography, things that induce fear or disgust.
This leads Dr. Majeres to 2 conclusions. 1. Pornography is highly addictive and 2. Pornography is harmful to relationships. If you are interested in reading Dr. Majeres’ article, this is the link: http://purityispossible.com/the-science-behind-pornography/
Having sex with the same person repeatedly offers no sustained, similar rush in dopamine. This often causes the person watching pornography to prefer that activity to real life engagement. Their partner feels rejected, inferior and unimportant. Their partner gets their attachment bond rattled.
Whether you see it as an “addiction” or not is irrelevant because it CAN be a problem. Even if it’s just that your partner finds it disturbing. Part of our job in a relationship is to do what we can to make our partner feel secure.
Some signs that pornography might be a problem in your relationship are:
So, to those who see porn as no big deal, consider your partner’s feelings and preferences. Consider your own well mindedness. Porn has the potential to destroy relationships and families. I’ve seen it happen.
If you or a loved one is struggling with porn obsession, find some help here:
What have been your experiences with pornography? Has it been healthy or destructive in your life/relationship?
I stub my toe I give a little yelp, or a big yelp depending on the stub. It’s my natural reaction and there’s not much space to reasoning about that. Or is there? In a lecture hall where a hundred attendees are listening to a speaker and I stub my toe, I’m probably not going to yelp! Somehow, the situation interrupts my natural reaction and I can choose a more appropriate response.
Many relationship interactions are the same. We react to discomfort and fail to censor our reactions. My husband tells me he doesn’t like my haircut and I snap at him followed up by the cold shoulder all because I can’t handle the discomfort his “criticism” caused me.
The problem with reactions is they rarely make a situation better and in most cases, really mess it up. It represents the paradox of emotions in that what we want, we make less likely because of how our emotions drive our behavior. It can be really worthwhile to spend some time in discomfort learning about yourself and responding in more effective ways.
Take my example: my husband says he doesn’t like my haircut. I feel upset, uncomfortable, but I catch myself and rather than reacting, I explore why I’m having such a strong feeling.
So, my thoughts might run like this: Who does he think he is? I like this haircut! His haircut really sucks. (You might agree, this isn’t helpful) You might employ the Five Whys here. Why am I feeling so upset? Because his comment feels like criticism. Why do I have a problem with his criticism? Because I want him to think I look nice. Why do I want him to think I look nice? Because I want him to love and accept me. Why do I want him to love and accept me? Because if he doesn’t, he might not want to stay together. That’s only four whys, but I’m starting to get a much clearer idea of why his comment bothers me. My insecurity is triggered a bit and that fear fuels my anger. Of course the rational part of my brain understands this is ridiculous. Armed with that understanding I can now respond very differently. This process requires spending a time in discomfort (that’s how growth occurs). How much discomfort is there when you snap and withdraw? I’m betting MORE than my way!
So Practice Time! Think about the last time you had a strong reaction to something. Can you allow yourself to sit with that memory and analyze where it came from? Spend some time with the Five Whys to lead you to a deeper sense of where your fear or pain lies. This is excellent material to share with your partner if you can.
Let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you. Comment or email me privately at Allison@allisonvelez.com
Q-I think of myself as an optimist, but my wife seems to be a pessimist. I love my wife, but it feels like she is always complaining about something, and it’s starting to bother me. In a way, I think she is trying to express her feelings. I want to support her, but I’m not sure how.
A-You’re right, she’s trying to express herself. John Gottman says a complaint is an unmet desire expressed.
That being said, complaining is a habitual behavior most of the time. Try having a compassionate, supportive conversation with her about how it bothers you. It probably bothers you because you want to help correct whatever’s going on. Don’t start off telling her how wrong she is to communicate in that way. Try to make her feel understood and she won’t be defensive.
She may also have realized this is a problem and be open to changing this about herself. If she isn’t, don’t waste your time coercing her. Don’t respond to the complaining behavior, but fully engage when she’s being positive.
I, too, sometimes complain, and my husband just abruptly changes the subject! I’ll be going on about something and he’ll say, “Man, look how pretty the sky is today!” It’s kind of a joke between us now and we’ll just both laugh.
I assume from your question that she is not complaining about YOU specifically. If she is, there’s an opportunity for you to decide if there’s something you need to work on. If not, approach this as a team in trying to reduce a bad habit.
f she is depressed, seek professional help.
Best of luck, hope this helps!