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The Role of Pornography in Healthy Relationships

Back in the “good old days,” in order to look at pornographic images, adolescent boys would have to concoct a scheme to steal magazines form their fathers or from the local candy store.  For the most part, unless you lived in a big city with a bona fide “red light district,” pornography was limited to magazines and movies, and easily avoidable.  In the 21st century, that is a quaint and distant memory and pornography of every imaginable type is at any Internet users’ fingertips.  Given this significant change in the accessibility of pornographic images, movies, erotic literature, and services, couples may find themselves confronted with the task of figuring out the role of porn in their relationships.  Does it have a role?  What should that role be in healthy relationships?

What is a Healthy Relationship?

For the purposes of this discussion, relationships in which both partners care about each other’s health and safety: both emotional and physical.  Healthy, within this context, means there is no abuse, coercion, manipulation, or ill will being harbored by either partner for any reason.  There is a reasonably open and honest communication style and both partners want to be with each other and enjoying the relationship in all ways: emotional, sexual, social, etc.

What is Porn, Anyway?

Sounds like an absurd question, but it bears a moment of scrutiny.  Pornography is incredibly varied in content and style.  Despite being illegal, images of children are readily available, as are images or videos of people nearly any age, race, or gender performing sexual acts of all types with the same wide range of partners.  What is fairly consistent among pornographic images or videos is that because they are designed to arouse their audience, they are fictional or unrealistic.  Any boring moments or efforts that don’t result in explosive orgasms are edited out.  Photoshop enhances what nature or surgery did not provide.  These images or films are entertainment and are crafted to entertain in a very specific way.  Perhaps this is part of what makes pornography fun or appealing for some people – watching a video or looking at images can be an escape from real life partners and real life concerns.

Potential Problems

One potential problem for men might be regarding expectations.  If a young man, for example, has been exposed to pornography as an introduction into sexuality, he might have unrealistic expectations about his own body and performance as well as his partner’s.  This can lead to feeling shame or extreme shyness if he feels that he doesn’t measure up.  Unrealistic expectations about what “normal” sex acts are, and what most couples have in their repertoire are also possible.  This can also lead to disappointment with intimacy when it doesn’t mirror what the movie showed.

Another potential problem can develop in part due to the drabness real life intimacy may seem to offer compared to the movies. Some people start to prefer to the online version.  This can lead to obsession, isolation, and behavior that looks like addiction.

We’ve all read in the news about people who have lost jobs due to spending time on pornographic websites during the work day, on work computers.  This type of “consumption” of pornography is clearly problematic and requires treatment.

A third potential problem is that depending upon the images, stories or movies being watched, there may be subtle or not-so-subtle messages about the role of women (both sexually and societally) that are either unhealthy or downright damaging.  Rape fantasy images are common in pornography, as are other images demeaning or dangerous to positive relationships.  Any pornography that advocates or glorifies violence could be problematic in this regard.

Potential Plusses

Wait!  Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!  Some couples report that watching porn or reading erotica, either together or separately, enhances their sex life.  They report more intimacy and greater satisfaction with their sex lives and report that pornography is just one facet of their vibrant and healthy sexual relationship.

For some couples, enjoying porn together is just that: an activity that is enjoyed together.  For other couples, enjoying porn alone can increase a flagging libido and lead to more frequent intimacy.  The key in both cases is that the couple is aware of each other’s interest in porn and the use of porn occurs within the context of the relationship: it isn’t a secret and lacks all the trappings of infidelity.  The goal in both instances is increased pleasure as a couple – increased intimacy, fun, and satisfaction for both partners.

Not all people are comfortable revealing their interest in pornography, but many people are indeed at least curious if not aroused by some form of sexual images or videos.  Explore with your partner what might be pleasing or interesting for both of you and proceed with awareness and caution. If it isn’t fun or enjoyable for both of you, you might want to skip it.  But if it is, you may find your relationship enriched and deepened by the profound intimacy and love that a deeply satisfying sexual relationship can promote.

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