Online Porn And The Couple Relationship -- What's The Problem?

Posted On: Monday, November 14, 2016

Online Porn And The Couple Relationship --  What's The Problem? Prior to the Internet, viewing pornographic material was considered somewhat normal, as long as both partners agreed to it. In fact, previous research has shown that couples that viewed porn together reported that it enhanced sexual intimacy. This makes sense. In a long-term relationship or marriage, and often once children arrive, the needs of the couple get put on the back burner and it’s not uncommon that sexual intimacy can be diminished. Another important factor is that familiarity and the lack of novelty can greatly diminish sexual desire and the viewing of porn can increase arousal and desire.

However, since the Internet and its ability to provide easy access, affordability and anonymity, experts suggest that viewing online pornography has become pervasive and destructive to marriages or long-term relationships.

Pornography is a huge industry and not about to get smaller anytime soon. World pornography revenues reported in 2006 were $96 billion. This is not a casual, non-consequential phenomenon. For many, viewing online pornography is now considered an act of betrayal and extremely injurious to a secure, mutual relationship. This is especially true when one partner is viewing pornography in the absence of the other. This makes it feel even more like an act of infidelity. Prevalence rates for those seeking therapy have increased dramatically. One of the challenges in couple therapy is that there is a tendency to minimize or trivialize the interpersonal and biological effects of viewing online porn.

Some may attempt to make the argument that what happens in cyberspace is not betrayal. But making this argument becomes more difficult given that online pornography can include experiencing sexually interactive behaviors, like visiting chat rooms and engaging in sexual acts with others in real time.

Even though it may not happen in person, women, especially, report feeling betrayed and unable to compete. Knowing that your partner is engaging in these online activities creates a sense of inadequacy and feeling cheated out of a sensual and sexually satisfying relationship. Schneider’s research on pornography addiction suggests that excessive viewing of online pornography diminishes the capacity for real connection and mutually satisfying sex with your spouse or committed partner. Dr. Barry McCarthy, author of "Rekindling Desire," suggests that, “Real life women are unable to compete with the women in erotic movies and smut. It's a useless and futile exercise.”

Oftentimes, viewing porn and masturbating replaces mutually satisfying sexual intimacy. It diminishes the capacity for real connection and often suggests to the betrayed spouse that I must not be good enough, sexy enough ... attractive enough.

Another consideration is the addictive nature of viewing online pornography. Neuroscientists suggest that engaging in this behavior shares some of the same powerful, reinforcing properties as other addictions, like substance, alcohol abuse, and gambling. Tolerance, as with substances and alcohol, is also a factor. The more one views pornography, the more experimental he or she may become, needing more novelty and higher levels of stimuli. In one study, spouses who reported viewing online porn shared that they wouldn’t even consider engaging in the types of erotic behaviors sought online with their intimate partners. The problem is that the more erotic the stimulation becomes, the less likely it is that one can become aroused without it. And normal sex is avoided.

When this becomes a persistent and pervasive problem, treatment is required. One of the first issues is dealing with the denial that there is a problem. As suggested earlier, many will make the argument that it’s acceptable behavior because it’s not happening in person or one-on-one or that all men do it all the time (and a lot do, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem for some).

Research suggests that porn addiction can also be related to other forms of sexual addiction that can lead to dangerous and destructive consequences including extramarital affairs and one-night stands.

Most treatment plans are multi-dimensional. Abstinence from viewing online pornography is usually recommended. Medications that manage compulsivity, anxiety and depression are sometimes prescribed. At the same time addiction can be viewed as a symptom of other underlying issues. Like any other addiction, it’s important to know what emotional injuries may be triggering the desire to escape into this type of behavior. Another important dimension is couple therapy that can address emotional injury. As with any form of betrayal, recreating trust is a main issue. The ultimate goal is to replace the compulsive, destructive behavior with more purposeful and healthy activities and to be able to help the couple recreate a more satisfying and secure relationship that includes both emotional and sexual intimacy.

Each couple is unique in what is acceptable behavior within their committed relationship. Partners must decide together what behaviors are acceptable and what are not. The intention here is not to suggest that viewing pornography is problematic for every individual and every relationship. However, if viewing online porn has become a problem in your relationship, then it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. If you can’t have that conversation in a way where both of your voices are heard and valued, it may be time to consult a therapist to help figure things out.

Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.