The effect of internet porn on relationships

Many therapists are increasingly hearing their male clients, or couples, highlight internet porn as a problem for them. 

This is not surprising given how much more accessible hardcore porn is compared with 10 or 20 years ago. Instead of having to get hold of magazines or videos, today anyone can access virtually any kind of porn - much of it free - with a few clicks on a mouse.

But is this really a problem? Isn’t it all okay among consenting adults? Well...kind of. I’m not taking a moral stance for or against porn but observing that more men (and it does seem to be men rather than women) seem to be coming to therapy with internet porn as one of the issues they’re struggling with.

Part of this is because it is just to easy to access. A man who is feeling depressed or angry about his relationship or his job can find himself getting into a dangerous habit of using internet porn to escape those uncomfortable feelings and give himself a lift.

But for many men, after the high of using internet porn there is often a low, as in the aftermath of using other drugs or compulsions. This ‘low’ often feels like an emptiness, a loneliness or even a feeling of shame. The danger is that these feelings of emptiness and shame then leave the individual feeling even more down than he was before using porn, and thus more vulnerable to using it again to escape these feelings!

It can have a damaging effect on relationships when one member, usually the man, gets into a habit of using internet porn to handle difficult feelings.

If the man, instead of trying to talk through his feelings with his partner, ‘escapes’ them through porn then some important things can begin to leak out of the relationship - such as intimacy and honesty.

Often the man is secretive about his use of porn and this secrecy will make itself felt, at some level, in the relationship even if his partner is not consciously aware of what is happening. The man will also likely have a lower sex drive with his partner is he is regularly using porn.

If it has been kept secret and the partner discovers what is going on she is likely to feel upset and angry. Their sex life may be further damaged if she begins to lose sexual confidence by comparing herself negatively with porn stars.

None of this is to say that porn is necessarily harmful to relationships, as many couples use it to spice up their sex lives. But often it is something that is not shared and becomes something secretive and exciting for the man, but something that also separates him from the relationship.

Part of the therapeutic approach to this issue is to look at what the man may be trying to escape from when he turns to internet porn. Is it anger with his partner or with something else? Boredom? Depression? When a place can be made for these feelings they can begin to exert less power.

Also, what is the man getting from porn? Excitement? Rebellion? A feeling of being connected to women who ‘want’ him? Again, exploring these feelings in therapy and looking at whether (and why) they are absent in the rest of his life, can be a powerful process.

The difficult aspect of working with this subject is that for many men there is a lot of shame around porn and so they are less likely to seek help in the first place. It may take a crisis, such as a partner finding out about it, for the man to really look at the behaviour.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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