With the recent release of the movie, 50 Shades of Grey, we as a culture have again revisited important issues about sexual matters that often don’t get talked about or clarified to the extent that we learn lessons that will actually improve our relationships. So, I am going to use this opportunity to talk about how pornography affects the emotional intimacy in romantic relationships. I’ll start with a question someone asked me recently.
I recently found out that my husband has been secretly viewing pornography online for years without me knowing. I feel very hurt by this discovery and disgusted by the thought of what he’s looking at. I told him this and he doesn’t see it as a big deal. He says “all guys use porn.” I need a reality check. Is pornography that prevalent with men? And what should I do with these feelings?
This is a very important question and one that many couples struggle with. First, it is correct in saying that many men turn to pornography on a regular basis. It is estimated that 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites on the internet. But, it isn’t just men. About one-third of those regular visitors are women. But those who claim that porn is not a “big deal” are wrong. It is a very big deal because of how it erodes the physical and emotional intimacy in real relationships.
Here are some things to consider:
- Healthy relationships are built on trust. To be intimate with someone is to make yourself vulnerable. Trust is the assurance that your partner will respect that vulnerability and honor you. If your partner is secretly inviting others (complete strangers no less) into the exclusive realm that should be reserved between the two of you, it breaks that trust and feelings of violation usually follow. Broken trust takes time and a lot of work to heal.
- The key to a strong, long-lasting relationship is the couple’s ability to build emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy, not sexual intimacy, is what makes a relationship most meaningful. Of course if you take your cues from the porn sites or even from the relentless messages streaming through the media, you might think that sex is the prime binding agent in relationships. Despite the fact that this myth is pervasive in our sex-obsessed culture, it is the emotional intimacy that makes a person feel valued, cherished, loved, cared for, listened to and appreciated. When emotional intimacy is kindled between two people, satisfaction with their sexual union is far greater. There is no need to go outside of that relationship for other types of sexual stimulation or entertainment.
- Pornography creates unrealistic expectations about your spouse and sexual behavior. Pornography has been shown to weaken commitment in marriages because it creates an utterly false impression of what a normal body looks like and what sexual behavior is really about. The sexual relationship is meant to be mutually satisfying expression of each partner’s love for the other. In contrast, porn is about self-gratification and often involves dominating or mistreating the other person.
I have found that people most prone to use pornography are those who have love deficits that occurred earlier in their lives. They have often come from homes where love and affection were scarce. We all are eventually exposed to porn at some point but those with love deficits seem more drawn to it as a substitute for the real relationships that weren’t as nurturing as they needed. If the person repeatedly returns to porn to get that excitement, it can become a compulsive behavior that may turn into an addiction over time. Don’t give up the fight to get these strangers out of your bedroom and your imagination. Your marriage may depend on it.
Article written by: Gary Gilles, LCPC
Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, Trinity International University and Argosy University. He teaches the full spectrum of psychology courses on site and online and has developed over 30 online courses for various academic institutions and businesses.