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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 16 April, 2014

Column: Internet porn needs a warning – ‘may hurt your relationship’

When internet porn becomes a feature in a relationship it can bring catastrophic consequences, writes Eithne Bacuzzi.

Eithne Bacuzzi

PORN IS NOW at our fingertips, and one click makes it immediately accessible.

The result of this can be multifaceted, depending on the viewer. The question is, are we really aware of the consequences of this availability?

Patrick Carnes PhD writes in Facing the Shadow that:

Cybersex is transforming our sexuality. It is now the number one profit centre on the Internet, having passed sales in computer and software. Most sex education occurs on the web.

While internet porn has replaced the old information sources such as Playboy and Penthouse, people now access information in ways that are more comfortable and helpful. The powerful result of this is that users can be lulled into thinking that no one is watching and it is safe. The anonymity is an attraction.

This easy availability comes with a health warning. As a sex therapist I suggest consensual viewing of soft porn by partners is absolutely acceptable and can be fun. It can add to the enjoyment of a fulfilling creative sexual relationship.

Fantasy

When it is NOT okay is when one partner (mainly the female) feels coerced into performing sexual acts to please the other. This need to please can originate in the dynamic of their relationship and plays out both inside and out of the bedroom. Too often the porn script is: sex is better outside of loving relationships. Porn is always depicted as being devoid of warmth, affection, embrace, cuddling, laughter, flirtation and playfulness. It is portrayed as a clinical exercise in order to attain maximum sexual pleasure. It is goal focused and result driven.

Let me say here, that I believe and have witnessed some catastrophic consequences where internet porn becomes a feature in a couple’s relationship. In the extreme its constant solo use can go to the very soul of the relationship. It penetrates the closeness, intimacy and warmth, which are the fundamental ingredients of a healthy, working relationship. The frequency of use is very often lied about and if discovered, becomes a very contentious issue. I call it “the elephant in the room”.

Partners of frequent users who have chosen porn over relationship sex often report body and self esteem issues. Their initial reaction in an effort to understand their partner’s preoccupation can be around self blame. Frequent users also report feeling stressed, isolated and very alone. It’s a “lose-lose” situation. The piece they both long for is intimacy and feeling desired and loved. This is the most difficult part of any relationship to achieve, as it requires trust, vulnerability and love. The distance in the relationship happens slowly. Getting caught up in viewing internet porn doesn’t happen overnight.

Addiction

So when is it an addiction? When it replaces the relationship. When desire and arousal is present only while viewing these images. When it’s used as an escape mechanism, to avoid feeling lonely, hurt and stressed. When it interferes with one’s normal life and where there is disengagement from a close partner. Self delusion can take over and secrets become the norm. Fear of discovery becomes a constant burden and one feels powerless and ashamed.

The replacement relationship is now with a mood altering experience. The addict’s new norm is with airbrushed images that promote perfection. Perfect bodies, perfect sex, perfect timing, perfect orgasms, usually in unison. The real stuff of relationships is not quite like that.

So what about the effect of the wide availability of porn on vulnerable, inexperienced young people? Of course there is a parental responsibility piece here and it is entirely up to the individual adult person to monitor this viewing. There are many ways of doing this. The distorted view of sexual encounters can objectify females and promote the message that females are for the provision of pleasure. The sexually explicit material is exciting, titillating and normalised.

Young people

Concerns arise around young people’s emotional and intellectual development and there understanding of intimacy. We know that adolescents can experience emotional and physical pressure in early dating relationships. Suffice it is to say at this point, that in my own work as a therapist some, and I emphasise some, early exposure to explicit porn can reverberate in later relationships. It is seen as a major contributory factor to some sexual difficulties later. Impaired sexual desire, erectile issues, confidence issues are some of these.

On a very positive note, with cognitive restructuring, sexual information and education in adult life, it IS possible to undo some sexual core beliefs and expectations. We therapists are often presented with difficulties around results-driven and goal-orientated sex. The introduction of the idea that the sensual, slowing down aspect is the first step and with the elimination of pressure on sexual performance, this works extremely well. It’s what our work in sex therapy is all about.

The key message is: clinical, functional sex is never as rewarding as the feelings involved in making love.

Eithne Bacuzzi is a psychosexual counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland offers confidential counselling and support services that offer you the opportunity to understand and resolve difficulties in your relationship. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380 or email info@relationshipsireland.com.

Read: Ireland is the ‘sixth highest’ sign-up to Make Love Not Porn website>

Read: How sex shops came to Ireland>

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