Porn has been around for ages, from the “wanton pictures” of Shakespeare’s time to the Playboys your older brother once stashed under the bed. But the internet has completely and irrevocably changed the realm of pornography. Long gone are the days where it was risky to obtain porn. Thanks to the internet, porn is now plentiful, free, and most importantly—anonymous.
Even for those who wouldn’t generally be at risk for engaging in addictive sexual behaviours, cyberporn is hard to resist. Hence why it is often referred to as the “crack cocaine” of sexual compulsivity. The internet has become a smorgasbord for sexual fantasy; there is literally something out there for everybody.
Children are now being exposed younger and younger to pornography via the internet, and even with the best nanny software, it is difficult to control exposure. As teens and adults, access is virtually unlimited. One can only imagine the difficulty for a horny, lonely teen to resist surfing porn late at night. Still, to a certain extent, porn can play a healthy role in the adolescent’s exploration of sexuality; though let us not forget that porn has its dark-side too, and can often present unrealistic standards and sex-negative behaviours. Seeing as cyberporn is not likely to go anywhere, the onus is now on parents, and our society, to make it clear what is and is not a healthy depiction of sexuality.
When excessive porn really becomes a problem though, is when it intrudes on the health of real-life relationships. Our society may glorify sex, yes, but it certainly has not prepared couples how to talk rationally about it. When partners feel frustrated and misunderstood in bed, it is all too easy to turn to the computer in order to satisfy sexual needs and fantasies on their own. And, even if everything is peachy under the sheets, some people just enjoy the visual stimulation of porn, but are embarrassed, or their partner unwilling, to share the experience of watching it. In these cases, the viewer is not necessarily a “porn addict,” though reliant and excessive in their use of pornography for gratification. Unlike a true porn addict, the excessive porn watcher is capable of stopping, though that doesn’t mean that their behaviour can’t be just as damaging to a relationship.
Actual, full-fledged porn compulsion is a form of sex addiction. Like the sex addict, the porn addict finds themselves unable to stop, even though their activities may be negatively affecting their lives. They may spend hours and hours each day surfing for porn—time away from their spouse, family or work; their addiction may eventually end up costing them their marriage or job. Yet porn becomes the addict’s outlet to deal with negative feelings, and the cycle perpetuates itself. It also doesn’t take very long to move from porn into other online sexual experiences—sex chatrooms, live webcams, cybersex.
Porn addicts, like sex addicts, need to find outside help, being by definition incapable of helping themselves. The excessive porn viewer, on the other hand, is capable of taking action on their own behalf. In this case, it is essential to start addressing the problems in the relationship that the viewer is avoiding by turning to porn. Relationships are really just a powerful combination of sex and friendship- and if the sex isn’t working out, then the relationship in trouble.
So does porn even have a place in the bedroom? I asked local sex therapist and Registered Psychologist Dr. Paul James this very question, who replied: “I think that if partners are open and honest about their use of pornography, that it can be a tool that enhances pleasure and arousal for partners individually and as a couple.” The key words here are “open” and “honest.” As soon as pornographic activity becomes secret, it becomes a problem.
As I’ve said before, porn is the skeleton in every couple’s closet, and it’s an issue that has to be dealt with maturely and openly if a relationship is to flourish. It is far too easy for a secret passion for cyberporn to turn into a dangerous obsession. There is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the truly amazing visual stimulation available out there on the internet, but it needs to be done in a healthy, honest way.