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Articles by David H Jacobs Ph.D

Is Porn Bad For You?

Is Porn Bad For You? I’m talking about the videos you watch on the internet. I’m not interested here in examining what distinguishes artistic rendering or examination of human sexuality from porn or in examining if porn is simply a term of disapproval on the part of someone for something that another person does not find objectionable. Again, I’m talking about what you watch online that is commonly understood as porn.

The answer is it depends on what you want and value. Some things are not compatible with other things. For example, if you want to have athletic endurance you must be able to use oxygen efficiently. Smoking reduces the capacity of your lungs to take in and use oxygen. The two things are incompatible and work in opposite directions. Like it or not.

Watching a lot of porn is not compatible with being really present in your relationship (I am addressing people that are married or who are not married but in a committed relationship). Watching a lot of porn takes you away from your relationship’”attention, interest, energy, what you think about, how you plan and use your time, how much time you are physically present and emotionally engaged with your partner, and so on. Same comments if you are a parent. This all counts and is cumulative over time. It erodes the relationship. If you want and value connection, closeness, intimacy, etc., watching a lot of porn moves you in the opposite direction, like wanting athletic endurance but smoking.

Since you are an adult you realize that you are watching a staged production. At least, you realize it at an intellectual level. But we are all trained since birth to watch what we see on the screen in a certain frame of mind, a certain attitude, often called a ‘willing suspension of disbelief.’ I don’t like to see microphones and other equipment that as an audience member I’m not supposed to see when I watch a movie. It spoils the illusion and makes it harder to willingly suspend my knowledge that I’m watching a production. A movie cannot move you emotionally if you are continuously aware that the whole thing is staged. You might appreciate the acting and so forth but you cannot get caught up in the drama and accept the appearance of emotion as the real thing. When you watch porn you realize the whole thing is staged but nonetheless a part of you believes you are watching the real thing. Thus a part of you knows that the people you see in porn are just acting, but the more emotional part of you takes the acting in as a model or ideal of how people can actually conduct themselves sexually. Your own marital sexual life is much more mundane than you see on the screen. You know intellectually that you should not mistake porn for real life but part of you does anyway. This further disenchants you about your real spouse or partner and your real sex life together. You come to regard your actual sex life with your spouse or partner as pedestrian, mundane, uninteresting, uninspiring. You turn to porn more and more and are less and less present and invested in the real relationship. It’s a viscous cycle. Life is full of them.

Naturally developing a habit or addiction to porn does not come out of the blue. Nothing a person does or thinks or feels comes out of the blue. There is always a backstory. I am accustomed to married men talking to me about their porn habit also talking about frustrations, grudges, resentments, etc. towards their spouses that they have been unable to resolve in the marriage and in many cases have been unable to even discuss with their spouses (they are talking to me post-discovery and ultimatum; few of the men I talk to about their porn habit have resolved on their own to seek therapy). Like (I believe) all addictions, porn addiction is an attempt to substitute a thing for the complexities, frustrations, and disappointments of relying on a person for love and understanding. Addiction is an effort to be self-sufficient, to avoid needing and depending on the love, cooperation, and good-will of a person. It bespeaks a profound disenchantment with trying to get love, cooperation, and understanding from a person. It develops out of desperation.

Porn (all addictions) may not be easy to give up because notwithstanding its costs and drawbacks it is available on demand, doesn’t talk back, and delivers something. If it didn’t deliver something as far as the user is concerned there would be no addiction or reliance or dependence. I seem to use this quote from Vincent Filetti, founder of the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study conducted at Kaiser in San Diego a lot because it is so insightful: ‘It’s hard to give up something that almost works.’ He originally was referring to overeating but came to realize the same observation applied to all addictions. Being shaken up due to exposure, embarrassment, and threat is one thing, giving up an addiction permanently is another (I should not fail to mention the possibility that giving up one addiction may result in adopting another). Therapist and client must dig into why, in effect, giving up on real people and aspiring to be self-sufficient had such a pull. Exposure, embarrassment, and threat may halt addiction in the short run, but in the long run there has to be a re-adaptation to living that allows for peace and satisfaction without the original addiction. This is the therapy work.

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