Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMF
Porn Addiction has become quite the buzzword in recent years. The recent pandemic certainly hasn't helped with this issue as many people faced isolation, increased levels of depression, and boredom. This caused some people to use pornography as a coping skill. Some may even wonder if they have a sex or porn "addiction”.
A Note About Pornography Addiction vs. Compulsion
The sex therapy community as a whole generally doesn't recognize sex or pornography as an addiction. These behaviors can certainly be compulsive, but there are a few key differences between addiction and compulsion. The biggest is that compulsion has a core driving force that drives porn use, while addiction drives itself. This is an important distinction because if we work to heal whatever is driving the compulsive use we can stop it. The other thing I want to clarify is that pornography use is not inherently bad. I see pornography as a neutral concept, but how it's created and used determines whether it's good or bad in your life. One way pornography can become an unhealthy thing in your life is when it’s being used as a coping skill to escape negative feelings.
Fight or Flight
When we experience negative feelings there's an almost immediate reaction. A part of our brain called the amygdala constantly works to decide if things in the world around us are a threat. This is the fight or flight center of our brain, and unfortunately, it's not very smart. The amygdala can't tell the difference between hurtful words and real physical danger. It senses that we are afraid or hurt and it kicks into gear. One way many people end up using porn in an unhealthy way is by using it to "run away" from painful emotional states. Sexual pleasure and stimulation release a whole load of feel-good chemicals in the brain which can temporarily override negative emotions and provide an escape from the pain. The problem here is that it's only temporary. Once that "high" wears off the problem is still there for you to face. This is where porn use can truly become compulsive. It becomes a cycle of feeling good, and then as soon as the discomfort starts to set in again it's back to your painkiller. Just about anything can be the cause of this pain, from daily life struggles to deep personal trauma. Again, I'd like to point out the positive here that if you work to heal that internal pain and develop healthy coping skills you can overcome this unhealthy use of pornography.
Finding Meaning: Porn As a Distraction
Pain isn't the only thing that makes us want to escape. A study published in the November 2022 journal of Personality and Individual Differences found that many people use porn as an escape from the meaninglessness that can arise from boredom. The study's author had previously found that boredom can convey a strong sense of meaninglessness in life. This meaninglessness is the exact kind of pain we're talking about when we look at the kind of existential pain people often try to escape from instead of resolving. In this study, the researchers found a significant link between boredom and pornography use. They identified that indeed pornography use does create a distraction from that negative mental state, and this also leads to increased use.
Pornography Use in Relationships
I've worked with a lot of couples where pornography use is causing problems in the relationship. One of the primary concerns I hear from partners is a worry that their partner isn't attracted to them or that they aren't enough. The good news is that odds are that this isn't the case. If you're worried about your own or your partner's pornography use, a good first question to ask is "Is the porn being used to escape negative emotions?" In the majority of couples I work with this tends to be the case, and means there's good work we can do to remove the compulsive nature of the use. Some people are opposed to pornography as an idea or feel it is a breach of trust in the relationship. This is just fine, everyone is entitled to set their own boundaries in the relationship. The problem I often see occur with these couples, however, is that they try to essentially quit "cold turkey" without actually resolving the reason why the porn is being used in the first place. So, whether you want to eliminate porn use entirely, or just be able to use it in a healthy way, the first step is to resolve the internal pain that's driving the unhealthy use. I would also note here that many people often try to use sex in the same way within their relationship- especially to cope with pain within the relationship. People often feel that if their partner will have sex with them then everything is ok.
Moving Forward: Consider Talking With a Minnesota Sex Therapist
Porn use and masturbation are very vulnerable and private topics to talk about. Talking to a sex therapist can be a great way to get started. We're happy to talk about pornography use, identify how it's being used in a way you don't like, and help you find solutions. We can also help heal any harm pornography use may have caused within your relationship. I know these are difficult topics to talk about, but talking is the first step. Our sex therapists want to help you address sexual concerns and deal with addiction in Minnesota. You can begin t0 overcome problematic sexual behaviors, heal, reconnect and thrive in your relationship through these simple steps:
Other Sex Therapy and Couples Counseling Services in Minnesota
In addition to sex therapy, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include therapy around sex and substances, couples therapy & marriage counseling, EFT, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. In order to help serve the mental health needs of all those living in Minnesota, we also offer online counseling & sex therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled sex therapist! Your sex life can be amazing. Sex therapy can be a part of that process for you.
We're thrilled to be named one of the "Top 20 Sex Therapy Blogs You Need to Follow"!!!
References for This Article
Andrew B. Moynihan, Eric R. Igou, Wijnand A.P. van Tilburg,
Pornography consumption as an existential escape from boredom,
Personality and Individual Differences,
The first of this month marked National Hair Day, which got me thinking about an amazing piece of evolutionary biology that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves: pubic hair! Our “hair down there” is often the subject of questions, comparisons, and for some, even shame. Should I “mow the lawn” before having sex? Will my partner expect me to be bare “down there”? Will I be dirty and smelly if I don’t “clean the carpet”? What are the best products to use on my “bush”? Our conversations about pubic hair are frequently veiled with euphemisms and an implicit agreement that being hairy is shameful. For people with vaginas, pubic hair gets roped into a narrative that our genitals need to be groomed and maintained in order to be considered clean and desirable. I am here to tell you that this is unequivocally false. Growing your pubes doesn’t make you dirty and grooming your pubes doesn’t make you clean. Although pubic hair removal has been the target of intense marketing schemes, with creams, razors, tweezers, scissors, and waxing pads that promise silky smooth skin without pain or bumps, there is no reason why you should feel pressure to remove pubic hair. Whether you choose to wax, trim, tweeze, shave, or go au natural, it is a personal choice that should be left entirely up to you.
Pubic Hair Serves a Purpose
Before you can decide how or if you want to groom your pubic hair, it is important to recognize what purpose it serves. Just like your eyelashes and eyebrows, pubic hair acts as a barrier to trap bacteria and debris. The hair is there to physically protect your vagina from yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and sexually transmitted infections. A recent study from the University of California, San Francisco found that “extreme groomers”– participants who removed all their pubic hair at least 11 times per year – were more than four times as likely to have acquired a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Syphilis and HPV, which both affect the skin, were most highly associated with aggressive grooming practices. This data is only correlational and cannot definitively say that pubic grooming caused STI development, however, it does fit with what we know about shaving pubic hair. Shaving creates tiny cuts and microtears on our skin, which makes it more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Shaving, particularly before sex, may increase the ease at which infections can enter your skin.
Pubes Through the Ages
Proof of pubic hair removal dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt, where we can see evidence of copper razors and flintstones as tools for grooming genital hair. With that being said, there are also hieroglyphics that show women with dark triangles of hair covering their genitals. In Ancient Greece, tweezers and pumice stones were used in service of pubic grooming. Now, we have more advanced technology to remove our pubic hair, creating a profitable business for hair removal companies. The global hair removal products market is expected to reach $1.3 billion by 2026. This industry began to take off when the female razor was first introduced in 1915 by Gillette Safety Razor Company. In an advertisement at the time, female body hair was described as an “embarrassing personal problem.” Nair, a hair removal cream, was introduced in the 1940s and promised consumers an opportunity to take on “completely new glamour and allure.” Since the beginning of modern advertising practices, companies capitalized on the insecurities of women and profited by stoking fear of being undesirable. While there is evidence of pubic hair removal for thousands of years, more recent capitalistic business endeavors have encouraged women to groom their pubic hair through shaming and fearmongering.
Your Attitude Toward Your Pubic Hair Impacts Your Sexual Health
A 2017 study looked at women’s perceptions of their genitals and found that women most commonly were concerned about genital odor, amount and texture of pubic hair, and fears about reactions by others. Several women in the study made derogatory comments about their bodies, such as saying that their genitals are “weird,” “foreign,” or “creepy-looking.” One participant discussed her genitals by saying, “they kind of gross me out… it just makes me feel really uncomfortable… I pretend it is not there.” The study found that negative self-image and detachment from our own genitals were associated with less motivation to avoid risky sexual behavior and underuse of gynecological exams.
Find What Sparks Joy...Down There.
If this sounds like your experience, I want you to know that you are not alone. From the time we are born, the patriarchy conditions women to feel shame and embarrassment about how their bodies look and what their bodies do. Rather than focusing so much on making our vulvas desirable for others, I would encourage each of you to cultivate a relationship with your pubic hair. Regardless of how you choose to groom them, thank your pubes for the protection they give you, and love them as a natural part of your body! From there, think about what feels best for you and go for it! Maybe it’s a bush, maybe it’s a landing strip, or maybe it is a full Brazilian wax. Whatever you choose, know that this is a personal decision left entirely up to you.
Fudge, M. C. & Byers, E. S. (2017). An exploration of the prevalence of global, categorical, and specific female genital dissatisfaction. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 26, 2: 112-121.
Osterberg, E.C., Gaither, T. W., Awad, M. A., et al. (2017). Correlation between pubic hair grooming and STIs: Results from a nationally representative probability sample. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 93: 162-166.
Want to Talk With a Sex Therapist in the Minneapolis, MN Area?
Want to talk about any of this, or other issues of sexual wellness? You deserve the best information from the best resources available. Our sex therapists want to help you with sex therapy here in Plymouth, or anywhere in the state with online therapy in Minnesota. Get started by following these simple steps:
Other Mental Health Services in Minnesota
In addition to sex therapy, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include EFT, couples therapy & marriage counseling, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. In order to help serve the mental health needs of all those living in Minnesota, we also offer online counseling & sex therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled therapist!
We're thrilled to be named one of the "Top 20 Sex Therapy Blogs You Need to Follow"!!!
Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMFT
As a sex therapist, I get to hear a lot of questions that people are often afraid to ask. When it comes to sex, there's this cultural myth that we're just supposed to know everything already, and if you need to learn anything about sex, you've already failed. When you pair this with the cultural taboo of talking about sex and the abysmal state of sex education, you end up with a lot of unanswered questions and misinformation. Today we'll look at some common questions and their answers.
How can I be good at sex?
This is one that everyone wants to know and many people have written entire books on, but let's look at some simple tips to improve your sex game. When it comes to sexual skill there are two major components, physical and mental. Great sex absolutely requires technical skill, but this can be very hard to learn. Sex-Ed in high school certainly isn't teaching you cunnilingus techniques. On this front there are many good books that go into detail on the technical aspect of sex, I'll list some at the end of the blog. Even the technical side of things isn't this simple, however. Each person is different in their physical body and preferences, so the simplest thing you can do to be good at sex is ask your partner what feels good for them and do that. When you combine general technical skill with your partner's personal preferences you're well on your way to great sex.
The other half of great sex is your mental game.
This means being present and in the moment, or being engaged with the experience of sex while not overly focused on the technical aspects. I like to use the metaphor of going for a bike ride. You don't go for a ride to think about pedaling, steering, and balancing. You go for a ride to enjoy the experience. You may occasionally need to check in on technical aspects if you hit a sharp turn or a patch of gravel, but then you bring your attention back to enjoying the ride. Side note, this means your technical skills need to be well practiced so you don't have to focus too much on them. The other mental piece of great sex is engaging your partner mentally and emotionally as well. What are you doing to mentally and emotionally stimulate them as well as physically? A good way to bring this in is through sexual contexts/themes, such as a power dynamic or romantic environment. I've spoken at length about sexual contexts in other blogs so feel free to check those out as well. The idea originally comes from Dr. Emily Nagoski's "Come As You Are" which is included in the list of great books at the bottom.
Can a vibrator break my clit?
The short answer is no, a vibrator cannot break your clitoris. However we all have a limit on stimulation and sensitivity. If you're looking for a good experience with a vibrator you want to choose one that has settings that feel good to you, some are more intense than others. You may also want to play around with the placement of your vibrator, sometimes placing it directly on the clitoris can be too intense, so find what works for you. Whether orgasm happens or not, sometimes the clitoris reaches its stimulation limit and needs a break. This doesn't mean it's broken, we call this the refractory period and after several minutes of intense sensitivity it will begin to return to normal. Lastly, some people worry that if they get used to a vibrator, they will have to rely on it to achieve orgasm. This is also untrue. Orgasm typically requires consistent rhythmic stimulation. Vibrators are just particularly good at achieving this and can sometimes lead to quicker, easier orgasms, but any other consistent rhythmic stimulation can still end in orgasm.
I've been faking orgasms with my partner, is that bad?
Yes. This is bad for a number of reasons. It can be hard to share with a partner that things aren't working out the way you'd like them too. Sex is a very vulnerable topic and it's easy to worry about hurting your partner. That being said, faking orgasms is only going to lead to bigger problems down the road. The first thing I want to address is that orgasm doesn't need to happen every single time for a good sex life. If no orgasms are happening that's a different story. The next issue here is that as long as you are faking, nothing is going to change or get better. This often leads to increasing disinterest in sex, or even in resentment towards sex and your partner. I know it's scary, but it's worth having the conversation. I recommend doing so outside of the bedroom and not immediately after or before sex.
Is it ok to masturbate if I have a regular sexual partner?
Of course! I like to split our sexual needs in two. We have a basic human need for sexual release, and we have a need for sexual intimacy with our partner. These things are different and may be needed at different times.The first need is like hunger, if you're hungry or horny you can ask your partner to get you a snack or have sex, but if they don't want to you can just do it yourself. This need often comes up more frequently than the other. If you had great intimate sex yesterday you might still want an orgasm today, but not need the emotional intimacy or work that comes with sex. I've often heard people say that they had great sex in the morning, and thinking about it later that day turned them on again so they masturbated. The basic need is often more pressing as well, if I need to eat I can't always wait for my partner to be ready to eat as well. However, when it comes to sex, we both need to be on the same page. So don't worry about yourself or your partner masturbating. That masturbation isn't doing anything to meet the need for intimacy and you'll still want each other.
I'm in a heterosexual relationship and my boyfriend asked me to peg him, is he gay?
I've talked about this at length as well, but the short answer is no. Anal sex can feel pleasurable for men because the anus is the best way to stimulate the prostate which can cause intense pleasure and orgasm. It's anatomy that makes male anal penetration feel good, not sexual orientation. For those who don't know, pegging refers to a partner using a strap on dildo to anally penetrate their partner. I think it's important to note that a dildo does not equal a penis. Some dildos specifically replicate penises while others are simply tools for pleasure. Regardless, the point of this question is that your partner wants YOU to pleasure them, not another man.
Books for Reference:
She Comes First - Dr. Ian Kerner
Great Sex - Michael Castleman
Come As You Are - Dr. Emily Nagoski
Ready to Talk With a Sex Therapist in Plymouth, MN?
This may not feel easy to talk about with your partner, or even to a professional. But, you deserve the best sex therapy available, when you are ready. Our sex therapists want to help you with sex therapy or marriage counseling here in Plymouth, or anywhere in the state with online therapy in Minnesota. Get started by following these simple steps:
Other Relationship & Mental Health Services in Minnesota
In addition to couples therapy & marriage counseling, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include sex therapy, EFT, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. In order to help serve the mental health needs of all those living in Minnesota, we also offer online counseling & sex therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled therapist! Your love life can be amazing.
We're thrilled to be named one of the "Top 20 Sex Therapy Blogs You Need to Follow"!!!
Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Owner and Therapist, Amanda Holmberg, MS LMFT
I have been recently inspired by the Netflix original series How to Build a Sex Room and want to share with you why I think we all need a sex room. This show is like the sexy version of HGTV.
What is a sex room?
First, what is a sex room? Put simply, it’s a place where you get intimate with yourself and/or partner or partners.
This can be your bedroom or a different room in your house.
Why do you need a sex room?
Think about your bedroom for a second.
Is it clean?
Is it a place you want to be?
Does it give sexy vibes?
Are any sex toys easily accessible?
If you answered no to any of these questions, you need a sex room.
Everyone needs a sex room.
If you’ve watched How to Build a Sex Room, you’ve likely noticed that there were all kinds of folks on there. Poly families, vanilla couples, kinky couples, couples with and without children, gay couples, singles, etc. Many couples had specific requests for their rooms. Some needed suspension bars to hang from the ceiling, some wanted a one-way mirror to engage their voyeur tendencies, and some just simply needed a few sex toys.
The show’s host, Melanie Rose, talks couples through their various likes and needs for their sex room. And it may just give you some new ideas! While some folks knew exactly what they wanted, some really needed some help in that area. She brought one couple to a sex toy store and explained different toys and how they work. To most couples, she suggested sexy furniture that is both visually appealing and functional. She also took sexy boudoir photos of the couples to display in the room. One woman even discovered her love for rope bondage! You also don’t need to be partnered to have a sex room. In the last episode, we meet Lisa, who shows us that you can utilize a sex room by yourself and with casual partners.
I want to be clear: You don’t need to be kinky to benefit from a sex room.
If this show teaches us anything, it’s that everyone deserves an intentional place to be intimate. "How to Build a Sex Room" also reinforces sex positivity. We should all be discussing what we need in order to feel sexy.
So how do you go about building a sex room?
So, let’s say you are going to use your bedroom. First, clean that room until it’s sparkling. Get all the clutter and unnecessary items out. Make sure all of your clothes have a place in a dresser or closet. Now, let’s think about what you might want in there. Here are some suggestions and why they are important:
Sex toys and a way to display them in an easily accessible and visually appealing way.
This can be a nice basket or some shelves to display them on. The toys include things like the following: vibrators, suction toys, nipple clamps, restraints, blindfolds, feathers, floggers, strap-ons, anal plugs, and so much more!
Nice, comfortable, and sexy bedding.
Think high thread count, silk, sexy colors, etc. Add throw pillows so the bed looks aesthetically pleasing when made.
Yes - everyone could benefit from some type of sex furniture! Why is it better than the bed, you ask? First of all, accessibility. Sex is for ALL bodies.
Sex furniture, like a bouncing sex stool (pictured here), can help with the work of being on top. A sex chaise (pictured above) or ramp gives you more comfort in various positions, as well as the ability to optimize angles for increased sexual pleasure.
Learn more about different types of sex furniture here:
To admire your sexy self, of course!
This can mean different things to everyone but could include lingerie, role-play costumes, clothes that have feel-good fabrics, leather, etc.
Sex up your bathroom.
You can clean up in a sexy way together. A nice big bathtub for two (or more!)
...for consensual filming and watching together or separately later.
This can be candles, gorgeous lighting, sexy décor, music, etc