Written by Sexual Wellness Instiute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMFT
If you read my recent blog on porn use and masturbation, you know that both of these things can be healthy positive additions to your life. But, it can be easy for them to slip into the realm of unhealthy and downright harmful. I plan to do a follow up on the benefits of masturbation and how to use it to build skills for a healthy sex life. The benefits are both personal and partnered. Today though, we're going to take a look at the darker side of self-love, and when porn use, in particular, becomes a problem.
Ok, I do have a problem, but what is it?
Many men assume that the core of their problem with porn is that they're watching too much of it, or watching it at all. You get to decide for yourself if you feel ok about watching porn. However, identifying the reason why you watch is more helpful than saying porn is bad. This also lets us look at the other ways it causes problems. Let's run through some and then come back and look at how to make healthy changes.
Common Problems with Porn:
1. Using porn as an unhealthy coping skill. This entails using porn and masturbation consistently to escape you’re your problems, and to feel better when things are down. To see if this fits for you, try to be mindful of how you're feeling when you want to look at porn and masturbate. If you're looking at porn without masturbating, there's a big chance you're using it as a distraction. You may also be using it to feel positive emotions. Another big indicator of unhealthy use is time spent. If you're looking at porn for an hour or more a day, as opposed to 5-15 minutes to masturbate, you're probably using it to escape. It’s also worth mentioning that everyone uses masturbation to at times – orgasm. Doing so releases feel good hormones and serves as positive self-care. But, it becomes a porn addiction when it is consistently used to cope with hard feelings or stressors. Failing to use any positive coping skills also makes the problem worse.
2. Letting porn educate you about sex. Young people are increasingly using pornography as their main source of sexual education. Porn teaches us to do things that are uncomfortable, unenjoyable, or often downright painful. It also gives many men very unrealistic expectations when it comes to their own erections, orgasms, and talents in the bedroom. If you want to feel like a pornstar in bed this might be you. To address this problem Cindy Gallop launched the website called Make Love Not Porn. The site is “Pro-sex, Pro Porn & Pro knowing the difference” . She is not against hardcore pornography. Cindy feels it is important to put “real sex” out there to give more realistic exposure to sex. Her website is full of videos submitted by real people engaging in sexual acts.
3. Letting porn impact how you see women. One problem men who watch a lot of porn begin to encounter is the hyper-sexualization of women. Porn often portrays women as single-minded sex fiends who are looking to take any opportunity to get laid. Women certainly have their own sexuality. However, porn puts what men should expect from women to a whole other level. Porn can lead to you seeing women only for their value as potential sexual partners, or as something to stare at and fantasize about. If you find yourself thinking about the women around you as sexual objects, or fail to see their other qualities, you might have fallen into this trap.
How to Make Healthy Changes
1. Find other positive coping skills. This ends up being a lot harder than sounds. Using healthy coping requires two things. First, you have to be able to recognize when you need to use them. Secondly, you need to actually know some healthy coping skills. Oftentimes we're not taught either of these things as men. The first step here is getting yourself to pause when you feel the urge use porn or masturbate, and then ask yourself a couple questions. Are there other things I need to do that I'm avoiding? Am I feeling upset, anxious, or down about anything? Am I feeling genuinely turned on before I start looking at porn?
Once you have these answers you can move forward. If you're avoiding something that needs to be done, then go work on it! Don't avoid it with masturbation, video games, or anything else. Additionally, if you're feeling upset, anxious, or down, use a coping skill that can actually release these emotions. Don't try and cover them up.
Some Great Healthy Coping Skills Are:
Purposeful exercise where you are imagining letting go of stressors
2. Get Educated about Sex. Porn involves paid actors who are putting on a production of what looks and sounds good as a performance. What gets depicted may not be what is enjoyable to those involved. Many of the positions or sexual acts involved in porn can be uncomfortable or even painful. In fact, many female porn actresses use numbing agents so they aren't in pain during the performance. As stated above, this is unfortunately all some men think they have when it comes to learning about what to do during sex, or how to be good in bed. I would like to think we've come a long ways as men when it comes to sex. In the past punchline of most sex jokes was that the man couldn't please his wife, or didn't know what a clitoris was. These days most men I work with are eager to prove that they're compassionate and skilled lovers. This is great! But if you're trying to get there from watching porn you're gonna have a bad time. It might sound crazy but the best place to start here is your partner. Talking about sex can feel vulnerable and embarrassing. However, communication ultimately leads to much more pleasurable and fulfilling sex. A sex therapist can be a great tool to use to learn communication skills and how to talk about sex in a productive way. Another great resource is books! There's an amazing world of books on sex out there.
My Top Recommendations For the Men Out There Are:
"Great Sex: A Man's guide to the principles of total body sex" by Michael Castleman
"She Comes First" by Ian Kerner Ph.D
"Come as you are" by Emily Nagoski Ph.D
3. Learn about real sex and real women. Most guys don't start using porn thinking about women in a negative way. It can be a slow and insidious process. Sometimes it's the constant stream of hyper-sexualized women that does it. Sometimes it's the escalation into porn that's highly degrading to women. With both of these things we're often missing something we mentioned above. These are actors and this is fantasy. There are plenty of people out there who enjoy being dominated or even degraded during sex. The difference is they know what they're doing is fantasy. It's roleplaying, and these people don't actually see themselves as less than. Regardless of the route it leads you on, thoughtless porn consumption leads to seeing women as things with little value outside of sex. Or, seeing it as their defining characteristic. To move away from this sometimes a break from porn is what's needed. This gives you room to stop over-sexualizing the female body every time you see it. Another great step here is talk to just talk to women. It can be your partner, your mom, your sister, your buddy's wife, a female friend. Talk to them, hear about their lives, their hopes and dreams, the day to day bullshit that they deal with at work. The goal here is to start seeing women as people again. Interacting with women in this way allows you to build this up. If you feel like you don't have a woman to talk to then go read an autobiography from a woman. Watch a Ted Talk given by a woman. Challenge yourself to engage with women in ways where you can mindfully see their qualities as people and take them in. Ending up in this space doesn't make you a bad person. There's only a problem when we recognize and choose not to grow.
If you find yourself facing any of these challenges, I've given you some great tips to start making some changes. If you feel like you need more, or you need some help. Go talk to a sex therapist! Come talk to me! I'm happy to help. Look out for my next blog on how to use porn and masturbation to enrich your sex life! Porn and Masturbation are adult activities so I'll just conclude like every ad for cheap vodka.
Ready to Start Porn Addiction Therapy?
Don’t wait any longer to get the sex addiction and porn addiction therapy you deserve. 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 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 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.