Pornography’s Role in a Healthy Relationship

Pornography’s Role in a Healthy Relationship

Incorporating porn into a relationship is a personal decision for each couple. How each person thinks about, and experiences pornography will help.

Photo of Mark Goldberg, Certified Sex Therapist
By: Mark Goldberg, LCMFT, CST

Pornographic material is consumed by hundreds of millions of people everyday. Porn has become a mainstream in our lives and a major part of human sexuality. With the rise of internet access and smart phones, obtaining new and exciting material has never been easier.

For people who are not in a relationship, getting sexual satisfaction with pornography is a simple process. Unique and novel material is readily available to meet our wants and preferences.

Whether porn use has detrimental or negative effects on the mind and people’s ability to form sexual relationships in the future is hard to determine. What is clear is that pornography is likely to be a part of human sexuality for years to come. Maybe forever.

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With the changing nature of human sexuality, partnered sexual activity is evolving as well. Most people enter sexual relationships with previous experience and, at the very least, previous exposure to sex with porn.

Additionally, for many individuals, porn use continues while establishing and maintaining a relationship with a sexual partner, leading to a mix of both masturbation and partnered sexual activity.

Is Porn a Problem?

One of the most highly considered and debated questions of the 21st century is what is the impact of porn. Is it a problem? No consensus has been reached about this reality with emphatic opinions on both ends of the argument.

Porn, like anything else we consume, has some impact on thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and expectations.

One of the potential advantages of pornography is that it allows for more authentic expression of self. Many people find what they enjoy through pornography consumption and experience a sense of validation and affirmation through that.

Knowing that other people share a fantasy or preference can be liberating and allow people to embrace their sexuality more genuinely.

Where people once would have suppressed these parts of themselves, they can now more clearly and precisely access pleasure potentially leading to better sexual experiences with and without a partner.

A counter argument to the this is that porn creates unrealistic expectations leading to sexual dissatisfaction. Much of the content of pornography is fabricated, edited, reshot, and scripted in ways that are not realistic. There are gaps between what the brain wants and what people can do for each other. A partner will likely never be as on-script as a person’s favorite fantasy, piece of erotica or porn clip. This can lead to:

  • Frustration
  • Distress
  • Conflict

Is Porn use Infidelity (“Cheating”)?

Is pornography use considered infidelity? Is it akin to cheating? The answer to this depends on each relationship and the expectations at the onset of the union. There is a clear difference between engaging with another human being and viewing recorded material in which there is no contact with the person on the other side.

Unfortunately, most couples do not discuss the “ground rules” of their sexual relationship when it comes to pornography, leading to mismatched expectations and many people trying to hide their porn use.

Should I Talk to my Partner about Porn?

Photo of the logoA conversation about porn is particularly needed when a person intends on continuing to use it when in a relationship. Talking to a partner about porn use can be a very difficult conversation. People have different views and philosophies about porn, and it is often easier to not talk about the topic than risk creating relationship problems.

All too often, avoiding the conversation early in a relationship leads to mistrust and insecurity when pornography use is discovered later. It is likely that lack of transparency and secret keeping is more damaging to a relationship than the porn itself.

How do I Talk to my Partner about Porn?

If a person decides to talk to a partner about porn use it is important to be clear and straightforward about the role of porn in his or her life. If you believe it is an appropriate behavior… figure out how to express that. Try to not misrepresent yourself or apologize for something that you do not believe is wrong.

In the short term it can be uncomfortable, but being genuine is likely helpful for the longevity of your relationship. 

A man on a journey; curing ED is a journey.At the same time, you should be sensitive to the impact on your partner. They may feel threatened and uncomfortable by its presence in your life. Many partners immediate reaction is that there is something wrong with or lacking in them that is causing their partner to want to view pornography.

It is important to empathically assure your partner that this is not the case and that recreational use of pornography is not in place of the relationship – emotionally and sexually.

If porn is being used to avoid or replace aspects of your relationship you should explore this with a therapist.

Should I Use Porn in my Relationship?

Incorporating porn into a relationship is a personal decision for each couple. How each person thinks about, and experiences pornography will help determine if this is a helpful decision. It is important to maintain communication. It is not uncommon that two individuals are comfortable with porn individually but experience a discomfort when viewing together or incorporating into their sexual encounters.

Communication about these experiences are key to allowing pornography to remain a net positive in a relationship for those couples who find it beneficial.

The Impact on Erections

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One of the concerns that people have about pornography use is that it will lead to sexual issues and/or erectile dysfunction. While large amounts of consumption of porn can acclimate a person to specific stimulation, there is no clear indication that it leads to a permanent sexual dysfunction.

It is tempting to blame pornography if a sexual partner is having erection issues. This tends to be an oversimplification of a more complex process. While it is prudent to examine the role of porn, it’s important to examine the challenges in a broader context.

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Article Updated – June 2022