Saturday 27 December 2014

Is porn destroying your relationship?

Compulsive viewing can – and does – lead to long-term couples separating

WHEN I began my work as a professional dealing with the challenges thrown up by human sexuality, there was an ongoing debate about the role of pornography in aggression. Since then that debate has moved on to a new level, as pornography of every hue has become easy to access, inexpensive, and can be sourced privately and anonymously.

At present, pornography is the single most commonly searched subject on the internet, suggesting that it has a significant presence in many Irish homes. The current debate focuses on whether or not it is a harmless play thing, and if it has a detrimental impact on viewers and their relationships.

Much of the current debate about pornography focuses on the impact that it has on children and young adults, and rightly so. However, that debate should not distract from considering the negative impact that freely available pornography is having on some adults – on their personal, social and intimate lives.

The reality of compulsive pornography viewing is that it can, and does, lead to long-term couples separating. Additionally, a proportion of young men struggle to establish intimate relationships because of the use of pornography.

Like it or loathe it, pornography is a major force today – a force that is shaping our understanding and expression of sexuality, and bringing a whole new and challenging dimension to relationships.

Pornography simply does not feature in the lives of many people. They may have tried it, or been exposed to it, and found it degrading for the actors involved, or perhaps they found that it offered little interest or satisfaction.

But for others, pornography provides immediate sexual pleasure, and they may use it to spice up their sexual activities, either alone or within a relationship.

They may use it to extend their sexual knowledge, or as a way of managing emotional upset or distress. The reality is that for increasing numbers, pornography is exciting and deeply satisfying.

There is a commonly shared anecdote about a group of Canadian researchers who tried to identify adult males who had never viewed pornography. Having done all they could, they failed to find any and were eventually forced to throw in the towel.

Humorous as this may sound, the sad fact is that for some, the use of pornography can quickly evolve into a deeply harmful and alienating force. It can impact on the user's daily living, on their emotional well-being, and on their ability to engage in relationships.

Patrick Carnes, a leading clinician and author on sexual behaviours in the US, has written extensively about his work with people with compulsive sexual behaviour. He describes research involving over 9,000 people who use the internet for sexual purposes, which suggests that the majority of those who use the internet for sexual behaviours (84pc) can be described as recreational users.

They access pornographic material out of curiosity, and do not typically show any associated relationship or sexual difficulties.

He describes two further groups who may be more significantly impacted by their behaviour. Approximately 6pc of users are at risk of developing problematic use of pornography online.

A further 10pc are described as sexually compulsive users, with associated personal and interpersonal difficulties. This research was conducted in 2001 and, given the rapid progress in recent years towards 24/7 access to high-speed internet, it is reasonable to assume that this pattern of pornography use has persisted hand in hand with an increase in the volume of pornography users.

This level of problematic use is alarming, given the suffering and distress that this can bring to the life of the user, and to their partners and families. Unfortunately, I meet this suffering increasingly in my work with people for whom pornography and online sexual behaviour has caused heart-breaking difficulty for them and their partners.

When viewing pornography becomes a compulsive behaviour it impacts on sexuality at its core, because the user forms a physical and emotional relationship with pornography. While this might seem like an odd concept, it is something that happens for many of those who present with difficulties with pornography.

Something that may have begun casually as a bit of fun, or as a welcome escape from the stresses and strains of life, can quickly become time-, energy- and emotion-consuming.

Irish Independent

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