When sex flies out of the bedroom
It’s no longer a moral issue. Excessive porn viewing is threatening real-life relationships
Teja Lele Desai firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week, Mirror sexpert Dr Mahinder Watsa received a query from a 30-year-old woman who had been married for two years. The couple enjoyed sex twice a week on an average, she wrote in her e-letter, but had noticed that her husband was secretly watching pornography on the Internet, and masturbating after. The timing of physical intimacy between the couple was linked to his new viewing habit. “We usually end up having sex after he watches porn,” she said. Over time, he began to avoid sex with her altogether, relying on porn entirely.
This reader isn’t alone.
Mumbai’s andrologists and relationship counsellors say the popularity of porn among men is beginning to change relationship dynamics in the real world, often leaving partners distressed. With this, Indian men join their global counterparts. An investigation by technology magazine Extreme Tech in 2012 revealed that almost 30 per cent of Internet traffic in the world is linked to porn. The search volume index for ‘porn’ doubled between 2010 and 2012, is Google Trends’ estimate.
THE MAN-WOMAN DIVIDE
Sex is a primal human need, and has little to do with gender. Visual sexual stimuli, also finds takers in both, men and women. But researchers, like Heather Rupp, Ph.D, say the presumption is that men respond more strongly to it. Pornographic magazines and videos directed at men are a multi-billion dollar industry while similar products directed towards women are difficult to find. It is estimated that of the 40 million adults who visit pornography websites annually, 72% are male while only 28% are female. “Men prefer novelty, while women are more interested in stable dynamics,” suggests Rupp.
A recent University of Arkansas study showed that a third of men use porn to ease boredom or stress; a fifth reach out to it when they are lonely.
The male neurological response to porn — faster heart rate, rising blood pressure, increased blood flow and an erection — is said to be stronger than the female’s. Some argue, it’s because the content ‘suits’ male sexual interests. Erotic clippings let them (visually) enjoy the casual sex several of them crave, without danger of infection or unwanted pregnancy. Clearly, porn solves a primal problem for men — it lets them enjoy commitment-free sex with multiple partners.
MATTER OF THE MIND, TOO
The trouble is, visual sexual stimuli is not associated with sexual health alone. It also has a bearing on mental well-being. Compulsive porn viewing can distort the viewer’s expectations of sex with real people, not to mention, control his life.
A Cambridge University study revealed that compulsive porn watchers show brain activity similar to that of alcoholics or drug addicts. Researchers found greater activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, a reward centre involved in processing motivation and pleasure. So, just like an alcoholic’s brain lights up when he spots an ad for liquor, porn addicts are stimulated when they get their hands on yet another clip.
Interestingly, the activity, usually conducted in secrecy and all alone, can push a viewer towards loneliness. Excessive exposure heightens feelings of aloneness. Kevin B Skinner, author of Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery, has, over 15 years, worked with hundreds of couples and individuals whose lives have been changed by pornography. His research links higher consumption with higher levels of depression. In Inside Porn Addiction, his blog, he says, “Regardless of relationship status, individuals who viewed porn daily were on the border of severe depression”.
Dr Samir Parikh, Director of Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, agrees. “Sometimes, porn is used as a crutch by those with inadequate social lives. And it’s a cycle. The more they view it, the more they are pushed towards social isolation. And, the interactive nature of modern-day porn makes it worse.”
Dr Hansal Bhachech’s experience as consultant psychiatrist has proven that porn addicts tend to display difficulty with concentrating, boredom,shame and guilt, and may grow aggressive towards women. “Over time, it could reduce his interest in the actual act. He may grow more interested in virtual intimacy between porn stars and himself, putting his real-life relationship under strain,” he says.
The problem with porn, according to Bhachech, is simple: pornography is a lie. “It promotes falsehoods about men, women and human relationships. Camera techniques and digital manipulation create myths about our bodies, timing and vigour of the sexual act, and willingness to engage in sexual activity,” he says. Parikh is especially concerned about its effects on young minds. “Because the distinction between normal and perversion is blurred, it can influence belief systems,” he stresses.
THE GOOD SIDE
What’s important, argue sex therapists, is to realize that like with any indulgence, porn adopts a dangerous avatar when it turns into an obsession. Not every man who views it is addicted, or hostile to his partner.
In fact, there have been cases of couples having benefitted from it. Sex researcher Helen Fisher advises couples to treat it like a “hormone-booster” because it drives up dopamine levels, which drives up your testosterone.
A Norwegian study that involved 400 couples backs Fisher’s claim. When both partners used porn, they were happiest in the bedroom, it revealed. They were open about their fantasies, and reported least sexual dysfunction.
“It’s not always destructive,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr Deval Desai. “It can be a source of excitement and satisfaction, people wouldn’t otherwise experience.”
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, Honorary Professor and HOD, Department of Sexual Medicine at KEM Hospital and GS Medical College, has been counselling couples for 30 years, and decries claims that pornography is “harmless”.
“Pornogr-aphy is often viewed in secret, which creates deception within marriage. I often hear experts suggest that to fire up libido in a dull marriage, turn to fantasy. This might be a temporary solution, but as you become dependent on outside stimulation, your natural ability to get turned on by your partner fades. It’s not uncommon for partners to opt for legal separation in some cases,” he says.
Divorce lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh says she has received cases where porn has led to the breakdown of marriages. Watching porn in the privacy of your home, isn’t illegal, she clarifies; production and distribution of pornographic material is. “In most cases, addiction to porn has only one result — a relationship that’s fractured.”
Unprotected sex Unemotional sexual interactions Unsatisfied sex drive despite multiple sexual encounters Risky sex with multiple partners Risk-taking/compulsive behaviour Excessive guilt Absence of inner peace Isolation from family and friends
Introduction to porn
Watching porn provides powerful sexual stimulation
Sharp increase in viewing, more explicit and deviant exposure
Diminished emotional responsiveness
Desire to act out, either with partner or often elsewhere
— Dr Hansal Bhachech