How does pornography affect men?

Mark Laing is an individual and family therapist at the
Bayridge Family Centre in Burlington Ontario, Canada.
905-319-1488 ext. 227

Is pornography harmless?

I was asked in a television call-in program, ‘Is pornography harmful or harmless?’ The vast amount of callers were young single males who all agreed that pornography was harmless. They reasoned that it was not causing anyone any harm and as far as they were concerned it was not causing them any physical problems or causing any inappropriate disruption in lifestyle. For instance they were not missing work or missing class. The callers were very bold and told me that I was ‘anal retentive’ and possibly ‘gay,’ because I thought looking at naked women or couples engaged in sex was harmful.

The changing culture

There are three levels required to change a paradigm. The old paradigm believed that sexuality is a private thing and that to graphically illustrate it is crude and inappropriate. It believed that sexuality was a wonderful gift to be shared by a married couple. This paradigm has been challenged through the following three part process; 1) familiarize, 2) desensitize and 3) legalize. We were familiarized to nudity and sexuality through magazines such as Playboy and later by explicit magazines such as Penthouse and Hustler. X-rated movies continued to familiarize us as well as R-rated movies. Easy as well as private access to pornography through the internet has stepped up the process to desensitization.

Pornography sites are the most accessed sites on the internet. Familiarization coupled with desensitization is creating a new generation of men who have philosophically legalized pornography for themselves. Like the callers mentioned earlier, they see it not only as harmless but as their right. This has helped create a new paradigm of sexual acceptance and those who buy into it are sheep being led to the slaughter.

The myths

But what is being slaughtered? In this two-part article let me begin by examining the most common myth regarding the ‘harmless-ness’ of pornography. Many single men think that they will give up pornography once they get married because then they can have sex when ever they want it. This of course is not a reasonable expectation in marriage. I explain that your wife may on occasion not want sex for any of a number of reasons, including fatigue, stress, low libido, or most commonly, as a result of marital conflict. When she doesn’t feel close to him, she may withdraw sexually.

What does he do then, when he wants sex and she doesn’t? What happens especially in situations where this is a result of unresolved marital conflict? He often finds himself returning to behaviors of his single days. Maybe he will go out with the boys and drink too much. Yet if he used pornography in his single days to relieve built up sexual frustration and/or tension, now he finds himself once again looking at pornography to relieve this new frustration/tension.

Pornography is not a behavior in a vacuum. It is paired with other feelings, thoughts and processes. Stimulation from pornography causes certain hormonal releases that cause the addiction cycle. Like any addiction, pornography is triggered by stress. The sexual images lead to sexual gratification through masturbation and this means that pornography becomes a way to self-medicate the stress/anxiety.

Stress relief

If a male has repeatedly learned to deal with stress/anxiety through pornography, it becomes a reflexive desire when he encounters significant stress/anxiety. Hence, when he encounters stress in marriage which is a guaranteed experience, he reflexively returns to pornography to find nurture and solace. Often the male is surprised by his actions the first time he returns to these old familiar images. He was so sure he would never return once married, but he has just illustrated the myth of pornography.


In a marital context, pornography viewing can have the added bother of ‘shame.’ The husband practices this habit usually secretively. Privacy is understandable but secrecy promotes shame. This starts him on an endless merry-go-round ride of stress to viewing to sexual release to shame and then back to stress again. For this reason, this makes pornography a difficult habit to beat on your own. Input from a therapist helps build new integrity and interrupts the merry-go-round cycle mentioned before. Temptation to give in to the habit is often felt as too over-whelming by a male when he tries to deal with it alone.

The cycle of shame can also trigger under-lying conditions of depression sending the male not only into condemning shame but hopeless depression as well. The two together are a poisonous concoction causing behavioral paralysis. Of course the worse is yet to occur. Since he often is viewing pornography in secrecy, sooner or later his wife will catch on. When she does, she will feel heart-broken and betrayed. For her, the experience is the same had her husband had a physical affair. She feels powerless to compete against these seemingly ‘perfect’ bodies and beauty and she will feel anything from pity to extreme anger. Her reaction furthers the stress and this means his desire to view increases.

Mark Laing is an individual and family therapist at the
Bayridge Family Centre in Burlington Ontario, Canada.
905-319-1488 ext. 227


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