This Just In: Men Watch Porn

As a woman working in the divorce arena, I am privy to lots of direct information on the private feelings of spouses as they relate to porn usage by one or the other. Several female clients have come to me, I believe expecting that as a woman myself I will take their side, to share that their husband has most certainly wandered into the desolate path known as sex addiction. I ask why they believe so, and the answer is the same each time — they found him watching porn.


That has always struck me as at least a bit of a stretch. I happen to enjoy watching a bit of porn myself from time to time, and I know plenty of healthy, successful and un-stymied-by-porn-watching men and women who do as well. If that weren’t enough to convince you (really?!?), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) made a decision not to recognize sex addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-V.

Maybe my friends and I aren’t a large enough sample to determine that watching porn is harmless. There are plenty who could argue that the APA is made up of human beings who are capable of making mistakes or intentionally choosing to exclude ideas with which they do not agree. And yes, just because a disorder has not yet been formally accepted does not mean it may not actually exist.

But then, less than two weeks ago, Dr. David J. Ley published an article in Psychology Today titled “Your Belief in Porn Addiction Makes Things Worse.” Ley, a clinical psychologist, reviewed recent data collected by Joshua Grubbs at Case Western over the course of not only one study, but also follow-up research that further validated the initial findings.

Ley’s summary stated the following conclusions:

  • Seeing oneself as a porn addict was predicted not by how much porn one views but by personal religiosity and moral attitude towards sex.
  • Daily porn viewing is only “weakly related to feelings of anger.”
  • Self-labeling as a porn addict is “strongly correlated to depression, anxiety, anger and stress.”
  • Actual quantity/time of porn viewing has “no reliable relationship to emotional issues.”

I am not one to judge others and I ask not to be judged in return, but I am well aware of human nature and that no matter how good our intentions, most people will in fact, spend a good amount of their day coming to moral conclusions about things they read, see and hear.

However, Ley made the following statement, which surfaces a powerful distinction that I believe trumps the subjective judging we may individually practice amongst our friends on social media and over coffee talk.

“The evidence is strong that proponents of porn addiction treatment are actually causing psychological suffering. People who listen to them, and who fall into believing that porn is addictive, actually get worse. Medicine is supposed to help people – ‘first do no harm.’”

Whether or not sex addiction should or should not qualify as an acknowledged mental health issue, the usage of that term is harming people, not helping them.

Combining the data above with my experience working with real couples struggling through issues of infidelity, addiction, broken trust, financial crisis and more, my firm belief is that the real reason porn is labeled unhealthy is that porn is actually scary.

It scares us to think our partner may leave us for someone who looks or acts like a “porn star.” It scares us to think that that our partner may choose to watch porn because we are not “good enough” for them in bed, let alone anywhere else. It scares us to think that if our partner watches that, he or she may want us to try that.

Never mind that there is zero empirical data telling us we do have these issues to be afraid of. The reason behind these fears comes down to one overriding issue: shame.

Society tells us that all porn is degrading and has no redeeming value. Our parents teach us, rightfully, to respect the privacy of our bodies. We are repeatedly commanded to only share ourselves sexually in a committed relationship, even if all parties involved really and truly would prefer not to be in one of those now, or even ever.

What changed my own once conflicted feelings about porn was when I came across a study by psychologists Stephen Hamann and Kim Wallen of Emory University, which found that fMRI scans show “significantly higher levels of activation in the amygdala, which controls emotion and motivation, in the brains of the male subjects compared to the females, despite the fact that both males and females (self-reported) similar… levels of arousal after viewing the images.”

In plain English, men don’t watch porn because they are sex addicts. Men watch porn because they are genetically wired to do so.

And guess what? Women kinda like it too.

While discussing Ley’s article with some other writers here at GMP, I decided to break down the numbers from Grubb’s research a bit more. What I extrapolated from the data provided is that not only do 88% of men regularly watch porn but so do 55% of women, for a total of approximately 30% of the general population. Those numbers seem large enough to me to normalize porn viewing, as well as to make the notion of porn as a cause of sex addiction a non-starter.

No one should watch or do anything that makes them uncomfortable, and if porn isn’t for you, by all means, please abstain.

If you do choose to watch, stay tuned tomorrow for my suggested ways in which porn can actually enhance relationships and self-esteem.

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