Relationship Advice: Can Ethical Porn Enhance Your Sex Life?

Intimate CoupleMost Americans believe that watching porn is morally wrong (Green, 2014). According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute, only 23% of American women approve of pornography use, as do 35% of men. Despite this seemingly widespread disapproval and the forces of stigma and shame, 40 million people in the United States—about one in eight—are regular porn consumers (Willingham, 2013).

Although the genders of porn viewers are variant, insecurity, jealousy, or resentment about a partner’s pornography use is not uncommon, a reality not lost on media that cover the sensitive topic. An article in XO Jane (Marin, 2014) compares the jealousy that some heterosexual women feel about porn to the jealousy some straight men feel about women’s usage of vibrators. But if the old-fashioned term for sex toys is “marital aids”—and it is—why shouldn’t pornography fall under that umbrella?

I am writing this piece to gently challenge notions that pornography is inherently damaging to users, performers, and real-world sex partners. I believe that, when consumed responsibly, legally, ethically, and in moderation (we’ll get to that part) by consenting adults, not only is there nothing wrong with pornography use, but it can produce positive effects on a marriage or other romantic or sexual relationship. Benefits may include low-risk sexual pleasure, healthy communication about sexual interests, and indulgence in fantasies independent from those shared with a partner.

Hear me out here.

  • Pornography is a relatively low-risk outlet for viewers. The threat of computer viruses notwithstanding, porn consumption is a relatively low-risk sexual behavior. Most of the potential real-world consequences of having sex—such as sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy—aren’t relevant for the porn viewer. For millions of Americans, this may be extremely liberating. You aren’t putting your body (or your partner’s) at risk, and you don’t have to get tested or use protection, as may be the case with the introduction of a new partner. Many people harbor fantasies that they may have no inclination to act on, and porn can provide a safe way to explore such fantasies. It’s important to note that many porn users are more aroused by stories and words than by visual imagery. The massive popularity of the Fifty Shades trilogy has brought to light the utility of literary erotica for indulging in fantasies without necessarily enacting them. Compared to having real-world sex, viewing porn or reading erotica is much, much safer.
  • Pornography can facilitate sexual communication and connection. Exchanging photos or videos can be an exciting way to share fantasies with another person with whom you’re intimate. Watching pornographic scenes together or reading erotic stories aloud can greatly heighten sexual tension. If your partnership is open to this sort of exchange, there are even online tools for finding out what fantasies you and your partner share without awkwardness, embarrassment, disappointment, or the fear of grossing someone out.
  • Pornography allows for indulgence of interests not shared by a partner. In human partnerships, even when everything else is compatible, even when communication is great, sexual interests rarely come together 100%. Having different fantasies and sex drives is absolutely normal, and while this might be a common source of conflict, it does not necessarily signal impending doom for you and your partner. Porn use can be one way to minimize this gap without going outside the partnership in a direct, interpersonal way. (A note of caution: It’s important to know and consider how your partner feels about porn use independent of one another. Secrets hold potential for damaging relationships. Ideally, there is agreement between both partners as to what’s OK and what’s not with regard to porn consumption when not in each other’s company.)

If you find yourself using porn as a way of distracting yourself, or if you are disengaged from other activities and relationships as a result of porn use, this may be a sign that you should seek help.

The Ethics of Porn

Now that we’ve covered some of the potential benefits of porn, let’s address some of the anti-pornography crowd’s concerns and criticisms. They’re not completely off-base, after all.

  • Pornography can be addictive. As with anything else, when you view pornography compulsively, you may not be mindful about the content with which you are engaging. You may be trying to escape uncomfortable emotions or satisfy a physiological urge as quickly as possible. Over time, this can become a problematic pattern. If you find yourself using porn as a way of distracting yourself, or if you are disengaged from other activities and relationships as a result of porn use, this may be a sign that you should seek help. Many therapists specialize in resolving pornography addictions and other compulsions. Mindfulness exercises can help address this type of behavior, as can setting and enforcing time limits on your porn consumption.
  • Pornography can be dehumanizing. The dehumanizing effects of pornography go hand-in-hand with its addictive properties. When consuming a lot of visual information, a person can go into sensory overload, which may have a numbing effect. Also, with porn use, there is a distance from the mechanics, bodies, and emotions that are present during real-world sex, which may make it easier to consume large amounts. We should never forget, too, that video-based and photographic pornography depicts real humans engaging in real sex acts. Some performers, though compensated, may have experienced abuse or have addictions or mental health issues that compelled them to participate. For other models, their bodies are commodified coercively and the results of their labor are exchanged through unethical means, sometimes without compensation. Some porn producers cater to illegal markets and interests or do not adhere to accepted safety standards for performers, some of whom consequently contract serious sexually transmitted diseases. Exploitation in porn is a legitimate concern and an absolutely valid reason to be wary of it. (See referrals below for some resources regarding ethical porn.)
  • Pornography can develop and perpetuate unrealistic ideas about sex. The pornography industry reaps $4.9 billion worldwide every year (Willingham, 2013). Encased within this figure are the editing of videos, the shaving and bleaching of bodies, and tools for depicting fantasies that might not be easy or ethical to fulfill in real-world relationships. Pornography is about fantasy and does not usually reflect reality. And because of its ease of access, content often falls into the hands of those who don’t have sexual experience or accurate information about sexual health and relationships. Many people are first exposed to pornographic material before they become sexually active, sometimes as early as late childhood and early adolescence. Given that this is a time when young bodies are developing and when youth are learning how to relate to others, porn can produce insecurity and unrealistic expectations regarding sex. (The same ethical concerns about early exposure exist for erotic storytelling, but unlike visual pornography, the only people involved in the manufacturing of erotic literary content are the authors themselves.) When pornography access isn’t combined with real-world knowledge and experience—or with reputable forms of sex education—unhealthy, sexist, and even abusive attitudes may be perpetuated.

Clearly, porn detractors have plenty to point to. But when used ethically, in moderation, and with emotional intelligence by consenting adults, it’s my belief that pornography use can be a healthy pastime and even, under some circumstances, serve to enhance intimate relationships. I hope that this piece can be part of a bigger conversation, inspiring interesting and respectful discussion between curious persons and contributing to healthier attitudes about human sexuality at large.

“Fair-Trade Porn” Articles and Resources:

  1. The Feminist Porn Awards. http://www.feministpornawards.com/
  2. Fixell, E. (2015). 4 ways you can find ‘ethical porn’. The Daily Dot. Retrieved from http://www.dailydot.com/lifestyle/how-to-find-ethical-porn/
  3. Williams, Z. (2014). Is there such a thing as ethical porn? The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/nov/01/ethical-porn-fair-trade-sex

References:

  1. Green, E. (2014). Most people think watching porn is morally wrong. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/03/most-people-think-watching-porn-is-morally-wrong/284240/
  2. Janssen, E. (n.d.). Why people use porn. Frontline. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/porn/special/why.html
  3. Marin, V. (2014). ASK A SEX THERAPIST: How to talk to your husband or boyfriend about his porn and masturbation habits. Retrieved from http://www.xojane.com/sex/how-to-talk-to-your-man-about-his-porn-and-masturbation-habits
  4. Willingham, T. (2013). The stats on internet pornography. Daily Infographic. Retrieved from http://www.dailyinfographic.com/the-stats-on-internet-pornography-infographic

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 12 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Cevista

    Cevista

    June 12th, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    I’m sorry but I do not think that this is something that is relatively harmless. Even the most committed person can become addicted to this and think of the problems that could then come up in a marriage as a result. I think that if you want something in your sex life then you should feel like you can talk to your partner about it and not resort to porn. I think that this sets up an unrealistic vision of what sex is and most of us just can’t compete with that.

  • jane

    jane

    June 12th, 2015 at 11:50 AM

    Nope if he is happy with me then why do you have to seek out sex in a forum like that?

  • Ann

    Ann

    June 12th, 2015 at 4:22 PM

    To the commenters, what about women who use porn made for women? For some it can help them understand how their bodies work. Even today, many women don’t understand how their bodies work or how to communicate their needs to their partner. Of course much porn is centered around a man’s penis and male fantasy which is not very realistic. Most important is the ability to continue the conversation with your partner as your relationship and body goes through changes over the course of your relationship.

  • Dr. Jan

    Dr. Jan

    June 12th, 2015 at 6:37 PM

    I constantly deal with the effects of what I term the pornification of the culture. As pornography has moved to the Internet, it has become increasingly dehumanizing and violent. There are many peer reviewed journals that document that college age males who frequently consume pornography are less likely to interfere when they see a female getting assaulted on campus. To state that some people are not exploited in porn discounts all those who are. The average life expectancy of female sex workers is age 50 yet the objectified person is rarely considered by those who advocate porn as a harmless sexual pursuit. Almost every porn film includes a man ejaculating on a woman’s face and aggression. There are many films made by sex therapists to enhance romance and develop sexual arousal but these do not objectify women. Each person must examine their conscience but to me sexuality without soul and spirituality is not sexuality it is something else. Sex has now become like fast food and we wonder why people are enjoying it less but consuming it more. We have lost courtship rituals and many young women do not even know what a date is… I believe we are losing something valuable and that learning about sex education through pornography is damaging to both men and women.

  • LSmith

    LSmith

    June 12th, 2015 at 7:12 PM

    Thank you for finally being one to provide a balanced view on this topic!! I’m so tired of blame being put on “things” and the gross over-simplification of deeper issues such as intimacy and trust.

  • Mayling S

    Mayling S

    June 12th, 2015 at 7:25 PM

    As a person who lost her husband and marriage to porn, I can find NO redeming value to this disgusting industry.

  • Cevista

    Cevista

    June 14th, 2015 at 5:36 AM

    Thank you Dr Jan! You make absolute sense to me! I don’t want to have to look or behave like a porn start to attract or keep my man. I want him to love me for me and not for some vision that he thinks a woman should look like or act like.

  • Jose

    Jose

    June 15th, 2015 at 9:24 AM

    My wife would laugh me out of the house if I came home saying that we needed to watch “ethical “porn together!

  • Don

    Don

    June 15th, 2015 at 5:10 PM

    If you are looking for a way to spice up the relationship, then this is something that the two of you can do together and you will get something from it that you might not be able to otherwise.

    It can seem a little weird at first mainly because I was used to watching alone and definitely not with my wife. She approached me and said that she thought it would be fun so we did it.

    And you know what? Our relationship together has never been hotter.

  • mabel

    mabel

    June 16th, 2015 at 3:37 PM

    I have always tried to be pretty open minded about things, but I guess I just have too many insecurities of my own and about myself to ever allow this to be a part of my marriage. I know that there are some couples who are strong enough to do it. I don’t think that I am that woman though. I think that if my husband wants to watch porn, then that is something that I will need for him to do alone. I think that if I did I would never feel like I measured up to those porn standards, and would never look like those women, so why would he ever want me over them?
    There are just somethings that I don’t think that I need or want to know about.

  • Thom

    Thom

    June 17th, 2015 at 8:15 AM

    How is watching porn considered low risk?
    This is something that can be highly addictive and can tear families apart.
    Sounds like it is a pretty high risk thing to me.

  • Jessica

    Jessica

    January 29th, 2016 at 2:58 AM

    Thank you for presenting both sides of this topic and not focusing solely on one like many other articles do. In my opinion, everything which people indulge in might be dehumanizing and deconstructing, the same applies to porn. Even though it can to some degree “educate” people, it usually concentrates only on men and their satisfaction. I recently read a book which argued that the majority of the pornographic clips represent men overpowering women and thus, proving their manhood. This often leads to increased domestic violence of which usually women suffer the most. In fact, I recently came across a site where I saw that many women are worried about men watching too much porn. In addition, many women admit that their partners are trying to copy what they’ve seen because it is accepted as “manly”. Therefore, I believe that men and women should not indulge in watching too much porn since it can influence negatively their behavior.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.