How the “Porn Addiction” Movement Disrespects Women

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The “porn addiction” movement (along with other anti-porn movements within religion, feminism, and politics) claims that one of the biggest problems with pornography is the way it disrespects women. But the movement itself is what’s really disrespectful to women.

The porn addiction movement, of course, is focused on male consumers. Although there are millions of women who regularly use pornography, their spouses almost never complain about it. Similarly, the partners of gay porn users rarely complain. Therefore the porn addiction movement focuses almost exclusively on male consumers, and it assumes that their partners are women.

That’s why the book I wrote about this dynamic is entitled His Porn, Her Pain.

The porn addiction movement looks at the female partners of porn users with a combination of pity, dismay, shame, and frustration.

In fact, many “treatment” programs (such as The Ranch and The Meadows) are eager to involve the female partner in treatment. But whether she participates or not, she is usually described as a pathetic creature whose head and heart have exploded because of the catastrophe of their man’s porn use.

In every website, brochure, and article, the porn addiction movement’s words to porn users’ spouses are a toxic brew of patronizing assumptions. They express the lowest possible expectations of women’s internal resources, thinking, and decision-making. While this movement says it aches with empathy for the poor women who are casualities of their spouses’ selfish porn using, it really sees them as pathetic creatures—overwhelmed by the phenomenon of their partner’s porn use, and powerless to have a few sober and collaborative conversations with their mates.

The porn addiction movement sees women as incredibly narcissistic adolescents—they take everything personally, have incredibly intense emotions, and are powerless to negotiate on their own behalf. It sees them as victims—of forces and people far more powerful than they are.

In the guise of helping them, here are actual disempowering, insulting assumptions the porn addiction movement makes about women who discover their partners are porn users:

~ Assuming women must compete with porn images—and inevitably lose
Women need to reject this idea, and to decide for themselves that they don’t have to compete with any media image. After all, we don’t assume we’ll be as smart as Sherlock Holmes, as strong as Wonder Woman, or as tenacious as Harry Potter.

It isn’t just men who compare real women to fictional porn characters. Men need to stop—but women need to stop, too. The porn addiction movement says they can’t control themselves, and then blames porn users for the pain their spouse feels when she can’t control her own thoughts. That insults women too.

~ Assuming women will feel unattractive and lose their self-esteem
Unless she dies young, every woman ages and loses her youthful looks. How she deals with this is an important life skill that’s necessary for enjoying adulthood. Porn didn’t invent this problem. And women whose partners don’t watch porn face the same issue.

Self-acceptance is crucial for every adult. In a world without porn, we’d still know that there are people out there with more money, a better golf swing, nicer hair, and better behaved kids. How does anyone manage to enjoy living in such a cruel world?

~ Assuming women will feel betrayed by their partner’s porn use
Women can hate their partner’s porn use without the dramatic decision that this use is a “betrayal.” Of course, if they demand that their spouse promise to never watch again, they’re inviting that he do it in secret. When he later gets “caught,” they’ll wail that he’s broken his word, which will be true. That’s why I tell porn users to be very, very slow in promising they’ll never use it again. While there may be nothing wrong with watching porn, there is something wrong with breaking a promise.

Some women ratchet up the drama by referring to “his girlfriends,” “his whores,” and “his orgies” when talking about porn use. Imagining that masturbating to pictures of women is somehow a real relationship is a choice. A bad choice.

Women can dislike their mate’s porn watching without such drama. In fact, creating drama like this makes it far more difficult for a man to hear his girlfriend’s pain about the subject.

~ Assuming a marriage with a porn consumer can’t be intimate
What a terrible idea—holding a couple’s intimacy hostage to a zero-tolerance demand for no porn. The porn addiction movement assumes that women are so fragile, and their interpersonal attachment is so contingent, that they can’t possibly continue relating deeply with a partner they love under less-than-optimal conditions.

How about honoring both a woman and her relationship by suggesting she negotiate with her partner: “Well, if you’re not going to stop using porn right now, how do we make sure that our marriage is intimate? How can we address my misgivings?”

~ Assuming women can’t have (much less enjoy) sex with a porn-using spouse
The idea that a woman is too hurt, angry, or traumatized by her partner’s porn use to want sex with him is nonsense. Everyone in a long-term relationship has to figure out how to want and have sex with someone who is imperfect. And everyone in a long-term relationship has to decide what’s an irritation, what’s a frustration, and what’s a deal-breaker.

She can’t stop thinking about his porn while they have sex, and so she can’t enjoy it? Instead of assuming that he must change, she could develop some mindfulness skills to improve her sexual experience.

If a mate’s porn use is the biggest obstacle someone faces in maintaining a long-term sexual connection, they are indeed blessed.

~ Assuming she’ll become controlling and hyper-vigilant
Every couple has disagreements, and every spouse has to cope with the daily knowledge that their partner may be doing things of which the first partner disapproves. It could involve how a partner overeats, flirts, drives too cautiously, sneaks a cigarette (or a joint), communicates with his family, blows off the gym, spends money, or a thousand other things.

How adults deal with this knowledge helps determine the mood in a couple. When one or both spouses nag, intrude, interrogate, play gotcha, or expect betrayal, closeness and bonhomie quickly fade.

By assuming women will collapse into this role upon discovering their mate’s porn habits, the porn addiction movement disempowers them and promotes a destructive definition of dignity—“if you don’t feel compelled to be obsessively intrusive, you’re letting him walk all over you.” What an awful—and completely unnecessary—corner to back women into.

* * *

Having described the partners of “porn addicts” as pitiful non-adults who fall apart at the discovery of their mate’s habits, the sex addiction movement promises to release them from their scathing self-criticism, self-loathing, shame, and despair. How? By teaching them their spouse has a disease—and insisting he get it treated (not cured, of course—enrolled in life-long treatment). But ironically (deliberately?), this just serves to encourage and normalize these awful feelings in the spouses of porn users.

It would be far more respectful to tell these women “you don’t like that he looks at porn? That’s a reasonable position. Go talk to him about it. Find out why he looks at porn, tell him how it makes you feel, explain why you want him to change, and work together to either modify his porn viewing, or to establish an intimate, sexual connection despite his objectionable habit.”

But there is no money in that—only integrity. Integrity is something that the porn addiction field talks a lot about—but only regarding its customers, and never about itself.

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