Blaming porn for bad behavior—and avoiding the truth

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Internet porn is so common in our lives that it’s easy to blame it for everything—from sexual violence to divorce to global warming.

But there are many, many ways that people behave poorly—OK, that MEN behave poorly—which look like they’re about porn but aren’t. Lots of Sam or Jose’s poor behavior is the result of someone simply being a jerk.

Or being angry, disappointed, hurt, confused, frustrated, or lonely.

That’s not to excuse it, just to explain that a guy who behaves poorly and also watches porn may have lots of reasons for behaving poor. Not necessarily good reasons, just non-porn reasons. After all, if someone—male or female—throws a box of tissues at someone they’re angry with, it’s foolish to blame the box of tissues.

Here are examples of ways that men behave badly that people are currently blaming on porn—and that certainly have other explanations:

“He pushes me to do stuff in bed that I don’t want to do”
“He pushes me to dress like a porn star”
“He’s withdrawn from me sexually”
“He leaves porn laying around the house, and the kids find it”
“He’s clueless about what I really want in bed”
“He doesn’t care about my pleasure or comfort”

These are ALL poor behaviors, whatever the reason. And while these guys might ALSO look at porn, if we blame porn we’ll miss the personal or relationship dynamics that are driving them.

Like I said, if someone—male or female—drops their stinky gym clothes on the kitchen floor after you’ve asked them not to, it’s silly to blame the stinky gym clothes.

So why do men behave like jerks with their wives and girlfriends in bed?

It’s a form of communication, of course. Every week I have couples come in to the office complaining of “communication problems.” In general, I think they communicate fine—they just don’t like what they hear.

The disdain. The resentment. The hopelessness. The inability to feel heard—as in “No, I don’t want to wear a see-through blouse without a bra tonight, or next week, or ever. PLEASE stop asking, permanently—and deal with your disappointment, and get on with the rest of your life.”

I do believe women underestimate the sadness many men feel about their unfulfilled sexual fantasies, reasonable or not. And I also believe that men underestimate how aggravating it is to get the same request over and over, after someone has said “no” absolutely clearly. This is the kind of thing we discuss in couples counseling all the time—not the see-through blouse or dirty socks, but the dynamics behind the frustration and quarreling.

I see a lot of couples where the woman complains that “he looks at porn and climaxes every night, but we hardly have sex together anymore.” And her solution is that he stop watching porn.

But that doesn’t work. First of all, no one likes to be told what they can do in private. More importantly, no one destroys a vibrant, enjoyable sexual relationship just to enjoy masturbating to a screen or magazine. The withdrawal has its own reasons, and they’re usually so upsetting that most men and women would rather argue about porn than discuss them.

The reasons include “You don’t excite me anymore;” “We argue so much about money/parenting/chores that it’s hard to be in the mood for sex;” “We’re both so busy with our separate lives that it’s hard to create an intimate sexual connection, especially since we’re both always tired at night and on weekends;” and “I don’t like the responsibility and commitments that I’ve agreed to, and since I can’t really get out, I’ll just act as if our couple’s rules are optional.”

And of course there’s familiarity and aging—often both. It’s hard to have sex when you hurt, and it’s hard to have sex when you feel your partner’s phoning it in. And if a couple has other, reliable ways to enjoy themselves—walking the dogs, playing Scrabble, binge-watching Netflix—it’s hard to choose a leisure activity (sex) with an iffy payoff instead.

It’s much easier to blame porn.

When his behavior says “I don’t care about you as much as I used to,” it’s much easier to blame porn. When his behavior says “I don’t care about myself as much as I used to,” it’s much easier to blame porn. And when his behavior says that he’s depressed, or feeling hopeless, or in chronic physical pain, or just not interested in investing in his primary partnership anymore, it’s easy to blame porn.

I understand why people do so.

But that’s taking the easy way out. And it doesn’t fix anything. Much better to communicate clearly:

“PLEASE talk straight to me. I will too. Even if it hurts, we desperately need to. To make it even clearer, I’ll even stop having sex I don’t want—and accept the conflict that results.”

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