Researchers have also asked the female partners of men who are heavy consumers of pornography how they feel about their partner’s habits. Psychologist Ana Bridges of the University of Arkansas and her colleagues found that although most of the women received low overall scores on a measure of distress about their partner’s porn use, most of them also endorsed some statements indicative of anguish. For example, 42 percent agreed that their partner’s porn consumption made them feel insecure, 39 percent that the partner’s porn use had a negative effect on their relationship and 32 percent that it adversely affected their lovemaking, hinting that the habit may have downsides.
Addicted to Porn?
Even if porn proves detrimental to its users and, in some cases, their partners, it may or may not be addictive. Scientists debate whether addiction is an appropriate term for behaviors such as excessive gambling, shopping, Internet use, sexual activity and viewing of Internet pornography. Those in favor of recognizing so-called behavioral addictions argue that some immoderate actions share core characteristics with alcohol and drug addiction. These include extreme indulgence and continued use despite a negative effect on the user.
Skeptics counter, however, that although people may partake excessively in certain activities and sometimes suffer detrimental life consequences, they rarely develop tolerance or obvious withdrawal symptoms—two hallmarks of addiction. Some critics further maintain that the label of “addict” adds unnecessary stigma to the problem. Others contend that this description lets people “off the hook” for socially problematic behaviors that are at least partly under their control.
Although researchers have just begun to explore the possible downsides of pornography use in general and Internet pornography in particular, the results of many studies of exposure to pornography suggest that excessive viewing of such material could sometimes be harmful. As a result, psychotherapists need to be alert to such behavior in their clients, especially when it impinges on their romantic relationships. A better understanding of how watching Internet pornography affects the men and women drawn to it may ultimately lead to meaningful treatments for those with a pornography habit that has hurt them and their loved ones.
This article was originally published with the title Sex in Bits and Bytes.