How Porn Wrecks Relationships

With its ready availability on phones and screens, it's bringing more trouble than ever

by Pat Barone | Updated 20 Jun 2016 at 5:56 AM

Pornography seems to be everywhere today — in advertising, on online sites, on phone apps, on screens ad nauseum. And that easy access is challenging the way many couples interact with each other, often with devastating consequences.

Seventy percent of porn use occurs at work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Porn has become so prevalent in American culture today that the Society of Human Resource Management estimates 70 percent of porn use occurs at work, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. By using their own phones for it, people don’t have to work through an employer’s internet. In one study, 52 percent of men ages 18 to 30 said they viewed porn at work, while 74 percent of men ages 31 to 49 claimed to view it at work.

That’s a lot of job risk. But another direct impact of all this porn viewing is attracting attention, as doctors and therapists treat an increasing number of men for Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED).

At one point, Tamara Thompson (not her real name), age 30 and from St. Louis, Missouri, didn’t think her online relationship with a handsome physician would ever turn into the real thing. A few weeks later, she wished it hadn’t.

Thompson still describes him as “the most perfect guy I’d ever met.” He was educated, cultured, funny, highly intelligent and extremely good-looking. That description, however, didn’t prepare her for their third date.

“After only a few minutes of kissing, he helped me undress, pushed me on the bed, then arranged my body until it was to his liking. He sat in a chair and began masturbating. At first, I didn’t know what was happening. I slowly realized, as his eyes moved into a constant scanning motion, that to him, I was a body on a computer screen.”

Research is emerging on both sides of the harm/no harm debate about porn, but physicians are also seeing physical evidence of a disassociated user. That’s the man or woman who has ceased to get experiences from life and real partners, and instead is attached to arousal through nameless and often faceless focal objects that can be constantly changed at will.

“I thought I was using pornography as a ‘space holder’ between relationships, but I can’t manage a relationship at all now.”

A study from the Max Planck Institute showed that the pleasure center (the striatum) of the brain is markedly diminished in heavy porn users.

In 1992, only 5 percent of men age 40 and younger reported difficulty getting an erection. The figure is now 33 percent — shown in both European and American studies. A person’s overall health, the presence of obesity, and drug use are the biggest factors that contribute to erectile dysfunction, but otherwise healthy men are pointing at porn as the reason for their ED.

For John Vargos (not his real name), age 28, of Atlanta, Georgia, erectile issues showed up when he got married to the woman he called his “soul mate.”

“I had been using porn daily for many years,” he said. “Jane and I met on a vacation cruise. Over the next year, we saw each other when we could, and I continued to use porn when we were apart. I assumed it would end when we finally lived in the same city and moved in together.”

John relocated — but within a few weeks, he experienced difficulty in getting an erection or having sexual feelings for his wife.

“I was having an affair just to boost my confidence after some disastrous experiences with Jane. I’d never had an affair and I felt out of control. Once we were married, I was bored so fast.”

He also sought out group activity to boost his sexual esteem, and he spent more time online looking for sex partners.

"I thought I was using pornography as a 'space holder' between relationships, but I can't manage a relationship at all right now," he said.

His wife had two children, so the impact of the ill-fated marriage on them haunts him.

Barbara Winter, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and certified sex addiction therapist in Boca Raton, Florida, treats young men struggling with PIED, as well as women impacted by it, and couples.

"Many addicts become obsessed with ordering their images, changing them, and the variety they can create," she said. "While men, in particular, are susceptible to porn addiction, women are showing similar reactions."

Some view pornography as an efficient means to address a common need. Today's over-busy, overstressed lifestyles may leave little time for relationships to develop and unfold. Rocco Amazzi (not his real name), age 32, of Long Beach, New York, works two jobs to keep up with child support and the needs of aging parents.

"I turn on the computer [and] I never have to deal with a woman's feelings. I admit I don't know how anymore. It's life today."

"I think about the time it takes to get to know someone ... I skip it all, because I can turn on the computer and be done in 10 minutes with a lot less hassle. I never have to deal with a woman's feelings. I admit I don't know how anymore. It's life today. It's everywhere. Nobody thinks it should be different."

Kathy and Matt Karsten (not their real names) of Kansas City, Missouri, say PIED is just one of many battles they have faced as a couple. During his deployment to Afghanistan, Matt began relying on pornography. He described it as "so readily available that it was hard to avoid it."

Kathy Karsten began to doubt herself sexually after realizing her husband used hundreds of pictures of women, including of friends, for arousal, but that he had lost interest in their own sexual relationship.

"It was so painful to be constantly pushed away and rejected," she told LifeZette. "I was angry. I cried daily. I distanced myself from other people, because I felt they wouldn't understand. I lost myself, but his self-respect and pride was gone and he lost himself, too."

The couple broke up and began separate journeys to rediscover themselves. "It almost ruined our relationship, because it didn't allow us to connect as a couple physically and emotionally," she explained.

"It created a lot of self-doubt and a negative view of myself," Matt Karsten said. "I couldn't achieve orgasm without porn. I didn't know what intimacy actually was."

Today, the couple explained they feel closer than ever. They've begun several blogs to help other couples and want to ease communication between couples about the issue.

Sandy Iyler of Washington, D.C., was not so lucky in her relationship. Her first marriage ended because her ex-husband's porn addiction grew into PIED and a complete obsession. Through her own research and work with a therapist, she came to understand the complexities of addiction, including the chemical releases her husband was experiencing, though he was not able to change behaviors to rebuild the trust between them.

Today Iyler's second marriage is quite different.

"We are both happy to try new things. But I would say the stark difference in emotional intimacy is the biggest difference. I have an intimate life that has honesty and candor now."

Pat Barone is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.

  1. #porn
  2. #pornography
  3. Barbara Winter
  4. Boca Raton
  5. Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
  6. erectile dysfunction
  7. HealthZette
  8. Max Planck Institute
  9. MomZette
  10. Ph.D.
  11. PIED
  12. Porn Induced erectile Dysfunction
  13. Relationships
  14. Society of Human Resource Management
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