You are currently viewing Episode 16: Pornography

Episode 16: Pornography

Pornography – The wide-ranging impact of pornography: what it is and how it impacts couples, including difficulties in arousal, attraction, and relationship.


Laurie Watson: Welcome to Foreplay. This is sex therapist and author of Wanting Sex Again, your host, Laurie Watson. And today, I’m joined by Dr. Adam Matthews, couple’s therapist. And we’re so glad to have him on the show. Thank you for being with us.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Laurie, I’m so excited to be here. I cannot wait to get into what we’re talking about today.

Laurie Watson: Oh, good. And today we’re going to talk about pornography. What it is? And what problems we have with it? You can find us on We are also on Facebook and Twitter. So, please send us some comments and questions and we’d be glad to help answer that on the air later on. So, Adam, let’s talk about pornography, in your practice, and what you see with couples.

Dr. Adam Matthews: And I’m so interested to hear your thoughts about this. Because this is one of the things that I see over and over again where couples come in and eventually it gets brought out that there is just a lot of pornography. Either they title it addiction. Or they say use. And particularly, usually it’s the man that’s in the relationship that is looking at a lot of pornography.

Laurie Watson: Yeah, most men are using pornography. Most women don’t. I mean some do, but absolutely.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And so, it seems to be creating a rift in their relationship, but then primarily in their sex life. And so, I’m interested to hear from you, like what do you consider pornography?

Laurie Watson: Okay.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Do you have a definition that you work with?

Laurie Watson: Well, I mean I think we’re in an era of internet pornography that is different than any other era of human history. I think that people have always been interested in what other people do in the bedroom. I mean, naked is exciting. Looking at naked people is exciting. But this is a brand new era. And so, yeah, I see a lot of this problematic in my work too. When you say there’s problems in the bedroom, can you describe is it him that is uninterested in the bedroom? Or is it her that feels threatened by this? Or what do you mean?

Dr. Adam Matthews: One, that I see a lot is men unable to perform.

Laurie Watson: Okay.

Dr. Adam Matthews: And they describe it as they’re no longer attracted to their wives or it takes more to get them aroused than it used to. And that’s one of the things that I was looking at some statistics the other day that was saying that this is something that men are actively describing, that the more that they use pornography, the harder it is for them to become aroused.

Laurie Watson: Right.

Dr. Adam Matthews: And it’s playing out and even not just the act of sex or an intercourse, but in just their overall feelings of being attracted to their significant other.

Laurie Watson: Yes, I see both of them in my practice as well. And I think there’s something that makes sense about intuitively. And I think this is the fear that women have, if my guy is looking at pornography, that means I’m not attractive enough for him. And that alone can shut down a woman.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes.

Laurie Watson: Because I think she’s socialized to want to be the object of desire that he feels that for her and really many of us want to be the unique. We want our partner to find us sort of the fairest of them all. And so, that I think can shut down her own sense of freedom, sexually. But I do see what you’re saying as well that sometimes for men, he may say I’m no longer attracted to her. And I think that there is kind of a hyper focus in pornography, certainly on youth, perfection. But more than that, I think pornography is about the woman who is beckoning, who’s very excited about sex, very aroused herself seemingly. And I think that in committed couple sex, right, there’s difficulties, there’s the children to take care of. There are the bills that have to be paid. Your partner isn’t necessarily in perfect sync. And so, some of, I think the attractiveness and the ease of pornography for men to get aroused is about the ever aroused female image or tape or imagination, the fantasy that the woman in pornography always wants him.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Is it also too that sex can happen at the drop of a hat?

Laurie Watson: Sure.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Like that sex is instantaneous and that there’s no build up to sex or that —

Laurie Watson: And there’s very little effort.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes.

Laurie Watson: And I mean there is so much work in a married couples sex life or between a man and a woman. I got to say, I mean it is a lot of work. There’s a lot of physical work that the man has to perform to get her aroused. There’s psychological work I think because of the difference in testosterone. So, you know, women are not as matched with testosterone as men have which is kind of our physiological fuel for desire. But certainly, I think what you’re saying about, you know, it’s instantaneous. He can go, he can look at this, and feel instantly sexual with just such a high.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, it seems to be — it’s starting to seem to be the definition of manhood as well, that you can then just perform at the drop of a hat. That you can satisfy her in a way that is very quick, that doesn’t require that effort that you were talking about. And when that doesn’t happen, that would seem to then lead to a let-down, disappointment in a sexual relationship.

Laurie Watson: And that doesn’t happen in real sexual relations. But in the pornography, somehow or another, he is miraculous, right?

Dr. Adam Matthews: Right, right. Orgasm every time.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. Orgasm every time. Just watching her and she has an orgasm. And that’s, I think for so many men, yes, you hit it on the head in terms of performance being so important. And in real sex, sometimes your partner isn’t always completely satisfied. So, that’s difficult. And this is part of the allure. I mean I think some people listening just want us to say pornography is wrong. But I think pornography is ubiquitous. I mean —

Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay. That was going to be one of my questions for you.

Laurie Watson: It is out there. It’s going to stay out there. I don’t know that as a culture we’re ever going to get away from pornography. Again, this is the era.

Dr. Adam Matthews: It’s completely saturated.

Laurie Watson: Yeah, it is saturated and it’s so easy. You know, it’s anonymous, it’s easy access, it’s free. Nobody needs to know you’re looking at it.

Dr. Adam Matthews: That’s right. And in your hand, on your phone. Anywhere that you can connect, you can get free videos.

Laurie Watson: And I think as a female sex therapist, I have a view into the world of pornography and how men think about it, that probably the average woman doesn’t and might be terribly threatening if she did. Because so many men use this as a lightning leavening part of their day. You know, “Oh, I’m a little bit bored, I’m waiting for a meeting, let me flip to my phone and look.”

Dr. Adam Matthews: That’s interesting.

Laurie Watson: And this provides some sort of spark and energy to go forward. It’s almost like a caffeine spike, you know, just here’s a little sex spike.

Dr. Adam Matthews: It’s like five hour energy. That two o’clock lull. And give them a little porn fix and we’re going to go on with the day.

Laurie Watson: Exactly. I mean, it is scary. But the statistics show that two hours out of every day are lost to people looking on the internet. And of course, the biggest place that people look is pornographic sites.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Right. I read one where their porn sites have more average, unique, unique visitors, then Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu., like combined.

Laurie Watson: I could imagine that.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. What’s your thoughts about pornography and its development of young men? The average first look at pornography is 12 years old for boys. For women, I couldn’t find averages, but I believe it’s, it’s somewhere around there. Maybe a little bit older for females. But what’s your feeling on how that —

Laurie Watson: Impacting our young people?

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And how — and especially at the time where they’re just beginning to develop sexual urges and puberty.

Laurie Watson: And they are so impressionable at that age.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, absolutely.

Laurie Watson: Well, I mean in my own home, we have screens against that.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.

Laurie Watson: I mean we have systems in place and software that tries to block that just because I think overexposure at a tender age is not good. It is formative and there’s so much that is just crazy out there in terms of what kids could see if they went searching that I never wanted my kids to easily get ahold of that. So, I think you’re right. I think it makes a big impression, especially on a child. Let’s say a male child who is not really developed. And he’s seen pornography. And pornography is distorted in terms of the male genitalia, in terms of how couples’ function together. Porn is not a place to learn sex.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: It is so different than what happens in real human sex. What seems so sad to me is many, many kids, their first experience is pornography. And they don’t really get to feel the touch of their partner and to touch their partner as the first experience. Sensuality is now replaced with a visual sexuality.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. It seems to separate desire and pleasure. Pornography seems to be more about desire and want. Healthy sex, it seems to be more about fulfillment and pleasure. So, it seems those two things become a little bit split.

Laurie Watson: I like that. Would you — could you say a little bit more about that?

Dr. Adam Matthews: It seems that pornography, there is no real fulfillment in pornography. Even if there’s masturbation attached to pornography. It becomes less about that true fulfillment that we get in a connection with our partner, in a sexual relationship. That there is something that that’s provided for us. And you know, there’s brain research about that as well. That the dopamine release is different during pornography then during partner’s sex.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. I mean, as a sex therapist and as a marital therapist and I work with so many couples. I’m concerned about the kind of sex that makes people feel pleasure in their body. But also makes them feel connected as people.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes.

Laurie Watson: And I think you’re right, that pornography is exciting. It is about their own personal desire. And the pretend fantasy that somebody else’s desiring them. But it doesn’t necessarily bring that fulfillment between people.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes. Yeah. And so, it seems then that, especially if that’s something that is saturated in me as a person at a young age, and that’s continued through puberty, through development, through my sexual first sexual experiences forever.

Laurie Watson: Forever, right.

Dr. Adam Matthews: That’s going to affect my sexual relationships. And it’s going to affect, and then especially a committed relationship.

Laurie Watson: Sure, where you’re supposed to be with one person monogamously forever.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Right.

Laurie Watson: And there’s this just array of possibilities that’s in porn that is completely different than what it’s like with one person forever.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes.

Laurie Watson: I would imagine that there’s huge disappointment in that.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Absolutely.

Laurie Watson: And I think that that shows up in performance.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes.

Laurie Watson: Like you said that erectile dysfunction seems to be more common these days, especially in young men. I mean, when I was first practicing, if a young man came in with ED, my first suspicion was, “Okay, he’s young. There’s no physiological problem. Maybe there was trauma in his background.” Because men function generally so well. But now I see tons of young men who have ED. And there is some correlation. We haven’t proven it and we don’t know exactly if this is, but it seems to be about the dopamine again. That their brain has this huge buildup of dopamine as they’re watching pornography. You know, so a man watching image after image after image and he has this buildup. And then he climaxes. Whereas in partner’s sex, I mean that’s unmatched.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: You can’t possibly do that with one person. Even if she’s a sexiest can be. It just doesn’t match the variety of what you can see on pornography.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Does that also have to do with just an increased tolerance? It seems that pornography would just like any other drug, you would need more and more of it to be able to get the same kind of release that you got the first time. Do you find that to be true?

Laurie Watson: I think this is a fear.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.

Laurie Watson: That does sort of an entry into it ever, does it lead eventually to some sort of addiction, right?

Dr. Adam Matthews: Right.

Laurie Watson: I probably don’t think it does necessarily. I think that the personality structure of any given man makes him vulnerable to addiction or not. And sometimes people use sexual images like they would use alcohol or like they would use a drug and they can get addicted. But I think that’s a weakness and a vulnerability. Basically, due to a family of origin issue.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.

Laurie Watson: But let’s come back to that and talk some more about it.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, absolutely.

Laurie Watson: Because I think this is fascinating. So, you are listening to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with your host Laurie Watson, sex therapist and Dr. Adam Matthews, couple’s therapist. We’ll be right back.

Commercial: Wanting Sex Again, how to rediscover desire and heal a sexless marriage by certified sex therapist, Laurie Watson. Each chapter is designed to fix one of the problems that caused low libido from early marriage through the childbearing years, even all the way through menopause. I’ve also had men read it and tell me that for them it was the most helpful thing they read about resolving sexual problems. Look for Wanting Sex Again on You can also talk to Laurie Watson for therapy in person or via Skype. I offer couples counseling and sex therapy and I think about both aspects of the relationship, emotional intimacy, and sexual technique. And that combination together helps marriages be happy. Improve your sex. And improve your relationship with awakening center for couples and intimacy. Find out more at and sign up for their next couples retreat weekend hosted by Laurie Watson., awaken what’s possible.

Laurie Watson: Welcome back to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy, with your host, Laurie Watson, sex therapist and author of Wanting Sex Again. And today, I’m here with Dr. Adam Matthews couple’s therapist. And we’re talking about sex addiction, and pornography, and is a man who looks at pornography, is that addiction? And I think Adam, while their wives might say, “Oh, this is addiction. I mean, he’s looking at it on his phone, three or four times a day, and he’s spending an hour or so on.”

Dr. Adam Matthews: Every woman I work with, he’s addicted.

Laurie Watson: And I think that they’re saying that because they want to label. And sometimes they feel so threatened by it, they want him to be bad and wrong. And they want you to fix him or me to fix him. But unfortunately, I think it’s such a narrow definition that it doesn’t give us latitude to explore the meaning of what he finds the pornography does for him.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Do you mean that it’s serving a function in some way?

Laurie Watson: I think it does serve a function. I mean, we’ve said that for many men, this is simply like eating a candy bar.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.

Laurie Watson: You know, it’s a way to spice up their general life. I’m not here to judge whether that’s right or wrong.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, sure.

Laurie Watson: But I think that that is often how it’s used. And I think that there’s other reasons that men use it, like we’ve talked about, to feel powerful, to feel wanted, to feel less guilty, ironically about their sexual drive.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: I mean, I think many men have such an overwhelming feeling of sexual drive compared to their female partner or wife.

Dr. Adam Matthews: So, if they share it with their partner, you are talking about they’re fearful that it will overwhelm their partner, not be accepted?

Laurie Watson: Not be accepted, that there’s somehow or another going to be seen as bad, perverted. And then of course the exposure of the pornography that she doesn’t like. They can also feel bad and perverted. Or they can think she’s wanting him to feel that way. And I think that’s too narrow.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.

Laurie Watson: I think that because it’s important to understand how our brain is feeling about anything and what meaning we make of it. You know, I want to take time with the couple to understand her fears, her threat. You know, how this evolved. And for many men, it’s just who he was. I mean, he came into the marriage that way. For him, there was no question that this was something that would injure her or would be any different in marriage. And for many men, it doesn’t mean that he’s dissatisfied with the sex life.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.

Laurie Watson: I mean, lots of men watch pornography, right?

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes.

Laurie Watson: That are not dissatisfied with their sex lives. It’s just part of who they are. Part of what they do.

Dr. Adam Matthews: How do we begin to talk with, particularly women in those relationships about pornography in a way that helps them to understand more about what the function it is serving for the men in their lives? Because that’s one of the biggest challenges I see as women just do not understand.

Laurie Watson: Yes.

Dr. Adam Matthews: It’s not, this is not the same for women. If they are using pornography, it seems to be for a different reason. And so, there is that negativity associated with it. How do we talk to women about that?

Laurie Watson: I know that some women do watch pornography. Some women watch pornography with their partners to get aroused. I don’t think that’s exactly what we’re talking about.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Right.

Laurie Watson: I mean, I’m not saying that women can’t be visually aroused. Many women are visually aroused. And they are aroused when they watch porn. But in terms of the great proportion of users are really men who are using pornography. So, how do we explain this to women in a way that doesn’t necessarily alienate the couple from each other? I don’t see myself as the explainer.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Okay.

Laurie Watson: I try to get him to talk about the meaning that it has for him and try to get her to talk about what she feels about it and what her deeper fears are?

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes.

Laurie Watson: Am I being substituted? Am I not attractive enough? I think that is obviously number one thing we both hear, right?

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, absolutely.

Laurie Watson: The woman who says he can’t be thinking my body is okay if he’s looking at all these other bodies.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: Even beautiful perfect women are afraid of being replaced in a man’s heart by the body of another. And so, that’s worrisome.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Well, and that’s interesting because that is similar language that I hear from women when they find out their partner’s having an affair. Like it seems to be similar fears about being replaced, about another person being more desirable than they are. Their husband no longer finding them attractive and wanting this other thing. It seems to be very similar language.

Laurie Watson: The similar injury. He wanted someone else. Somebody else. Some other body maybe more than he wanted my body.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: Which actually I think about affairs in a similar way. In some part an affair is just a fantasy. I mean, it’s not really a relationship often. I mean it’s not necessarily a love relationship. Because you haven’t lived with that person and paid bills with that person. And so, there’s just this fantasy, I go to the affair partner who’s always happy to see me, you know?

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: Whereas, I go home to my partner who, you know, we’re struggling together in life together and it’s different and that is not a reality. It’s a fantasy. I mean, certainly a hurtful fantasy. And for many people discovering, many women, discovering that their partner is using porn to the extent that they are, can also be hurtful.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: And some women say that’s an affair, you know? And they’re drawing a line that says that’s an affair that you’re not with me. That’s not monogamy. But even women who don’t draw that line. I think can be worried about the number of images, the number of minutes that are spent on porn.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: So, how do we help her think about it? I mean, one, I want to examine the quality of the sex life, right?

Dr. Adam Matthews: Is that still fulfilling?

Laurie Watson: Right, is it still fulfilling to her? Has he withdrawn and become, what I say, sexually autonomous? Saying it’s too much trouble to negotiate sex with a woman. So, I’m just going to take matters into my own hands, literally. And I’m going to use this, and some men withdraw from the partnership and only use porn.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, I do. And that’s when the porn would become problematic.

Laurie Watson: I think it’s very problematic at that point. I don’t know that it’s addictive, even at that point. I think it serves a function of a man saying, I have these needs and any kind of need, and particularly my sexual need though, and I just will not be vulnerable to somebody else to fulfill those needs.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yes, I see that.

Laurie Watson: I don’t want to be that vulnerable. We know about the avoidant avoidantly attached structure and how men are really encouraged in that way to be independent, to not need — little boys are encouraged. Don’t cry, get up. You’re a big boy that they shouldn’t need as much comfort. And then in marriage sometimes that can be to an extreme.

Dr. Adam Matthews: So, when you’re going to pornography to get your needs met, that you should be, for lack of a better word, getting met in your partner. Then that’s when I can see the partner becoming very stressed about the porn use. Not only because it’s pornography. But because they’re no longer getting their needs met sexually or otherwise in a relationship.

Laurie Watson:  Yes. Yes. So, that would be one big problem.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: And I think sometimes men don’t want to talk about their fantasies and bring that into the bedroom. Maybe their partner feels inhibited to them. Maybe she has said in the past, “Well, I’m not going to do this, that or the other.” And so, he keeps that to himself. She feels injured somehow. Well, you know, all those porn women are going to do the X, Y, and Z act. And I don’t. So, clearly, I’m not fulfilling your needs. And sometimes I think that’s true.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: I mean sometimes within a moral frame of a monogamous relationship. So, that to me is kind of where I draw the line. But sometimes other partners are really repressed and inhibited. And they won’t try things that you know are fairly common. And I think everybody has a right to say, no, I don’t want to do that. So. I’m not saying she absolutely has to. But she might take it as well, I need to develop a little bit more. I need to develop my own eroticism and maybe try some of the things that are his preference, even just as a first try or an only try.

Dr. Adam Matthews: But it seems to just begin to move into revitalizing the sexual relationship. In general, is one of the steps that we have to take to say that the porn is not completely the problem. Maybe the sexual relationship was already either declining or non-existent or non-fulfilling. And so, we need to begin to be able to be honest with each other about what we need and what we want in a fulfilling sexual relationship. And begin to take steps toward meeting those needs.

Laurie Watson: Yes, I think so. And I think that porn is this way to both get close to somebody and to distance from somebody.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: So, it’s a crazy mixed up thing that he has to figure out himself. How is he using it to maybe increase desire for his partner? How is he using it to escape desire from his partner? I mean, I think he has a lot of introspection to do about how he uses it, why he uses it, what feelings he has about his sex drive. And I think a lot of it comes from childhood.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: You know, men have to differentiate from their mother to become men. And so, somehow or another then they have to go back into relationship with a woman. And that’s complicated. And sexuality particularly is complicated in that. So, I think he has a lot of exploratory work to do about his feelings about women, about closeness, intimacy, being sexually intimate.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And that seems to lead into exploring what you said about things about women, how he’s viewing his wife as a partner, as a sexual being, and as a sexual partner as well. And kind of really being honest about the feelings that he has there and what his expectations then become as a result of that.

Laurie Watson: Yes. Yes. So, I would just like to say, I think my tip of the day would be if you find your partner watching porn, I don’t think you necessarily have to say, first thing, this makes you an addict. You know, you’re watching it so much. I think that it’s more complicated than that and maybe less fearful than that.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And you can step into that, step into some healing with a little more courage, a little more honesty.

Laurie Watson: Right. And get a couple’s therapist who know something about sex and is willing to talk with you both honestly about that and really dig deep instead of maybe putting parameters around something that they don’t understand yet.

Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. Laurie, I’ve so enjoyed this conversation. It’s been so enlightening. I’ve learned so much in just a short time. Thanks for having me.

Laurie Watson: Thank you. Thank you for coming today. And this is Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with Laurie Watson, sex therapist and Dr. Adam Matthews. Thanks again.

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