Feeling Aroused by TV and Movies — What’s the Problem?

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Reader’s Question

I am 26 years old, and engaged to be married for the second time. My fiancée believes I am sexually immature and, while I am uncertain whether this is true, I take her word for it.

I first became sexually active at age 19, and since that time have only had sex with two people. My previous marriage was devoid of intimacy. Growing up, sex was something that was ‘bad’ and not discussed. Any mention of it made me very uncomfortable, and I still get embarrassed to this day when talking about sex. Despite my sexual inactivity, I masturbated daily from age 13 — 25, and often explored pornography (nothing crazy…just basic stuff). This past year, I have been very sexually active with my fiancée; we have sex every other day or sometimes daily. My fiancée has a high sex drive, and I have developed one in the last year. We have no issues with intimacy, and enjoy both the emotional and physical aspects of sex.

Here is the issue: my fiancée is uncomfortable watching TV or movies with me because any time there is a hint of sex or intimacy, it grabs my attention and I get slightly aroused. She says I have a problem. Is she right? I stopped using porn a long time ago, but I still get aroused by sexual situations. How can I curb that so that I am only excited physically / in-person with my fiancée? I love watching movies and TV, and so does my fiancée, except she no longer watches anything with me that involves sexual situations. I don’t know if something is wrong with me, but if there is, I want to fix it. I don’t want this issue to get in the way of our relationship.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your fiancée believes you have a sexual problem, and so you too question whether this might, in fact, be true. “Paraphilias,” a diagnostic class of sexual problems defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV (DSM-IV), are characterized by recurrent, intense sexual urges, fantasies, or behaviors that involve unusual objects, activities, or situations that cause clinically significant distress or impairment. Based on your account, it does not seem like your behavior meets these criteria, nor does it appear aberrant or unusual.

Human beings can become sexually aroused by a variety of stimuli, including images, fantasies, objects, sounds, smells, and so on. Individual sexual preferences are so diverse and complex, that what constitutes normal sexual behavior and functioning is often a source of debate amongst researchers and professionals who study or treat sexual problems. True psychological problems exist only when sexual preferences or acts are sought out compulsively, are non-consensual (as in rape or child molestation), or if they cause harm or distress to oneself or others.

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Your “problem,” as you define it, is a tendency to become sexually aroused by sexually suggestive media. Why does your fiancée take issue with this? Furthermore, why are you concerned? If you became sexually aroused exclusively through television programming or movies, your fiancée’s concern might be understandable. Likewise, if your predilection for TV programs or movies precluded you from being sexually intimate with your fiancée, this too would be a problem, especially if you were to watch or listen to certain programs repeatedly or compulsively. Your behavior does not seem to be compulsive, you do not habitually exclude your fiancée from sexual activity, and the media you watch or listen to are not a necessary requirement for sexual arousal. Honestly, I am left wondering what the central problem is here!

Does your fiancée feel jealous of you becoming aroused by certain images on TV? Maybe she protests that something other than her turns you on? If your fiancée feels threatened, the issue may be a broader one concerning either her, or your relationship. In a similar vein, if you feel guilty or ashamed by your natural erotic responses, this too is an important issue to address. You were raised with negative associations about sex, causing you today to feel somewhat embarrassed when discussing the topic. Yet, unfortunately, it sounds like the situation with your fiancée has you feeling equally embarrassed. You may wish to seek guidance from a therapist who can better assess the extent of your concerns and/or address any corresponding relationship issues.

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