When Pornography is an Addiction

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Reader’s Question

For so long I have felt there is something wrong with me for thinking this way, but I can’t avoid my feelings any longer. I have been in a committed relationship with a man for the last 3 years. During the first year of our relationship, I realized he was very much into pornography. I woke up to him lying right next to me watching porn. This was a couple of hours after we had made love. I’ve always been very confident about my looks, but after having twins a few years ago, my body has changed. Yet I am still sought out by many men at my job and elsewhere. I am 5’4″ and about 110 lbs, with a 36 C chest. Honestly, I’m used to men wanting me to be their porn.

I am by no means a prude, I just want to be enough for him. I know that’s crazy and will never happen (or is that what I’ve just been taught to believe?). The thing is, my man knows it bothers me, so he hides it from me. Any time I mention it he gets very angry and defensive, and denies it. Then he tries to turn things around on me. But he has to look at other women every day, multiple times a day. He spends more time doing that than making love to me. Is this his way of keeping himself from cheating? Why does he not want me to act or look like these women, yet seek them out every chance he gets?

I’m getting to the point where I’m almost ready to end things over it. I’m so tired of waking up alone in the middle of the night to him in the bathroom with his phone (or computer if we had one). The whole “Watch it with him” thing doesn’t fly with me, either. I don’t want to watch him get off on someone else! I know they say that’s not what’s going on in their minds, but that is how I feel and I don’t see that changing.

In all other aspects of our relationship he is perfect for me. I love him so much. He’s great with my kids, loving, affectionate, smart, caring. But this hurts too badly. Is there something wrong with me? Or him?

Psychologist’s Reply

Your partner could be suffering from a sexual addiction. Although there is no official diagnosis for it yet, the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity defines sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.” Some of the behaviors you listed — continually engaging in the behavior despite negative consequences (you being angry with him), neglecting family obligations (spending more time looking at porn than being with you) and the escalation of the behavior (watching it multiple times a day including the middle of the night) — all fit with symptoms of sexual addiction.

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Sexual addiction can best be described as an intimacy disorder. If someone has difficulty being intimate with romantic partners, the sexual experience itself may become frustrating and uncomfortable. As such, a sexual experience that is as far away from an intimate encounter as you can get (like pornography) becomes more gratifying than sex with a romantic partner. People who are addicted to sex get a sense of euphoria from it (which can explain why they find it difficult to stop). They use sexual activity to seek pleasure, avoid unpleasant feelings or respond to external stressors, like work difficulties or interpersonal problems. It is important to realize that his constant watching of pornography probably has little to do with you. It is not because you are not good enough and it is not something you can change.

I agree that you should not watch pornography with him, especially if it bothers you. That will change nothing and just upset you further. Instead, it may be best to have a frank and calm discussion about this and see what, if anything, your partner is willing to change. If he does not want to stop and is unwilling to get help in order to do so, then you have a decision to make. One of the most difficult things about dealing with a loved one who has addictive behaviors is recognizing that it is their problem to solve. You cannot change their behavior, especially if they do not want things to be different.

All you can do is maintain good boundaries (decide what behaviors you can and cannot deal with) and live your life the best way you know how. Seek out support from others who have dealt with the same types of issues. Find ways to be happy. Hopefully your partner will decide that he wants to be a part of that but ultimately, his behavior is his own responsibility.

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