Q: My husband surfs the Internet for porn and pictures of women when he’s bored. I want to accept this, but I can’t help but feel insecure and betrayed. He doesn’t watch porn when I’m home, but if I were gone more often, I think he’d be hopping online. I don’t snoop; I just see clues. Yesterday, I returned from a quick errand, and he’d left up a search for “Serena Williams swimsuit photos.” Pretty harmless, but it still stabbed me in the heart! He’s a deeply caring and sensitive man, and has been willing talk to me about this. He suggested I look at pics of men or porn, and said he wouldn’t feel threatened, just happy if I’m feeling good. It still drives me nuts and makes me less sexually giving to know that when I leave my house he’s fantasizing about other women.
A: Male brains and female brains have some differences. You can probably count on an amputated hand the number of times a straight man has run up to another and squealed, “Those are, like, the cutest shoes!” In fact, it’s a special day if a man happens to take note that another man has feet.
If you’re like most women, you couldn’t care less about Speedo shots of A-Rod or Orlando Bloom, and you’d run past a naked man to get to shoes, a dress, or a spot on a bench. A study by sex researcher Meredith Chivers (with electrodes in an area on a woman that only TSA agents, her lover and her gynecologist go) revealed that women are turned on by erotic video, but find footage of a naked guy exercising about as sexually arousing as long, slow pans of the snowcapped Himalayas. Not surprisingly, while Victoria’s Secret is a bajillion-dollar global enterprise, the companion sexy undie emporium for men has yet to open its doors. Frankly, Victor’s Secret could be communicated on a tiny piece of paper women would give to men: “Wear underwear. Preferably clean.”
You aren’t alone in being with a man who looks at porn. In fact, University of Montreal researchers wanted to compare 20-something men who watch porn with 20-something men who don’t, but couldn’t find a single guy who hadn’t. Researchers Steven M. Platek, Stephan Hamann, and others have found that seeing pictures of hot women activates the reward centers in men’s brains — the parts of the brain that go “Yeah, baby!” to stuff like drugs, beer, and money. In other words, just as your husband doesn’t connect on an emotional level with a can of Bud, his surfing the naked women of the Internet is driven by physiological hunger, not sentiment. So, while your brain sees Serena as another woman coming between you, to his brain, she might as well be a big, tennis-playing ham sandwich.
There actually is a war between the sexes — one going back millions of years. A cave man could do a cave lady behind a bush and just walk away, no child support, no nothing, and still pass on his genes. Consequently, men evolved to have this extremely unsentimental sexuality: getting aroused at the mere sight of a nubile woman. Since women can get pregnant from a single sex act, and since there were few suckier places to be a single mother than 1.8 million years ago on the African savannah, women evolved to care a lot less about a man’s looks than his ability and willingness to provide. Although we now have reliable birth control, our genes are extraordinarily slow learners (basically, they’re still partying like it’s minus 199,999) so these competing sexual strategies remain. As my friend Walter Moore put it, “A guy was complaining to me that women are only attracted to wealthy men. I said, ‘That’s so unfair, because we don't expect them to be wealthy; all we ask is that they look like models.’”
Of course you want to believe the fantasy tale — that your guy only has eyes for you — and not know that whenever you run out to CVS, he’s browsing page after page of fantasy tail. But, unless he starts showing signs that he’s bought a one-way ticket to pornoland, the biggest threat to your relationship isn’t his babe-gazing but your freaking out about it — to the point where you’re shutting down between the sheets. Remind yourself that he’s just looking at these images because he’s biologically and psychologically male. He’s with you because he loves you, for the sexy way you brush your hair out of your eyes when you’re thinking, for all the ways his life is better and more fun because you’re in it. Compare all of that with what he gets from Serena and the rest — the sum total of which fits in the toe of an old tube sock.