A: It’s hard to have a rational conversation about porn because people’s first reaction is so often knee-jerk hysteria. I got a lot of that in response to this particular column; for example, as one guy wrote, “Porn focuses on body parts, not on sex. This is how bestiality develops.” Yes, we see that all the time: One week, a guy’s surfing the net for busty blondes; the next, he’s got the hots for the neighbor’s Labradoodle.
While you seem to be under the mistaken impression that I missed the word “husband” in the woman’s question, you seem to have missed most of the words in my answer. Serena Williams isn’t “involved” in this couple’s marriage; the guy was just using pictures of her to ring some doorbell in his brain. As I explained in that column, “Seeing pictures of hot women activates the ‘reward centers’ in men’s brains — the parts that go ‘Yeah, baby!’ to stuff like drugs, beer, and money.” Just as the guy isn’t connecting emotionally with a can of Bud, he isn’t emotionally involved with Serena, who “might as well be a big, tennisplaying ham sandwich.”
Not only is it “normal” for men to look at porn, so many men look at it that what would qualify as deviant behavior would be not looking at it. Men also ogle hot women on the street and everywhere they go, but a man’s forehead doesn’t come with a browser history. If it did, it would likely reflect what one female reader wrote: “My husband once told me that he thinks about having sex with every woman he sees. That’s Every. Single. One.” She keeps this in perspective: “I have absolutely no doubt that he has been completely faithful to me. None. I don’t care (about these thoughts), just like I don’t care that he watches porn on the Internet. My only request is that he keep his anti-virus software up to date.”
Sure, porn can pose problems in a marriage or relationship — when used to excess. The same goes for golf clubs, credit cards, and Hostess Ding Dongs. Of course, when there are problems, people love to blame the thing being used instead of the person doing the using. This thinking is fed by the damaging contention that addiction is “a disease.” Multiple sclerosis is a disease. You can’t decide to not have multiple sclerosis. You can decide to stop engaging in some behavior. You might not want to stop, it might be terribly hard to stop, but if the stakes are high enough, you will. Just ask some guy who tells you he can’t stop looking at porn. Sorry, but if his house catches fire, he’s not going to sit there at the computer simultaneously getting off and getting crispy.
The hysteria about porn is reminiscent of the hysteria surrounding pot from early on, ever since the propaganda classic “Reefer Madness” depicted it as a demon weed that causes rape, murder, suicide, crazed piano playing, and hit-and-run driving. Of course, if you know any potheads, you know the stuff is far more likely to cause them to lie on a beanbag chair polishing off the collected works of Sara Lee. Similarly, shrill ravings about porn keep the facts about it from being heard, keeping people from being able to differentiate between porn as a problem and porn as a pastime.
This woman’s husband hadn’t stopped showering, going to work, or having sex with her to lock himself in a room with the naked sex workers of the World Wide Web. In fact, she described him as a sweet, loving, “deeply caring” man who only watches porn when she’s out and he’s bored. The actual problem in her marriage was her unfounded fears about his porn consumption — which led to her feeling resentful and shutting down between the sheets. This sort of sex and affection strike can compel even a man who wants to be faithful to expand his horizons from sightseeing in the virtual world to getting naked with co-workers and rent-a-booty in the real one. So, as I advised this woman, no man “only has eyes for you,” but if you’d like keep the rest of your husband’s body parts from wandering, you should see to it that your bedroom isn’t the one place in the world that he can’t get sex.
© 2010 Amy Alkon, all rights reserved.