Sexual Health & Wellness

How to Foster a Healthy Relationship with Porn

20.09.2022

By Kelifern Pomeranz, Clinical Psychologist & Certified Sex Therapist

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Working as a clinical psychologist and sex therapist, many individuals contact me expressing concern about their consumption of erotic imagery. They worry that their porn use may be unhealthy or compulsive in nature and question whether they should discontinue their use. While porn can be used in a self-destructive manner, if engaged with mindfully through the use of pornography literacy, it can contribute to one's sexual repertoire and be a positive addition to healthy sexuality.

Here are some tips to foster a healthy relationship with porn:

1) Remember that porn is fantasy. Porn is fiction, not an instructional how-to guide. You would never try to learn how to drive from a high-speed chase in a movie, and neither should you learn about sex and intimacy from watching porn. Porn is entertainment. Full stop.

2) Choose ethical porn. Support a healthier porn industry that features porn which is made legally, respects the rights of the performers, has good working conditions, protects sexual boundaries, shows both real-world and fantasy sex, and celebrates sexual diversity.

3) Explore a variety of other mediums. When you only self-stimulate to porn you are conditioning yourself to respond to very specific types of sexual stimulation and imagery. It is always a good idea to expand your sexual template by self-stimulating without porn sometimes. The brain is the most powerful sex organ. Use your imagination. You may also consider erotica (verbal or written), self-entrancement arousal (focusing on one's own body sensations), and partner-interaction arousal (giving and receiving pleasure-oriented touch).

4) Pay attention to your body. A lot of individuals zone out and use porn in a way that disconnects them from their body. This can lead to performance difficulties down the road with a partner. Use porn as an adjunct to your self-stimulation, not as the main act. During the viewing process, take breaks by looking away from the screen and down at your own body. Or close your eyes every once in a while and focus on the feeling of self-touch.

5) Don't use porn to deal with your negative feelings. We gravitate to porn for a variety of reasons, including sexual excitement and pleasure. Many individuals also use porn when they are feeling sad, stressed out, angry, or resentful. While porn can help us shift out of difficult emotions, it can be an unhealthy coping mechanism when it becomes our only “go to.” Before using porn, ask yourself, “Why do I want to use porn right now? Is there something that I am ignoring, avoiding, and/or need to acknowledge?” If your desire to engage in porn is not for joy and pleasure, you might consider utilizing a different coping tool (e.g., going for a walk, calling a friend, journaling). You might also want to consider setting a rule that you will only use porn when you are in a good mood.

5) Show respect to partnered intimacy. Check-in with yourself about whether your porn use is impacting your real-life relationships. Ask yourself whether porn is elevating your intimacy with your partners or pulling you apart. Remember that your partner(s) deserve to be held in high esteem and appreciated for however they show up sexually.

6) Have an agreement with your partner about porn use. Good communication and trust are foundational in a healthy relationship. Couples often shy away from open conversations about sex. Because of this, relational agreements are often unspoken which can lead to misalignment. Couples do best when they have a mutual understanding around both individual and shared sexual expression. You are entitled to your own private relationship with porn but it can be problematic when this use is secretive, your partner feels left out, or the porn use becomes a substitute for sexual connection.

7) Consider using porn with a partner. Research shows that partners who watch porn together report greater relationship functioning and sexual satisfaction than partners who do not. Porn can be a great adjunct to a healthy and exciting sexual relationship.

8) Seek help. Consider working with a therapist if: your porn use feels compulsive, you are having difficulty connecting with real-life partners, or you are experiencing shame. When individuals say that they are “addicted” to porn it is often the symptom of a larger issue (e.g., depression, anxiety, loneliness, relationship dissatisfaction). Seek out a sex-positive therapist who works from an affirming sexual framework.