What are the underlying reasons men need porn?

While looking through a classic collection of articles by men called Men Confront Pornography (1990, Kimmel, M. S. Ed.) which I thought might help my sex addict clients, I came across some interesting theories as to why porn is so compelling for so many men.

These are not excuses, they are attempts to explain and understand the “pain killing nature” of porn.

What is a man medicating when he chooses two dimensional images of women who are always exactly the way he wants them to be?

I will look at two of these theories and then add my own thoughts.

Men feel violated by women and seek revenge

This idea is that porn redressed an imbalance and thereby soothes anger.  The argument (p.172) goes like this: women work hard to look sexy and men respond involuntarily.  But men are expected to hide their interest while they are being distracted, disrupted and tempted by women.  Furthermore, the women are not really interested in being sexually available which makes men feel even more controlled and violated.

One survey reportedly found that a third of men believe a man is being legally harassed by a woman on the job if she dresses sexily. Additionally men feel lured into looking at women by intrusive images in the media.  Men feel sexually stimulated against their will, and feel humiliated when they have to hide it.  The view of women’s appearance as a weapon is substantiated by the language used to describe it; a woman is a bombshell, a knockout, or a femme fatale.

By viewing porn men can be aroused without feeling vulnerable.  And since the viewing of porn is itself a kind of voyeurism or violation, it serves well as revenge.  It is not only sexually gratifying in itself, it restores control to the man and medicates his anger and humiliation.

Intimacy with women is a threat to masculinity

This theory is based on the idea that as children men experience intimacy with a woman, a mother, but in adulthood they are expected to reject the closeness with the mother and create a “masculine” identity.  The new masculine identity which is formed in adolescence rests on creating as much distance as possible between themselves and anything female.  Girls growing up are not seen as having to make this kind of radical shift.

Sex with real women as an adult, so the argument goes, has the potential to break down the barriers between men and women.  But since men need to reject identification with women they are at least ambivalent about intimate sex with women and have “an insatiable need to prove [their masculinity.]” (p.179)

In using pornography men avoid what they fear, namely the loosening of identity boundaries that comes with intimacy.  The women depicted in porn are shown as “soulless” bodies with a limited range of subjective states.  They can be “lusty, fearful, alluring, childlike, coy, trusting, hardy, compliant, mean, resistant and so forth.” (p.177)  But this menu of subjective states relates to the woman as a sexual stimulus rather than as a full person.

According to this theory then, men feel safer, less anxious and more gratified in relating to porn.  Or, as in the case of some sex addicts, they can only relate sexually to a partner if they relate to their partner’s body as a pornographic image.  Touch increases the threat of identification and relating to the visual image is safer.

Excessive need for control is a symptom of abuse survivors

The above theories seem to come down to idea of men using porn as a way to feel powerful and in control; to feel less castrated, less ignored, less ashamed, less victimized, less violated and less helpless.  This assumes that any man growing up in any family will experience  his sexuality in ways that promote a reliance on porn.  And yet not everyone becomes a porn “addict.”

In current theory, children who grow up with abuse or without appropriate nurturance and validation can learn to use sex as an escape which later becomes an addiction, a habitual way of coping with pain, stress, anxiety, anger and any other strong emotion.

Perhaps having a history of early relational trauma complicates even the “normal” problems of growing up male.  Instead of being drawn to porn as an outlet the addict uses porn as his major coping mechanism.  Growing up male may not be easy and many issues around intimacy and masculinity need to be worked out along the way.  But active porn addiction prevents confronting these normal developmental issues.

 


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    Last reviewed: 18 Mar 2013

APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2013). Porn as Good Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 2, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2013/02/porn-as-good-therapy/

 




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