How is Pornography the Avoidance of Intimacy?

Men and women alike are sometimes confused when it comes to the meaning of pornography. More specifically, there’s a misbelief that the attention a man gives to pornography is similar to the attention he would give to his wife or girlfriend.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In actuality, they are, in many ways, opposites.

Patrick Carnes, who is commonly regarded as the first and most prolific writer in the area of sexual addiction, suggests that sexual addiction is not a sexual disorder as much as it is an intimacy disorder.

A man’s intimate sexual relationship with his wife is just that: an intimate relationship with a real person. But there’s no intimacy with all the various forms of pornography. It’s just digitized 1’s and 0’s or ink on paper or canvas.

It’s as fake as… well, let’s just say it’s anything but real.

Instead, I would suggest that pornography actually is about the avoidance of intimacy.

There are many ways we might see this, but here are three that come to mind from my professional coaching with men in pursuit of sexual integrity recovery:

1. Porn numbs negative emotions rather than sharing them in real intimacy

Some men watch pornography as a means for escaping negative emotions they don’t know what to do with otherwise. It’s a compulsive cycle. A man is triggered by negative emotions, such as loneliness, fear, anxiety, sadness and boredom. When triggering emotions are paired alongside pornography, he becomes even less aware of his negative emotions. More and more numbness sets in. All he knows is, “I want to look at porn”.

By contrast, healthy intimacy with a spouse is about being aware of our feelings (both positive and negative) and sharing those emotions with her. This is the essence of intimate relating. And sharing such vulnerable emotions is something wives say draws them to feel closer and more motivated towards sexual intimacy.

How about that? The very thing that can lead a man to seek false intimacy in a fake relationship can be the very thing that, if shared vulnerably with his wife, can lead to true intimacy (and sex) with a real and intimate partner.

2. Porn avoids the messiness of a real human relationship in preference for a “guaranteed” perfect interaction

Yes, it’s true that such an emotional conversation with our spouse (as described above) is messy and vulnerable. The conversation will also take some time, which may cause us to feel antsy until the conversation is done. That’s because we men aren’t necessarily good at emotional relating. I’m not really any better a this than the next guy. And while it has become easier with time and practice, this feeling has never fully dissipated.

However, the intimate emotional connection that can result from such an investment is worth its weight in gold.

By contrast, erotic images (who are always inviting and always smiling) never ask about such emotions. They don’t require a man to be known at that level, and an image or fantasy can’t be known in such a way. It’s a “perfect” match, void of any intimate connection. Perfect, that is, until the guilt, shame and loneliness come in like a flood after the electronic device is turned off.

3. Porn focuses on self-gratification rather than the satisfaction of giving sacrificially to another

Pornography is inherently about self-gratification. After all, there’s only one real person in the equation.

While this kind of self-centeredness can also happen in marriage, a healthy marriage is more focused on giving to our partner – both when it’s easy and when it’s not.

So essentially, pornography is an intimacy disorder – the avoidance of intimacy – and is in no way reflective of what real intimacy is or should be.

By the way, this discussion has implications for the woman who thinks she wants to receive the same kind of attention from her man as he might give to pornography.

But she doesn’t want anything like that.

Perhaps that’s a topic for another day.