The other day I caught up with a psychotherapist friend who’s in training to also be a sex therapist. She mentioned that the clients she sees come in for two main reasons: Most of the men come to treat porn addictions, and most of the women want to be treated for low desire. On the face of it, those are distinct complaints—but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re happening at the same time.
First, though, a word about porn addiction. It is a real thing, and not every person who views porn is an addict. Pornography, like every behavior or substance that can become addictive, is not a problem for most people. As with alcohol, it’s considered an addiction only when it has power over the person—when he (or she, but usually he) spends huge amounts of time viewing it, when it interferes with important things in his life (work, marriage, family), and when he finds it very difficult to cut back even when he wants to. The majority of people who use porn never become addicts—although the vast amounts of porn on the internet have led to many more porn-addiction cases in recent years.
But back to my premise. What do men’s porn addictions and women’s low desire have in common? I think the key is the way our culture has de-coupled sex from relationship.
Porn may be the most extreme example of sex without emotional connection. It is all about physical pleasure—usually a man’s pleasure—and seldom involves any kind of caring, reciprocal relationship. Very rarely does porn (other than lesbian porn) show much interest in what gets women excited, what women need to have a pleasurable sexual experience. The female actors pretend to be enjoying whatever happens (even when it’s violent or degrading), but that’s a far cry from what most women would actually enjoy in real life. If people use porn as a model of what sex “should” be, as frighteningly many do, they really have no idea of what mutually satisfying sex can look like.
With that backdrop, is it any wonder many women aren’t all that interested in sex? If their partners don’t know what they need, sex becomes just one more chore, one more thing done to please someone else. Further, some women don’t even know what they themselves need to have good sex. Young women in particular may have grown up with porn-drenched partners who are more focused on getting themselves off than figuring out what really arouses a woman. Some young women are fortunate to have attentive partners or figure out for themselves what feels good—but too many don’t even know that sex is supposed to be pleasurable for them. Yikes.
So what’s the solution? Getting sex reconnected with relationships. (Maybe not all the time, but more often.) We can make sure girls know that their pleasure is every bit as important as guys’. We can teach guys that they can have a different kind of sex—deeper, more playful—when they have it in a relationship where they take the time to explore what does it for their partner. Each person’s excitement builds off the excitement and pleasure of the other person. The superficial (and fake) excitement of porn becomes less compelling. Women feel desired as persons, not as objects, and their own desire for sex increases. Everybody wins!