The Marital Counseling Blog is a wonderful resource and an educational site as well. For those of us interested in having healthy relationships and attaining true romantic happiness, it’s a real godsend, and I check in often to see what’s new. A recent article about the problems that couples are experiencing because of internet pornography caught my eye. I’ve been following the development of technology for years and obviously using it to write and communicate, so I tend to be drawn to that place where technology and society intersect. The growth of online porn and related sexual behaviors is truly an important issue in today’s world.
The author makes several relevant points, and she makes it clear that there is a range of what she calls “online sexualized behaviors” that are the real issue. This phrase refers to any or all of the following: viewing free or purchased pornographic materials via the Internet, participating in chat rooms that allow anonymous interaction with others in real time, interacting on social media sites designed for sexual encounters, and others, some not yet invented, no doubt.
Because people spend too much time better spent with spouses, because they become addicted to these activities and behaviors, and because their actual sexual responses change over time, divorce and marital problems have dramatically increased with this rise of online pornography and sexualized behaviors. Both partners in such a relationship develop problems with sexual satisfaction due to the unrealistic expectations and for other reasons.
The one who is addicted to porn expects certain behaviors and in fact has conditioned himself or herself to such responses, and the other person may not understand the change, or be repulsed by it. Another outcome that affects the relationship is addiction to porn and related behaviors – it becomes a problem like any other addiction that drains time and resources unnecessarily and to the detriment of the people involved. Then there is the question of fidelity raised by the author – is this kind of behavior actually cheating, or is it alright to have sex with a stranger that you will never touch?
These are all valid points, and there is no doubt that such problems result from a modern plague of sorts. But here are some possible things to consider in thinking about these matters. First, there is a problem with using a blanket term such as “pornography” and then blaming a host of difficulties on it. There is a huge difference between a couple accessing pornography on the Internet together to spark up the evening, and a lone married man sitting in a darkened room, interacting verbally with a stranger and satisfying himself sexually. Both of these are sexualized behaviors, but with very different outcomes. If a marriage counselor could find ways for couples to use it as a tool to improve the marriage, we would look at it differently.
There is also a problem with being selective about online addictions. Some of us are virtually and literally addicted to checking email and texts. Some of us are addicted to looking for coupons, some for Star Wars figures for their collections. And these are not necessarily harmless behaviors, either – time and resources can be wasted in cyberspace in an infinite variety of ways. Perhaps we need a dialogue as a society about the possible human cost of being online 24/7 engaged in any activity, no matter what the particular reason might be.
As for whether online sexualized behavior is cheating or not, I believe that the author’s approach is right on the mark. She says, “If you do anything online that you wouldn’t want your partner to see, hear, or read, it constitutes cheating.” In this post-Clinton era we have become quite tricky about definitions when it comes to sex, but most people know instinctively what is cheating and what is not. And the person who gets a thrill from cheating will do it in any way possible – a connected computer just makes it easier, and easier to rationalize.