Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Sexual Addiction Undermines Marital Happiness

December 13, 1999

Pornography is addicting. We live in a sex-saturated culture. We can see explicit sex in the privacy of our homes through cable TV, movies, videos, sexually pandering music videos and now the Internet. Pornographic magazines have been around longer and they are disgusting, repulsive - and widely read. Add to this list ads in legitimate publications, TV ads and sexually explicit musical lyrics.

My 13-year-old son correctly pointed out that there few PG movies any longer. The R-rated and PG-13 movies are standard fare at the theaters and eventually in the video store. The PG-13 movies push the limits and parents can’t trust that label to be protective of much of anything.

The hype around sex is oversold. Singles and young married couples, schooled for years on visual images of exquisite bodies, sexual prowess, and passionate sexual abandonment grow dissatisfied with the ordinariness of the sexual relationships. When sex is viewed as wild passion, it doesn’t quite measure up to abundant comparisons available in our popular culture and media

Sexual addiction. The heart of this type of addiction is fantasy. Fantasy is self-absorption, an escape from reality into a contrived pleasure. In some ways, fantasy is better than reality. Nothing can measure up to the perfection of a fantasy. Worst of all, it seduces the user into believing fantasies can be reality.

Compulsive sex is a substitute for intimacy, for a relationship, for meaningful work, for spirituality, or for other deficits in a person’s life. It is instant relief from tension and pressure.

Pornography and masturbation go together. Masturbation is the reinforcement that makes the use of pornography addictive. Masturbation is sex with self. It is self-isolating. It is a substitute for love and a lot less demanding.

Pornography feeds fantasy. Fantasy embellishes and exaggerates sexual desire. The most arousing fantasies are the most forbidden. If thinking about a fantasy is that arousing, then acting one out is the ultimate.

Depending on the exaggerated quality of the fantasy, it can lead to sexual perversions. Unfortunately, our headlines are replete with vicious crimes that have been acted out by sexual predators fueled by pornography. In the hands of certain high-risk individuals, pornography can be destructive and dangerous.

Marriage suffers. Some mates become dissatisfied and imagine a much more romantic and responsive partner. Their spouse can’t measure up in appearance or performance to their media-induced fantasies. They feel cheated. "If this is all there is, I’ve made a mistake." Unfulfilled fantasies create vulnerability for having a sexually oriented affair.

Sexual addiction puts false standards into a marriage and leads to sexual demands, tensions and rejection. When a husband uses pornography to masturbate or heighten his arousal, he begins to treat his wife like an object for his sexual gratification. His sexual ideals and demands cause self-doubt and undermine his wife’s femininity and adequacy as a sexual partner.

Masturbation short-circuits the need to give love and pleasure to a partner. It is a profound way of being alone. The use of fantasy, masturbation, sex without commitment, and sex without an emotional relationship robs the sexual experience of its power to create a loving bond. The self-absorbed goal of sexual arousal and release makes intercourse a selfish act.

Pornography, fantasies and masturbation sexualize thinking and lead to addictions as powerful as drugs or alcohol. These things create lust. They kill love.

Sexuality is enhanced by restricting it. It punctuates a relationship instead of being the entire dialogue. The restriction of fantasy and sexual activity within a marriage heightens its power. Too much of a good thing makes it ordinary.

The most romantic movies are ones that are merely suggestive. Fleshy, gyrating scenes dull our sensitivity and fuel our expectations. In movies and bedrooms, it takes more and more to get less and less. Heightened arousal during lovemaking is enhanced by emotional closeness, not by extending the limits of sensation. Less is more.

The world is lonely enough. Sexual addictions make it even lonelier by driving people into guilt, self-hatred, obsessions, emptiness and self-centeredness. It ruins marriages and the ability to bond in a marriage. It is time to say no to that part of ourselves and to the exploitative marketers in our culture who would gladly take us down that path.