The many reasons people watch porn

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Some people like pornography, and some don’t. Some people are porn connoisseurs and some are disgusted by it. Some couples watch it together for inspiration and excitement, while some couples protest it publicly on the principle that it exploits and demeans women (and men in some cases). And then there are those who have never given it much thought either way. They’ve never been particularly turned on by it and don’t seek it out, nor do they think there’s anything wrong with it.

Fans and haters of porn both have definite ideas about why people watch porn, but those who have never been moved by it in either way may be at least a little curious, if not completely perplexed, by why people watch porn. In particular, if you’ve recently discovered that someone you are in a sexual relationship with views pornography, you may be intensely curious or concerned about why he or she would be interested in porn at all when they have access to a willing and attractive partner in the flesh. If you’re worried that your partner’s interest in porn reflects a lack of interest in you, or is somehow due to deficiencies in your relationship, put that worry aside until you’ve considered the many reasons why people watch porn. The chances of it being an indication that something is wrong with you or your relationship are slim.

The Good

In moderation, there are some healthy (and relatively healthy) reasons people watch porn. Let’s get the obvious assumptions out of the way first.

Immersive Masturbation

Porn is often “used” for sexual inspiration and to enhance masturbation. The visual stimulation of porn can excite viewers sexually because the viewer relates to (or can imagine) the pleasurable sensations that would result from the sexual experiences being portrayed in the video (or pictures). When viewing another person having sex, for example, the viewer’s mind begins to recall or imagine feeling the same sensations of sex themselves. They become aroused, and then try to replicate a similar sensation by masturbating. There is a bit of a distinction between viewing and using porn, and this is a case of “using” porn for purpose rather than passive consumption.

Although porn is frequently used specifically for the purpose of more immersive masturbation, not all porn viewing is actually porn “usage”. Sometimes, people just want to watch.

Curiosity

Sometimes, especially in the case of amateur porn, people are just naturally curious and fascinated by what other people do for sexual enjoyment and what it looks like. People who like cooking also like watching other people cook on TV. It’s not a huge stretch that so many people watch porn. People like having sex and like seeing other people doing it. Not everyone who watches porn actually uses porn as a masturbatory enhancement. Sometimes they’re really just watching.

Variety

From music to food, people enjoy variety. Sex is no different. For many, pornography is a very simple way to enjoy a little taste of sexual variety without actually indulging. It’s not unlike browsing travel magazines or playing around on Google Street View as a means of exploring the world without actually getting on a plane. Just because you catch your partner exploring Oklahoma on Google Maps doesn’t mean that he or she wants to pick up and move there or even jump in the car and make the drive.

Fantasy and Imagination

We tend to think of the word “fantasy” as “something we would love to do”, but sometimes a fantasy simply an entertaining thought—we’re content with a fantasy being a fantasy. Movies and TV series about zombies, for example, can be extremely entertaining and even exhilarating—causing our heart rate to go up as we watch our protagonists fight for survival, or compelling us to yell out when someone opens a door in a dark room. Obviously, just because someone immerses themselves in The Walking Dead—a fictitious series about a zombie apocalypse—once a week, doesn’t mean that he or she is wishing for the zombie apocalypse to actually happen. It’s just a fantasy that takes the mind outside of the norm for a while. There is no actual desire to replace the regular work day with killing zombies just to survive. For many who watch porn, it’s no different—they’re happy with their real lives, but porn offers some fantasy out of the norm now and then and they’re happy with it as make-believe. They don’t want the fantasy to be real—for real, they want their partners.

The same goes for the type of porn people watch. That is, if your discover your partner is watching porn that depicts something surprising to you—perhaps depictions of same-sex activities (or opposite sex activities if you are in a same-sex relationship) for example, or group sex, or aggressive sex, it does not necessarily mean that your partner wants it to be a reality. It’s fair to ask, and it is quite possible that they would like to experiment with something different, but if they maintain that they don’t want to make the porn reality, take them at their word. Like zombies and space invaders, sometimes porn is just an entertaining fantasy or curious thought, and nothing more.

Secondary or Minor Interests

This is very similar to the motivation of fantasy and imagination, except that the interest is more than fleeting. Perhaps your significant other is somewhat turned on by the idea of anal sex, but you and your partner have discussed or tried it and you simply aren’t comfortable with it. “That’s okay,” your partner says. “I’d like to, but I’m okay if we don’t. I love everything else we do together.” Your partner may very well be expressing complete honesty—his or her main turn-on is just regular text-book sex with you. But every now and then, he or she still gets the urge for something specific. Porn, along with some masturbation, may provide just enough of a fix to take care of that interest, leaving your partner with no desire to pressure you to do something you’re uncomfortable with just because he or she craves it every now and then. It’s okay to take it at face value if your partner seems content to just let something like that be a porn thing.

For Inspiration

Sometimes porn can play a very healthy role in a sexual relationship, whether watched together by couples or viewed individually. People sometimes go through periods of stress or distraction due to work, family matters, or other life pressures, and during these times people sometimes forget about sex and find themselves having a difficult time getting in the mood or being inspired to initiate sex. Some moderate porn viewing, especially porn that depicts the type of sex that a person typically has or desires with their partner, can help bring about a return to sexual interest and inspire partners to initiate sex with one another simply because a bit of porn put them in the mood.

The Not So Good

In the interest of being sex-positive, we wanted to lead with some of the healthy and relatively benign reasons why many people watch porn. But, there are also some misuses of porn as well.

As Education

Unfortunately, especially in situations where young people aren’t exposed to adequate sex education or healthy adult guidance on sex and sexuality, many young people turn to porn to learn about sex. The vast majority of porn produced for profit is as fictitious and unlikely as movies about alien invasions. It can set unrealistic expectations about the way that people behave during sex and go about initiating sex and can also portray and glorify misogyny.

In Lieu of Real Sex

You’ll know this is the case if it’s happening between you and your partner if the two of you are not having sex but your partner is watching a lot of porn. Sometimes people find it easier to use porn as a sexual outlet rather than face conflict or risk rejection. It could be some sexual aspect to the relationship, such as being afraid to ask for something that they feel is embarrassing or that they know you aren’t comfortable with, or it could be something completely unrelated to sex—stemming from an argument over money or some other matter. Using porn allows them to withdraw sexually and emotionally. In other words, if you’re not having sex but your partner is watching porn, don’t necessarily assume that your partner has a porn problem. The two of you might have a relationship problem to tackle.

Addiction

And finally, some people do become addicted to pornography. According to a recent Cambridge study, porn addiction can trigger the same brain activity as drug addiction. (Though, researchers also said that this does not necessarily mean that porn itself is addictive.) The differences between “normal” porn usage and porn addiction aren’t that dissimilar to the differences between moderate social drinking and alcoholism. If a partner completely withdraws into porn, replaces other normal social and recreational activities (including, but not limited to sex with their partner) with porn usage, is neglecting basic self-care and responsibilities (work, school, sleep, exercise, etc.) due to porn consumption, becomes defensive or belligerent if questioned about his or her porn usage, and/or is desperately secretive about his or her excessive porn usage, porn usage may have crossed over into full-tilt porn addiction. You’ll know if this is the case—so no need to jump to this as the first conclusion if you suddenly discover your partner has a taste for porn. But if the signs are there, consider counseling.

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