Joe Beam is a marriage and relationship expert.

Internet Porn is the New Sex Ed?

President, LovePath International

If I opened Details magazine before, I don’t recall it. I don’t think I’ll open another. The September 2009 issue caught my eye with quarterback Tom Brady’s name in huge orange letters on the cover.

That was the bait. The hook set when I noticed a smaller cover title, “Generation XXX: How Internet Porn Became the New Sex Ed.”

Be aware that I’m one of those people that takes seriously Jesus’ prayer about His followers being in the world but not of the world. (John 17:13-18) I seek opportunities to interact with people outside of church contexts, and love to be on secular TV or radio answering questions from people that are not remotely religious. Just the other day I was on the top-forty station 107.5 The River in Nashville with morning hosts Woody and Jim. These guys are very bright, extremely witty, and faster than lightning, so it’s a thrill-a-minute to be on their show taking calls from their listeners about relationships while Woody and Jim jump in readily. (They’re hilarious, but they’re also quite good at helping people.) All calls during this particular show happened to come from women living with their boyfriends. The most interesting was the lady who asked if her boyfriend’s obsession with porn, and resulting decrease in sexual activity with her, should be something for her to worry about or was she overreacting. She wanted an answer before she married him.

That was still on my mind when I ran across Details.

After thumbing through more than 70 pages of ads for clothes apparently designed for men that have never eaten, I finally found the table of contents on page 72 and flipped over to the article. It was saturated with language you’ll never find on Crosswalk, so I held my nose as I slogged through it to see if the author, Eric Spitznagel, had any information I could use.

Though he focused much of his article on porn use by teens, his message directed itself to adults.

He began by sharing “fond memories” of his first exposure to porn when he was fourteen, then explained how his experience pales in comparison to what a modern 14-year-old has available today. He stated that there are more than 400 million pornographic web pages, “The awkward truth, according to one study, is that 90 percent of 8-to-16-year-olds have viewed pornography online…By the time they’re in high school, America’s porn-fed youth have already amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of smut.”

He went on, “According to a 2008 survey, one in five teenagers have sent an explicit photo of themselves to someone else or posted one online.”

It gets worse.

He writes, “In fact, ‘porn readiness’ is now a source of pride. While on tour promoting her memoir, [porn actress] Jenna Jameson was reportedly stunned that 13-year-old girls kept telling her she was their role model.”

Spitznagel wasn’t writing about how bad this is, but rather thinks of these teens as “sowing the seeds of a sexual revolution.” I believe he’s right about those seeds, but the revolution won’t lead to greater sexual satisfaction as he seems to think. Just the opposite.

So why doesn’t someone do something about this?

The article quoted former State Department staffer Mary Eberstadt’s comments in Policy Revue, “[Porn] is widely seen as cool, especially among younger people, and this coveted social status further reduces the already low incentive for making a public issue of it.”

From the time kids first plop down in front of a TV, they are exposed to sexual situations that were not allowed even to be mentioned in polite society just a few years ago. That desensitization, along with the Internet, makes moving up to porn easier than it was for previous generations. I’m not claiming we should go back to hiding information and forbidding discussion about sex, but I certainly see that the current fixation with sexuality as portrayed by porn is having a dramatic effect on marriages, beginning years before the marriage itself. As porn becomes the new Sex Ed (my work with marriages leads me to believe he is right about that), it creates a set of expectations about sex in marriage that are quite literally impossible to fulfill. This doesn’t happen just with the guys; it’s happening with the gals as well. The porn from teen years becomes the disaster in marriages years later. Not just from the memories, but because porn usage continues into marriage for millions of people.

Why is that a big problem?

As people watch porn – whether they’re 13, 33, or 63 – they start to buy into the idea that most people, especially the spouse they have or are going to have, should always be ready and willing to have sex. Not only that, from exposure to the multiplied variations of sexual behavior modeled in porn, they expect their partner to have sex in every manner possible. For example, Spitznagel writes, “According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, the number of heterosexuals having anal sex nationwide has almost doubled since 1992.”

Add to this the fact that as spouses age, gain weight, and get wrinkles, they don’t compare physically to most of the women and men in porn. One woman said to me, “I wish I had the money to have cosmetic surgery from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet so that maybe my husband would want to look at me rather than those women on the Internet.”

From my perspective, it appears that the American expectation (maybe worldwide) is evolving into marrying a spouse that doesn’t age or change physically, thinks about sex constantly, talks, acts, and dresses seductively, can’t wait to jump into bed (or more exotic locations), makes every lovemaking session extraordinary, and does everything either of them has seen, heard of, or imagined.

Will all who have that marriage please raise their hands?

Real life isn’t like porn. Even the real life of porn actors isn’t like porn. People get tired, become preoccupied, develop broader interests, grow passionate about other dimensions of life, change after childbirth (both genders), and age a little every day. Occasionally, they don’t like their partner. Life isn’t nonstop sex. Sometimes I hear someone say that men think about sex every 30 seconds, or some such number. Ridiculous. Life is broad, complicated, and demanding. My friend, outstanding sex researcher, writer, and expert Barry McCarthy, PhD, spreads the message broad and wide that we shouldn’t expect every sexual encounter to be great. As we communicated about this article, he urged, “Emphasize the crucial importance of positive, realistic sexual expectations: The most important being that less than 50% of sexual encounters among happily married, sexually functional couples have outcomes that are mutually satisfying, and 5-15 % of sexual encounters in marriage are dissatisfying or dysfunctional.”

I’m aware that there are very frustrated husbands and very frustrated wives that are angry because they feel that their spouses are sexually inhibited, or seemingly don’t care whether sex occurs or not in their marriage. As part of completion of my PhD in sexology, I currently am designing a weekend workshop for married couples that will have one goal – helping couples develop a sexual life more fulfilling to each of them. Yet, no matter how good the weekend workshop will be (ahem, it’s already very good), it will not make every day a great day of sexual fulfillment. We may seek great sex in our marriages but we should accept that valid research indicates that about half our sexual encounters in marriage aren’t going to be wonderful. Seek outstanding sex in your marriage, but be realistic in your goals and expectations.

As a proponent of great sex in marriage, I shout from the rooftops that porn is not the answer to achieving great sex. It creates impossible expectations that lead to misery. If one of you pursues porn, you will drift emotionally from your partner into an imaginary world that will never exist in reality. If you use it together, you will eventually reach the point where your lovemaking relies on the stimulation of watching others and not at all on intimacy between the two of you.

While I pray that parents and church leaders will discuss sex, including porn, openly and frankly with teens, my purpose is to discuss it frankly with adults. According to McCarthy, about 15% of men and nearly 5% of women compulsively use porn. Barry isn’t a Christian, so his views aren’t “stained glass” church rhetoric. Instead his insights root themselves in solid research and education. Of compulsive porn users, he states matter-of-factly, “For them it is very destructive.” If the studies Spitznagel cites are accurate, it’s frightening to think how much higher those percentages will be when today’s teens become adults. How many individuals – how many marriages – will be destroyed when “porn ready” teens become husbands and wives?

However, right now let’s talk about people already married.

If you are both into porn in your marriage, please believe me when I say that my experience with thousands of couples demonstrates that you will develop problems with your intimacy, self-esteem, and fulfillment as a couple. Stop now. Save your future by rescuing your present.
If one of you is into porn and the other doesn’t know, don’t think that it isn’t hurting your marriage. Every exposure to porn immerses you into a fantasy world that erodes the real world you could have together. It will change you; maybe it has already. Think you can keep it a secret? Get real. When your spouse discovers, he or she will very likely feel betrayed, rejected, unattractive, and abandoned. Do they have the right to feel that way? Yes. You have violated the marriage covenant. (Matthew 5:28-30)

If one of you is into porn and the other does know, the spouse not into porn should take the lead in demanding the removal of porn altogether. Get rid of the Internet, just as you would remove an addict’s access to alcohol. Check up on missing time and missing money. Seek out a Celebrate Recovery group in your area (you can find locations online). Finally, do something immediately to salvage the future you can have together. If your marriage is in trouble, let us help. Our success rate over the last decade is three out of four marriages, even when porn, adultery, or other things have deeply hurt the relationship. If not us, let someone help. Don’t think a slap-on-the-wrist and a promise to do better will solve a problem that is deep-seated, especially an addiction such as porn.

I believe that a couple can overcome porn’s affects by learning a new kind of sex education. However, it is very unlikely that they will until they solve the problems in their marriage, especially unrealized expectations on the part of one, or feelings of betrayal by the other.

By the power of God, you can have a great marriage and a great sex life.

Act now. Save your future.

Joe Beam
© Joe Beam.
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