In the Media - Laura McNaught

i-on Magazine Oct 2019

Channel 4's Generation Porn documentary gave an unsettling insight into the effects of the porn industry on the younger generation. But what about our own relationships? Edinburgh-based therapist Laura McNaught reveals how pornography could be coming between us

There's no doubt that porn is a big player in the sex lives of many couples. As a relationship and psychosexual therapist, I can say that with confidence and the stats suggest that the prevalence of porn is only increasing. According to an annual review, the world's largest porn website, Pornhub, has seen an increase of five billion visits per year - to an average of 92 million visitors every single day.

So porn is certainly popular. But what kind of porn? The data throws up some surprising search terms among the predictable 'lesbian' and 'MILF' requests. Here in the UK for example, 'British chav' is the 9th most popular search term and requests for 'giantess' increased by 354 per cent. No, I don't know why either.

What I do know is that porn is easier to access than ever before (one adult filmmaker on the Generation Porn doc shockingly revealed Twitter to be among the world's biggest porn sites) and with so much out there, searches can be tailored to the user's very specific interests and preferences. But with consumption growing, what effect is pornography having in our bedrooms?

In recent years, we've become more aware that too much porn can cause problems with sexual performance, as well as a loss of attraction to real, living and breathing partners. And whilst both men and women view porn, men are impacted more significantly due to their usage patterns.

What is surprising is that men are encountering problems at a much younger age. Sexual problems in young men used to be uncommon and did not begin to rise until they reached 40, but this has changed dramatically, with multiple studies reporting historically high levels of erectile dysfunction.

The studies also reveal another new difficulty: low libido. Men become so used to the ease of viewing porn of whatever variety they like, whenever they like, that the desire for real sex is diminished. It can seem like too much effort, as well as too large a gap between the fantasy porn scenarios and real physical, partnered sex.

Add porn-related erection problems to low libido, and performance anxieties are then thrown into the mix, making the prospect of sex even less appealing. Avoidance sets in, partners feel rejected, intimacy declines, the relationship is damaged and the couple becomes stuck.

Relationship damage is also common where there is a discovery that a partner is addicted to pornography or where it has escalated into other sexual behaviours, such as fetishes or infidelity. Feelings of extreme hurt and betrayal can plunge the relationship into crisis and a fight for survival. And that's often when people turn to therapy for help.

Ultimately, for most couples, sex is important. Research confirms that it strengthens the bonds between partners and bolsters long-term relationship satisfaction. The good news is that, with support and commitment, we can recover from porn-induced sexual difficulties and heal our relationships. Couples can rediscover the pleasure of real sex that ain't like the movies; it's imperfect, it's connected. it's a whole lot better.