As a psychologist in private practice I am aware of the agony that the chronic use of pornography can cause both the user and their partners. With the availability of Internet access on almost all phones and computers it is very easy to access pornography. The use of pornography can cause huge guilt and shame in the user and can lead to anger, hurt and distrust in relationships.
What is pornography about and why do some people get addicted to using pornography? Pornography is a daydream that is presented in written, or visual form for the purpose of evoking genital excitement in the observer. The producers of pornography have to understand the different daydreams that appeal to different groups of people (transvestite, homosexual, sadistic, voyeuristic, etc.). Each genre of pornography is designed for a specific audience. What is pornographic to one person can seem ridiculous and boring to another. The specific pornography that causes genital excitement in one person can leave the other cold. The details of the specific storyline or content of the pornography that is chosen by one person contains information about that person’s life history. The traumas, humiliations and frustrations that that particular person experienced influences the specific pornography that appeals to that person.
Robert Stoller conducted extensive research on sexuality and sexual perversion and described these common factors in pornography:
He believed that at the heart of all pornography (as with all perversions) is a fantasied act of revenge. This revenge is often felt to be about a passively experienced trauma, humiliation or frustration. Often in pornographic material the viewer’s moment of greatest trauma is now the moment of the greatest excitement. There is always in victim in pornography even if it is very disguised. Without a victim there is no pornography. There is always an element of voyeurism in pornography. An element that is often hidden (unless the material is overtly sadistic) is sadism. Another hidden element is masochism. Masochism is often hidden in the viewer’s unconscious identification with the depicted victim.
According to Stoller these elements are universal to viewers of pornography. The last component is the individual’s own choice of perversion (sadistic, voyeuristic, heterosexual, homosexual, transvestite, threesomes etc.). The choice of pornography is directly caused by the viewer’s own personal and sexual history. Pornography is used to convert pain, frustration or incomplete pleasure into pleasure. With pornography there is often an aspect to the daydream that reduces guilt (eg the idea that you are forced into an act reduce the guilt of feeling that you want to perform that act).
In the pornographic daydream humiliation, anxiety, frustration or trauma is triumphed over. Stoller found that in our society most pornography is produced for heterosexual men. For these men pornography consists of pictures of nude woman and of heterosexual intercourse. These are still solutions to conflict, frustration and anger. The excitement in watching pornography of heterosexual intercourse can come from identifying with the participant who does not feel anxious and has no risk of genital failure. Many emotions can be eroticized (experienced sexually) eg frustration, aggression, anxiety and dependency needs.
The common fantasy of an aloof, powerful and disinterested woman who is swept of her feet by a man she cannot resist is an example of an eroticized power struggle. The most important difference between more perverse and less perverse pornography is the level of aggression and revenge built into the story.
If you or your partner struggle with addiction to pornography it could well be that there is a hopeless longing to triumph over trauma that is reenacted over and over again by engaging with the pornographic material and feeling the triumph. Unraveling the meaning of the pornography you are interested in and understanding the childhood frustration, disappointment or trauma you are trying to triumph over can be difficult and you will need psychotherapy.
This article is based on the work of Robert Stoller.