can watching porn spice up your sex lifeViewership of internet pornography has exploded in the last decade, and debates about it can get pretty touchy. When sex addiction therapists talk about porns proliferation, we often get attacked for supposedly pathologizing normal sexual behavior, or for excusing “bad” behavior.

The reality is, whether it is labeled sex addiction or something else, porn use can get out of control to the point of causing serious problems. It can be the sexual version of a gateway drug, pulling people into compulsive cyber-sex use. People lose jobs and families. It can take over someone to the extent that he or she no longer ventures past it, is no longer able to have sex with another, whether online or in person.

So maybe your porn use isn’t all-consuming. But you watch it. Moreover, sex with your partner has gone stale or has stopped, and you believe watching it together would be a good way to spice things up. Perhaps he or she flat out refuses, which you find frustrating. Maybe he or she has given in to your request but is not happy. Perhaps he or she thinks it’s great.

I doubt anyone will argue against the fact that porn use creates intense excitement. Yet watching porn alone or with your partner can put a big dent in real-life sex for a number of reasons. For one thing, people who watch porn regularly get used to the intense rush it creates and to the fantasy of what people should look and act like. Real-life sex starts to feel downright blah. We might even start to say things like, “I’m not cut out for monogamy” or “my partner isn’t enough for me.” It does not occur to us that our solution to “blah” may be the problem, or at least may be exacerbating it.

If this doesn’t seem alarming, keep in mind what a fair amount of research now shows. Extensive porn use can cause significant erectile dysfunction and low libido, even in people in their teens and twenties.

To paraphrase a French saying, sex in the evening starts in the morning. No matter how casual it is, real-life sex involves a courtship ritual. The ritual might include noticing, appreciating and flirting with your partner and letting him or her know you are doing so. It might include intimacy and something called individuation. That’s when we let the real us shine through, and feel good about it. The sex itself involves kissing, embracing, and caressing.

In short, it involves a fun, erotic dance that creates anticipation, confidence and a shared experience. It takes place whether the sexual relationship lasts one night or 20 years. The more the courtship ritual is part of a sexual encounter, the more satisfying the encounter is likely to be. It is not uncommon for it to be more arousing than the actual sex. This is not romance novel stuff. Courtship rituals are important to a lot of different species in the animal kingdom.

Porn crucifies the ritual. Most porn is about penetration, often within the first few moments of a video, with very little time for anything else. There may be a little noticing, but no flirtation or foreplay. Intimacy is absent. The more porn we watch, the more the sex in it becomes our standard, which means the less interested we become in courtship. Real-life sex without courtship stagnates. Porn makes itself stale with its lack of courtship, which is why interest in greater variety or more extreme images tends to grow quickly in people who look at it.

Using porn without our partners’ knowledge is damaging for its own reasons. We don’t touch another person when we look at porn, so we tell ourselves it is not sex. Let’s be honest. It is not real-life sex, but watching other people — which is what we do with porn — is a form of sex called voyeurism.

This is why discovering secret porn use can have the same impact as discovering an affair. It is a sexual betrayal, which is one of the most painful things a person can experience. It leaves our partners feeling abandoned, less than disrespected, foolish and wondering why they are not good enough. I do see it in clients when it comes to porn. They can feel these things mildly or intensely. Either way trust, confidence, and a desire for sex gets whittled away and the relationship stagnates or goes downhill.

If you want to look at porn, at the very least make sure you are honest with your partner about it, and that you and your partner are knowledgeable about the effect it can have. It is a lot like not closet-eating junk food, and being knowledgeable of the effect Big Macs have on your heart.

Can’t bring yourself to talk about it? This is a red flag you may lack enough intimacy and openness about sex necessary for a satisfying relationship. Developing such intimacy, as well as practicing more of your own courtship ritual with each other, will probably spice up your sex life a whole lot more than porn ever could.

Ocus Focus/Bigstock