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Take away online porn and what do you get?
September 8th, 2011
10:02 AM ET

Take away online porn and what do you get?

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

Over the past month, I’ve been conducting a “no-porn” experiment with a group of guys. Not that I’m anti-porn; I’d like to think that I take a nuanced perspective.

As a sexuality counselor and author, I’ve written quite a bit in this column about Internet porn - from how it’s altering the contours of our sex lives in unexpected ways to how women are starting to use porn much in the same ways as men.

But unlike the subjects of some articles about porn that have also recently appeared on CNN.com - Can the Christian crusade against pornography bear fruit? and Is pornography driving men crazy - I emphatically do not buy into the alarmist rhetoric that contends that porn is addictive, porn is a gateway drug, and porn destroys marriages.

Rather, I view Internet porn as just another form of erotic material, one that many (if not most) people use in healthy ways to enjoy their own sexuality.

That said, I grew up in the age before Internet porn - when guys in search of erotic fodder were compelled to use magazines, videos, and even (gasp!) their own imaginations and sexual memories. That’s clearly become ancient history: For the past few years I’ve noticed that nearly 100% of the men I come into professional contact with, regardless of age, now use Internet porn as a tool for self-pleasure.

And that got me wondering what, if anything, has been lost in this shift. Like other aspects of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, are we increasingly becoming “porn-potatoes?”

What would happen if men stopped using porn for a short period of time (say, three weeks) and were instead compelled to seek out other forms of erotic material in order to self-pleasure?

I decided to find out. As part of an informal “no porn” experiment, I reached out to five men of various backgrounds ages 22 to 67, both married and single, all of whom currently used Internet porn as a self-pleasuring tool, and all of whom felt their usage posed no problem to themselves or their intimate relationships.

As the three-week experiment unfolded, the feedback from the group of guys was intriguing:

All of the men ended up pleasuring themselves less than they would have normally had they had access to Internet porn. While they still had the same urges to self-pleasure, most simply decided it was not worth the effort - and that freed up their time. Said Greg, a single guy in his early 20s who works from home as a freelance Web developer,“ I ended up getting a lot more work done.”

And when they did make time to self-pleasure, four of the five men also had much more difficulty, er, “getting started."

“I would see something sexy, and get turned on, and my first instinct was to flip open my laptop and let my fingers do the walking. Business as usual,” lamented Chris, who is married and in his late 40s. “But without Internet porn, I just couldn’t get it going, and more than once I gave up.”

Added Kenneth, who is single and in his mid-30s, “I actually went out and bought a copy of Penthouse, but I was really self-conscious. The whole experience left me feeling dirtier than actually just going to a porn site. Plus, there wasn’t nearly as much variety. I missed the browsing.”

Fred, a married man in his 30s, was forced to improvise. “I needed to watch something - you know, moving images - but I don’t own a DVD player anymore,” he said. “I ended up reading one of my wife’s romance novels instead, and you know what? It was pretty hot! Now we’re reading them together, and I really like this whole erotica genre.”

That brings me to my next point: In general, when the guys found new ways to self-pleasure, they also discovered something new about themselves. Fred discovered that he had indeed been becoming something of a “porn-potato” and David, a man in his late 20s who is on the verge of moving in with his girlfriend, really enjoyed his strolls down Erotic Memory Lane.

“It had been a while since I thought about my sexual past: ex-girlfriends, hookups, etc.,” he admitted. “I used this experiment to start at the beginning and work my way up to the present. I remembered that I have some really hot nuggets buried in my past, and I also found myself thinking a lot about my current girlfriend and what a great sex life we have together.”

In fact, without easy access to Internet porn and the steady stream of anonymous porn stars, most of the men turned to their own erotic histories and specific sexy memories for stimulation.

Nick, who is married in his 30s with two kids, reported that he became more focused on trying to have sex with his wife, which led to some tension, and, happily, some resolution.

“We had some fights, and I definitely got grouchy, but once I removed the porn I became much more engaged with my wife,” he said. “I realized we were getting sexually complacent and that porn was like a valve. Once I didn’t have the valve to let off some sexual steam, I became much more focused on the bigger situation of our sex life.”

At the end of the experiment, though, all of the guys returned to the Internet. “It’s just easier with Internet porn,” Greg confessed.

“I love sex with my wife,” Chris said, “but when I’m going solo I want the variety.”

Yet most of the men agreed that it made sense to adopt a more “balanced diet” of approaches. Said Nick, who had previously been stuck in a sex rut, “I actually became more sexually interested in my wife than I’ve been in a long time. And I feel more affection towards her overall. We’d been arguing a lot and also not having sex, but throughout this experiment, all of my sexual thoughts included her, and overall, that renewed interest in our sex life together.”

I find this last point especially interesting. Research that includes MRI brain scans of men and women during the process of sexual arousal has shown that orgasm lights up all parts of the brain, including those associated with memory. Orgasm plays a powerful role in the reward centers of the brain, so it makes sense that the more we associate that positive reward with a particular person, or memory of a person, the more we reinforce our overall relationship with that person.

Going forward, I’d like to explore this point further: Can self-pleasuring with a particular person in mind increase our feelings of love and desire toward that person via the reward of orgasm? If so, it could be a helpful solo-exercise for those couples who feel detached and disconnected from each other.

I’m sure at this point some of the anti-porn extremists will say I just proved that porn is bad - that it detracts from the connection that a couple potentially builds together. But I also believe that there’s plenty of room for both fantasy and reality in a healthy sex life and lots of different “happy endings.”

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soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Michelle

    Why does this study only focus on men? Come on, women like internet p0rn too. I like it, and I can definitely say that it ADDS creativity to my married love life. I'm monogamous and in a wonderful marriage, and nothing adds to my marital intimacy like getting creative in the bedroom with "Honey, I just saw/read about this. Let's try it."

    Seriously.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • I love Michelle

      Michelle, you're the coolest woman alive!

      September 12, 2011 at 13:38 | Report abuse |
    • DoctorD

      I think it's focused on men because it's a story about the behavior of men.

      September 17, 2011 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
  2. Bubba

    P0rn just plain strikes me funny. I can't recall the last thing like that I saw that was actually arousing. The looks on their faces make me giggle – so serious! I also wonder how much VD you could catch from these folks, which isn't exactly a turn-on.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Random Anonymous Blackmail

      Bubba, the performers get tested on a regular basis this isn't the 70's and 80's it is a reputable industry using the term loosely.

      September 17, 2011 at 15:06 | Report abuse |
  3. Alex

    Can self-pleasuring with a particular person in mind increase our feelings of love and desire toward that person via the reward of orgasm? YES!!!

    September 8, 2011 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bubba

      He didn't mean Scarlet Johansen, Alex.

      September 8, 2011 at 16:01 | Report abuse |
  4. dom625

    I may be one of the extreme minority here, but I can't stand p0rn. It's as if people took something private and personal and warped it into what it is now. I have no desire to see any of that–it's gross!

    September 8, 2011 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bubba

      I bust up laughing most of the time, but some of it is so grotesque it's alarming. The target audience must live with their moms and have bathroom issues.

      September 9, 2011 at 11:33 | Report abuse |
    • lawschool791

      Dom625,
      If you are a guy, will you marry me? :)

      September 11, 2011 at 03:50 | Report abuse |
    • SB

      Dom will have to ask his mom if he can move out of the basement and take his Davey and Goliath VHS collection with him. Don't hold your breath.

      September 19, 2011 at 20:39 | Report abuse |
  5. Andrea Lyons

    Great article – reminded me of fast food versus cooking up a quick healthy meal. If the man has a partner, I love the idea of scheduling time for sensual pleasure and intimacy with your Beloved. Once you create the space and focus on pleasuring, you'll be amazed at how it overflows into your daily life. More ideas and suggestions can be found at http://www.bringbackdesire.com.

    September 8, 2011 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jon

    Interesting article.

    September 8, 2011 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Wes

    Pron is totally harmless. Nothin wrong with a daily fap or two

    September 9, 2011 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tph

      LoL!

      September 12, 2011 at 08:05 | Report abuse |
    • Haywood Jablomey

      Or three, or a dozen...

      September 12, 2011 at 13:40 | Report abuse |
    • truefax

      Dozen?! Seriously how long does it take you 2 min? That's a lot of time you have on your hands amung other things.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:44 | Report abuse |
  8. abc

    I see that 'that said' has replaced 'at the end of the day' among the journalistically challenged

    September 9, 2011 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Abe

      Bottom line is, I can't stand either one. (btw....I hate, "bottom line is...." too!)

      September 12, 2011 at 13:59 | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin

    My wife is has a disease so I have to take matters into my own hands. I love her but once a month is the max.

    September 10, 2011 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Carlito Swagger

    With all due respect, Kerner, you are an idiot.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jay Hughes, MD

    Kerner, you use human subjects (probably) without IRB approval, freely refer to your treatment as an "experiment", report your results in the international media, and seek to persuade the public despite the total lack of scientific validity of your findings. I caution anyone who reads this to disregard your opinions and seek advice elsewhere. The truth or untruth of your arguments aside, your ethics are questionable. Such clinical interventions are entirely within the purview of your 5 clients' treatment, and are not applicable to the world-at-large. Your use of this experience to "prove" your opinion is irresponsible academic misdirection..

    September 11, 2011 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • penguinn

      You seem to be mistaking CNN for JAMA or some other academic website.
      The author of this article makes no claims as to its broader validity and states that he is, in part, responding to other articles which have appeared which were also neither peer-reviewed nor double-blind.
      What he has done is no more "unethical" than asking someone to volunteer to get up 30 minutes early for a week and see how they feel.

      September 11, 2011 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      I think this is on the same level as just asking people around the table whether a particular notion is rational. He's a councelor who thought it be beneficial for these 5 men to gain perspective. They did that. Calling it an "experiment" may show a lack of sincerety, but if he honestly saw this a beneficial and had their permission to discuss it publically... then at best he's run afoul of beauracracy intended to do what he already got, their "ok."

      September 12, 2011 at 07:43 | Report abuse |
    • Julian

      While there is some risk of it being interpreted as expert advice, I don't think he's misrepresenting it. It is obviously a small sample, with diverse results, anectotal, not peer reviewed, and actually he doesn't present any real conclusions - he only presents a hypothesis that might be interesting for further actual scientific study.

      October 3, 2011 at 17:58 | Report abuse |
  12. slogreport

    If you take it away, you will still have http://www.slogreport.com

    September 11, 2011 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. MS

    I stopped looking at p0rn to read this article. It wasn't worth it.

    September 11, 2011 at 20:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hunter S Tomboy

      +1

      September 12, 2011 at 09:13 | Report abuse |
    • Bob Jones

      LOL!

      September 20, 2011 at 10:37 | Report abuse |
  14. Joke

    Women watch P0RN more then men. Soon women become cougar and attract to younger men.

    September 12, 2011 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. saopaco

    Anorther day older and deeper in debt?

    September 12, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. samuelamos

    Christ said that whoever looks on a woman with lust in his heart has committed adultery. I have also found that looking at erotic images will make me dissatisfied with my spouse. So for the love of my wife and the love of my Saviour I try my hardest to keep my eyes from anything impure.

    September 12, 2011 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DoctorD

      Jesus also let a woman wash his, um, "feet". Oh yeah, baby! You can't tell me that a guy who could turn water into wine didn't have a phallus made in heaven. And you think there were never any, "Oh God, oh, God, OHHH GOD!" moments that didn't make it into the scriptures? Dude, have some fun.

      September 17, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse |
    • SB

      Your "hardest"??

      September 19, 2011 at 20:42 | Report abuse |
    • Chuck D. Semen

      If looking at p0rn makes you dissatisfied with your wife then you must be looking at the wrong kind dude. Try and avoid the gay variety and you'll do just fine Sparky.

      September 19, 2011 at 20:47 | Report abuse |
  17. slogreport

    you will never know what you will get it, but it is an interesting debate. check slogreport.com

    September 12, 2011 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Strong Dreams

    So, a group of men swore off pron for 3 weeks. Some of them couldn't get aroused without it, one was much more productive at work, and 2 formed deeper connections with their romantic partners. But, at the end of the test, all 5 men went back to pron because it is "easier" than dealing with their partners. I appreciate your honesty in telling their stories, but I don't think you proved what you think you proved.

    September 12, 2011 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cut2cureu

      Strong Dreams.... BEST response here!

      September 13, 2011 at 00:35 | Report abuse |
  19. Me

    The most uneducated "experiment" I've ever read. What a shame. What in the hell is this advocating? Go the easy route. NO. that is never the answer to any successful realtionship and if any of these men EVER want any real accomplishment in life they need to get off their butts and actually pursue and LOVE the women who are in their life. No wonder why they don't get any from a REAL WOMAN because they don't have any idea how to love them and treat them like the precious jewels they are.

    September 15, 2011 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chuck D. Semen

      Hey sanctimonious pr*ck, the Goodyear tire and rubber store called. They finished patching up and inflating your girlfriend.

      September 19, 2011 at 20:45 | Report abuse |
  20. Chris

    I got bored halfway down and rubbed one out to the picture at the top of the article.

    September 17, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. DoctorD

    Now for a follow-up study of how many GOP men fantasize about Palin. You know why she's popular.

    September 17, 2011 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chuck D. Semen

      Most of them also own a copy of the film "Who's Nailin' Palin"

      September 19, 2011 at 20:43 | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      I thought most of the GOP men were trying to pick up other men in the restrooms, or trying to pick up male Congressional pages, or something like that. Aren't all Republican men secretly gay? I mean just look at Michele Bachman's husband. Enough said.

      September 19, 2011 at 23:45 | Report abuse |
  22. Velma

    Hitler and the Nazis. Thank you and have marvelous day!

    September 17, 2011 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Flik

    You get what you'd expect to get.. less self pleasure and focusing more on other things - including their wives or g/f's! DUH.

    September 17, 2011 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Dina

    I have found that Internet p'rn needs to stay afloat by becoming more and more shocking. Guys in my office talk about videos of people doing stuff with human waste and puke. It is so unbelievably disgusting to even think about!!!!! I think that men who continue to watch lots of p'rn get a skewed idea of how a woman should feel and act in the bedroom. They bring these degrading practices thinking that they are normal and criticize their woman when she doesn't act like a p'rn star. They also want to get a high off of finding the most shocking thing and then making it viral with their pervy friends. I find that foreign men are a little more mature and realistic overall than American men, so I only date foreigners. A lot of American guys I know are completely living in a fantasy world.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. online takeaway

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who had been conducting a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me dinner due to the fact that I found it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to talk about this subject here on your web page.

    February 5, 2013 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply

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