A reader writes:
I agree with everything you said. I’ve gotten in some trouble with my girlfriend for utilizing certain sites you mentioned as well as the occasional Weiner-esque chat session (sans dick pics). When I did it, I was wrong only because my girlfriend told me that to her it was a form of cheating and I did it anyway. Pretty black and white: she feels cheated on, so don’t do it (you aptly mentioned this in your post as well). I agreed that it was wrong if that was how it made her feel.
However, you would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how she talked about the stuff I was doing when we were discussing it. The way she talked about it made me feel like some sort of sexual deviant. Like going online for sexual arousal was something only fat dudes with BO, bad skin, and Cheetos stains all over their gut did. Even the more legit dating sites (i.e. Match.com, OKCupid) seemed to creep her out. It seemed like she was just completely uncomfortable with the idea that if you didn’t meet someone within you’re actual vicinity or at a bar or any other “traditional” setting, then you were just creepy. Nevermind the fact that my older brother just got engaged the week before to a wonderful person he met on Match.com.
I dunno, that sort of thinking seemed so ancient to me and just made me want to shake her and say, “Wake the fuck up! Do you know how many normal, professional, sane, wonderful people are online doing this?” Because they don’t stick to the generic idea of what “porn” is, that makes them a creep?
The holier-than-thou attitude of everything makes me crazy sometimes. But, like I said, your post on the subject was thoughtful and, I feel, very accurate. Thank you for helping me reinforce the thought that while I may be a flawed boyfriend I am not, in fact, a sexual deviant.
Another reader shows how virtual sex and relationships are by no means mutually exclusive:
The vast majority of articles and blog posts I have read on this subject start with the premise that photographic or video sexting is basically virtual sex with strangers, masturbation to video of a live person (in lieu of a magazine or porn site), who might as well be a stranger, and/or are often unwanted and in some sense abusive. But I think the reality is that a lot of sexting takes place between people who are married, or lovers, or who are close friends, but who happen to live or work in different cities, and are looking for ways to connect with each other sexually and emotionally, in a way that is far more visual and satisfying than a phone call or instant messenger. When I see her face, I smile. When I see her body, I get aroused. When we cum, it is as close to actual sex as we are able to get. There is nothing casual, or pseudo-pornographic, about it. And it is considerably better than the alternatives.
Another broadens the topic a little:
I agree with you that pornography/masturbation may at times be harmless and can feel better than bad sex. But it leaves me with some questions:
Does masturbating increase the likelihood of not reaching out sexually to one’s spouse? My experience tells me yes and no. If I haven’t had an orgasm in a while (say a week or more), I find that I have less desire. And so masturbating one day actually increases my sex drive the next day. On the no side, if I masturbate on a particular day and my wife is interested that night, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get myself interested. I’m not 15 anymore, and it’s much more difficult to orgasm if I already have that day. I can if I’m masturbating, but that’s only because I know my body and what triggers it more intimately than anyone else ever can.
Does pornography increase the likelihood of masturbating? My experience tells me yes. If I’m bored, the rush of pornography can be quite a lure. And it’s rare that I would look at porn and not masturbate.
As a result, I think pornography makes it significantly more difficult for me to be sexually healthy with my wife. As you note, it can be even more enticing than sex. But if I use it too often then it significantly decreases my desire for actual sex and intimacy. And porn is difficult to use only occasionally, or only when I know my wife will be out of town for a couple of days, or only when I know she’s not going to be interested. Can it be done? Yes. But not easily. And certainly not without making painful mistakes.
I clearly remember the night when my wife came home and wanted to wake me up with a blowjob, but I couldn’t orgasm because I had just masturbated an hour earlier. And so after about 20 minutes I had to tell her to stop (I explained what happened and apologized for not saying something before she started). That is a real cost. And no one likes to be told, “oh, I’d have sex with you right now but I masturbated an hour ago so I can’t.”
Seems to me that sexting, chatting, or even old-school phone sex offer a benefit that’s being overlooked: To engage in it, you need to actually verbalize something in order to transfer the fantasy to another. As Dan Savage says in your Ask Anything video about what gay people can teach straight people about sex, this is a skill that we need to develop in order to have more fulfilling sexual relationships.