6 minute read

Why Marital Sex Is Better Than Porn

Last Updated: February 17, 2020

Sam Black

Sam Black joined the Covenant Eyes team in 2007 after 18 years as a journalist, serving as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines in six states. Sam is the author of The Porn Circuit, and he creates partnerships with like-minded organizations to strengthen the worldwide fight against pornography.

The following is an excerpt from our free e-book, The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days.

The pornified brain sounds a lot like Mick Jagger; it can’t get no satisfaction.

On the surface it sounds absurd. Pornography offers endless opportunities for arousal. If a human masturbates to a wider range of images or videos, shouldn’t that satiate? The simple answer is no.

Dr. Norm Doidge explains that porn is more exciting than satisfying because we have two separate pleasure systems in our brains: one for exciting pleasure and another for satisfying pleasure.

The exciting system, fueled by dopamine and anticipation, is all about appetite, such as imagining your favorite meal or a sexual episode.

The satisfying system involves actually having the meal or having sex, which provides a calming, fulfilling pleasure. This system releases opiate-like endorphins that provide feelings of peace and euphoria.

Pornography, Doidge writes, hyperactivates the appetite system. But the satisfying system is left starving for the real thing, which includes actual touching, kissing, caressing, and a connection not only with the body but also the mind and soul. The satisfying system releases oxytocin and endorphins, and bellows, in the words of Marvin Gaye, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, Baby.”

The porn-saturated brain is fixated on sex, Dr. William Struthers explains, but real sex is intended for intimacy. The pornified brain is ready for multiple partners, images, and sexual possibilities, but it is intended for a narrow focus of exclusive sharing. Porn’s neurological superhighway is built for speed, but satisfying sex is designed for the slow and evolving discovery and appreciation of a loving partner. Porn provides few off-ramps (masturbation) that offer fleeting escapes that hasten the need for more. Meanwhile a committed couple can have long and satisfying encounters with many off ramps for creative expressions of intimacy that are not genitally oriented.

Doidge writes:

Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn’t like it.

How Porn Hurts Marital Sex

Pornographers want people to believe that viewing porn is harmless entertainment and that it can even spice up one’s love life, but the opposite is true. Rather than encouraging intimacy, research shows that porn steals it away.

Porn encourages selfishness rather than an exchange of intimacy. Especially among men, who are more visually stimulated than women, porn teaches that women are objects for their lust. Women are just body parts, used for personal gratification.

Pornography trains men to be consumers, to treat sex as a commodity, to think about sex as something on-tap and made-to-order. As Dr. Mary Anne Layden writes, “It is toxic miseducation about sex and relationships.”6

  • In Dr. Gary Brooks’ book, The Centerfold Syndrome, he explains that because the women in porn are only glossy magazine pictures or pixels on the screen, they have no sexual or relational expectations of their own. This trains men to desire the cheap thrill of fantasy over a committed relationship that requires them to connect to another human being. Pornography essentially trains men to be digital voyeurs: looking at women rather than seeking genuine intimacy.
  • According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, after only a few prolonged exposures to pornographic videos, men and women alike reported less sexual satisfaction with their intimate partners, including their partners’ affection, physical appearance, and sexual performance.
  • Another study that appeared in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found similar results. When men and women were exposed to pictures of female centerfold models from Playboy and Penthouse, this significantly lowered their judgments about the attractiveness of “average” people.
  • Dr. Victor Cline’s research has shown that sexual arousal and excitement diminish with repeated exposure to sexual scenes, leading people to seek out greater variety and novelty in the pornography they view.
  • French neuroscientist Serge Stoleru reports on how overexposure to erotic stimuli actually exhausts the sexual responses of healthy young men.
  • Dr. Dolf Zillmann reports when young people are repeatedly exposed to pornography, it can have a long-lasting impact on their beliefs and behaviors. Frequently, men who habitually view pornography develop cynical attitudes about love and the need for affection between partners. They begin to view the institution of marriage as sexually confining. Often, men develop a “tolerance” for sexually explicit material, leading them to seek out more novel or bizarre material to achieve the same level of arousal.

Dr. Judith Reisman summarizes it well: Pornography causes impotence — an inability to function with your own sexual power. “If he has to imagine a picture, if he has to imagine a scene, in order to actually reach the heights of completion with this person, then he’s no longer with his own power, is he? He has been stripped. He has been hijacked. He has been emasculated. He has, in effect, been castrated visually.”

Porn and Erectile Dysfunction

If the concerns above were not enough, many men become so habituated to pornography that they experience erectile dysfunction when they are with their spouse. Rather than performing better, as pornography promises, many men find that they can only achieve consistent and sustained erections with porn.

Drs. Marnia Robinson and Gary Wilson explained in Psychology Today that overstimulation with pornography creates changes in the brain that make a man less responsive to the physical pleasure of a real woman and hyper-responsive to Internet porn. Men become sensitized to Internet porn, but desensitized to sex in general, which requires more and more stimulation to achieve arousal. When preparing for real sex, the pornified brain fails to get its dopamine surge and the signal to the penis is too weak to achieve erection. But turn on an Internet device with unlimited pages of novelty, and boom, the plumbing works.

A fast-growing online community of people who call themselves “Fapstronauts” complain that porn is the root of their problems with ED and premature ejaculation. “Fapping,” slang for masturbating to Internet porn, is causing these people so many troubles they banded together for support. One online community claims 50,000 members, and their goal is to encourage each other to avoid pornography and masturbation for 90 days in the hope of never going back.

Related: Does Porn Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Real Satisfaction

Because of the brain’s plasticity, people once consumed by porn can rearrange their neural networks to enjoy only sexual intimacy with their spouse, and studies show these relationships to be the most satisfying.

For instance, male porn users often believe more partners will bring greater satisfaction. But a 2011 study of long-term committed relationships (with a median duration of 25 years) showed the opposite. The study showed that the longer a man was in a relationship, the more likely he enjoyed relational happiness and sexual satisfaction. Women, in turn, enjoyed sex less during the early years of their relationships and experienced greater satisfaction later.

Another study in 2010 showed that couples who delay sex until their wedding night enjoy more stable and happier marriages. They also rated the quality of sex and the satisfaction in their relationships 15% and 20% higher respectively than couples who had premarital sex.

The results of these studies are nothing new, Dr. Weiss says. Studies and surveys of married couples have shown positive sexual satisfaction results for decades.

Weiss says:

The research shows that people who have consistent sex inside of a marriage — spiritually connected sex — have the best sexual satisfaction over time. The person that has the most sexual partners has the least level of sexual satisfaction as adults.

Unlike a porn video or a magazine, sex with a real-life committed partner has many points of arousal and satisfaction, from words and tones of voice, to touch, to the temperature of skin, and many other interactions. Yes, dopamine likes novelty. For the porn user that means more porn, but in a committed relationship novelty never has to end.

Related: 5 Ways Sex Gets Better After Giving Up Porn

“Fortunately, lovers can stimulate their dopamine, keeping the high alive, by injecting novelty into their relationship,” Dr. Doidge writes. “When a couple go on a romantic vacation or try new activities together, or wear new kinds of clothing, or surprise each other, they are using novelty to turn on the pleasure centers, so that everything they experience, including each other, excites and pleases them.”

For minds and marriages wounded by porn, great sex and true intimacy will not arrive overnight. Repairing brokeness in marriage requires real work and determination. Building trust takes time.

  • Comments on: Why Marital Sex Is Better Than Porn
    1. J.P. on

      This is so true! Never thought about the difference between exciting and satisfying. I’ve been crossing the two for a very long time which makes for a very frustrated and confused individual. I’ve recently come across this site and your blog entries. I’m very thankful. I’m praying God uses your ministry to be instrumental helping me stay the course. I’m one woman on a journey out of the stronghold of sexual sin. It’s a daily battle, sometimes hourly. I’m glad to see the truth of these issues beginning to break through gender stereotypes that have kept women silent about the raw physical aspects of their addiction and men silent about their emotional brokenness. Even though we relate differently as male and female with one another we’re more alike then we realize when it comes to matters of the heart and our need for God’s love. Thanks for your faithfulness.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Thanks for the encouragement, J.P.!

    2. Rodney Jenness on

      Since I’ve been single all of my life this doesn’t apply to me, but keep up the good work.

      Reply
      • S. L. on

        I’m with Rodney on this one. The only reason I turn to porn is that I don’t have a real-life partner. Masturbation helps me to NOT be promiscuous with multiple partners, and I feel like I have no other option until I meet the right person. By now (at my age), I doubt if marriage will ever happen for me. All this talk about satisfaction vs. excitement has ignited frustration in me and highlights the fact that I am still single. Of course I know a real partner is better than porn. But until then, I find it hard when my body yearns for intimacy that we are wired to have.

    3. Wife of Addict in Recovery on

      My husband and I are both in our twenties. His addiction, a secret held for over 11 years, came out about three years ago…before we were married. It’s been a rocky three years and we’re still in the season of recovery. When we got married and finally were together (we waited to have sex), we found out that he cannot keep an erection when he’s with me. Is there any hope that the men effected by this can ever have the ability to keep an erection with his wife after recovery?

      I know this hurts his pride and understandably so. He feels like this has robbed him of masculinity (his ability to be with me) and I feel it’s robbed me of femininity (even though I know this addiction isn’t about me, I feel like less of a woman for not being able to keep him aroused).

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Yes, it is possible. The problem (most likely) is not in his penis but in his brain. While he might want to check with a physician to see if there is a physical cause, given his past with pornography it is likely his brain is wired in such a way that he has trained himself to be turned on by the pornography.

        There are some couples that benefit greatly from a period of abstinence. (I have a post about this, if you want to read it.) This period allows the circuits of the brain to rest and gives the couple an opportunity to grow in non-sexual forms of intimacy (which, for many porn addicts, is something they badly need to learn). It’s isn’t for everybody, of course, but it might do you both some good. Don’t do it without real intentionality, prayer, and support from others.

    4. Mary marvel on

      I’m am really tired of reading articles about porn addiction and how bad it is. I’m going to be honest, I was one of those women who waited to have sex to get married. Well just because you waited does not promise a sexual blissful marriage. My night was awful. That memory will stay with me for the rest of my life. Sex is awful with my spouse. I hate it. Being raised in a religion when all you were taught was that sex was bad outside of marriage is damaging. I was not taught how to express and how to ask for what I want and if you did you were made to feel bad about yourself and body. I’m a woman who watches porn and I don’t care. I have talked to my husband about it but he doesn’t get it. Partly because he doesn’t understand how to communicate. But how can you when you weren’t allowed too talk about it. Religion is damaging. I use porn because I have too. It’s what’s keeping me from having an affair.

      Reply
      • Lisa Eldred on

        We will continue to write these articles about porn because it is bad. Numerous studies have shown how porn decreases sexual satisfaction, how it changes how we view each other, and how it even rewires the brain. In a lot of ways, it’s like a drug (and has even been called “more addictive than crack cocaine): it may feel good, but with increased use comes increase damage. It’s not even just a “religious issue.” Plenty of non-religious men have given up porn because it has resulted in erectile dysfunction in their physical relationships (check out this Reddit group for one rather large group of men in this situation).

        Regarding your situation, have you considered seeking help from a professional counselor? The way you’ve described your marriage, it sounds like you have more problems than simply physical discomfort during intercourse. By seeking outside help, you and your husband should be able to improve your communication and strengthen your marital bond to the point where you no longer feel like you need porn at all.

    5. Ronald on

      Do you have a recommendation or article on this blog about how to stop thinking about sex?

      We are having a great recovery in our relationship but I can’t stop thinking about having sex with my wife. Some times it is easier than others but since we are in unlimited fasting from sex mode makes it harder for me.

      We have talked about some time having sex again bit there is no definitive date, this brings me to almost weekly me trying to make advancements which end up on disagreements and set us back two steps in our recovery.

      The only thing I can think of is figure out a way to stop thinking of sex until my wife is ready which at this time there is no specific date. I do feel guilty at times for having this desire feelings which I thought they were normal but apparently they are selfishness.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Ronald,

        A question for you: Why are you in “unlimited fasting from sex mode”? I wrote an article about couples abstaining from sex during “detox,” but the Bible makes it clear that any sexual fasting should be done for a fixed period of time. What exactly are the terms of your “unlimited” period?

        Often when couples purpose to fast from sex, while they work through the problems surrounding pornography, there are agreed upon purposes and time limits. “During this time, we will not make any advancements toward sex, but we will however work on intimacy in many other ways: dating, cuddling, talking, dining together, other romantic gestures, etc. We will talk about the recovery process and be open with each other about stresses in in the marriage. After ______ days we will come together again and make love.” When a couple treats sexual fasting with this kind of purposefulness, everything is clearly communicated. (I also might add, drawing up these purposes with the help of a counselor can be very beneficial.)

        Your desire to have sex with your wife is as normal as the day is long. Your desire is also godly, not sinful. Yes, sex can be selfish, but only when it is done without a servant-hearted attitude. For instance, it is normal to want to eat when you are hungry, but it is sinful to let that desire overwhelm you to the point where you shove to the front of the line to get to the food first. Likewise, it is normal for you to physically desire your wife, but when you demand sex or treat her disrespectfully during sex or degrade her during sex or forget about her physical/emotional desires during sex, then you are being selfish.

        By all means, desire your wife, but knowing you are purposefully abstaining from sex to enhance intimacy and grow closer to God, choose to take this time to redirect your thoughts to God and the changes he is bringing about in your life. If you want to read more about this, I recommend you read a copy of Your Brain on Porn (which you can download for free).

    6. Ronald on

      Hi Luke,

      We were on an unlimited fasting phase because that was the request from my wife and on my path to trying to fix the issue I agreed to the condition. Since my writing the fast ended and we are on a new phase which is simar but a lot better.

      We didn’t know how to approach the issue and we have not contacted any professional services to provide guidance other than what feels the right thing to do at the moment.

      We have long way to go but things get better by the day. I am learning a lot about my mistakes and about my wife which it is sad it had to be this way but at least we are moving forward.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        It’s great to hear that things have turned a corner, Ronald. Please let me know if you need anymore help.

    7. Sea Daddy on

      First off, let me say that I’ve been married for over 20 years, went thru rough patches in the marriage where we didn’t have sex for over two years, and most of the marriage, we only had sex once in somewhere between 2 and 6 months! What I learned is that not everybody has the same sexual appetite, and because of our mismatch in desires, we almost divorced a couple years ago. After that, we reconciled and have sex at least once a week, but she seems like she’s doing it for the sake of the marriage. There are some real flaws with religious thinking when it comes to premarital sex, and monogamy. In our case, I would never have married someone that doesn’t think sex is important in the marriage, but because we had 2 children early on, I stuck with her. To compensate during the dry spells, porn is the only thing that kept me able to deal with not having sex, until about ten years into our marriage, when I was sent away with the military for one year, I met a lady who I had a “torrid” affair with for maybe four months, and the sex was great, it was often, it was how marriage should have been. When returned from overseas, I went back to my wife because the children were still young. Back to our boring life. So I say, either sex outside of marriage or divorce is the answer for many, but unfortunately, the church does not accept either.And we had sex before marriage, I would have known wet were not a match! With my experience, I say to those who have sex-desire mismatch, which is really where porn comes in, to consider having an “open marriage”, wherein it is agreed upon to have sex outside the marriage.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hey Sea Daddy,

        I’m so sorry to hear your marriage has been rocky. It saddens me to hear stories like this, and I hear them all too often.

        I agree that it is best not to marry someone who actually believes sex isn’t important. That would be a big red flag to me if I was counseling a couple before they got married. I would hope couples would explore these topics in conversation long before they get to the altar, but many don’t. I don’t think disobeying God about the issues of premarital sex or monogamy is the answer to the problem, as it not only disobeys God but creates more problems, but I agree any “religious” sentiment that makes sex too taboo to talk about should be done away with.

      • Jason on

        I turned down numerous chances to have sex before marriage, and what a colossal letdown it’s been. I now kick myself for not having taken those opportunities. Sex with my wife (who also waited) has been difficult and completely unsatisfying. We’ve been married about a year and a half, and she’s never given me an orgasm. I have to use porn on a regular basis, so that I can keep my sanity. Now I’m stuck with her for the rest of my life, and it’s so depressing that some days it feels like a physical weight on my body. I feel as though everything I was raised with was a lie.

    8. Paul on

      Lopsided… There are valid points here, but there are other points of view, like moderation. This is annoying

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Sure. But this article is trying to stay on a specific topic. Moderation is, in my opinion, another topic altogether. If neurologically speaking, porn simply doesn’t do what real sex does, then moderation is somewhat of a moot point. Sure, people use porn in moderation all the time, just like people can be casual smokers, but this does not make casual smoking something we should endorse or claim as healthy.

    9. Hoyt Nat on

      Nice article, with some valid data.

      But you are perpetuating christian porn myths foisted on foolish evangelicals, namely that entering marriage as a sexually naive virgin with zero prior physical experience guarantees transcendent marital sex.

      It does not.

      I will never, ever forget a conversation 35 years ago, between my grandmother and a close friend, about their early marriage experiences. They were frank in the way only old women who’ve outlived all modesty and embarrassment can be: listening to them that day pretty much burned my ears off! But the bottom line is simple: even though both of them loved their husbands deeply ’till death did them part’, their sexual experiences were pretty awful. My grandmother’s friend, who had been an Army nurse in WW1, and who had seen many naked men, nevertheless on her wedding day had no idea how children were conceived. Fortunately, her husband, though shocked, was very very patient.

      I’m old and have a happy and sexually satisfying marriage. But my wife and I are seeing more and more marital relationships in young coupled shipwreck on the rocks of unrealistic expectations on the part of both the man AND the woman.

      You’ve covered some of the issues porn can cause men.

      But young women who have formed their views about sex from ‘christian porn’ (“Love Comes Softly, etc.), with its air-brushed romance and soft focus or ‘off-camera’ sex are perhaps even more unprepared to encounter, much less enjoy, real sex.

      Janette Oke’s hyper-hygenic heroines never have to deal with sheets that have sticky wet spots, or worse, red gooey spots that don’t smell so good because a period started unexpectedly. But real women having real sex in real marriages do. And unfortunately, young women raised with these pornographically unrealistic expectations are not only running from their marriage beds in disgust and disappointment, they are staying away.

      Reply
    10. Jonati on

      My partner of 30 years was free from porn for about 2 years throughout his life. He also struggles with intimacy anorexia. We had an almost non existant sexual relationship and it caused so much heartache and emotional pain that I shut down for the last 10 years in order to survive the rejection and abandonment I experienced as a wife and I don’t want to have a sexual relationship with him again. I don’t know what is a normal healthy and intimate relationship with a man. He is in sobriety for almost 10 months and I know sometime we will have to agree on our next phase namely our physical relationship and how to move forward. I have seen a counsellor and worked on my own issues but I can’t understand how he can have a normal relationship with me after he had 4 decades of porn addiction behind him. I can’t understand how he can ever be sexual with me in a normal way after his brain patterns were changed to respond to unnatural sexual acts. I know brain patterns can change but How can a man in his fifties suddenly be sexual in his marriage after years of channeling his sexual energy to himself in masturbation and looking at vile images to be aroused. I can’t see that we would be able to have a physical relationship – so much destruction was caused by Porn. How can a man in his fifties manage to enter into a normal healthy sexual relationship with his wife for the first time after 30 years of marriage life? I am willing to be friends with my husband but the consequences of his choices are severe in his life and in our relationship. I am not sure if he would be able to forget the images he had fed upon for so long for his own satisfaction. I honor him for being willing to try to recover but I believe our “normal” will look different due to the consequences of repeated wrong choices that was made for so long.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Yes, I’m sure your “normal” will never be what you envisioned when you married. I wonder, how is the state of emotional trust in your relationship? I would think that emotional trust needs to be restored before you’ll be able to enter into a sexual relationship again freely and openly. For me, emotional trust means that he attends to how you feel, not just about sex, but in the small, daily moments of life. I wrote an article about this a while back. I don’t know if it will help to address some of the underlying concerns here, but give it a read and let me know what you think. Blessings, Kay

    11. Abigail on

      I am from Asia, I met my husband on internet for 3 years, after he visited me in my hometown, I came to America married him, we almost don’t have normal sex life. He is having porn addiction for many years , maybe over a decade! Or more! When I sleep next to him , he pretends to watch normal movie, as long as I left his room, he immediately takes off all his clothes and having cam sax with different Asian women online, even when he is on his shower, he always totally naked cam chat with other Asian women! I told him he is ill he needs to see the doctor, but he never listen to me, I think we will divoce soon one day ! Because he thought he is ok, he said doctors are sammmer for money. I am very sad his brain is totally been washed by the porn!

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        I am so, so sorry. My heart just breaks for you, Abigail. I think you’re right, and he does need help. Unfortunately, it sounds like he’s not ready to get the help he needs.

        How are you doing? Do you have support from friends, family, or a support group? I can’t imagine how hard it must be, to be so far from home and to have your marriage in such a painful state.

        Peace to you, Kay

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