It is disconcerting when porn users discover that a product promoted as an effective and harmless way to enhance sexuality ends up causing seri­ous sexual problems. A fifty-seven-year-old man recently e-mailed our HealthySex. com Web site: “I have this sex problem,” he wrote. “I have been masturbating to porn for so long that when I am with my loving girlfriend I’m unable to naturally get turned on. This is causing terrible problems for us. I want to have a normal sexual relationship with her like I used to have before I got into porn. I have no physical problems in maintaining an erection. Sorry for being so blunt. I do not want to lose this woman. I just want my natural self back.”

Unfortunately, this man’s experience is not unique. Habitual porn use can cause a wide variety of sexual difficulties. Here is a checklist of some of the most common sexual problems we see in our clinical work with porn users. You may want to consider whether any of these apply to you or your partner.

Top Ten Sexual Problems from Using Porn

__ 1. Avoiding or lacking interest in sex with a real partner

__ 2. Experiencing difficulty becoming sexually aroused with a real

partner

__ 3. Experiencing difficulty getting or maintaining erections with a

real partner

__ 4. Having trouble reaching orgasm with a real partner

__ 5. Experiencing intrusive thoughts and images of porn during sex

__ 6. Being demanding or rough with a sexual partner

__ 7. Feeling emotionally distant and not present during sex

__ 8. Feeling dissatisfied following an encounter with a real partner

__ 9. Having difficulty establishing or maintaining an intimate rela­tionship

__ 10. Engaging in out-of-control or risky sexual behaviors

As humans we are born with the body parts needed to feel sexual sen­sations and enjoy sexual relationships. But for the most part our sexual appetites and behaviors are learned behaviors. Porn provides powerful sexual training. It can shape our sexual interests and the way we experi­ence sexual pleasure. For instance, porn teaches us to associate our or­gasms with being alone and lusting after strangers rather than being with an actual living, breathing, and loving partner.

With porn as a model, it’s easy to wind up with unrealistic expecta­tions of what sex is like with a real-life partner. Instead of being exciting and fun, our sexual experiences with a partner can prove disappointing. Real sex can feel like an inferior substitute for what is portrayed in porn. As one man told us, “I’ve spent so many countless hours engaged in solo sex with centerfolds, burning my eyes on countless visions of the unreal, that normal sex with one, regular-looking person feels unnatural and boring.”

For Len, his years of masturbating to porn left him cold about the idea of even being in the same room with someone else when he has an orgasm. He said, “I’m uncomfortable being sexual with a real woman. I’ve always done porn in isolation, privately, with no one else around. The few times I’ve been with an actual woman, sex felt strange and un­acceptable.”

Porn also creates unrealistic expectations about the amount and fre­quency of sex in a relationship. When Alex got married in his early twen­ties he expected his young bride to be as sexually accessible as his porn had been and as the people in porn were to each other. He said, “I as­sumed I’d be able to have sex as much as I wanted it inside a marriage. Porn primed me for availability and frequency at fairly high levels. It set me up for frustration and caused a lot of stress in my marriage, because no person on earth can perform continually like pornography.”

Steven, a man in his late twenties, was disappointed with his early ex­periences of partnered sex because no woman he dated wanted to do the things porn had trained him to find most sexually stimulating. He said, “When I began having sex with girls in college, I had to face the fact that real girls don’t want to do a lot of what is in porn. Things I found incred­ibly exciting from watching porn—such as ejaculating on a woman’s face and anal sex—just don’t fly. I thought certain acts were the norm. Now, it’s a letdown that they’re not.”

Forty-year-old Ethan also ran into problems when he attempted to re-create in real life what he had become accustomed to in porn. “Be­cause of my excessive contact with porn, I had an expectation, a fantasy of what a partner should look like and how she should act sexually. She had to be blond with large breasts and a tiny waist. I only wanted to be with women who could arouse the envy of other guys. It was also very important to me that she saw me as powerful and desirable. Instead of questioning the fantasy, I got angry with my sexual partner, and tried to push her into having sex with me in certain ways. I couldn’t appreciate the unique beauty and sensuality in every woman and I had no clue how a healthy sexual relationship works.”

Many of the sexual problems that porn causes come about because porn creates an overdependence on visual imagery for arousal. Other factors, such as the sensations going on in one’s own body or the emo­tional and sensual presence of a partner during sexual relations, fade into the background. As Jack Johnston, MA, an online adult sexuality educa­tor, told us, “Pornography use interferes with your ability to be aware of how you are actually feeling in the moment of sexual arousal. The extent to which you tune into an external image reflects the extent to which you are not tuning into your own internal experience. Watching something like a video has a hypnotic effect. And habitually training yourself to be in this kind of trance makes it less likely that you will be able to tune in to a real-life partner’s experience in the moment during sexual relating.”

John Stoltenberg, author of Refusing to Be a Man, bluntly shares his opinion of porn’s role as a sexual trainer when he writes, “Once man’s ideal of sexual experience has been mediated by photographic technol­ogy, he may become unable to experience sex other than as a machine­like voyeur who spasms now and then.”

One man we interviewed said, “In order to stay hard during sex I have to keep thinking about the porn I’ve seen. Sometimes I’ll use porn like a ‘visual Viagra.’ I’ll watch it before a date so the images will be fresh in my mind. I have to superimpose the porn on a girlfriend so I can climax.”

Besides a need for greater visual stimulation, some habitual porn users also unknowingly condition themselves to need more intense phys­ical stimulation to reach orgasm. Frequent and compulsive masturbation can desensitize a person to common types of touch and stroking. It may become difficult to feel adequately aroused without vigorous or rough handling of their genitals. Normal vaginal stimulation may not do it. This can create problems for a couple if a porn user tries to re-create the same level of intense stimulation to his penis—that he has gotten used to during masturbation—when he is inside a female partner. As one man said, “My wife complains that I’m banging her, instead of loving her.”

The sexual training porn users acquire can make it difficult for them to maintain high levels of sexual interest and arousal during sex with a real life partner. One man said, “When I’m with porn I can turn the page, click onto another Web site, and encounter many different women to keep me excited. But in sex with my girlfriend, I get anxious and can easily become bored or distracted. After all, while she is a nice woman, she is only one girl. I start to lose my sexual charge when I just focus on her.”

Habitual porn users tell us that even when they are able to adequately function during sex, they feel sad, disappointed, or unsatisfied afterward. Real sexual experiences can be a lot of “work”—trying to achieve and maintain arousal, battling intrusive thoughts of porn, and getting enough mental or physical stimulation to have a satisfying orgasm. One thirty – year-old woman who learned to masturbate by watching her father’s porn told us, “In order to climax I have to imagine myself as one of the women in the porn scenes I used to watch. I don’t know how to be myself, in my own body. Although I can make myself orgasm, I’m unable to be mentally and sensually present with my partner. He’s a wonderful guy and I don’t think it’s fair to him when I’m essentially using his body to get off while I fantasize. I’m worried I’m becoming an observer in life, unable to really feel and be close with someone who cares about me.”