By Tiger Devore, Ph.D.

I receive many questions about material meant to arouse, known as erotica or pornography. Is there something wrong with the relationship if books, photos or movies are needed to arouse either partner?

Unfortunately, pornography has gotten a very bad reputation, even though arousing reading and viewing material has an important place in most people’s sexual health. As humans, we automatically assess anyone we see for sexual attractiveness since it’s a part of our primitive brain. Even though pornography has come to mean visual material, the original meaning actually refers to written words, specifically the writings of prostitutes.

Women are “turned on through the ears” according to sexual science while men are turned on through the eyes. Usually, women like reading material for a sexual turn on and visual pornography will be more appealing to men.

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Still, we as a culture are recently suffering with a fad of women “catching” their men looking at porn and pronouncing them “porn addicts” in need of treatment for their bad habit. The fact is, unless men have withdrawn from sex with their partners, are missing important events, or giving up sleep, chances are that their porn watching is within normal limits for men. Many women feel as if their men having a personal masturbatory life (and viewing porn) takes away from the healthy sex in their marriage. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Men need to have the privacy of their own self-pleasuring time, as do women. Fewer women have developed this practice. In therapy, I encourage women to learn about erotica, sexy stories they can read to enhance their fantasies, to inspire their own self-pleasuring regimen, for their long-term sexual health. No woman should be dependent on her man to provide all of their sexual stimulation, and women will do better over time if they have a private sexual life with themselves.

Since the Internet is a part of all of everyone’s daily lives, it’s important that we become good consumers of web images. There is now an entire generation of people who have learned about sex from Internet porn they have grown up watching. These videos are not realistic representations of normal sex. Men who have learned about sex from video sources end up with sexual dysfunction because they believe they are expected to act like, talk like, look like and perform like the actors they see in the videos. Porn is carefully created in a studio with several cameras and with a director shouting orders at the performers. Various pieces of video are shot and re-shot, repeated, re-lit, re-touched and reworked. No real human being can perform in the ways that the porn performers appear to in video. There is nothing intimate in these representations of sex either, teaching people absolutely nothing about caring communication through sexual touch. Women who view these videos are almost always concerned about their bodies in comparison to the performers, even becoming so concerned about their vaginal appearance that they are seeking surgery to make their genitals look more like those they see in videos. Porn is for seeking arousal; sex ought to be about seeking intimacy with our partner, as well as having enjoyable play with someone we care about.

Arousing viewing and reading material can be a great adjunct to relationships and private sexual lives. I encourage everyone to get over judgments and embarrassment about sex so that couples can learn responsible use of these materials. Erotic materials are meant to enhance enjoyment and add to a healthy sex life.