Pure Intimacy: God's Design for Sex


Virtual Unfaithfulness

Why shouldn’t a couple use pornography to increase their sexual excitement and so enhance their lovemaking?

by J. Budziszewski

Pornography was once a vice of the fabulously wealthy. No one else could afford it. When Tiberius Caesar wanted to indulge, he had to purchase special hand-drawn scrolls from Egypt, or have young men and women who were trained in sexual practices brought into his palace to perform. Today, all that has changed. Everyone can afford pornography. Video rental stores have special sections just for pornographic movies. In two clicks, anyone can see anything on the Internet. To say that pornography is easy to obtain is an understatement; it’s in our faces whether we want it or not. A child can’t go into the grocery store with his mother without being exposed to it. We live in a Pornotopia.

In Pornotopia, ordinary folk ask questions which would never have occurred to ordinary folk in other times, questions which cast doubt on the very meaning of marriage. Questions like this one: Why shouldn’t a husband and wife use pornography to increase their sexual excitement and so enhance their lovemaking? For instance, why shouldn’t they watch a pornographic movie together before going to bed? After all, it’s for a good cause, and at least they’re doing it together.

Not only is this wrong, it doesn’t work. The wife and husband aren’t "doing it together," it doesn’t enhance their lovemaking, it reduces their sexual excitement in each other – and it undermines what can increase their delight. Let’s consider each of the four points in turn.

Why they aren’t doing it together

Come bedtime, John and Joan indulge in pornography. John becomes excited by gazing at the woman in the pictures instead of Joan; Joan becomes excited by imagining the man in the pictures instead of John. Then they go to bed and have intercourse. The question is, who are they having it with? They may be having sex at the same time, but they plainly aren’t having it with each other. John is having it with the fantasy woman, Joan with the fantasy man. The fact that the fantasy partners are not physically present is merely a detail.

We would be shocked by the suggestion that John and Joan should hire a male and female pair of prostitutes for the night, warm up with the prostitutes, then roll over simultaneously and complete the sexual experience with each other. Yet that is in essence what they are doing. They are having sex with other people even though no one is present but themselves.

Why it doesn’t enhance their lovemaking

Only a generation ago, the expression "making love" could be used for any of the endearing things that lovers do: holding hands, promising moons, doing things for each other, whispering sweetly in each other’s ears. It meant any experience in which the lovers lost themselves for each other, because sacrifice of self is what love means. Today, unfortunately, we use the expression "making love" only for sex. This is misleading. Of course sex can be a way of making love, but it can also be a way of destroying it.

The reason conjugal sex can be a way of making love is that the husband loses himself in the sheer delight of serving and pleasuring his wife, and the wife in the sheer delight of serving and pleasuring her husband. By contrast, when the spouses have pornographic intercourse, neither of them is fully aware of the other; each is locked tightly in self. John is pleasuring himself, not Joan, by imagining that Joan is not Joan; Joan is pleasuring herself, not John, by imagining that John is not John. This isn’t making love, but masturbating with the spouse’s body.

Why it reduces their sexual excitement

By now it should be clear that although pornographic intercourse may have something to do with the sexual excitement of the spouses, it has nothing to do with their sexual excitement in each other. Each spouse is really having sex with someone else. And this is but half of the problem.

The other half is that pornographic fantasies become addictive. Consider John. If he increases his excitement during sex by pretending that Joan is someone else, he will become more and more dependent on the fantasy, and less and less capable of being aroused by Joan herself. Not only that, but his fantasy will rapidly lose its power. To become excited then, he will need a new fantasy.

At first it may be sufficient just to imagine another woman. But that too gets stale, because the unreal never has the vitality of the real. Pretty soon, therefore, John’s fantasies will have to get kinkier. He will have to imagine not just a different woman, but a different kind of woman – not just having sex, but having another kind of sex – in order to feel excitement at all. He may find himself wanting pornography not only before sex, but during it. In fact, fantasy may no longer be enough He may find himself wanting his pornographic fantasies to become real.

How it undermines what could truly increase their delight

Sometimes a husband and wife turn to pornography simply because they have difficulty enjoying their sexual relationship, and they expect the pornography to fix the problem. Alas, not only does the use of pornography destroy what it is supposed to fix, as we have seen; it also distracts the spouses from working on what really does need fixing.

Sexual frustration may arise from many causes. Perhaps the couple approaches sex in the spirit of selfishness rather than giving. Perhaps they have unrealistic expectations about sex. Perhaps one of them is ill, grieving, stressed, depressed, or afraid of growing old. Sometimes sexual frustrations arise from other relationship problems, like quarrelling, unfaithfulness, or never taking time to talk.

By the grace of God, a couple that faces its problems can work them out. Unfortunately, pornography is not a way to face them, but to make them worse.

Copyright © 2000 J. Budziszewski All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

About the author

J. Budziszewski is an associate professor in the government and philosophy departments of the University of Texas at Austin.