Roy Wenzl
The Wichita Eagle

Pornography has been great for the sex therapy business.

Therapists say that for many clients, that’s not a good thing. Gail Dines, a sociologist who has studied how porn has destroyed relationships worldwide, says porn is a predatory industry that has created family disasters everywhere.

Search engines and free sites have created an easily accessible bonanza for porn fans.

“Not many years ago, you had to go to a seedy part of town and walk openly into some bookstore,” said Michael Cranston, a Wichita, Kan., sex therapist. “Now it’s only a click away.”

Dines, a sociologist at Wheelock College in Boston, says millions more people watch porn now, that the damage is severe, and organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and the American Society of Pediatrics have failed to study its effect on the millions of children who now view it.

It’s an epidemic, she said, created by a billion-dollar industry that deliberately targets children to get them addicted.

Dines says because the industry now makes many porn sites free, millions of children and adolescents are looking at it on mobile phones. “Children can hide in their rooms — and their parents think they’re spending seven hours a day just listening to music.”

One risk is that adolescent boys’ brains are wired to seek novelty. In normal romantic relations, Dines said, “what makes sex interesting is the person you have sex with.”

Porn makers can’t concentrate on relationships, but must embrace novelty to capture viewers, she said.

“Sex can get boring if it’s the same thing again and again,” she said. So porn makers produce increasingly novel images, in which women are “pushed to do more,” or are physically or verbally abused, “or made to gasp, or cry.” Porn makers “sexualize violence against women,” Dines said.

“Sex should be about making love,” Dines said. “Porn is about making hate.”

Mixed results

No one knows how many people porn hurts. A 2014 article done for the American Psychological Association delved into whether porn is addictive and harmful — and reported mixed results.

If both parties in a relationship view porn — and if they agree about how to use it — porn can sometimes enhance a relationship, said couples counselor Julie Miller.

“With some people, watching it as a couple can help people learn each others’ sexual languages, and help them if they are inexperienced,” Miller said.

“The people who don’t have a problem with [pornography] don’t show up in my office,” Cranston said. “There are misconceptions about sexuality. Even today, there is a belief that some people get into light bondage because they suffered some sort of trauma when they were young. But we’ve found some who are pretty well-adjusted adults.”

But Miller and Cranston said that for other couples, words like “betrayal, “cheated on” and “trust” come up a lot in therapy.

Spouses or partners who discover the other one watches porn can feel so traumatized that some of them exhibit symptoms similar to those of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They can become hyper-vigilant, have nightmares,” said Susan Dutcher, who directs the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Friends University. “They realize this person they trusted isn’t the person they thought.”

Desensitized

The deal breaker is not necessarily watching porn.

“The partner discovers the secret,” Cranston said. “And she thinks ‘What other secrets do you have that I don’t know about?’ ”

“In my experience it’s usually the woman who objects to it, and the woman often says she feels betrayed,” Dutcher said. “And the guy says, ‘I didn’t do anything with anyone physically, I just looked at things.’ There is this anonymity that makes it feel harmless. But that’s not how the woman feels about it at all.”

“In therapy we always look for what else might be going on in the relationship,” said counselor Breanna Burns. “It’s often not only about the desire to look at images; so we talk to the client to get to the meat of what else might be going on… Does it fill a need they are feeling in the relationship?”

Some porn viewers, like some drug addicts, find themselves wanting more, Dutcher said.

“But you get desensitized to it, so you need ‘more’ and ‘different’ to get the same effect,” Dutcher said. “Some viewers then call up harder-core pictures, or images in sexual areas they’d not considered before.

“You started by looking at adult porn, but then you look at teen girls,” she said. “And then things — for some people — can really cross the line. Those views can very much have legal consequences.”

Sometimes therapists can’t get a couple to resolve their differences about porn.

“Sometimes, as with drinking, the spouse might need to say: ‘You have to choose between me or the Budweiser,’ ” Cranston said. “And if the partner then says ‘I need a couple of days to think that one over,’ then maybe the spouse needs to decide how much of this she’s willing to tolerate.”