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Health & Sex

Why Men Like Porn

As it turns out, men are pretty much hard-wired to like watching -- or reading about -- other people having sex. Here's why they do it -- and why it's probably ok.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Marina Katz, MD

Most nights, after his wife, Kate, had gone to bed, Tom surfed the Internet for porn. Kate learned about this during their second session of couples therapy. Despite Tom's claims that his nocturnal habit had nothing to do with their love life, she worried he preferred porn to having sex with her.

That's a common reaction. "Often, one partner has a porn interest, and the other thinks that's a problem," says Russell Stambaugh, PhD, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based psychologist and sex therapist. "It rarely is. The best studies suggest that only about 5% of porn users have a problem that interferes with their daily life."

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That's good news, because a lot of people look at porn. According to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 26% of male Internet users visited adult websites (only 3% of women went to these sites). In 2006, the porn industry raked in nearly 13 billion dollars.

Men and Pornography: The Evolutionary Link

For most women, there's no need to worry. Whatever may be drawing a man to porn, it's seldom a reflection on his partner, says sex therapist Lonnie Barbach, PhD, in practice in San Francisco. "Some women feel threatened because they don't think they're as sexy as a porn star," she says. "But it's not about what he's not getting at home. It's the novelty. It's a turn-on."

Still, the question remains: Why do so many men like looking at pictures of naked people? That's not an easy question to answer. Porn-induced arousal has been linked to many parts of the brain. One recent theory holds that mirror neurons, brain cells that fire when an action is performed as well as when it's observed, play an important role in male arousal. But knowing what's fired up by porn doesn't tell us why our brains get turned on.

Stambaugh points to evolution. Men's brains, he says, are hard-wired for easy arousal, so that men are ready for sex whenever opportunity knocks -- a propagation-of-the-species thing. With online porn so readily at hand, vicarious opportunities -- cue the mirror neurons -- are ever present.

Once Kate realized that porn was not her replacement and Tom felt less ashamed about his habit, the couple talked more easily about their sex life. And that led to sexy outfits and a little experimentation in the bedroom. The porn was never the problem, Stambaugh says. "More often, the problem is how you talk and how you reveal yourself to each other."

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