There are many reasons couples break up, but a new, and increasingly common, one is that one partner becomes obsessed with Internet pornography. Now that porn is so easy to watch at home or at work, many men are spending enough time and energy on it that they drive their female partners to end the relationship. In fact, Internet porn has so changed American relationships that in a 2003 survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, more than half said the Internet played a “significant role” in divorces in the past year, and that online porn contributed to half of these cases. Once upon a time, a woman’s greatest fear was a good-looking, buxom blonde. These days, her greatest fear is thousands of them.
Dale Lach, a paralegal who helps people represent themselves in their own divorces, says she’s seeing more and more women who want to leave their husbands because of porn. She says the availability has made it an issue in relationships. It used to be that a man who needed a fix had to leave the home to go buy a magazine or watch a movie. “It’s so convenient now,” says Lach, “that they don’t even have to say, ‘I’m going to go bowling tonight.’ They just go into the home office and close the door.”
Three years ago, Renata, 39, an editor, broke up with her long-term musician boyfriend because of his newfound interest. As he spent more time online, he began asking her to change her behavior. “He started asking for stuff that didn’t make sense to me,” she laments. “There was no foreplay, and I would start seeming prudish if I wanted it. I have no problem getting male attention, but if you’re dealing with a girl in a shiny pleather outfit with humongous boobs who’s a contortionist, you can’t compete.” He began requesting special outfits, and more oral sex. “It was ‘put on these stilettos and dance around.’ He would say things that were straight out of a video: ‘You do this to me.’ It was like having sex with a 14-year-old.”
As she resisted his demands, the sex began to decline, to the point where they were doing it only half a dozen times a year. He would bring his laptop into the bathroom, and with them on vacation. One day, she hacked into his computer and found he was in a chat room with a woman she knew. “I said, ‘Either it goes or I go.’ He didn’t do it for three days, and then I found him on again. He said he was working, but there was a window behind him and I could see in the reflection that it was a girl bent over with her fingers up her crotch.”
Part of her anger came from incomprehension—she was stunned he could choose streaming video over her. “This wasn’t even another person. He had a choice between jerking off in front of his computer or having sex with me, and he chose the computer.”
Linda, 29, a project manager, was in a relationship for a year and a half with a guy named Steven whose addiction to porn had the opposite effect: His interest in sex skyrocketed. Soon after they moved in together, he became unemployed and started spending hours looking at porn, often saving clips on her computer because she had cable and he had only dial-up. Although Linda was coming home exhausted from her graduate program, Steven wanted to have sex three or four times a night, and would often editorialize during the act.
“I’d be in the middle of giving him a blow job, and he’d say, ‘This is great, but this is how you could do it better,’ and he’d pull out his laptop.” Unlike Renata’s boyfriend, Steven was far from selfish in bed. He wanted to please her but became so obsessive she felt pressured. “He needed to prove to himself that he was really good.”
Before she met Steven, Linda had watched porn with boyfriends, and even enjoyed girl-on-girl herself. But Steven “was very big on women on their knees performing on a man, stuff that seemed degrading.” He told her he wanted to try money shots. She said okay but got a rash.
If she said she didn’t want sex, he’d turn on the computer and masturbate in front of her. “As time went on and I got more disgusted, I’d just leave him there on the couch, go into the bathroom, and wash my hands.”
When they were in bed together, he was so controlling that she became afraid to be spontaneous. “It got to the point where there were no surprises,” says Linda. “I wasn’t saying, ‘Oh honey, let’s try this.’ It was more like, ‘Oh. This again.’ ” After they broke up, it took seven months for her to enjoy sex again.
“This relationship made me wonder, Am I really that bad at sex?” she says. “And then I realized I wasn’t a porn star. I was a girl in a relationship with someone she loved.”