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by Warren Eisenhauer (2019-08-12)

As it turns out, men are virtually hard-wired to like watching or reading about others having sex. Here is why they do it and why it's probably ok.

Most nights, after his wife, Kate, had gone to bed, Tom surfed the net 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 is 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 most effective studies suggest that directly about 5% of porn users have an issue that stand in the way of their daily life."

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

For many women, there's no need to worry. What ever 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 given that they do not think they are as sexy as a porn star," she says. "But it is not about what he's not getting at home. It's the novelty. It is a turn-on."

Why do so many men like looking at pictures of naked people? That is not a very easy question to reply to. 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 a significant role in male arousal. But knowing what's fired up by porn does not tell us why our brains get turned on.

Stambaugh points to evolution. Men's brains, he says, are hard-wired for easy arousal, to ensure 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 also a little experimentation within the bedroom. The porn was never the problem, Stambaugh says. "More often, the problem is the way you talk and the way you reveal yourself to each other."