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By Sex therapist and relationship counselor
TODAY contributor
updated 8/27/2009 2:23:07 PM ET 2009-08-27T18:23:07

For many guys porn is basically a 30-second spa day, complete with happy ending: It feels good, relieves stress and functions as a quick little treat — kind of like scarfing down a bag of Gummi Bears in the middle of the day. It doesn’t mean we’re not interested in having “a real meal” with the woman we love, but sometimes we’re in the mood for a snack.

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I get a lot of questions about porn addiction, but for some guys it’s more a matter of porn annoyance. Think about it: There we are, innocently sitting at our computers, trying to catch up on the Knicks scores, when suddenly a pop-up window for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue assaults us, and bam — now we have to go masturbate again when all we actually wanted to do was check some basketball scores. What a hassle!

Male sexuality differs from female sexuality in that way. For guys, we see something sexy, neurons start firing, blood starts rushing to the genitals, and we’re ready for action. That’s why Viagra has proven so successful with men, but female Viagra has basically been a bust. Men respond much more readily to external visual triggers, whereas women can see something sexy, recognize it as sexy, but not necessarily want to have sex. Female desire is complex: It generally takes more than a quick clip of Jon Hamm in “Mad Men” to get a woman hot and bothered.

In the end, masturbation is a normal, healthy part of sexuality and, actually, men who are in solid relationships, with healthy sex lives, tend to masturbate more than men who are not. Maybe that’s because sex naturally raises testosterone levels — sex begets sex — while men who aren’t in healthy sexual relationships tend to be more depressed, and depression ultimately inhibits desire.

It’s not you, it’s the Internet
Once upon a time, when porn wasn’t so readily available, guys were forced to sift through their own history of erotically memorable experiences and cycle through their flip-book of fantasies in order to get aroused. But with today’s easy access to the Internet, many men have lost touch with their erotic memories and have become dependent on the intense visual stimulus that is just a click away. Think of Internet porn as the lazy man’s approach to masturbation. It’s easy, maybe too easy.

While porn addiction is the subject of clinical debate, more and more professionals are agreeing that it’s a real problem. In the brain’s search for quick gratification, you can become just as habituated to it as a drug, and it’s easier to start feeling as if you need more and more of it. It starts to become a self-perpetuating, somewhat mind-numbing, and soul-deadening experience.

So porn is a little bit like gun control — we should mainly be concerned with the state of mind of the guy pulling the trigger. If a man is feeling tuned out and turned off, porn becomes a way of escaping from the relationship rather than just a harmless way to blow off some sexual steam.

If you’re confused about your guy’s porn usage (and I don’t blame you):

  • Don’t be confrontational. Instead, approach the situation constructively. It’s too easy to let yourself get hijacked by anxiety, fear, panic and uncertainty.

  • Don’t take it personally. You may find yourself thinking, “What does this mean to our relationship?”, “Is this what he’s really into?”, “How can I compete?” or “How long has this been going on?” Take a deep breath. It may not be a big deal. Really.

Should you be worried?
So how can you tell if it is actually a big deal? Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Has he lost his mojo? Is he less interested, or no longer interested, in sex? He may well be squandering sexual resources that should be reserved for his sex life with you.

  • Does he seem detached and disconnected during sex? Some men become so habituated to the intense visual stimulation of porn that they develop a form of sexual ADD (attention deficit disorder). They’re no longer able to focus on the sex they’re having.

  • Is it taking him longer to reach orgasm, or is he not reaching it at all? Some men end up developing a masturbation style that is quite different (in terms of pressure and friction) from what it feels like to have sex with a person.

  • What’s your overall relationship status? Are you generally tuned in and turned on, or tuned out and turned off?

If you think his porn propensity may actually be a porn problem, I’d recommend reading “The Porn Trap” by Wendy and Larry Maltz.

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including "She Comes First" and "Love in the Time of Colic." He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at www.iankerner.com.

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