Dealing with pornography in relationships

Beyond Right and Wrong: An Inquiry into Pornography
Interview with Victoria Doughty

This article was first published in HopeDance Magazine, July/August, 2006 www.HopeDance.org
[The original article is at http://www.hopedance.org/new/issues/57/article6.html, Victoria and her partner Gary have written a book called "Love and Pornography" - available at 
http://gethelpwithporn.com/our-book/love-and-pornography-the-book/

Few subjects halt the flow of dialogue like the topic of pornography. Introducing the word to any forum of discussion can set off a host of responses such as anger, fear, shame and blame. Even with these reactions, Victoria Doughty loves to talk about pornography. And she finds that many people, once over their initial reluctance, are eager to share their feelings about it.

“I am dedicated to creating and holding a safe space where people can express their true feelings about pornography,” says Victoria. She has created a website, GetHelpwithPorn.com, and is collecting surveys, conducting interviews and writing a book about her personal journey and the insights she has gained along the way. “I’m inquiring into how people communicate about porn and the pain around it. And I want to share what I’ve learned.”

Two years ago, Victoria’s partner told her that he was using pornography. In trying to understand her feelings about it, Victoria read books and searched the internet for answers but found nothing that gave her the clarity she needed and relief from the pain she felt.

The clarity that Victoria sought came to her when she applied her training in Nonviolent CommunicationTM (NVC). NVC inquires into the needs behind each individual’s feelings and actions without judgment. As Victoria and her partner began to discover each others needs, it gave them a way to understand what was going on between them.

“When Garry revealed his use of porn, it was an attempt to maintain honesty and clarity in our relationship which I really appreciated.” Victoria’s fear, however, escalated when she moved to California with him and left behind her friends, work, and community; essentially her entire support network. She found herself with a man who she feared was not wholly present and committed.

However, instead of running from the relationship, as many would, Victoria recognized an opportunity for personal growth. Instead of shutting down, she decided to open to her pain to gain a greater understanding of herself and her partner.

She began to ask herself important questions. “Why do I feel so much pain about him looking at porn? What stories do I tell myself about what his actions mean? Why do I feel bad about myself when he looks at porn?”

Using her NVC training, Victoria began to inquire into the needs behind her feelings, as well as Garry’s needs behind his use of porn. Reluctant at first, he began to open up when he felt that he was not being judged by Victoria as he expected. Instead, he found that she was actually curious and caring about his needs.

Garry eventually realized he had a need for intimacy but also had a fear of being hurt by those close to him. Pornography provided him with a facsimile of intimacy with no vulnerability. Pornography also provided a sense of acceptance and self-worth since the fantasy women invited his lust and sexuality without judgment. Coming from a sexually repressed family and society, Garry kept these qualities hidden even from Victoria.

Once they created a space where they could look at each other’s needs with love and not with fear, something beautiful began to happen. As Garry felt Victoria’s acceptance, he found the true intimacy that he longed for while his fear of vulnerability diminished. When he began to express his needs within their relationship, Victoria’s fear level subsided. When Garry was unconscious about his actions, Victoria’s need for connection wasn’t met. But when they began to open up to each other about their needs and fears, their connection deepened.

Victoria also saw that part of the pain she felt came from stories she told herself about what it meant when Garry looked at other women. “I told myself that I was not enough and that he desired something that I couldn’t be.”

“A turning point came when I realized that these were stories that I made up based on my own feelings of inadequacy. I realized I didn’t have to tell myself these stories.” This insight gave Victoria the power to address her own pain and not give away her power by projecting the responsibility onto him.

“In addition, I realized that we both are multi-dimensional which means that there are different parts of ourselves that may want or need different things at different times. When I remember this, I can understand that when Garry looks at another woman with desire, there is another part of him that does want and love me.“

As she struggled with her own feelings, Victoria became curious how others felt about pornography. She talked with as many men and women who would open up about it and found that many others also had hidden pain about it.

One morning, Victoria awoke with an inspiration to write a book about the way we relate to ourselves and each other around pornography. Because of the potential to encourage personal growth and relieve suffering, she views her work as a calling.

In her book, Victoria aims to discuss the needs of those who use porn, as well as the people who are in pain around the use of pornography. “The more we can identify those needs, the more we can bring our awareness and understanding to them,” she says.

“Instead of judging porn as right or wrong, I find it helpful to look at pornography as a strategy that people are using to meet needs.” This concept is simple and yet profound. For example, bringing flowers to someone is a strategy to meet a need such as to show love or compassion, to share happiness or to be accepted.

HopeDance: From the surveys that you have collected, what needs have you identified behind pornography?

“The responses fall mostly into two categories: men who look at porn now or have in the past, and women who are in pain around their partner’s use of porn. In most situations there are needs that are met and not met. When needs are being met we feel satisfied, when needs are not met we feel pain.

“The men are trying to meet needs for learning, intimacy, stimulation, physical release, safety and acceptance. They also feel pain about their use of porn because of needs for integrity, meaning and self-worth that are not being met.

“The women I am hearing from are not trying to get their needs met with pornography, they are trying to meet their need for connection in their relationship. Pain comes from their needs for trust, presence, and connection to their own values and self-worth that are not being met.

“Other sources of pain for both men and women are the negative stories that they tell themselves about what the use of porn means. ‘I am a disgusting person for looking at porn.’ ‘If he needs to look at porn, I must not be enough.’ These stories are judgments that become obstacles to understanding and growth.”

HD: I don’t understand how the needs for intimacy, safety and acceptance can be met through pornography. Could you explain more?

“The truth behind all human actions is that we are always trying to satisfy some beautiful need. For example, intimacy is a basic human need that, from past experiences, Garry learned to associate with the fear of being hurt. He became guarded in his close relationships yet his need for intimacy was insistent and found another way to be expressed. Pornography provided a facsimile of intimacy that didn’t stimulate his fear of being hurt.

“Garry also found a facsimile of acceptance in pornography. The fantasy women were totally accepting and openly invited his lust and desire when he felt they weren’t acceptable otherwise.”

HD: When you talk about a “facsimile” of intimacy or acceptance, what do you mean?

“I use facsimile of intimacy to mean that it is representative of true intimacy. For example, Garry was finding intimacy and acceptance in a fantasy world. True intimacy and acceptance involves revealing our true selves and connecting with another person. Garry has a beautiful need for an intimate connection with another person but it was thwarted by his fear of being hurt. Using pornography was a strategy that allowed Garry to express his need for intimacy without facing his fears.”

HD: So if our needs are truly met, will pornography go away?

“If I’m thinking that pornography should go away, inherent in that thinking is a ‘good vs. bad’ judgment. I prefer to think of strategies as either life-serving or life-alienating. It’s more helpful to ask ‘Is the strategy of porn helping me deepen the connection to myself, others and to life?’

“My purpose is not to solve the ‘problem’ of pornography but to understand the needs and feelings of the individuals using it and those who are feeling pain about it. If we look at the individual’s needs and feelings, porn is just the background where they are revealed. Porn can be used as a doorway into a greater understanding of our true selves.”

HD: I see that we can learn about our needs by inquiring into our use or reactions to pornography. But its difficult to see how this applies to child pornography?

“I deeply value the safety and care of all beings. When children are involved, I believe we should provide protective use of force to keep them safe from harm as well as to protect the person causing the harm.

“Instead of judging a person as good or bad, we must not lose sight of the humanness in each of us. Even the rapist and child pornographer have beautiful needs that are unfortunately expressed in harmful ways. The punitive use of force predominantly used in our society will only increase the person’s alienation and thus their likelihood of continuing to cause harm.

“The intention behind punitive use of force is to pass judgment, condemn and to punish. It is an attempt to create change in a person by using hatred, blame and shame. With a protective use of force, we may still choose to put someone behind bars but our intention when doing so can have a very different effect on the person. We must understand that the person who is involving children in pornography or raping another is in need of education and care. If that person was more self-connected and their needs were met in other more fulfilling ways, he or she wouldn’t be harming others.”

HD: In closing, how does your partner feel about having what many people would call a shameful part of his life exposed?

“This subject was very difficult for us to deal with at first. Garry had always been secretive about his use of porn and was not aware of the needs he was trying to meet. We both struggled to get in touch with our true needs. As he began to feel that I was not judging him but was truly trying to understand his needs, he began to stop condemning himself and was able to open his heart and reveal himself. His fear of being hurt in a close relationship subsided and we were able to connect in a deeper, more meaningful way.

“Garry feels liberated from a life-long sense of self-condemnation. He has changed his relationship to pornography and now sees it as a doorway to understanding parts of himself that have been repressed and hidden.

“We feel that pornography was the signal to an area of our relationship where we both needed healing and growth. With awareness of our needs and fears, we can now look at each other with more love and care and less pain and anger. Garry and I are both willing to be open about this part of our lives and talk about our journey in the hopes that it can help others find their own way to greater peace and happiness.”

For more information, go to GetHelpwithPorn.com. For more on Nonviolent Communication go to cnvc.org. The above article was a collaborative effort including Suzanne Arthur, Victoria Doughty and Bob Banner.

Till next post, Vivienne

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