This Vancouver sex therapist says watching porn might just be good for you

Dr. Jason Winters on why sex addiction doesn’t exist (and the potential benefits of porn)

March 14, 2016

By Jenni Elliott

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Dr. Jason Winters

First, the bad news. According to the results released last week by PornHub, libidinous British Columbians are entirely predictable in their search habits. The number one search term they used on said website, after all, was “Asian.” The good news is that it could have been worse. After all, the flavour of perversion preferred by people in New Brunswick, for example, was “smoking.”  Still, it gave rise (sorry) to some curiosity on our part about the whole question of pornography, masturbation, and the effects they can have on the human brain. Sure, we covered some of that in our Love and Sex issue, but we thought it was worth a closer look—which is why we asked one of Vancouver’s leading sex therapists to delve a little deeper in to relationships (both physical and virtual), fetishes, and getting laid in No Fun City.

First of all, is being a sex therapist a common job in Vancouver? Since I’ve been in this room you’ve looked me in the eye and said “vulva” at least twice—it must require a certain skill set.

(Laughs) There’s not many of us, that’s for sure. There are kind of two generations in Vancouver right now: there’s a few people that have been around for a long long time (Bianca Rucker, Paul James, David McKenzie), then there’s this new generation including me and a few of my peers, but there aren’t a ton of us. It’s not something that a lot of people go get help for, right?

Do people usually just pick up the phone and call you saying “I need help getting laid?”

It’s usually people who are in crisis, like something bad has happened and they come see you. I’m going through the licensing process to be a clinical psychologist just now, meaning a lot of people will [be able to] get coverage through their extended healthcare plans, so that might see more people reach out.

So are we talking Will Smith in Hitch, or something more scientific?

I tend to deal with more serious problems than people struggling with dating, to be honest. It’s not to say dating doesn’t come up, but it’s usually in the context that something else is going on with the person as well. Almost everybody I work with, it’s anxiety related. Things like anxiety-related sexual performance, anxiety in stress coping that gets managed through some sort of maladapted sexual behaviour—things like that.

What type of people do you see?

Mainly guys—though I have seen women. I actually like working with both, but because I’m a guy and I’m young—I’m one of the only young guys out there doing this—I tend to get a lot of young guys in. The biggest group I see is guys struggling with controlling their behaviour. That might be porn, that might be using sex workers, and sometimes they come in describing themselves as sex addicts.

You’ve been quite open in the past about your thoughts on sexual addiction (namely that it doesn’t exist), so how do you deal with these clients?

Yeah, I don’t really abide by the whole sex-addiction model per se, but I don’t challenge them on it either. If they want to come in as self-described sex addicts then I’m perfectly happy to work with that, but what I really focus on is identifying some sort of maladaptive behavioural pattern. When I see these guys, we spend the first session or two trying to connect the dots. What purpose is this behaviour serving? Why are you doing this? Why do you keep falling in to this pattern when you clearly don’t want to? Then, once we understand why, we can start chipping away at managing underlying problems and the behaviour at the same time. It’s a two-prong approach.

So there’s a cure for people who are self-described sex addicts?

I don’t find this “once an addict, always an addict” thing helpful, or “addiction as a disease.” It takes away focus from what the underlying problem is. So mostly with the guys I see the underlying problem is difficulty coping with anxiety or stress, or there’s something going on in their relationship with their partners that results in them struggling with sex.

Porn: Yea or nay? 

If you have good comprehensive sexual education and live in a culture where there’s more gender equality and where people have more positive attitudes towards sex, most people who consume pornography will recognize that it’s fantasy. The effects actually seem to be positive for the vast majority of consumers. The problem is there’s a small group of guys who score highly on really nasty attitudes towards women. They are misogynistic, they support rape myths, and they are just nasty, bitter, resentful guys when it comes to women. They tend to be the ones that show up at men’s right forums and places like that. They are just angry, angry, angry dudes. And for a lot of them, this seems to have been the result of negative experiences with women combined with a sort of hostile attitude in general: ‘I have problems dating women and having sex with women, but they’re the problem, not me.’ These sort of guys tend to seek out the pornography that’s the most exploitative, the most violent, that sort of thing—and pornography does have a negative impact on those guys.

Wait, non-exploitative pornography exists?

Yes, definitely. You have somebody like Erika Lust from the U.K. for example, who makes highly ethical pornography that respects worker rights, gender equality, and [in which] performers have a say in what happens. It’s not any less explicit—it’s still hard-core pornography—but it’s produced in a much healthier way.

What are the positive impacts of watching porn that you mentioned earlier?

Things like permission giving. Say you have some sort of sexual preference you’re unsure about, and you don’t want to bring this up with your partner because you feel kind of ashamed or embarrassed about it. But then you see it in pornography and it seems to be fun and other people are doing it and it seems to be okay. Or, if you’re watching it with your partner and both of you are turned on, it’s like permission giving—and it can be part of exploration.

Along similar lines, as people develop their sexual identities—and I don’t necessarily mean orientation—porn can be part of that exploration. A great example of this is the huge role gay porn played for men decades ago when most gay men still lived in the closet. It served an educational purpose by showing what it looks like for two males to have sex together, and on top of that it was permission giving, with men thinking, ‘There’s other people that are doing this. I’m not the only one.’

Do you think some people become addicted to porn?

In the vast majority of cases, porn becomes the solution to a problem. The problem starts in the relationship first, and then the focus on porn comes afterwards. It might be conflict in a relationship, it might be about sexual needs not being met, it might be a communication problem, or it might be an anxiety problem. I mean, there are tons of possible explanations as to why a couple might be struggling and then one person starts to use porn as a sexual outlet. It becomes a feedback loop: porn is highly arousing, there’s no anxiety, no distress, you can get yourself off, so any time your sexual needs come up that’s going to be your go-to, making things even more difficult in a relationship.

But surely there must be people in healthy relationships that simply enjoy watching porn?

Yes, and that’s entirely fine too. In the vast majority of relationships, people watch porn and it’s okay with their partners. Often times it’s something that needs to be negotiated because some people have very rigid beliefs when it comes to pornography. I end up seeing these people because their partners are like, ‘You have to go get treatment because you’re a sex addict,’ or say things like ‘If you’re in a relationship with me you shouldn’t need porn.’

Aside from emotions, do people come to you asking for help with the physical side?

They usually come in with some other problem then we start talking to them about their knowledge related to sex and it becomes clear that they never ever had any education. It’s no fault of theirs, but nobody sat them down and said ‘Alright, this is how you do this.’ Often times I will recommend a book called The Guide to Getting It On if it seems like there’s big gaps in their knowledge.

We’ve talked a lot about men. What about women? Do they seek help with their sex lives too? 

Definitely. If you think about the type of work we are talking about, a lot of women might be reluctant to work with a male psychologist. Having said that, I do see some women and I’ve found (and I’m just thinking of the women I’ve worked with) a lot of them have histories of sexual assault or sexual abuse as kids. Working with them can be extremely helpful, because for them there can be a lot of distrust around men—understandably so—after what they’ve been through. If they come work with a male psychologist or a male therapist and they can start talking about some of this stuff and they don’t get judged for it, if bad things don’t happen, if an abusive power relationship doesn’t get recreated, then it can actually undo a lot of the damage associated with [their experience].

Who are your favourite kind of clients?

The ones with unusual interests like fetish stuff or kink—BDSM is probably the most widely-known one. You can’t make sexual preferences go away. You have to consider your options if you have a partner that’s uncooperative.

What do you mean by uncooperative?

Well, they might not be open to those sexual preferences. Then you have to consider your options: is porn enough for you? If not, how do you meet your sexual needs in another way? Can you bring it in to your relationship? If not, you need to look at other outlets: maybe chat forums, web camming, or even sex workers.

If you’re considering these, you have to think of the cost vs. the benefits. Am I willing to give this up to stay in this relationship? You could still be having pleasurable sex, but just without your fetish-needs being met. All our needs aren’t met in every sexual encounter, right?

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