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Is the Internet a Relationship Killer?



When the internet precursor the so called ARPANET was initially deployed in 1969 on behalf of networking among universities and research institutions, no one probably even suspected that this represented the beginning of a development that would end up exerting a decisive effect on love relationships around the globe. In 1990 the U.S. National Science Foundation decided to harness the Internet for commercial purposes. It was at this point in time that the public gained access – a development that was rapidly accelerated by the market maturity of first graphics compatible web browsers. Subsequently commercial offerings as well as its user numbers exploded. The digital revolution was in full swing. Beginning with the year 2000 the proliferation of broadband connections with high data transmission rates also enabled the transmission of movie files – some movie files!

The musical “Avenue Q” celebrated its success on Broadway between 2003 and 2009. “The Internet is for Porn” was one of its popular song titles. Unfortunately this succinct statement summarizes the present development trend of a provider originally intended for science and research. Year after year “sex” and “porno” are the terms most frequently entered in the search engines. (There is a good reason that Google excludes these and related words prior to releasing the official statistics to the media). The sheer numbers of porn sites on the Internet and the resulting revenues are breathtaking: With only approximately 900 pornographic web sites in 1997, by 2010 this number had reached almost 25.000. 12% of all presently existing web sites are dedicated to porn. In the late 90s of the last century cyber porn already earned $700 Million annually – statisticians estimate that by now that number has grown to $ 4.9 Billion (!) annually. Men represent the lion’s share of the users. According to a 2011 GEWIS-survey they click seven times more frequently on porn online contents than women. According to a survey by the US-website Online MBA among men who are primarily active are those between 18 and 24 years old. Of those 70% indicated that they visit those sites at least once a month; 20% also occasionally visit them at work. According to that study 28.258 people per second are consuming Internet porn. By the way, Sunday appears to be the preferred day.

According to experts cyber porn’s sweeping success is primarily due to the “three As”: accessibility, affordability, and anonymity – simpler, more affordable and anonymous access. Via Internet pornographic material is easily accessible to everybody – with one’s computer providing easy around the clock access right at home. At the same time porn became a lot less expensive – although the industry generates these staggering revenues, many of the pornographic contents on the net are still totally free of charge. And obviously all of a sudden access is entirely anonymous – gone the days of having to join the news stand line red-faced, trying to hide the dirty magazine under the arm or visiting the video store with the curtain enclosed area always afraid to cross paths with a familiar face. This eliminated three important inhibition thresholds serving to at least somewhat curbing porn consumption. For the Germans apparently an irresistible temptation: According to a survey by the University of Padua they are the international frontrunners with 34.5% of those visiting porn sites on the web. The French are in second place, followed by the Spanish and Italians.

In the course of the last decade, many couples therapists had to increasingly deal with real relationship problems created by the regular consumption of pornographic material: exaggerated expectations (on self, the partner and sex itself), frustration in light of (imagined and actual) physical shortcomings and/or “insufficient” performance, an unrealistic female- and male image (always being ready!) and the increasing inability and/or unwillingness of truly tuning-in to the needs of one’s real partner. Those who regularly consume porn continuously increase their arousal stimulation threshold. And soon “normal” sex with a familiar partner does not suffice any longer. A progressive libido- or potency decline sets in and leads to a vicious cycle: Because every day sex does not yield any or only insufficient gratification one resorts increasingly to hard core porn and that obviously causes the real sex among partners to appear even less attractive. In a relevant study by the University of Padua scientists surveyed about 28.000 Italians. They established that 70% of all young men under the age of 25 who consulted a physician due to potency problems or sexual listlessness were regular visitors of Internet porn sites. Thus even with men in their prime of life (where sexual potency and stamina are concerned) the repeated stimulation through porn deadens the libido. The researchers dubbed this disconcerting phenomenon “sexual anorexia”.

Pornography and masturbation also increasingly offer themselves as convenient, quick alternatives to sex with a potentially demanding or listless partner. The sexologist Gunter Schmidt in Hamburg describes the case of a young man who, although he did not feel like sleeping with his girl friend any longer, masturbated quite regularly: “Then I can start when I want, come when I want, stop when I want; I don’t need preliminaries, no romantic lighting, no breathing endearments; not guessing what she may want, nor afterwards discuss how it was; can go to sleep when I want.” Working on a relationship? What for . . .

Particularly women whose partner more or less regularly surfs porn web sites frequently feel insecure and subject to a comparison they cannot satisfy. Incidentally, a study in 1994 provided proof that these feelings are not all that unjustified: The examiners asked men to begin by looking at nude photographs of either very attractive or average attractive women. Afterwards they were asked to evaluate their existing real relationship. The men who had looked at the extremely attractive women on average rated their real partners as less attractive; themselves as less satisfied with the relationship and less closely bound to their partner. This effect did not manifest itself with men who had only been handed photos of average attractive women.

But then this deluge of images is not without its resonance on women either. In his book “The Evolution of Desire” the psychologist David Buss writes: “Women find themselves competing with each other to embody the images they see daily-images desired by men. The unprecedented rates of anorexia nervosa and radical cosmetic surgery may stem in part from these media images; some women go to extreme lengths to fulfill men's desires. But the images do not cause this unfortunate result by creating standards of beauty that mechanisms on an unprecedented and unhealthy scale.” Confronted with this omnipresent availability of pornographic detail images of not only the body in general, but even its most intimate zones mercilessly turn into comparison- and competition objects. Suddenly this creates new ideals of beauty for this area as well. The British health service (one of the few institutions keeping records) promptly reported a six-fold increase of labiaplasties for the years 2004/05 as compared to the years 1998/99. Other surgical procedures in the female genital area (for instance narrowing of the vagina or G-spot thickening by way of own-fat injections, the reduction or padding of the mons pubis or removal of the clitoral prepuce) are also in vogue. Men also increasingly undertake penis enlargements with surgical or other means. And lets not forget the increasingly, by representatives of both genders in the U.S.A. favored “anal bleaching”. The pigmentation of the anal rosette is brightened with the aid of strong bleaching agents. Compared to all that, the fashion of shaving the pubic hair that also spilled over from the porno culture into every day life in recent years appears to be rather harmless, no?

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