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By Dr. Ruth Westheimer
March 8, 2018

After 30 years of working as a sex therapist, the legendary Dr. Ruth isn’t done sharing her wisdom. Here, she answers your most pressing questions on sex, relationships and life. Email your own queries to drruth@time.com, or catch up on previous installments of the Ask Dr. Ruth series.

Q: Is watching porn — separately or together with my partner — healthy for my sex life?

A: Let me begin by stating that I’m not against using erotic material, which I don’t necessarily think of as pornography. The problem with the word porn is that it encompasses so much material, some of which can be helpful to a sexual relationship and some harmful. My definition of erotic material would be pictures, videos or written stories that you both find arousing and might introduce some new concepts to your sex life, but aren’t offensive.

I would say that as with almost everything else having to do with your sex life, establishing good communication on the subject is key, and will ultimately determine whether introducing erotica will help or hurt.

One use of viewing erotic material is simply to stimulate sexual arousal. Does that mean that if you use it, there’s something wrong with your sex life? Certainly some people, especially some women, might question their partner, and ask, “Why do you need to watch some other people having sex to get aroused? Does my body no longer turn you on?”

That’s a legitimate question but also a hazardous one to ask. What if the answer is yes? Does it mean the end of the relationship? It doesn’t have to be but maybe it’s something to think about before posing that question. And keep in mind that the more likely answer is that your body does still turn him on but he could also use a little more visual stimulation from time to time, and that’s not something that should make you doubt his desire for you.

Another issue to consider is jealousy, not of the stars of such movies but of their physical attributes. You shouldn’t let this bother you, however. When you watch a film featuring a superhero, you don’t typically feel bad because you don’t have superpowers. You should adopt the same attitude when it comes to erotic videos.

Now I know that many people frown on the use of erotica, but let’s look at this issue more closely. How women achieve orgasm falls on a bell curve. On one end of the curve are those women who can just think sexy thoughts and have an orgasm, and on the other end are those who can’t orgasm very easily or at all. But also towards the latter end of the spectrum are women who require the strong sensations of a vibrator in order to have an orgasm. It’s not something that they choose and no one should question their right to have an orgasm just because they need to use a vibrator. Is it any less legitimate if a man needs to look at erotica in order to become sufficiently aroused to engage in intercourse?

I’d say that the frequency of use should be something to be considered. If one partner always needs to be watching erotica in order to become aroused, then that’s a situation that the two of you have to talk about. If it’s just the occasional use of erotica, then maybe it’s not worth examining too closely. Just chalk it up to one more way to add some variety to your sex life so that it doesn’t become boring.

Email questions to drruth@time.com.

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