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6 Ways to Keep Porn From Damaging Your Life and Relationships

While some people feel that porn enhances their sex lives and relationships, continually more are suffering from the downsides. If porn only brings you benefits, fantastic! Watch on. If not, or if you're unsure, here are some ways you can keep it from interfering with your health and happiness.
01/27/2015 01:07pm ET | Updated March 29, 2015
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I remember the first time I glimpsed porn. I'd returned to my Minnesota hometown after modeling overseas to find a video my boyfriend had been viewing in my absence.

"I had to do something while you were gone," he said as I sobbed. "Would you rather I'd cheated?"

He apologized, but nothing could erase the image of the voluptuous naked woman from my mind. I was 19 then -- young, naive and grappling with an eating disorder. I felt foolish for overreacting to his porn use. But had I been?

A few months later while working on a college paper, I began cutting myself some slack. Research showed, I learned, that heterosexual men found their partners less attractive after viewing pornographic imagery of women. I rushed home to my boyfriend: "See? I was right!"

Over a decade of personal growth later, I no longer worry that my partner will lust after another. Learning to embrace my body and sexuality played a key role in my recovery from the eating disorder and changed my views on sexuality as a whole.

I now see value in monogamy and non-monogamy, open marriages and traditional, and engaging in our fantasies, whether they involve "vanilla" sex, threesomes, ten-somes or extreme BDSM. Our sexuality is our own, and beautiful as long as we don't hurt anyone.

By most people's standards, I'm liberal regarding sexuality -- yet, I still avoid porn. I have an addictive personality and love sex and my high sensitivity to real-life turn-ons. In other words, I'm a prime candidate for porn's complications, such as addiction and sexual dysfunction. For me, the risks aren't worth it. I also respect that not everyone agrees.

On Girl Boner Radio I routinely interview porn stars, some of whom I consider friends. I also discuss the dark side of pornography with experts, such as Gabe Deem, a former porn addict turned counselor and public speaker. Of the many questions I hear from listeners, variations of "How do I deal with porn?" are among the most common.

While some people feel that porn enhances their sex lives and relationships, continually more are suffering from the downsides. If porn only brings you benefits, fantastic! Watch on. If not, or if you're unsure, here are some ways you can keep it from interfering with your health and happiness.

1. Treat it like fast food. I don't mean gobble it down with soda -- I'm talking healthy frequency. Like fast food, porn is designed to be highly stimulating, convenient and, arguably, addictive. Just as a diet of namely fast food can reduce your taste for nutritious fare, watching porn routinely could lower your ability to enjoy natural sexual intimacy. If you want to use porn, make it a treat, not a staple. If you can't, see #6.

2. Choose your turn-ons wisely. What we focus on during arousal creates pathways and patterns in the brain, says neuroscientist and author of Wired for Intimacy Dr. William Struthers. In other words, we can choose what turns us on. Consistent use could make porn the only thing that arouses you. Have sex without thinking about or viewing porn most often. If you want to be turned on by your partner, fantasize about him or her. That little thing called imagination? So important.

3. Know the difference between porn and reality. If mainstream, hardcore porn mirrored real-world sex, we'd all naturally crave anal sex and gang bangs, and women would squirt with every climax. (Just ask Cindy Gallop, the creator and CEO of Make Love Not Porn.) Recognize the differences between porn and real sex. Maintain realistic standards.

4. Know your personality. If you have an addictive personality or high sex drive, take added caution with porn. Recent research published in JAMA Psychiatry shows that these factors increase your risk for dependency. Invest your compulsiveness into healthier ventures, such as pursuing your life passions and cultivating intimacy with your partner.

5. When in doubt, leave it out. Even if you aren't experiencing obvious problems due to porn, it could be zapping your enjoyment of sex, according to a recent Archives of Sexual Behavior study. If you're not sure how your porn habits are affecting you, give it up for a while. If a break seems daunting, you may want to start one pronto.

6. If it's problematic, seek help. Like most addictions, porn dependency instills shame, which keeps many sufferers from getting help. Whether you're grappling with addiction or milder problems you can't seem to manage, seek support from a qualified expert -- not someone who buys into the "boys will be boys" mentality. Women are susceptible to porn addiction, too, and accepting any hurtful behavior as "normal" won't help.