Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: The Porn Trap, by Wendy Maltz & Larry Maltz

Back in the 1980s, Wendy Maltz and her husband and fellow therapist, Larry, were not that concerned about pornography. Like most in the field, they thought it was essentially harmless. The use of porn was even promoted at professional trainings as a way to help couples reinvigorate their sex lives. Then the authors noted a trend: porn was moving couples away from being sexually intimate with each other. For too many of their clients, porn itself had become the object of desire. They wrote Porn Trap because "We believe you have a right to healthy, love-based sexual expression, and that today's multi-media driven pornography is interfering with that right" (p. 8).

The authors share this gem of a line from the 14th Century Sufi poet, Hafiz:

Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins
that may buy you just a moment of pleasure,
but then drag you for days
like a broken man
behind a farting camel.

The Maltzs' case material was gleaned from interviews with those whose lives have been depleted by porn. "While pornography may promise sexual freedom, it can eventually deliver a form of sexual oppression--robbing people of sexual innocence, sexual self-determination, and the skills to experience healthy relationships based on a loving connection with a real partner" (p. 8). The cases in the book make real the suffering, but also help illuminate the way out. And that's one real value of the book: if you're stuck, you read of others who have been, too, but have made their way out. When you've been stumbling in the dark, such rays of hope are precious.

Here's what I appreciate most about the book: the authors back up their compassion and optimism by providing practical tools. They suggest steps for deciding whether porn is hampering your happiness and relationships, tactics for quitting porn if you decide it is a problem, and in-the-bedroom practices for turning your sex life around so that it can build closeness and fulfillment in place of the separation and depletion that pornography fosters. Wendy Maltz's expertise in healthy sexuality and some great material from her previous books are distilled into the chapter entitled "A New Approach to Sex."

Of the many tools the authors share, I'll highlight a couple I find particularly helpful:

When you feel the gravitational pull of porn, here's something you can do to literally come to your senses. It's an exercise they entitle Shifting Your Attention. "A simple sensory awareness exercise can help you shift your attention away from what you've been thinking about and on to something else in your environment. For example, 'Now I'm aware of the sun coming through the window." Repeat and complete the phrase 'Now I'm aware of...' until you have identified five different things that you see. Continue the exercise stating five different things you are aware of hearing, then five different things you are aware of touching or feeling inside your body. This exercise can help center you sensually in the reality of your present environment and take you farther away from the fantasy world of porn" (p. 195).

This is a theme throughout the book: real life--everything from real events to real emotions to your flesh-and-blood lover--are antidotes to the unreal world of porn. This theme reaches its pinnacle in one of the final skills they cover, Involving Your Heart in Sex, which is needed because porn-informed sex is all about stimulation rather than heartfelt connection. When you are engaged in sexual activity:
  • Take a moment to touch your heart or your partner's heart to activate or stay connected to feelings of caring and love.
  • Take time to smile and make loving eye contact with your partner. 
  • Temporarily shift your awareness from your genital arousal to the attributes you most admire and appreciate about your partner.
  • Take time to verbally express your feelings of affection to your partner.
  • Touch in loving and affectionate ways that you have learned will be valued and appreciated by your partner.
Thank you Wendy and Larry for this invaluable book! Your deep care for those caught in the porn trap shines through. Your work is helping make that group smaller--one person, one couple at a time!