How To Negotiate Porn Boundaries In A Relationship

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto this week’s topic: negotiating the role of porn in your relationship.

Q: “My partner and I have been together for seven years. Recently we haven't been having sex very often. I complained about us not having sex,  and said I felt he wasn't/isn't attracted to me. He assured me this was not the case but still made no effort to change our sex life. About a month ago I came home and he was playing video games. I again complained about him never wanting to have sex with me. He didn't. He continued playing video games as I fell asleep on the couch near him. He left the video games on and I woke up to move to the bedroom to go to bed and I walk in on him watching porn. Two girls together to be exact. I didn’t know that he watched porn, and I feel really hurt. He said he’s sorry, and that he won’t watch again, but I just don't trust that he’s not going to continue. I don’t want to say that he can never watch porn, but I also want our sex life back. How do we handle this?”

A: Thanks for the question! I’m sorry that your boyfriend’s porn usage had to come to light in this upsetting manner, and I can understand why you feel hurt. But at the very least, this experience gives the two of you the opportunity to talk openly about your sex life and the role that you want porn to play in your relationship. Negotiating porn boundaries can be really tricky, but here are four guidelines for having more productive conversations.

Get Clear On How You Feel

There are a lot of different dynamics that this experience with your boyfriend has brought up for you. You went into that evening already feeling rejected, and having a history of being turned down for sex in recent months. You were feeling insecure and worried already. Then you caught him watching porn, something you hadn’t previously known about. The first step for you is to take some time to sort out your own feelings. 

I would encourage you to think of this as two separate issues — your sex life with your boyfriend, and his relationship with porn (more on this distinction below). What are your feelings about and desire for each? Obviously you want to have sex more frequently, and I’m guessing you want your boyfriend to express his desire for and attraction to you. What else do you want that you're not getting? 

On the porn front, it seems like there’s a lot to explore. How do you feel about porn itself? Have you watched porn in the past? Have you been with past partners who watched? What kind of ethical beliefs come up for you? What role do you want porn to play in your relationship? These are all big questions, and you’re not going to come to crystal-clear answers on all of them, but it’s worth you taking some time to consider them before talking to your boyfriend.

Don’t Blame Porn For Everything

As I just mentioned, I think you should try to think of porn usage and sexual frequency as two separate issues. It’s easy to blame porn for everything, but it sounds like there might be more going on in your relationship than just your partner’s porn usage. If he’s like most people, your boyfriend has probably been watching porn for quite some time. But you mentioned that your sex life only recently started to decrease. What else was going on around that time? How have things been between the two of you outside of the bedroom? When you talk to your boyfriend, try to have two different conversations. I’d suggest starting with your sex life. 

Say something like, “when I saw that you were looking at porn, it was easy for me to think that that was the reason why we haven’t been having sex as frequently. But I know it’s more complicated than that. Have you noticed that we’ve been having less sex these past few months?” Take a look at some of my past articles about ways the two of you can work together to make your sex life more fulfilling.

Approach Porn Sensitively

Porn is a tough subject to talk about. Almost everyone consumes some form of porn or erotica, but we rarely talk about it openly. Most people feel a lot of shame around their porn usage. I’m guessing that your boyfriend has his own complicated relationship with porn, which has just been made a whole lot more complicated by being caught. The two of you should absolutely talk about this experience, but try to approach it as delicately as possible. You don’t want to shame your boyfriend even more. Don’t call him names or make judgments of his character. Don’t drill him with questions about how often he watches or what type of porn he looks for. That will only cause him to shut down. 

Open up the conversation by saying something like, “I want to talk about what happened the other night. I didn’t know that you watched porn, and I think it’s a good opportunity for us to talk about how porn can be a healthy part of our relationship. Is now a good time to talk about this?”

Talk About Healthy Porn Habits

So let’s get down to the real heart of the matter here — can porn be a healthy part of a relationship? In my experience as a sex therapist, the answer is yes. Porn is just like anything else in life — it can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how you use it. Since this is such a huge topic, I like to give my clients a few guidelines for healthy porn usage. We’re all different, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. But I think it helps to have a starting place. Show these general guidelines to your boyfriend, talk over each of these possibilities, and share your opinions with each other.

  • Don’t watch porn every day or every time you masturbate.

  • Take regular two-week breaks from watching porn.

  • Don’t watch porn when you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or upset. In other words, you shouldn’t turn to porn to soothe your emotions.

  • When you watch porn, pick one video and stick with it. Don’t cycle through looking for the “perfect” clip, angle, or moment.

  • Recognize that porn sex is different from real-world sex. Porn is meant to be entertainment, and it’s produced to look as good as possible.

  • When you watch porn and masturbate, regularly take your eyes off the screen and look down at your own body. Pay attention to the sensations you’re feeling.

  • Don’t watch porn if you’ve just turned your partner down for sex.

  • Don’t watch porn if you’re upset with your partner or have just gotten into a fight.

  • Watch good porn. There are a number of porn studios out there that are creating ethical porn. The actors consent to everything they’re doing, the acts depicted aren’t degrading to women. Sensuality and real human connection are the focus. Sometimes even real-life couples are the stars.

  • Watch porn together. Porn can bring you together instead of tearing you apart. Read erotic fiction out loud to each other. Watch sexy scenes as you masturbate together.  

You don’t need to come up with some set-in-stone contract, but it helps to feel like you’re on the same page about the role of porn in your relationship. Remember, at the end of the day, it's his body, and he should be able to masturbate when he wants to — but that also doesn't mean it can't be a deal breaker for you if you feel like his habits are impeeding on your life.

Wishing you the best of luck!

Images: Pixabay; Giphy

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