Is Watching Porn Bad For Relationships? What To Do If Your Partner Has A Serious Habit

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 based in San Francisco, 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: what to do if your partner watches so much porn that it's bad for your relationship.

Q: My boyfriend watches a lot of porn, and I’m worried that it’s starting to ruin our relationship. I consider myself a progressive person, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about watching porn. I actually like to watch it myself on occasion! But my boyfriend has started watching porn a lot more frequently over the last few months, and there are a few things he’s doing that are making me feel shut out. Sometimes he’ll tell me he’s too busy to hang out, but I have a feeling that all he’s doing is watching porn. Also, he keeps asking to watch porn while we’re having sex. We used to do this every once in a while in the beginning of our relationship, and I thought it was hot. But lately he’s been putting it on without asking just about every time we’re together, and I feel like he’s paying more attention to the women on the video than to me. It’s not like I want to give him an ultimatum — me or the porn — but I’m just not sure if his relationship with porn is healthy at this point. Does my boyfriend really prefer porn over me?

A: I’m sorry to hear that porn is affecting your relationship in such a negative way. Unfortunately, you’re not alone; porn is wreaking a lot of havoc on a lot of relationships. To be perfectly clear, I’m with you in thinking that there’s nothing wrong with porn itself. That being said, we all need to figure out healthy ways to incorporate porn into our lives. Here are five suggestions for what to do if you’re concerned about your partner’s relationship with porn.

1. Know That Your Concerns Are Justified

Just like with any other thing in the world, there are good and bad sides to porn. Porn can be really hot to watch — alone or with a partner — and it can help people feel less embarrassed about sex. But it can also be demeaning to women, can instill unrealistic expectations about sex, and can evoke addictive tendencies.

You’re right to be upset about the fact that your boyfriend’s porn usage is driving a wedge between the two of you. It’s perfectly healthy for him to have some “alone time” with porn, but it does seem like he has started prioritizing porn over real-world intimacy with you. It’s also totally valid to want his attention to be on you instead of the porn stars when you’re trying to be intimate.

2. Examine Your Own Beliefs About Porn

It sounds like you’re pretty clear on which specific aspects of your boyfriend’s porn usage are bothering you. Other people will have different boundaries around porn, so it’s up to each of us to get a sense of what those boundaries are.

Spend some time trying to figure out what role you would like porn to play in your relationship. You can think about hard boundaries (things that feel non-negotiable to you), and soft boundaries (things you’re willing to compromise on). Some people might not feel comfortable with their partner watching certain types of porn (like anything extremely violent or degrading). Others might not want their partners to spend money on porn. Others may not want their partner to watch porn at all.

3. Talk About It

It sounds like you and your boyfriend haven’t had an in-depth conversation about his porn usage yet. You’re definitely at the point in your relationship where this kind of communication is necessary. Let me walk you through three steps of having this conversation:

  • Tell him what’s bothering you. Porn is a tricky topic to talk about, and it can bring up a lot of defensiveness. Try to approach this conversation as delicately as you can. Start off by telling your partner that you don’t have a problem with porn, but that you’ve been having some less-than-great experiences with it lately. Don’t make any accusations or judgments. Say something like, “I’ve enjoyed watching porn with you in the past, but lately I’ve been feeling like we’re not connecting in the same way.”
  • Ask what porn means to him. Another important aspect of this conversation is being curious about your boyfriend’s relationship with porn. It sounds like your boyfriend’s habits have changed recently, so there may be a reason why he’s become so much more attached to porn. A lot of men (consciously or subconsciously) turn to porn for relaxation and soothing. Men aren’t socialized to pay attention to their feelings in the same way women are, so many men use porn as a way to regulate their emotions. It can be easier to turn to porn instead of a partner, because human relationships tend to be messy and complex while porn is simple and doesn’t require anything of you. Your boyfriend may have been feeling stressed at work, unhappy with his body, or mildly depressed. Gently asking him what’s going on with him can be a great way to help him not feel like he’s being attacked and interrogated.
  • Make a plan together. To close out your conversation, try talking about how you guys can start creating a better relationship with porn moving forward. Some couples will want to have clearly defined “rules” for porn, while others will be fine with simply communicating about it on a regular basis. You may want to request that he ask you before putting porn on when you guys are having sex, or that you take a temporary hiatus from watching porn when you’re together. You could ask him to make a little more space for quality couples time. Ask him if there are any guidelines that would feel good to him too.

4. Support Him In Getting Help, If Necessary

It’s incredibly easy for people to veer into unhealthy territory with their porn habits. I can’t know for certain if your boyfriend’s relationship with porn is healthy or unhealthy, but there’s a chance he could be feeling a little out of control of his own actions. It may take some time for your boyfriend to recognize or acknowledge that fact, but try to be as supportive as you can if he is able to say that he feels uncomfortable with his own tendencies. Check out the book Breaking the Cycle: Freeing Yourself From Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession, and Shame by George Collins, or seek out a therapist who specializes in porn addiction.

5. Be Willing To Walk Away

Hopefully, you and your boyfriend will be able to have a sensitive and productive conversation about his porn habits. Unfortunately, there’s always the possibility that he won’t agree with your perspective or won’t want to make any changes. If that’s the case, you may be put in the difficult position of having to end the relationship. Breaking up always sucks, but you shouldn’t ever have to feel like you’re playing second fiddle in your own relationship.

Images: Roberto Verzo/Flickr; Giphy