Freaked Out That Your Partner Watches Porn? Here's How To Handle It
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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 will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to tips@bustle.com. Now, onto today’s topic: what to do if you are upset by your partner's porn habits.

Q: “My boyfriend and I have been together for almost three years. Last year, I found porn websites in his history and bookmarks. I am uncomfortable with all porn, for personal reasons, and he knew that. I felt betrayed, hurt, and cheated on, like he wanted the women in the videos more than he wanted me. I explained all of this to him and he promised he wouldn't do it again.

Since then, I found porn on his computer on several more occasions. Each time, he claimed he doesn't know how it got there. We got into huge arguments, then he finally admitted it.

He never initiates sex, and he doesn't even seem to notice anymore if I'm naked or trying to turn him on. We went two months without sex once because he wouldn't touch me (even though I tried initiating). And if he finally does agree to sex, he can't get up all the way or seem to get off. He says it isn't me, but I'm sure it is.

He also says he isn't watching porn anymore but I think he is finally deleting his history. I feel disgusting, and like I am constantly second choice, cheated on with girls who aren't even real. I don't know what to do anymore. Any advice?”

A: Porn is a tricky topic to talk about because it brings up a lot of strong feelings, on both sides of the debate. You’ll find plenty of people that think porn is not only evil, but the cause of all romantic and sexual problems. You’ll also find lots of people who think porn is blameless, and even people who are working towards making porn that improves intimacy and brings couples together. Of course, since you emailed me, you’re going to get this sex therapist’s opinion. Here are seven things to know if you’re uncomfortable with your partner’s porn usage.

There’s Nothing Inherently Wrong With Porn

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I know that sentence is going to trigger a lot of strong feelings, so here me out. Yes, there are a lot of things wrong with how the porn industry functions, with types of porn that are made, and with the ways people watch porn. But porn in and of itself isn’t inherently bad. There’s nothing wrong with the simple act of watching two people have sex on film. Porn can be beautiful, arousing, erotic, intimate, and even connecting.

Porn Is Not Always Exploitative  

Some people have strong reactions to finding out a partner is watching porn because they believe that all porn is made under exploitative conditions. If part of the problem is that you're concerned about the wellbeing of the people involved in the films your boyfriend watches, there’s a fairly new, but rapidly expanding, sub genre of porn that’s broadly referred to as “ethical porn.” Ethical porn follows guidelines like emphasizing fairness, consent, safety, and diversity, and ethical porn producers and actors create films that show a more nuanced and realistic depiction of sex — sometimes even going so far as to film real life couples. If concern about the circumstances in which porn is made is an issue for you, check out Erika Lust for one great example of porn that prioritizes ethics.

Don’t Take Porn Personally

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I want to point out that it sounds like you’re taking your boyfriend’s porn usage pretty personally. You’re worried he watches porn because he’s more attracted to the actors than he is to you. It’s complicated because he’s also been turning you down for sex (I’ll get to that in a bit), but I want to assure you that the simple act of watching porn doesn’t say anything about how a person feels about their relationship or their partner. People don’t watch porn because they’re not attracted to their partners. It would be the same as saying people watch TV or movies because they’re not attracted to their partners. There’s just not a connection.

We’re All Entitled To Our Own Boundaries

It sounds like you have some pretty strong feelings about porn, which is perfectly OK. I hope you’ll take the moment to consider that porn can be different than what you might be thinking at the moment. But the bottom line is you always have the right to set your own boundaries. You can absolutely ask your partner to stop watching porn.

But the operative word there is “ask.” You can’t demand that your partner stop watching porn, because your partner has the right to set their own boundaries. Your boyfriend can agree not to watch porn, he can try to compromise with you, or he can say he won’t change his behavior.

You mentioned in your email that you have specific reasons why you’re not OK with your boyfriend watching porn, but you didn’t say what those specific reasons are. I could think of a few reasons that might make it reasonable to require that your partner not watch porn, such as if you had battled your own porn addiction, been the victim of revenge porn, or been manipulated into creating porn. But I think there are very few cases where these types of reasons actually come into play.

You Can Compromise

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I mentioned compromise in the last section, which may have surprised you. Lots of people think of porn as being black-and-white. The truth is that there are subtleties. You can ask your boyfriend to only watch ethical porn. You can ask him to only watch when he’s alone (in other words, not when you’re around). You can make a guideline that your partner can’t turn down your sexual initiation in order to go watch porn; I actually recommend this guideline to the couples I work with in my sex therapy practice. I think it’s extremely important to make sure we prioritize our human partners over actors on a screen.

Don’t Blame All Of Your Problems On Porn

It sounds like you actually have two issues in your relationship with your boyfriend — your disagreements around porn, and your frustrations about your sex life. You’re disappointed by the lack of frequency, by your boyfriend turning down your initiations, and by his erectile and orgasmic difficulties. There may be some overlap between these issues and his porn usage (especially if he chooses to go watch porn after you try to initiate), but I would encourage the two of you to address the sexual issues separately. Here are a few good places to start.

You Have To Be Willing To Advocate For Your Boundaries — Even If It Means Ending Things

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It sounds like your boyfriend initially agreed to stop watching, but continued doing it anyway. It’s a huge bummer that he wasn’t more straight-forward with you in the first place, but at this point, it seems pretty clear that he’s not going to stop watching porn. At the end of the day, it’s your right to state that not watching porn is a hard boundary for you. You can’t force him not to watch, but if it's impossible for you to remain healthy in a relationship where he watches, you can decide to walk away.