Your Husband Watches Porn—Now What?

Another woman leaves my office, broken-hearted that her husband looks at porn. Or enraged that her husband looks at porn. Or terrified, confused, or ashamed.

I understand the anguish, I do. It’s all the more poignant because it’s so unnecessary. Although porn feels like the problem, focusing on that rarely brings domestic peace or more intimacy. It certainly doesn’t bring more or better sex.

Here’s what various women say they feel in this situation:
* “I hate that he keeps secrets. I feel left out.”
* “I can’t compete with those damn women who perform in porn films. I’ll never have a body like that, and I won’t do some of the fancy stuff they do. Even if I did, I’d look ridiculous.”
* “I feel ashamed that this is what he’s fallen into—a dirty little habit that I’m certainly not proud of.”
* “I think he’s probably a porn addict—and if not, I bet he will be soon.”
* “I don’t like the ideas he’s getting about sex or women. They’re not normal.”

And, sometimes, “How often does someone need to masturbate? I know men do it more than women, but once or twice a week should be plenty.”

* Let’s start with that last one. Of course, almost all porn watching is done as part of self-pleasuring. Thus, when someone objects to a partner (or teenager) looking at porn, my first question is, “what about masturbating without porn?” If they feel OK about it, we can proceed to talk about porn; if not, there’s no point in talking about porn. It would be like discussing objections to watching The Daily Show with a person who thinks that TV watching is bad.

In such a case, I ask something like “Please explain why you object to someone in a couple masturbating as part of their sense of autonomy and relationship with pleasure and their own body.” Some people feel very strongly that partners in a couple surrender their sexual autonomy—not just regarding other people, but regarding internal sources of stimulation, fantasy, or satisfaction. Few people make this explicit during courtship, so it doesn’t come up until later when one person feels resentful.

* Then there’s the sense of exclusion or secrecy, of “watching porn is his private thing, and I don’t get to be a part of it.”

Well, yes, you probably don’t.

Very few couples share porn. If you want to, you can ask, and he might agree. But most women upset about their partner’s porn watching don’t want to watch with him, they want him to stop watching.

So the question is what you make of his secrecy about it.

Some people say the porn consumer’s secrecy is proof that there’s something wrong with consuming porn. But people keep secrets primarily to avoid consequences. If someone believes he’ll get criticized or punished for disclosing porn watching (or anything else), of course he’ll hide it. So don’t expect to ban it or criticize it, and then have him talk about it openly.

Although it’s great when couples desire openness, most people believe in adult privacy. Virtually every pair of adults has a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy covering, depending on the people, the past, the present, or even the future. Whether or not they respect this in others, most adults expect it for themselves.

* The idea that a woman has to compete with the women or activities in porn films is fascinating. Of course, some women feel they have to compete with Scarlett Johansson and Beyonce; that’s a fool’s errand that no one should attempt (they are professionals; do not attempt to do their job in your home).

If you try to compete with mega-stars of course you’ll try to compete with Rosie Cheex; but if you’re smart enough to realize you can’t match the Beyonce machine, please let go of Candye Kisses as well.

While making superficial comparisons is inevitable, most men know that porn is a fantasy, not a documentary; no one actually expects his girlfriend to pay the pizza delivery man with oral sex, and no grownup really expects his partner to look or act like a porn star.

Porn or no porn, every man and woman has to figure out how to feel OK with themselves when they don’t look as good as others, have as much money as others, or have jobs or children as prestigious as others. This is the fundamental existential task of all people who want to enjoy life, and porn didn’t invent it.

* As for the recently invented “porn addiction,” there’s simply no such thing. If you want to say your guy watches more porn than you want him to, or even that he watches more porn than he intends to, go right ahead. You may be right—lots of guys have trouble regulating their porn consumption. But we already know what overconsumption is like regarding chocolate chip cookies, Facebook, and TV football games, so let’s not invent a new clinical category just for porn. If you think your guy is out of control, just tell him. Don’t diagnose him—tell him you’re concerned.

* Finally, exactly what ideas is hubby getting from watching porn? How do you know? How do they affect his behavior or mood?

If hubby doesn’t approach you for sex as you’d like, it’s not because of porn. If you want to know why that is, you need to ask him. Most women don’t; when they do, men often lie. That’s a couples issue, not a porn or even a sex issue.

If hubby is always demanding sex, or is rough or selfish during sex, it’s not because of porn. It’s because he’s a jerk or he doesn’t like you or he’s desperate for something that he isn’t talking about. To start solving this problem, stop having sex you don’t like, and find a way to get your guy’s attention so you can discuss this.

If hubby is grumpy or depressed, it’s not because of porn. If you want to know why, you need to ask him. If you’re concerned, tell him so, rather than criticizing porn. If hubby treats you or other women disrespectfully, it’s not because of porn—it’s because he’s a jerk, or he’s in pain, or both. To find out, you need to ask.

The problems in our lives usually have more than one simple cause, and require more than a simple solution. And our problems are rarely solved by telling our mates what they’re doing wrong and what they need to do instead. Concerned about something? Don’t blame porn—talk to your partner.

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