When you find out Your Partner Uses Porn

(Please note, the following scenario is not based on any living person or specific situation that the author is aware of. Any similarities are strictly coincidental). 

The air was thick with tension. “I caught him with porn on his computer. There was a lot of it. I was disgusted and hurt. We’ve been married for 15 years, we have two children. How could he do this to us? We haven’t had sex in a long time. I was worried, I didn’t know what was going on, he always said he was tired. Now I find out he was essentially cheating on me with the computer. I just can’t believe that he’d choose a screen over a real life person.”

Turning to Andrew, Liz just looked at him for a beat. “Why?”

Andrew’s head was down. He didn’t know what to say. He knew there was nothing he could say that would make things right. He didn’t even know, himself, why he was doing this. There must be something wrong with him. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” 

Andrew and Liz sat on the couch waiting. Andrew was waiting for the therapist’s condemnation and Liz was waiting for vindication.

The stereotype of a porn user is a young man, still living in his parent’s basement, who can’t get a girlfriend and uses porn as a substitute. Ideas about ‘dirty old men’ or closeted homosexuals are other stereotypes that get passed around about the use of porn. 

The reality is that all kinds of people use porn, for all kinds of reasons. I believe that all couples should have a discussion about porn as all couples will likely be affected by it in one way or another, at some point in their relationship. Don’t wait for it to come up by accident.

If porn is a secret that has been discovered, sometimes it can feel very hurtful to the person who’s discovered it. It is important to you and your relationship to figure out what it is about the porn use that feels hurtful to you.

Here are some reasons why someone might feel hurt, upon discovering their partner’s porn use: 

  • Just the fact that porn was a secret, may mean that the hurt is about feeling that trust has been being broken and that your partner did not trust you enough to share that part of themselves with you.
  • Other times, the hurt around porn use may be particularly painful when a couple has had difficulty with sexual intimacy. Secrecy about porn use will only add to the hurt when one person has been trying to work on the problem and the other has not been up front about all aspects of their sexuality.
  • For some, discovering a partner is using porn, might feel like they’ve been cheated on. Knowing your partner has been aroused by the images of another person’s body and actions can feel like a betrayal. There’s a lot to unpack about why some individuals define some activities as cheating and others do not. Often this is related to ideas about sexuality that are rooted in a lifetime of values, beliefs and experiences. It is worth unpacking this. (See also After You’ve Cheated or  Mating in Captivity or Jealousy in Relationships).
  • Issues with body image, insecurity, etc can all play a role in how one experiences the discovery of a partner’s porn use. This is something that is important to acknowledge in yourself and to communicate to your partner, while taking responsibility for it. (See 7 Ways to Boost Your Self-Esteem)
  • Concerns about the influence of porn on a partner’s values and ability to be a role model to their children, or, depending on their profession, potentially to clients, students, patients, etc. 
  • Sometimes there is an idea that porn can harm the individual, twist their sexual impulses.  (see Porn & You and  Ethical Porn).

Your partner may feel ashamed, defensive, or unapologetic about their porn use. As a couples’ counsellor, I do not take the stance that porn is inherently bad and will destroy any relationship it is a part of, neither do I believe that porn is inherently a positive expression and outlet for sexuality which will always contribute to a relationship’s health. I believe that it could be either of those things, or neither, or anything in between.

The work of a couple is to determine what role porn plays in their relationship, what role it could play, if any, and how this works for everyone. This work is best done when it is e based on knowledge of porn’s influence on an individual (see Porn & You), what constitutes ethical porn and what is happening that needs to be addressed in their relationship, whether it is incompatible libido (see Sex – How Much is Enough?) or emotional distance, or communication issues, outside stressors, or something else.

Sometimes porn is simply a way to meet one’s own sexual needs without having another human in front of you who is communicating their own needs and with whom you have a complex relationship and history, according to David J.Ley, author of “Ethical Porn for Dicks.” Sometimes people want a simple outlet. Of course, connecting sexually with your partner may be critical to the maintenance of your relationship and if you find that difficult, you will have some work to do. Porn will not resolve those issues.

Sometimes a person finds out that their partner has been using porn that they find particularly disturbing, such as Bondage Discipline/Domination and Submission/Sadism and Masochism (BDSM), or gay porn (when a partner does not identify as gay), or child pornography. I’ll address each of these separately: 

BDSM

If you have discovered that your partner watching BDSM, and are surprised or shocked by this, it may be that this is an aspect of their sexuality that they may not have had the courage to explore in real life, OR they may have just accidentally come across it, OR they may be watching to see if they might be interested in it. You will have to ask your partner about their reasons for watching it before jumping to any conclusions.

What you should know about  BDSM, is that it is a role playing type of activity. You should not assume that interest in BDSM indicates a propensity for violence or self harm in those who engage with it or prefer that genre of porn. There are strict rules surrounding BDSM activity including elaborate consent processes. Non consensual ‘violent’ activities are not BDSM, they are violence. Check out Sane, Safe & Consentual: The Bedrock of BDSM Ethics for more about what constitutes ethical BDSM.

Gay Porn

If you discover that your heterosexual partner is watching gay porn, it does not automatically mean that your partner is gay. Humans are wired in unique ways and observing the pleasure of others can be very pleasurable even if you do not practice that type of activity, yourself. Human sexuality is often much broader that strict categories of gay, straight, bi-sexual, etc. We internalize messages about what we should find arousing and what we should not. Our bodies do not always follow these prescriptions. A person can enjoy gay porn and not be gay.

Of course, it is also possible to be gay, enjoy gay porn, and not have anyone else know that you are gay. It is important not to make assumptions about your partner’s sexuality. You will need to ask them about their sexuality  in a way that they know it is safe to be honest with you about it, and be as prepared as you can be for whatever answer you may get.

Child Pornography

NOTE: Watching, owning or creating child porn in Canada, is a crime. If you discover porn in which the performers appear to be under-age OR if you believe someone else is accessing child pornography, you are required by law, to report it. You can do that at Cybertips.ca

If you discover your partner looking at child pornography, or if your partner tells you that they are doing this, after reporting it, they should speak to a professional, preferably a sexologist or psychologist. This is a very sensitive and often shame-bound topic. If they are uncomfortable with whomever  they have reached out to for help, encourage them to try again with someone else. If you live in a place with limited access to counsellors, look online. There are plenty of excellent online counsellors who can help with this.

When it comes to pornography in a relationship, it is worth considering if the porn use is a problem and if so, why, or if it is not actually a problem.

Many individuals would actually love to watch porn with their partner, or, at least, to not have it be a secret. If your partner is asking you to watch porn with them, consider your feelings about this and why you may feel the way you do. Be sure that you have addressed any fears, history, or assumptions that are affecting how you feel about it, in order to make a decision about this based on your own desires and values and not simply on shame or misinformation. Whatever decision you come to about this, be sure that you are taking responsibility for your own choices about it and being clear about what you want and don’t want to do. Also, remember that you are allowed to change your mind. You can agree to something, or not and then come back and say that you’ve had second thoughts. There is no right or wrong decision about this.

Discovering a partner is using porn can be an opportunity to learn about yourself and your relationship and for both of you to grow as individuals and together. I wish you the best in this process and encourage you both to move forward with honesty and integrity with whatever your decisions are about this, in the future.

 

 

 

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