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Q & A: My Partner Hates Porn. Help!

November 01, 2012
The CSPH

Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted anonymously through Formspring. This week’s question is:

How do I deal with my partner’s absolute hate of porn? It has caused a lot of problems in our otherwise steady relationship. I would not say I am addicted, but I really don’t want to quit. I really enjoy porn and all the pleasures that come from masturbating, but she is so solidly against it that she says it is either the porn or her. I find this completely unfair and have had to lie to her about [it]. I love her so much but I can not deal with her totalitarian point of view (this view includes abstaining from pot, booze and any parties involving [such].)

First and foremost, I recommend communicating with your partner to discover why they hate pornography.  People’s relationships with porn vary greatly, so it’s important that you understand the root of your partner’s distaste so that you may better know how to speak with them about their concerns as well as your own desires.  The key here, however, is that your partner be open to discussion, and that this conversation serves to better allow both of you to understand each other’s point of views and reach some sort of compromise (read: this should not be a one-sided diatribe).

There are a multitude of possible reasons that your partner dislikes porn, including, but not limited to: the idea that pornography is demeaning, an insecurity about desirability, and ideas about the practice in relation to faithfulness in a relationship.  Your partner’s specific perspective on pornography will shape the way you speak on the subject, so I’ll discuss here how to respond to the aforementioned concerns.

Your partner finds porn degrading:
Should your partner find pornography demeaning, this may be due to beliefs about sex work and what it means to use one’s body in a sexualized manner for compensation.  If this is true of your partner, it may be helpful to discuss two prongs that are key to understanding sex work: agency and consent.  While it’s certainly true that sex workers of all kinds can be coerced or otherwise forced into the trade due to human trafficking or life circumstances such as poverty, the flip side is that many people find themselves enthusiastically and consensually engaging in sex work.  For many, sex work is a choice that they make for themselves, and regardless of one’s views on sex work specifically, I find it more important to respect the choices of others and to not attempt to delegitimize the importance of a person’s agency by ignoring that choice.

Your partner may also find pornography demeaning to women in particular.  This is a complicated subject that results in many feminists finding themselves at odds with each other.  On one hand, much of available pornography is in fact tailored to a male audience, which means the focus of pleasure is on the man and what is assumed to be male desires.  This fact certainly contributes to the idea that porn degrades women, as in much of porn, the women actresses serve only as a sexual receptacle of male desire, resulting in empty-eyed women and obviously fake pleasure and orgasms.  On the other hand, I would argue that sex acts are only demeaning if that is the opinion of the individuals participating in such acts.  Furthermore, I find it noteworthy that, contrary to popular belief, many women do in fact watch pornography, even porn that is tailored to a male audience.  This complicates the idea of porn is degrading because it serves to arouse men alone through the portrayal of women.

Depending on what specifically about porn that your partner may find degrading, you may find it useful to discuss and share the advent and growth of sex-positive and feminist pornography as an alternative to the majority of porn available.  This may help you and your partner understand pornography as a complex, multifaceted industry, in which there exists a vast array of perspectives.  By this I mean, while the porn industry does have coercive and otherwise problematic aspects, it also hosts a greater variety of “good.”  Understanding this may help your partner identify specific aspects of the porn industry and porn mediums that make her feel uncomfortable, as opposed to painting all of porn with the same brush.

As The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health discusses in its list of Sex-Positive and Feminist-Friendly Porn:

“[It’s] not necessarily porn made by women or even marketed to women — it simply takes women into account as viewers and presents sex as something pleasurable for everyone involved.  [Sex-positive and feminist-friendly] pornographers aim to treat the stars of the films well rather than exploiting them.  Many performers have complete control over their scenes which results in a truer picture of real eroticism, something that is often missing in mainstream porn.  Sex-positive porn also features diverse body types, races, and gender fluidity, allowing viewers to find something that suits their specific preferences and ideals.”

Moreover, The CSPH has a number of resources pertaining to pornography and sex work that you may find useful.  Pornography and Its Effects and Sex Work: What It Is and What It Isn’t are two great online resources that may help you and your partner discuss pornography as well as what it means for a person to consent to sex work, and the importance of accepting such choices.  Furthermore, you can take a peek at The CSPH’s extensive library collection, available for online perusal via Goodreads or in person at our physical space, which hosts a number of books about pornography and sex work.

Your partner is insecure:
Still, the issue at hand may not be that your partner finds pornography degrading, but rather, that pornography and specifically the persons involved in it make your partner feel insecure.  The root of this is often the idea that people consume pornography due to a lack of satisfaction in their sexual relationships or a lack of desire towards their sexual partner(s).  These beliefs may be exacerbated if your partner has low self-esteem and/or poor body-image.  As a result, it may be helpful for you to discuss with your partner your motivations for watching pornography. If it is not out of a lack of attraction to your partner or sexual dissatisfaction, explain as much, and explain the role that pornography plays in the expression of your sexuality, namely during masturbation.

Furthermore, I recommend that you work to reassure your partner of your attraction and desire towards them.  It may be helpful for you to ask your partner, what makes them feel attractive?  What actions and behaviors, specifically, make them feel desired?  This is important because, just as every person has a different “love language,” every person also has a different way in which they liked to be treated in order to feel attractive and wanted.  For example, while one person may enjoy elaborate romance via candles and massage oils, another person may better appreciate being passionately embraced upon coming home from work.  Others still may prefer the sharing of fantasies, reading erotica written by one’s partner, lingerie, and/or new sex toys, to name a few.  By understanding what makes your partner feel desired, you can better work to helping your partner battle their insecurity.

(With that said, I want to note that while you can aid your partner in becoming less insecure, the journey itself is one that must be undertaken by your partner.  No one can fix our deep-seated insecurities but ourselves, for only we can go about convincing ourselves of our worthiness.  In this sense, if insecurity is the problem at hand, I recommend to your partner that she self-reflect and narrow down what exactly is the root of her insecurity.  This will enable her to more effectively begin the process of healing, as she will better know the triggers for her lack of self-confidence and therefore have a better understanding as to how to counteract such feelings.

Some tips and trick I’ve personally found useful include but are not limited to: limiting my consumption of mainstream media, which glorifies a very narrow standard of beauty; surrounding myself with body-positive individuals; entrenching myself in the body-positive, fat-activist, and/or “health at every size” communities; and counteracting every body-negative thought with an uplifting mantra, which can be as profound or superficial as you’d like.  For example, my personal mantra is, “Grrrl, you’re hot as Hell,” which I tell myself every single time I pass a reflective surface.)

If your partner’s suspicions as to your attraction and desire to/of her are true, depending on their severity, it may be helpful for you to reevaluate your relationship, the role of pornography in your life, and whether porn is in fact unhealthy for your relationship.  Indeed, while pornography serves a great purpose in allowing individuals to interact with fantasies and sexual activities they might not be able to or might not want to enact physically, porn is less helpful if you are pursuing it to escape from the reality of your relationship.  Furthermore, if you specifically are watching porn due to a lack of attraction to your partner, I’d suggest that you consider whether you are being wholly fair to the person with whom you are in a relationship.  Although this is certainly not true for everyone, many people want to be in relationships with those who are attracted to them and desire them.  If this is what your partner wants, regardless of how much you love her, she deserves to receive it.

Your partner believes watching porn is unfaithful:
It may also be the case that your partner views the consumption of pornography as unfaithfulness.  Some people believe that a monogamous relationship entails consenting to no longer finding other people sexually attractive and otherwise not engaging in sexualized entertainment such as pornography, strip clubs, and even erotica.  There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself; everyone is free to define monogamy as they wish.  The important step here is to ensure that the individuals in the relationship discuss and agree upon what monogamy entails to them, and to understand that a disagreement is not the fault or wrongdoing of any person but is rather a way in which the partners are incompatible within a sexual relationship.

If beliefs regarding faithfulness are the issue, I suggest that you and your partner have a conversation as to what you two individually define as fidelity.  This discussion can broach on topics such as dates with opposite- and same-sex friends, flirting, emotional relationships, writing and reading erotica, fantasies, and pornography.  By understanding the nuances of your individual definitions of faithfulness, you and your partner will better be able to come to a compromise.

For example, while your partner may be willing to accept general porn perusal, certain venues such as webcams and r/gonewild, in which people post their own pictures and videos and are able to interact with their viewers, may be off-limits.  Another distinction may be between free pornography and paying for it, the latter of which may feel more like cheating due to the exchange of money, which can be understood as making the porn-viewer a more active participant.  It may also be the case that your partner reads erotica and sexually-charged romance novels, which she feels is distinct from visual pornography.  If this is true, you can then frame your perspective through the lens of your partner’s behaviors, in which visual pornography co-exists with erotica and romance novels for similar purposes.

Another, similar conversation that is important for this issue is defining what, exactly, makes pornography cheating– and on the other hand, why it is not unfaithful.  Your partner may feel that watching porn constitutes as infidelity due to the diversion of your desire towards people who are not her.  You, on the other hand, may feel that it is not cheating due to the distinction between fantasy and reality, in which pornography is a fantasy.  Still, it may be the case that your partner views fantasizing as cheating, as well– which is in her right to believe, but is less practical when in a relationship with someone who disagrees.  By this I mean, no one can control or should even try to control their partner’s fantasies; to try to do so may very well be an impossible venture, which would put undue strain on the relationship and otherwise be unhealthy.  With that said, when discussing the (in)fidelity of pornography, I suggest that you work to reassure your partner of your feelings for her, and how porn does not mitigate or otherwise disrupt those emotions.

Moreover, I think it’s important to remember that masturbation and, relatedly, pornography are significant aspects of people’s sexualities and sexual expression.  While it’s not uncommon for relationships to have boundaries and rules that are understood to be for the betterment of the individuals and the relationship, the key here is that the parties in the relationship come to an agreement.  This agreement should be one that all parties in the relationship feel okay with, and not one that is pressured into or makes people feel unhappy.  In your case, it’s obvious that pornography is an important part of your sexuality and sexual expression.  This is true for a number of people, and there is nothing wrong with this unless it begins to impede on the daily functioning of your life.  Although your partner is justified in her personal feelings about porn, you are also justified in your desire to consume pornography.  Neither of you are wrong; this simply seems to, perhaps, be a case of a lack of compatibility.

This possible lack of compatibility brings me to my final point: the fact that you have to lie about watching porn and, it seems, feel stifled by your partner’s views on alcohol and drugs, makes me think that it may be necessary to reevaluate your relationship.  This isn’t to say that you should break-up, but rather, your relationship seems to be on an unhealthy path; lying about one’s sexual activity to a partner is not a good idea, and your feelings about her strict rules about alcohol and drugs, if allowed to continue, may result in feelings of resentment.  Despite, and even as a result of, your love for your partner, both of you deserve to fully understand whether a relationship together is wholly sustainable and healthy to both of you as individuals.  This is difficult for many people, but the fact of the matter is, relationships cannot and do not survive on love alone.  Relationships require, among many things, communication, honesty, and compromise, and if these things are not possible for any given reason, neither you nor your partner are at fault for wanting to pursue something else.

Here are several resources you and your partner may find useful in your conversations: