Relationships

Porn and Relationships: A Can of Worms

I’m writing this with trepidation, because the mere mention of porn can provoke conservatives, big business, the moral police and all sorts. So to be clear, there’s no moral debate here. I’m writing about porn because it’s become an issue in my field – relationship therapy.

Essentially the most common problem is when one partner looks at porn regularly and thinks it’s cool and the other doesn’t like it. You have a BIG can of worms ready to burst open right there. The subject of porn can highlight everything from sexual shame and hiding, to questions about trust, feminism, values, body image and loyalty. Couples grapple with questions about where certain boundaries lie. What is shared and not shared in their erotic worlds? Are secrets ever OK? How can I compete with fantasy?

It’s difficult for couples to talk about porn use because it easily evokes feelings of shame and insecurity. Feeling judged for using porn impacts the user’s openness about their erotic world and turn-ons, especially when they don’t want to stop using it. Porn’s one of those things that many users are actually ashamed about, but use anyway. In fact, it’s surprising how frequently users who physically enjoy porn say they don’t feel great about using it. They give any number of reasons, most commonly, religious influences, or feeling guilty for hiding it from their partner. They may suffer guilt about being ‘bad’, keeping secrets, or inadvertently hurting their partner.

Then there are the impacts of a partner’s porn use for those who aren’t into it. For some of my clients, finding out their partner regularly looks at porn felt like a slap in their self-esteem. Partners typically express feeling inadequate, unfulfilling or not good enough when they find out their partner’s getting off on other people with different body shapes and sizes to their own.

They ask questions like “How can he find me attractive if he finds them attractive? I’m just ordinary in comparison”.

To make matters trickier, the partner who uses porn may struggle to empathize, if for them, porn use is meaningless masturbation. They don’t necessarily see it as any comparison to sex with a loved one. The loved one, on the other hand can feel devastated that their partner is regularly getting aroused by fantasy strangers. This difference in the experience of porn and the personal meanings drawn from it, can be divisive. For some people, porn is mindless fun and easy masturbation. For others, watching other people having sex is equated with cheating. It hurts terribly to think of their lover having orgasms alone, looking at naked strangers.

Partners who aren’t into porn may express sadness, anger and anxiety that they’re possibly the tenth or twentieth body their partner’s checked out that week. They fear not being special, not being the chosen one who has their partner’s sexual attention. Such ideas can lead to insecurity and low self-esteem. Non-using partners of regular porn users typically express worry about whether they match up to the curated, enhanced images their partner sees.

There is some research amassing in regard to porn use and the de-sensitization of our most powerful sex organ – our brain. It may be that porn use can distract some users from the thrill of real world sex with a partner. High levels of porn use have been associated with difficulty feeling aroused with a partner and difficulty having an orgasm with a partner. The jury’s still out on how real those results are. However, we do know that brain pathways are strengthened through repetition. So it’s plausible that repeatedly training ourselves to be turned on solo by certain stimuli is going to have a carryover effect.

So how do we deal with porn use in a relationship where partners see it differently?

Porn’s useful on one condition. It should be enjoyable and help both partners feel good about themselves individually and as a couple. If it makes either of you feel bad, it’s working against your relationship in the long term.

Aim to understand why each of you do or don’t like it. Porn and relationships don’t always mix so you have to navigate what’s right for you both.

Refuse to let it become a shameful or divisive secret between you.

Agree to find a solution you’re both happy with.

Love means prioritising one another’s hearts not judging or bringing each other down.

You might both want to try something more personal, ‘real-world’ and creative. Think of things that don’t involve third parties’ bodies, to turn yourselves on. E.g., Consider creating your own images or erotic stories to your personal tastes.

Focus on finding erotic inspiration that you’re not ashamed of in any way. Think of things that help both of you feel good rather than distant, conflicted or bad about yourselves.

Make each other playlists, beautify your bedroom, do intimate, non-sexual things together.

Remember how you were at the start of your relationship when you were seducing one another? Stay with that thought- keep seducing your partner to keep things fresh between you.

To go deeper on all things love, pick up a copy of my book Lovelands.

Just BE the love that you ARE.

Deb x