How do I talk to my partner about porn?

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Let’s talk about you and me

Let’s talk about all the good things

And the bad things, like when you watch porn.

Not quite as catchy as Salt N Pepa’s lyrics, but for many couples, porn has increasingly been cited as the main reason why their relationship has broken down. Commonly, one feels like they have been cheated on, or become less desirable to the other. While for the one “caught out” they feel embarrassed, struggle to see what the big deal is or feel like they have let their partner down and don’t know how to make amends.

So, this months blog is dedicated to talking about porn and how not to let it destroy that good thing you’ve got going on.

Is it normal to watch porn when you are in a relationship?

The answer is not a simple yes or no; it depends. Before the internet, it was magazines, before magazines, it was postcards, before postcards it was clay figurines sculptured in erotic positions. Porn in one form or another has been around for a very long time and therefore can be argued as a natural part of human behaviour. Whether or not it is ok for someone in a relationship to watch porn depends on four things:

1. If one partner is uncomfortable knowing the other is watching porn, then you have a problem which needs to be discussed openly and honestly (see below for how to do this). If the answer is no, and that is a truthful no, then watching porn is akin to watching TV shows with an R18 rating like Normal People, Game of Thrones or Outlander. The only difference being there is a change of scenery on the TV shows. Of course, if the porn includes illegal acts, that is a different matter, and further guidance should be obtained – for all involved.  

2. The reason why your partner watches porn. Research has shown that people generally watch porn for four reasons: to become aroused and achieve sexual gratification; to act as a coping strategy during times of stress or uncomfortable emotions; curiosity, or because they are bored. Discussing why your partner watches porn is a good start in determining if it is a cause for concern in your relationship or not. For example, are you being “virtually cheated on” or has it been merely “a way to pass the time”?

3. If it is a secret that you are keeping from the other person. Honest and open communication is one of the foundation stones for a successful relationship. Keeping secrets from each other can create feelings of suspicions and guilt, which will eat away at those foundations and harm your relationship.

4. Porn often contains hypersexualised acts with unrealistic expectations of athletic abilities, arousal and satisfaction. In other words, it is an act of fiction, whereas the intimacy that you and your partner mutually enjoy is not and involves real feelings and emotions. If your partner wants you to do things in the bedroom that you are uncomfortable with and not a willing participant in, then it is a problem you need to talk about – with each other. 

How do I talk to my partner about porn?

Talking about sex with your partner shouldn’t be an awkward conversation; you both partake it in the act with each other after all! But, yes, most people can and do find the topic to be an “icky” one to discuss. If your partner’s porn hobby has become an issue in your relationship, you have to talk about it, but there are ways to help make the conversation less painful than a root canal without anaesthetic.

Good communication is all about honesty, feelings and timing. If your partner’s actions are making them feel less attractive to you or hurting you,  then you need to let them know that. Remember to focus on how their actions make you feel and try not to make it confrontational. The goal is to understand each other and find a way through the setback, not to blame each other or grow further apart. Find time to talk about the issue when you are both free from distraction and can have more than a five-minute conversation about it. Hint, when you are both running out the door on your way to work or the children/pets have pooped on the kitchen floor is not a good time! 

Try not to turn your first conversation about porn into an argument about the rights or wrongs of watching and the social constructs around it. The goal right now is to understand why it is affecting your relationship and finding a solution – together. Save the debate about the morality of porn for a time when it is less likely to inflame recent feelings of hurt or guilt.  

Is porn a deal-breaker?

If your partners viewing habits have created feelings of infidelity and a loss of trust in your relationship, it does not necessarily mean that the relationship is over. The first step is to acknowledge the hurt caused and not minimise those feelings, just because gratification wasn’t achieved with a “real person”. Intimacy in a relationship is part of the bonding process, and any interference with that connection can cause, what we call in the trade, relational trauma. Healing from any trauma, requires time, understanding and forgiveness. Understanding requires both partners to step into each other’s shoes. Listen to each other’s story about the part porn has played in each other’s lives. Some helpful conversation starters include:

  • When were you first exposed to porn, did you tell others about it, what were their reactions?
  • What does watching porn mean to you?
  • How do you feel before, during and after watching porn?

These are questions to ask each other. In sharing answers, you are facilitating an air of intimacy between you and a deeper understanding of each other’s feelings about porn and sex in general.

Work together to come up with a plan that works for you both and minimizes the impact watching porn (if you both agree for it to continue) will have on your relationship.

As always, remember you don’t have figure out how to get through this on your own. As a trained relationship therapist, I am here to help you when things get tough, and neither judge nor take sides. Instead, I give you the tools and guidance to build a relationship that works for you both.

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Ann Jay

Ann Jay

Ann Jay is a Wellington Relationship Counselor who provides marriage counselling, couple's counselling, and relationship coaching for couples and women either in a relationship or single. Her goal is to help people create healthy, loving and fulfilling relationships and experience the love they deserve.