Sex Question Friday: Can I Ask My Partner To Give Up Porn?

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Every Friday on the blog, I answer sex questions submitted to me by actual college students. This week’s question is one that I have heard several times over the last couple of years and reflects a growing area of concern in relationships due to the fact that pornography is now so widely available online:

Is it unrealistic to ask your partner to stop looking at porn?

You’re not going to like this answer, but yes, it is probably unrealistic to ask a relationship partner to stop looking at porn and expect that your partner will fully comply with this request. I’m going to assume that your partner is a man because men are the biggest porn consumers and whenever porn is a problem in a relationship, it’s almost always men’s pornography use that’s the issue. If I’m right, it may comfort you to know the following: First, almost all men watch porn on occasion. In fact, one scientist recently wanted to study men who had never been exposed to porn before, but had to abandon this research idea because he couldn’t find a single guy who hadn’t watched pornography! Second, most men masturbate, and it may surprise you to hear that masturbation is actually more common among men in relationships than it is among single men [1]. So if your partner does some occasional porn-watching and self-pleasuring, he’s actually quite normal and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him, with you, or with your relationship.

The question you need to ask yourself is why your partner’s porn watching is bothering you. Is it because you think your partner isn’t attracted to you anymore? If you’re worried for this reason, you probably don’t need to be. In fact, it is unlikely that your partner’s porn-watching has anything to do with his feelings about you.  Most people don’t find just one person attractive for their entire lives—so just because your partner watches some porn or checks somebody else out doesn’t mean that he is no longer into you. Is it in poor taste for him to do these things right in front of you? Perhaps. But it’s not something you should take personally.

Alternatively, maybe you feel this way because you think porn is a form of cheating? If so, there probably isn’t much I can say to change your mind. However, keep in mind that almost all guys watch porn and you can’t get STDs from it. To the extent that porn is an outlet that satisfies your partner's desire for sexual variety and keeps him from cheating, some people would argue that pornography can potentially be a good thing. However, if you feel particularly strongly than porn has no place in relationships, you need to have this discussion with your partner—but don’t expect that your partner is necessarily going to agree. Is this something you’re willing to potentially break up over?  

There is one caveat to everything I’ve said here, which is that there are guys who watch porn on an occasional basis as a masturbation aide, and then there are guys who use porn compulsively. Compulsive porn users may become completely dependent upon porn for sexual gratification, spend several hours per day watching it, and use it as a substitute for a partnered sex life. If your partner is exhibiting any of these behaviors and his porn watching is interfering with your sexual satisfaction because he is using it as a replacement for sex, it may be worth seeking professional help from a sex therapist or couples counselor because that’s a much more complicated and serious issue.

For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here.Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.

[1] Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J., Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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