X is for XXX: What to Do When Your Partner Watches Porn and You Aren’t Thrilled About It

A concern that frequently pops up in long-term relationships is porn use. You might find yourself thinking, “Ugh my partner watches porn and I’m so not OK with it!” Sound familiar? If this is you read on.

The reality is that many men and women watch porn and it makes sense given it’s pretty dang accessible. I mean, as a kid there’s no way we could have imagined that you could not only watch video from a cell phone but also that a quick search would give you porn galore. It’s impressive but also kinda scary at the same time when you think about it. According to this Huffington Post article from 2017, visits to porn websites surpass Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter… combined!

But, I’m not here to discuss any porn-bashing or advocating to change the porn industry, although I do think we need more education out there about how it’s entertainment, not a documentary or a tool for avoiding life or emotions. And I’m not expecting that the porn industry will be wiped out tomorrow because that’s totally unrealistic. Instead, I want to help you with the fact that your partner watches pornography and to help you know what to do with that “I’m not OK with it” feeling using the steps: Stop, Drop, and Role (yes I spelled that right and you’ll see why coming up!).

STOP and Be Curious

First I want you to stop and be curious about your resistance to your partner watching porn and what gets triggered within you. Self-awareness is a powerful tool because it can help you gain more authority over your fear reactions rather than your fear reactions controlling you, which often leads to a negative dynamic in the relationship. Take a moment and ask yourself “What about my partner watching porn bugs me?” and give some time for the concerned parts within you to speak up.

You might have thoughts like:

“ I wonder who else he is lusting after?”

“I’m worried this means he will cheat on me.”

“Do I have to worry about him wanting all the women around me?”  

“I feel like I have to compete with those porn gals.”

“If he’s watching porn does that mean I’m not good enough for him in bed?”

Take a moment to see what’s beneath these thoughts and these meanings you make out of your partner watching porn. Although there are numerous reasons as to why you might be triggered when it comes to pornography, many women get anxious and jealous knowing their partner watches pornography out of a fear of abandonment, a feeling of not being not, or both. What one, or both, seems to resonate with you?

Now I want you to be curious about what you do with this fear and thoughts in your relationship. It’s helpful to ask “How do I respond to that fear that I have?”  Many of us feel these fears and go into reactive mode. Perhaps your reactive behavior is you get anxious and worry and do whatever you can to pull your partner in for reassurance like by asking over and over if he thinks you are sexy and if sex with you is good for him? Or maybe instead you push him away and keep him at arm’s length by limiting the time you spend with him or by not wanting sex because you have a feeling you’ve lost respect for him or you’re holding onto a lot of resentment.

Combining all the fear, thoughts and actions you can discover more of what process is occurring inside of you so that you can take more informed action.  Use the example below to plot out your internal process.

He watches porn → My fear of abandonment or not enough gets triggered → I have a primary emotion of feeling scared, hurt, etc. → I make meaning of the fear and think “does this mean I’m not good in bed?” (based on fear of not being enough) or “does this mean he’ll leave me?” (based on fear of abandonment) → A secondary defensive feeling emerges like jealousy, anger or shutdown → I behave in a reactive behavior like demanding he not watch porn. → My partner responds by pulling away from me.

What’s hard is when we do the unhelpful reactive responses to our fears fear, like push away or get angry and demand he stop, it increases the chances of those fears happening like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your pattern is “If I worry that him watching porn means he wants other women and he’ll leave me, so I get angry and push him away”, then unchecked this pattern could ultimately increase the likelihood he will leave or distance himself because he’s feeling pushed away and experiencing the brunt of your anger. Or if you ask constantly for reassurance and anxiously try and pull him closer, the constant doubt of your partner’s love for you can lead to his frustration and will trigger his own reactive responses like anger or pull away.

DROP the Unrealistic Expectations

As you stop and explore what fear gets triggered, the meaning you make of his porn use, and your reactive behavior, as a result, let's take a moment to check to see if any unrealistic expectations of your partner and of you can be dropped to give you more ease.

Drop the “No Porn or Else!” Ultimatum

Perhaps your fear leads to jealous feelings and your reactive response is to demand that your partner not watch porn. This would be an unrealistic expectation unless your partner truly has an unhealthy relationship with porn and is watching all day every day and using it as an avoidance strategy. In which case, that would be a separate issue and there would be a need for therapy around the behavior. Further, if you both decide that no porn is what works in your relationship that is certainly OK too! I just don’t want you to jump to that conclusion. For many men and women, It’s healthy for each to have their own sexual relationship with themselves through self-pleasure and that may include the use of porn. For men, this could occur somewhere around 2-3 times a week (although fluctuates). If this is your partner then he has his self-pleasure time and in no way does this inherently compete with you and your sexual relationship.

Also, it is unrealistic in many relationships for a partner to be the sole source of a partner’s sexual pleasure. Putting all your eggs in one basket and expecting sex with you to be the only outlet for your partner to express their sexual energy is, for many although not all, an unrealistic expectation. Think of it like eating. You can’t expect that every time you eat food that your partner share the meal with you. That would mean you both would need to have the same exact appetite at the same exact time, and then eat at the same time all the time. Not only would the scheduling logistics be a nightmare, but many men with higher testosterone are “hungrier” more often. Keeping up with that would be like trying to keep up with the calorie count of some men who eat tons of food because their body needs it.

Further, just because your partner enjoys a self-pleasure “meal” alone with porn doesn’t mean he doesn’t fully enjoy the meal he shares with you. Just because he had breakfast alone doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t enjoy dinner together with you. One experience doesn’t negate the other. They are different but not in competition with each other. I say thank goodness for your partner’s solo time of self-pleasure because it releases the pressure on you to 100% fulfill his sexual appetite. Try looking at it as a support for your relationship rather than a threat.

Drop the “I Need To Be Like a Pornstar” Mentality

It’s also important to drop the comparisons you have of yourself to porn. Your man watching porn doesn’t mean he wants you to look like those girls or act like them. Which means you don’t need to compare yourself or try to be someone you aren’t or think that who you are is less than the porn stars (I hear the “not enough” siren going off here). Those porn gals don’t hold a flame to you. They are acting in looks and behavior. You are real, you are in the flesh, and you are an amazing woman with whom he has a loving, emotional connection. You can’t get any of that with porn. If we piggyback off my previous meal analogy, him using porn is like getting a meal from McDonald's. But with you? Intimacy with you is like a fine delicious meal that he gets the privilege of enjoying. Put that way, are you really going to be threatened by McDonald's?

And if you are still feeling a bit low on the self-esteem meter, take action and do things for you that have you feeling good. Self-care and doing the things that have you feel good and sexy are vital in having confidence in your relationship and to transition into intimacy in your relationship. Asking your partner to not use porn to fix your self-esteem is putting the sense of control outside of yourself. This is unrealistic and won’t fix any self-esteem concerns you have. As the strong women you are, stop pointing the finger outside and start doing what you need to do to feel good about yourself and to fully see yourself as that fine dining woman you are.

Negotiate the ROLE of Porn in Your Relationship

Once you have identified what is beneath the surface of not liking your partner watching porn, and perhaps finding more ease after dropping some unrealistic expectations, it is vital to have a discussion with your partner regarding the role porn plays in your relationship. And a discussion means you will need to put aside the reactive behaviors you normally use and instead you will need to roll out the vulnerability carpet and share your fears and vulnerable feelings, like scared or hurt, in order to have a productive conversation. Anger won’t get you anywhere here.

I know, having a vulnerable conversation with your partner can be intimidating and easier said than done. But vulnerability is what creates intimacy; protective reactions are what kills it. It’s vital to share your concerns and the role porn has in your relationship so that you both are on the same page. You will want to share what you have learned about your fears and concerns in a productive conversation where you both get to negotiate. You could even include it as part of your conversation when you are creating your Unity Vision Statement for your relationship. A therapist is always helpful in guiding such a discussion if you are iffy about the two of you coming to an agreement together.

Below are some helpful questions you both can answer to get you started in your discussion:

How do I feel about porn use for self-pleasure?

How do I feel about using porn together?

What fear do I have around my partner using porn?

How does this fear make me act in the relationship?

Are there any unrealistic expectations that I’m holding on to?

I would also encourage you to talk with your partner about how you both currently feel about your sex life. Sometimes in long-term relationships, it can get to McDonald's level if left unchecked.  It’s important to not only share with each other about what your wants and needs are in the bedroom to help it be more exciting but to also explore what may be blocking your sexual expression. And although I wish I could say I have an App for that, instead I have a free quiz for that so you’re in luck!