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Now Reading: How Do I Talk To My Partner About Porn?

How Do I Talk To My Partner About Porn?

When it comes to important conversations to have with your partner, there are a few obvious topics to cover – money, family, religion and so on. But one topic you might not have considered (or may be avoiding) is pornography.

It’s a topic that has almost certainly impacted your partner. One study of 15-29yr olds found that 100% of the men and 82% of the women in the study had viewed pornography. 84% of the men and 19% of the women reported watching porn at least weekly.[1]

It may even be impacting him/her more during the current pandemic. Pornhub, the world’s largest free porn website, has reported increases in daily traffic of up to 24.4% since the COVID-19 crisis began.

With that in mind, there’s no better time to talk to your partner about porn.

WHY DO WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT?

Porn is harmful. It negatively impacts consumers and damages their relationships. You can find study after study supporting that conclusion here but let me give you a brief outline.

BRAIN

Repeated consumption of pornography can effectively re-wire a person’s brain, changing the neural pathways associated with sexual arousal.

Every time someone consumes porn, they train their brain to be aroused by the content they are viewing. Meanwhile, neural pathways connecting arousal with natural turn-ons like seeing, touching or cuddling one’s partner aren’t getting used.[2]

One consequence is that doctors are now seeing an epidemic of erectile dysfunction in young men, who have trained themselves to be aroused by porn to such an extent that they can no longer get it up with a real, live partner.[3]

RELATIONSHIPS

Studies have also found that porn use is correlated with a change in consumers’ sexual preferences. Porn users wanted more of what they had seen onscreen and were significantly less satisfied with sex in real life.[4]

Adults who use porn are more likely to rate sexual partners as less attractive, be less satisfied with their partner’s sexual performance, and desire sex without emotional involvement.[5]

Porn use has also been linked with less stability in relationships,[6] increased risk of infidelity,[7] and in marriages, a greater likelihood of divorce.[8]

SOCIETY

Porn consumption has been correlated with an increased negative attitude towards women, acceptance of violence against women, and an increase in sexually aggressive behaviour.[9]

This isn’t surprising. The first harm I mentioned is that consumers are training their brains to be aroused by what they see in porn, and the majority of the most popular porn features violence and/or sexual aggression.[10]

One meta-analysis of 46 studies, comprising a total of over 12,000 research participants, found that pornographic material puts one at increased risk of developing sexually deviant tendencies (31% increase in risk) and committing sexual offences (22% increase in risk).[11]

So, if you’re looking for something that is going to hijack you or your partner’s brain, suck the life out of your intimacy, and numb you to the horrendous realities of sexual violence, look no further than porn.

That’s why this topic can’t be left unaddressed in a relationship.

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HOW DO I START THE CONVERSATION?

This isn’t a conversation to have on the first or second date. But it is a topic you probably want to address in the first few months of a relationship. If one or both of you use porn, it’s not something you want to come to light years down the track, perhaps after you’re already engaged or married.

This is a serious conversation, so it’s important to give it the time and energy that it needs. For Renée and I, we had this conversation during a road trip. That gave us more than an hour of private, uninterrupted time to talk through everything.

You’re going to be coming to this conversation from one of two places, either (1) you don’t struggle with pornography and you’re wanting to find out whether your partner does, or (2) you struggle with looking at porn and you need to share that. Let’s start with the former.

FINDING OUT IF YOUR PARTNER STRUGGLES WITH PORN

When you initiate the conversation, try not to be confrontational. Questions like “Do you have a problem with porn?” might put your partner on the defensive.

Instead, start with open-ended questions like “What are your thoughts on pornography?”, “Do you think it’s a problem?”, and “Is this a topic you’ve ever struggled with?”

If you feel awkward bringing it up, you could even use this article as your icebreaker, “so I was reading this absolutely fantastic blog, and it was talking about how it’s important to address the topic of pornography in your relationship. What do you think about porn?”

Maybe your partner doesn’t look at porn, or it’s not something they have struggled with in years. If that’s the case, this conversation will probably feel a bit easier. But this is still a great opportunity for you both to share your thoughts on porn.

However, at this point your partner may admit to regularly looking at porn. If they do, give them a chance to explain. Many people are exposed to porn from an early age and the start of their habit isn’t always their fault.

It’s also possible that your partner has never received any education on this topic. Many parents never speak to their kids about porn, and it’s a topic often left unaddressed at churches and schools as well.

TWO SIMPLE TALKING POINTS

If you’re wanting to explain to your partner why you think that porn is a problem, you might want to share some of the research I provided above. But if this is your first time talking about porn, or you don’t want to cite the academic research, I would start with two simple talking points.

1) LOVE

People are meant to be loved, not used. Using another person is never right. However, porn can make us think that people are there to be used. In pornography, men and women are portrayed as little more than bodies with a single purpose, to give and receive sexual pleasure.[12]

Whether the porn consumer likes it or not, what they see on their screen starts to shape how they see themselves and other people. The more porn a person consumes, the harder it becomes for users not to see themselves and others as anything more than sexual objects.[13]

2) MEANING

Sex is meant to be a deeply meaningful act. It is the most powerful way that we can physically express our love to another person.

Porn makes sex meaningless. The message that porn consumers get over and over again is that sex isn’t about love or intimacy, it’s just about pleasure. Sex is something to be had whenever you want it, with whoever you want.

That’s not how sex was meant to be.

BE SENSITIVE ABOUT THIS TOPIC

It’s important to be clear with your partner about your views on porn. If you believe porn has no place in a person’s life and in your relationship with him/her, say that.

At the same time, try to be sensitive. Try to understand why and how they started watching porn. What do they think about it? If they continue to watch it, why do they? Are they trying to address their consumption and quit?

An untold number of porn consumers are loving, passionate and principled men and women who feel trapped in their habit. Many use it as a coping mechanism for other difficult realities in their lives. Some have been struggling to overcome their habit for so long, they’re convinced it’s almost impossible to quit.

While it’s unhealthy to watch pornography, Justin Petrisek reminds us that doesn’t mean the person who watches it is “bad” or would automatically make a bad partner.

Your significant other is someone with the potential to be an amazing partner. Defining their worth based solely on their experience with porn denies who they are as a person.

SO, I SHOULDN’T BREAK UP WITH A PORN USER?

Each person’s situation is going to be different, so I can’t tell you whether it’s right to stay in a relationship with someone who struggles with pornography. But while porn consumption is a definite red flag, it isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. What’s even more important than your partner’s experience with porn is his/her attitude about it.

If your partner watches porn and doesn’t really care, then for all the reasons outlined above, I would break up with him/her.

But what if your partner respects your views and is willing to change? Or perhaps they already recognise that porn is a problem and they’re actively trying to stop consuming it?

An essential part of every successful relationship is loving the other person through their sins and shortcomings. If your partner is trying to stop using porn, you shouldn’t be their primary source of support (read more below). However, supporting your partner as he/she fights to overcome a porn habit can be a very real expression of your love for each other.

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WHAT IF I STRUGGLE WITH LOOKING AT PORN?

The second context for this conversation is that you struggle with looking at pornography and you know you need to share that information with your partner. If this is you – respect. It takes honesty to recognise that this is a problem in your life and a lot of courage to talk about it with your significant other.

BE PROACTIVE

Don’t wait until your partner brings up this topic or worse, catches you looking at porn. Be the one to say “Hey, I want our relationship to be honest and as healthy as possible, so we should talk about porn.”

Taking the first step will show your partner that you recognise your porn use is a problem, you want to address it, and you’re willing to take the hard steps that are necessary to do that.

HAVE A GAME PLAN

Don’t just blurt out that you struggle with porn while the two of you are cuddled up watching a movie. Have a game plan for the conversation.

Know what you want to accomplish. Are you confessing your struggle with porn and apologising? Do you want to help your partner understand why it’s a struggle for you not to look at porn? Do you want to better understand your partner’s perspective on this topic? All of the above?

Let your partner know early in the conversation why you’re bringing this up and what you’re hoping to achieve.

BE CAREFUL OF DETAIL

Part of having a game plan is figuring out the level of detail you’re going to share. Remember that your partner is hearing this for the first time, and too much detail could shock, hurt, or overwhelm them. On the other hand, too little detail could leave them with concerns and questions.

To give a general outline on what to share, partners often want to know (1) how long this has been a struggle for, (2) how often you’re looking at porn, (3) when this started, and (4) if you have plans to get help. Think through those details and be willing to share.

Be honest. There might be a temptation to minimise the problem or avoid certain aspects of the conversation. If you’re looking at porn almost every day, don’t say something like “I look at it every now and then.” Tell the truth. Say “I look at porn almost every day.”

However, avoid sharing a detailed account of your porn experiences. It’s not going to be helpful to talk through the websites you visit, the things you’ve seen, or the type of porn you enjoy looking at the most. Details like these tend to do more harm than good.

BE SENSITIVE

While it’s hard to admit a porn struggle, it can also be a hard thing to hear. Your partner will almost certainly be left feeling hurt, surprised and/or confused. Try to be understanding of their reaction.

Remember that you’ve had time to prepare for this conversation, but your partner is hearing about your struggle for the first time. Give them time and space to process. That might even mean revisiting the conversation after the initial shock has gone away.

Take the conversation slowly and don’t do all the talking. Because you’re nervous or uncomfortable, it might be tempting to blurt everything out as quickly as possible. Try not to. Make space for your partner to speak and be willing to answer any questions he/she has.

MOVING FORWARD FROM THE CONVERSATION

Because this can be an uncomfortable conversation, it can be tempting to “get it over with” and then carry on with your relationship, acting like it never happened. However, if you want this conversation to have the positive impact that it should, there are a few important things to do moving forward.

If you struggle with looking at porn, it’s important to have a concrete action plan for overcoming your habit. Two essential points on any action plan should be continuing to educate yourself on the issues surrounding porn and finding an accountability partner.

An accountability partner is someone you trust who is aware of your struggle with porn. This is someone who you regularly check in with, who you can turn to for support and to honestly share your struggles.

It’s best to find someone of the same sex, who has some understanding of pornography and the struggle to overcome it. Depending on the extent of your struggle, I’d also encourage you to consider going to therapy. It can be incredibly valuable for overcoming the triggers in your life that prompt you to look at porn.

Your partner should not be your accountability buddy or de-facto therapist. Often a person’s porn consumption can create a lot of insecurities and negative emotions for their partner. It’s important to be mindful of that.

Edit: When I first wrote this article a month ago, I went on to say that some level of ongoing communication with your partner about this is important, e.g. checking in with each other once a month.

After speaking to someone who has many years’ experience doing ministry in this field, as well as reading more from therapists who work with porn users, my perspective has changed. I’ve learned that you need to be very cautious when disclosing a struggle with pornography to your partner and that it probably isn’t something that the two of you should have a regular check-in about.

Why? Because every time you share with your partner about your porn use, it hurts them. Mental health professionals who work in this area often categorise this hurt as a kind of psychological trauma

Knowing that, should you tell your partner about your porn struggle? Yes. He or she is entitled to the truth, even if it hurts. But it’s important that you do everything you can to mitigate the damage caused by sharing this information – by being careful of detail, by being sensitive to how your partner responds, by letting him or her know that you see your porn use as a problem and you’re committed to doing everything you can to overcome it.

Should you have ongoing communication with your partner about your struggle? Probably not. I’ve learned that continual exposure to this information can cause a lot psychological damage. Find good accountability elsewhere, with someone of the same sex and/or a therapist. 

CONCLUSION

If you want a healthy relationship, having a conversation with your partner about porn is essential. Porn thrives in secrecy. If one or both of you struggles with this issue, it’s so important to get that out in the open.

Depending on the information shared, it will be up to both of you to decide how this conversation changes your relationship moving forward. If one of you does struggle with porn, make sure there’s a solid action plan in place to overcome that habit.

Finally, remember that a healthy relationship is everything that porn isn’t – respectful, selfless and based on authentic love. Be encouraged that fighting to have a relationship like that is a blow against pornography in itself.

Keep fighting for love.

[1] Lim, Megan S. C., Lim, Paul A. Agius, Elise R. Carrotte, Alyce M. Vella, and Margaret E. Hellard. “Young Australians’ use of pornography and associations with sexual risk behaviours.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 41, no. 4 (2017). doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12678.

[2] Negash, S., N. Van Ness Sheppard, N. M. Lambert and F. D. Fincham. “Trading Later Rewards for Current Pleasure: Pornography Consumption and Delay Discounting.” The Journal of Sex Research 53, no. 6 (2016): 698-700. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1025123

[3] Park, B. Y., G Wilson, J Berger, M Christman, B Reina, F Bishop, W. P. Klam, A. P. Doan. “ Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences 6, no. 3 (2016). doi: 10.3390/bs6030017

[4] Morgan, Elizabeth M. “Associations between Young Adults’ Use of Sexually Explicit Materials and Their Sexual Preferences, Behaviors, and Satisfaction.” Journal of Sex Research 48, no. 6 (November / December 2011), doi: 10.1080/00224499.2010.543960.

[5] Eberstadt M, and Mary Anne Layden. The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations. New Jersey: Witherspoon Institute, 2010. https://chastity.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Social-Costs-of-Pornography-Report.pdf

[6] Schneider, J. P. “Effects Of Cybersex Addiction On The Family: Results Of A Survey.” Sexual Addiction And Compulsivity 7 (2000):31-58. Doi:10.1080/10720160008400206

[7] Zillmann, D. “Influence Of Unrestrained Access To Erotica On Adolescents’ And Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality.” Journal Of Adolescent Health 27, no. 2(2000): 41–44. doi:10.1016/S1054-139X(00)00137-3

[8] Schneider, Effects of Cybersex Addiction On The Family.

[9] Manning, Jill. “Hearing on Pornography’s Impact on Marriage and the Family.” U.S. Senate Hearing: Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, Committee on Judiciary, November 10 (2005). http://s3.amazonaws.com/thf_media/2010/pdf/

[10] Bridges, A. J., R. Wosnitzer, E. Scharrer, C Sun, and R. Liberman. :Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update.” Violence Against Women, 16, no.10 (2010): 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866

[11] Manning, “Hearing on Pornography’s Impact on Marriage and the Family.”

[12] Mosher, D. L. and P. Maclan. “College Men and Women Respond to X-Rated Videos Intended for Male or Female Audiences: Gender and Sexual Scripts.” Journal of Sex Research 31, no.2 (1994): 99–112. doi:10.1080/00224499409551736

[13] https://fightthenewdrug.org/why-porn-leaves-consumers-lonely/#c13



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