Lifestyle

How to Handle Porn in a Relationship

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-I’m a 70-year-old man. My wife wants sex less often than I do, so I watch porn and masturbate. She gets furious and says if I’m getting off to porn stars, it means I don’t love her or respect our intimacy. What’s a guy to do?

 – My husband and I are 60 and sexually compatible. I thought our sex life was great until I caught my husband watching porn. The performers did things I wouldn’t do, couldn’t do. He says he’s happy with me, porn is just fantasy, and there’s nothing he wants to change about our relationship. How can I believe him?

These are the types of questions you ask about porn in a relationship. I hear from women dismayed by their male partner’s porn use. I hear from men whose female partners caught them watching porn and tried to forbid it. (Yes, many women enjoy porn, too, but they don’t write to me about porn being a conflict in their relationships.)

Why the conflict about porn? 

The men who write me say that porn is a way to indulge their fantasies, enjoy visual stimulation, and get an easy, private orgasm. They tell me it has nothing to do with their partners. Some feel shamed by a partner’s anger and disgust. Others just wish their partner would stop snooping.

Their women partners may feel crushed and outraged. Women have been socialized to equate their desirability with youth. At our age, women are self-conscious about their bodies and sexual attractiveness. They may feel insecure about their sexual “performance” compared to a porn star. They may think it’s shameful that a man they trusted is indulging in a habit that they find demeaning.

What do we do?

We calm down and ask questions. A male reader commented on my 2014 column on this topic, “Why don’t you ask him why he watches porn?” Yes, ask him what he gets out of it, what it means and doesn’t mean to him. And ask her how she feels, what she needs from you. Don’t argue — listen.

Dr. David J. Ley is a clinical psychologist and author of Ethical Porn for Dicks, A Man’s Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure, which I highly recommend to women as well. He writes,

When it comes to sexual behaviors, there’s a belief today that there should be absolutely no privacy between the partners in a couple. That any privacy is the equivalent of keeping secrets, and that secrets are unhealthy and destructive. But healthy sexuality and a healthy self involves some privacy. If you choose to exercise your sexual privacy and watch porn, you should be able to.

How does Dr. Ley advise a man to explain this to his partner?

You can tell her that you watch porn sometimes, and that you hope she can deal with that, because you really want to have a healthy, open, mutually accepting relationship with her. But, if you tell her that you don’t watch porn, when you do, then you’re lying, and perpetuating your shame, and her misunderstanding of porn. Lies don’t earn privacy—honesty and integrity do.

… So think strategically about your goal. What do you want her to know? Ultimately, you want her to know and accept that sometimes you watch porn, but the porn doesn’t change your feelings about her. And really, the porn is a part of your private life, which you’d like to be able to share with her and not be shamed or judged.

When is porn a problem?

If the man is watching porn a lot, does it mean the relationship is in trouble? Often not, but sometimes yes. Porn is usually not the cause of the problem, but it may reveal that a problem already exists in the relationship. Is he having sex with his screen and his hand while consistently ignoring a partner who wants sex with him and feels rejected? Does he desire sex with her, but she’s not willing? Is one of them depressed or isolated and won’t talk about it or get help? Is communication lacking?

If any of these problems exist, you’ll need a sex-positive couple’s counselor or sex therapist to help you communicate, locate the real problem, and work through it. Blaming it on porn won’t help you back to a compassionate and loving relationship.

“When porn gets raised as a problem in the marriage,” writes Dr. Ley, “It’s always a symptom of something else going on with one of the people in the marriage, or in the marriage itself.”

How did you do it?

If you and your partner experienced a similar conflict and successfully resolved it, please share in the comments. How did you open communication? What did you come to understand about your partner’s feelings and motivation? How did you find common ground? Please comment!

During this holiday season and into the New Year, give your partner the gift of understanding and communication. This is worth more than anything you could purchase.

Read these previous columns about porn conflicts:

Joan Price has been Senior Planet’s “Sex at Our Age” columnist since 2014. She is the author of four self-help books about senior sex, including her award winners: “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex” and “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved.” Visit Joan’s website and blog for senior sex news, views, tips, and sex toy reviews from a senior perspective. Subscribe to Joan’s free, monthly newsletter.

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