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Below, our in-house sexpert answers a question from a reader. Have a question of your own? Submit it anonymously here.

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“My husband watches a lot of porn. Like, a lot. On more than one occasion, I’ve woken up in the night and found him watching women do things I would NEVER do. He shrugs it off and says it’s no big deal, but what if it is? Should I be worried about our future as a couple?”  — K. L.

Let me start by saying the sexology field is somewhat divided when it comes to pornography and sexual addictions. Many religious counselors and those on one side will demonize pornography, telling you it will ruin families and damn souls to hell. On the opposite spectrum, there are those who believe that pornography can be used as a tool in relationships, and/or provide individuals an outlet for fantasies.

This is something that is obviously causing an issue in your relationship because it’s bothering you enough to write me. Anytime one partner raises a concern about an issue in their relationship, it should be addressed, not shrugged off. Even if you think pornography is fine and dandy, it still upset you, which deserves attention. Your feelings are valid and he owes you an explanation.

So, here are some follow-up questions. Do you think it’s interfering with your relationship and/or sex life? If it is, even a little, then it’s a problem. Pornography is an escape that provides instant gratification. It’s typical for viewers to watch behaviors they wouldn’t normally engage in (kind of like going to a restaurant and ordering something off the menu you’d never cook at home). It doesn’t mean they want that in real life per say, just that they find it arousing.

It’s important to understand how watching pornography affects the brain. Viewing pornography causes dopamine to be released. When we continually tap into this pathway, our brain can desensitize its effects. Over time, the brain begins to stop or lessen the dopamine released causing the viewer to seek out more intense images to get the same “high.” That’s how addictions form. Can your husband stop watching pornography for a week? A month? If that’s the case, then it may be “no big deal.” But my guess is that he can’t if you’ve already caught him in the middle of the night, twice.

A lot of couples don’t have a conversation before they encounter situations like this, but here is what it should cover: What role, if any, do you see pornography/masturbation playing in our relationship? Do you consider it cheating if I watch pornography on my own? Do you want me to tell you when I do?

I realize these are discussions most couples don’t have over dinner. “Oh, hey, can you pass the pepper? And by the way, what are your thoughts on pornography?”

If I were you, I’d answer the above questions, determine what you’re comfortable with and set boundaries as a couple. Couples counseling is always a great option to help sort this out.

Courtney Boyer is a mental health counselor and sexuality educator living in the Sandhills.

Have a question of your own? Submit it anonymously here

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