Relationships

5 Signs Your Partner's Porn Habits (Or Your Own) Have Become Problematic

If you're concerned about porn consumption, you need to read this.

Porn isn’t inherently bad. If you look at it as a form of entertainment rather than a reflection of real sex, your porn consumption isn’t necessarily going to be detrimental to your sex life, either. (And as many feminists have argued, some porn can even be a tool of empowerment for women.)

It’s how you personally engage with porn that determines its effect on you: how much you watch and how you compare and contrast what you’ve seen to your actual sex life, said Janet Brito, a psychologist and sex therapist at the Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health in Hawaii.

“A healthy relationship to porn is defined by the individual ― only you can decide if porn is ‘good or bad’ for you,” she said. “But I’d say it’s a problem if you’re using porn to hide or escape from forming intimate and deeper relationships with others, if that’s your desire.”

A healthy relationship with porn means “you’re not hiding your sexual behavior (i.e., porn use) from others or feeling guilty or shame around it,” she added.

What are some other signs you ― or your partner ― have developed an unhealthy relationship with porn? Below, Brito and other sex therapists who’ve worked with couples in this position offer five signs. (Keep in mind that a problematic relationship with porn isn’t the same as a porn addiction. And diagnosing porn addiction is a very slippery slope: In the mental health community, there’s been some debate about whether compulsive porn use should actually be considered an addiction, and also, how it should be treated.)

1. You’re actively avoiding sex

If you can get off without a laptop or smartphone screen in front of you, you’re probably fine. But if you’re avoiding sex with your partner ― or prefer a quick visit to PornHub (or the cam girl experience) to actually having sex ― it might be a problem, said Sari Cooper, a sex therapist and director of Center for Love and Sex.

“Your partner’s porn is likely interfering with your sex life if they’re having sexual experiences with live chat people and withdrawing or avoiding sexual experiences with you when you send signals that you want to be intimate,” she said.

2. You think rough sex, threesomes and anal are the norm

It should shock no one that porn is crazy unrealistic ― from the super-loud, histrionic orgasms, to the way adult film actors default to rough sexplay (think: choking) and spontaneous anal sex. Even porn stars we’ve interviewed have told us they hope people don’t view it as a sexual education. (For one thing, it takes hours to prep for those seamless transitions to anal sex. Unless you want an anal fissure, you don’t just slide into anal sex sans lube.)

“Porn is a horrible sex educator,” said Megan Fleming, a New York City-based psychologist and sex therapist. “Sometimes men think all or most women love anal and threesomes because it’s so normative in porn.”

Fleming pointed to a recent New York Times article where a reporter spoke with a teen boy who said he wouldn’t ask for anal if he were having sex with a girl, he’d “just do it.”

“As the mother of a 16-year-old daughter, that’s terrifying,” she said. “We need to educate our kids and young adults in relationships about pleasure and exploring on their own and not according to what they see.”

You can bring up your concerns about your partner's porn consumption in a nonjudgmental way, sex therapists say.
You can bring up your concerns about your partner's porn consumption in a nonjudgmental way, sex therapists say.

3. Your porn use is hurting your partner

If your partner is feeling uncomfortable, hurt, lonely or disconnected from you due to your porn use ― or is resorting to invading your privacy by looking at your browser history ― it’s worth discussing their insecurities and your views around porn.

If you’re the person bothered by your partner’s porn consumption, bring it up in a nonjudgmental way, Brito said.

“Try to create space to discuss your concerns with your partner where you focus on identifying your deeper needs versus attacking them for using porn,” she explained.

4. You feel like you’re underperforming or don’t look good enough to have sex

Porn warps both men’s and women’s aesthetic expectations when it comes to sex: The average penis size is about 6 inches, but in porn, it’s often over 8 or 9. Vulvas come in all shapes and sizes but in porn, they’re virtually pore-less, often labiaplastied and almost always hairless. If your own body image is starting to take a hit from over-watching porn, you may want to reevaluate your viewing habits.

“Self-image issues can come up for both men and women because most people aren’t these ideal and often surgically enhanced men and women they’re seeing online,” Fleming said. “There’s been a significant increase in labiaplasty in many cases because women don’t like the way their vulvas look and may not be as trimmed as they see in porn.”

Men can also feel inadequate in their penis size and not having the ejaculatory control of porn stars, Fleming added.

This apprehension around sex is even more pointed with those who experience anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder or suffer from perfectionism, Cooper said.

“Porn habits can trigger a sense of not being good enough, sexy enough or well-endowed enough to compare to porn actors who’ve been hired specifically for their looks and what they can do in bed,” she said.

5. You feel your partner isn’t good enough — or hot enough — to have sex with you

It cuts both ways: If you’re hyperjudgmental of how your partner looks or behaves in bed, porn is probably negatively affecting your sex life and relationship, Fleming said.

“I hear men expressing concern with their own porn use because they say they get bored with their partner and real-life sex,” she said. “In my 20 years, though, I’ve never had a man or woman complain about their female partner’s porn use.”

With porn, Fleming said, viewers “can get what they want, when they want it and generally, they’re flipping through multiple images or videos of their ideal sexual turn-ons.”

Sometimes guys struggle to ejaculate because their partner just can’t replicate the sensation of using their hand when they masturbate, with or without porn.

“It’s not uncommon for men to have what we sex therapists refer to as an ‘idiosyncratic masturbation style,’ meaning on his own, he might be using too much force or pressure, going too fast and focusing on the frenulum, the most sensitive part of the penis,” she said. “A woman’s hand, mouth or vagina can’t replicate that level of stimulation.”

The good news about all these issues? It’s possible to get a handle on your porn consumption and solo sex habits and channel your sexual energy back into your relationship.

“A healthy relationship means you feel that you can relay any concerns you have about these issues to your partner,” Fleming said. “If you’re the one concerned with your S.O.’s porn consumption, let them know that it seems like they’re withdrawing more and more from sex. Let them know that you miss them.”

If you’re concerned about your own porn habits, Brito said to “consider how your porn use impacts the wants and needs of those most important to you.”

If it’s hurting your partner, your porn consumption habits may be worth reexamining, either on your own or with the help of a therapist.

Sex Ed for Grown-Ups is a series tackling everything you didn’t learn about sex in school — beyond the birds and the bees. Keep checking back for more expert-based articles and personal stories.

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