"We definitely have two very different opinions on the subject."

Kelly Gonsalves
Updated May 18, 2020 @ 4:39 pm
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Credit: Laetizia Haessig/EyeEm, Getty Images

People have very complicated feelings about pornography, and the stakes can feel even higher when you put two or more people together in a romantic relationship who may have different feelings on the issue. These differences might be particularly stark in heterosexual partnerships because of the distinct ways men and women tend to be taught to view and relate to their sexuality.

First, here are some stats: Men are more likely to consume porn than women are, although both definitely do it. One 2019 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found women watch porn about twice a month whereas men watch about three times a week on average. However, an earlier 2015 survey found one in three women reported watching porn every week. Plus, a decade of PornHub data released in 2017 also found that women watch porn for longer periods of time in comparison to men (by a ratio of about 1:14).

While we can spend a lot of time unpacking why men might be more drawn to porn—namely, because the dominant version of masculinity is hypersexualized and young boys grow up learning that an overwhelming interest in sex is a necessary part of being a man, since porn is part of the culture of young teen boyhood, whereas young women are largely not encouraged to masturbate, let alone, tell anyone about it. Also, because the most accessible and ubiquitous form of porn overwhelmingly caters to straight male viewers—but let’s not get into that right now.

The real question is: How does porn affect people’s relationships?

Some research does suggest increased porn use correlates with lower relationship and sexual satisfaction among couples, whereas other studies have found porn has no effect or a positive effect on couples’ happiness. In addition, the aforementioned 2015 study found 76 percent of women said they felt porn use didn’t affect their sex lives or relationships whatsoever.

While it’s hard to create blanket statements around porn, one statement that’s probably accurate is that you shouldn’t make assumptions about how your partner feels about it. Some people strongly believe that watching porn constitutes cheating and creates impossible standards for real-life partners to keep up with, which can lead to sexual dissatisfaction. Other people see porn-viewing as pretty harmless, as long as there’s no secrecy involved. Still, others view watching porn as a healthy way to explore one’s sexuality; to relax and have a quick orgasm when you’re not up for partnered sex; and maybe, even a fun activity to do with your partner.

To get a clearer picture of the concerns at hand, I reached out to women and men in relationships to hear their feelings about their partner watching porn. Here’s what they told me:

“We definitely have two very different opinions on the subject.”

Personally, I’m not comfortable with my partner watching porn, but this may or may not be because I’ve never watched porn myself (so I don’t really understand how someone can separate the attraction they have for the porn as purely sexual and the attraction to our emotional attraction in bed). I’m also a naturally jealous person, so I think it makes me uncomfortable to imagine my partner (my husband) attracted so strongly to the point where he could orgasm from it.

That being said, I’ve seen sex scenes of movies that have gotten me in the mood, so maybe it’s hypocritical of me to react this way. I’ll also note that, to my knowledge, my husband hasn’t watched porn since we’ve been together, but I do know he used to watch it before then. This is just how I would feel if he brought it into our relationship.

We’ve had a few conversations about porn—usually spontaneous conversations if it’s brought up in a movie or something. They typically go pretty smoothly, though, we definitely have two very different opinions on the subject. To my husband, porn isn’t emotional; it’s purely physical in that it could help him get in the mood. It’s more about the action of what’s going on than a person, if that makes sense? We usually end [the conversation] by agreeing to disagree. I do want to eventually watch porn and see what everyone talks about, but I’m just not ready yet.

—Julia (woman, 28), together with her husband (man, 27) for six years

“These are my own internal struggles and insecurities—not a reflection on my partner.”

I have experienced a sense of insecurity around my partner’s porn [habit]—[they’re mainly about] body image issues and feeling like I may not be good or desirable enough for my partner, or that I can’t fulfill a particular fantasy [of his]. But, I recognize that these are my own internal struggles and insecurities—not a reflection on my partner, or an indication that they should stop watching porn. Instead, I look more closely at my insecurities and work to overcome them. Or, I may need some extra reassurance and TLC from my partner.

I also love [using] porn as a way to explore and expand both of our desires, find new things that we want to try, and spark new ideas on elements we can bring into our sex life. I love when my partner shares with me something that’s turned them on, so that we can recreate or fantasize about it in the future.

I also love watching porn with my partner, particularly of scenes that we can’t do at that moment (like a creative BDSM scene or a multi-person experience), so we can fantasize about [them] in the moment and talk dirty about what we want to do to or with one another, even if we aren’t or can’t in that moment.

I think [the reason I can sometimes feel insecure about my partner’s porn is] due to the cultural representations of women in the media generally, and how porn essentially picks some of the most beautiful, fit, idealized bodies to portray. It’s a curated fantasy where many of the practical elements of sex (like, being sweaty, strange noises, using lube) are edited out—not to mention, [these people have] perfect makeup and hair, great abs and bodies, and perfectly groomed and waxed parts. Compared to that ideal and fantasized version, the real-life version may feel like it can’t match up, which highlights my existing insecurities. But, I recognize that porn is a fantasy, and my partner recognizes the same, so I can remind myself of that and have us both enjoy the entertainment, while still enjoying each other in our real, raw, messy, yet still beautiful authentic realities.

I personally enjoy watching porn myself, so I feel very understanding of my partner watching it. When we watch porn together, I prefer to check out the porn in advance just to make sure that it’s not something that will really sandpaper my insecurities. If I feel comfortable with it, we can watch together while we’re intimate and fantasize about it together. It can feel more emotionally tender to me because I can see his reaction to a specific scenario that might be a little tender to my insecurities, versus being blissfully unaware of the exact details and visual differences between myself and the performers shown.

—Lorrae (woman, 29), together with her partner (man, 32) for two months

“I am porn-free and feeling wonderful about it.”

There was a brief period where my husband had an affair, and I often wondered if things like porn were the gateway to allowing other nefarious behaviors into his thought process. When porn had occasionally worked its way into our lives over the years, the conversation always started with my disappointment and curiosity as to why he needed this when I was still keeping physically fit and healthy, and showering him with love. I saw no reason why our own imaginations, role-playing, and little games were not enough.

At one time, it became a real issue, and we finally resolved it with much debate and argument. I am happy to announce that I am porn-free and feeling wonderful about it. I assume my husband is as well, but I trust him enough to stop snooping around his computer search history. We share passwords and computers and even cell phones.

Marriages should be based on trust, intimacy, and the never-ending quest to learn new and exciting ways to please each other without the use of degrading pornography which does nothing more than pull you farther from the one you are supposed to be closest to.

—Woman (56), together with her husband (61) for 35 years

“They are professional entertainers who are not out to get your man.”

I LOVE watching porn with my partner! I’m a kinky wife who has had several long-term healthy and fun relationships that have always had porn involved.

I can understand why some women would feel upset by their partner watching porn [if they’re] comparing [themselves] to the women on the screen and the ways they are in bed. However, once you really keep in mind that they are professional entertainers who are not out to get your man and whose life revolves around maintaining their looks and these intense gymnastics in bed, you can start to see it as the entertainment it is. I’ve never stopped my partners from watching porn, but instead, I would playfully get them to show me what porn they like, and I show them what porn I like. We share videos and watch porn together. It’s helped me discover what I do and don’t like and has turned me on to new fantasies. [Plus,] it can help a couple. Embrace open-mindedness and playfulness [by] leaving judgment and insecurity behind because you know that YOU are the warm body in his bed.

—Audria (woman, 31), together with her partner (man, 29) for eight years

“It all makes our sessions more intense.”

I do feel excited about my partners watching openly, and in fact, I have been encouraging them to do so. It is a mixed feeling. As I am polyamorous, some of [my partners] feel wonderful, and in fact, we watch [porn] together, while some hate the idea of porn itself. We have talked about these [things], but discussions don’t ever last more than a minute. [To me, porn] is exciting, and it makes our sex lives actually better.

For the partner who is comfortable with [porn, our conversations have] been about what kind of porn we want to watch, the size of assets on display, what positions are good—all of them. We have tried BDSM [by] learning tricks from the videos. It all makes our sessions more intense.

—Samar (man, 40), polyamorous

“I get turned on imagining him masturbate or watching porn.”

I feel open to my partner watching porn. I wish he would watch it more because he doesn’t really. Every now and then I check in with him to ask when he’s last masturbated, and he always says he doesn’t really anymore. He mostly doesn’t have time, and when we see each other, we have sex. And if he does masturbate, he just fantasizes and imagines scenarios. I get turned on imagining him masturbate or watching porn (I think because I know he doesn’t ever watch it). Whereas in past relationships, I wanted to know exactly what kind of porn [my partners] were watching (probably [due to] hints of jealousy).

We haven’t talked much about me watching porn. He knows I’m a sex writer obviously and is very open to me doing whatever I please sexually. So he’s totally fine with it.

My past partners and I talked about it a lot. I suffered from vaginismus for a long time (eight years), which is an involuntary muscle spasm that makes sex incredibly painful. My first long-term boyfriend of four years [and I] had sex twice the entire time we were together. Because of this, we became really good at oral sex. And he would watch a lot of porn (we were also long-distance). So we talked about his favorite porn scenes and tried to re-enact certain oral positions that we were both into. My second long-term boyfriend of three years was VERY into porn. I went to India for three months, and we were sending our favorite erotic scenes back and forth to one another. It was really hot.

I think watching porn together is really great [for a relationship] and can spark a lot of experimentation. I advise that people look for production companies like CrashPad and Lust Productions instead of tuning to PornHub, which is mostly stolen content. Queer porn is inclusive, exciting, creative, and real.

—S. (woman, 29), together with her partner (man, 37) for three and a half years

“Just being open and honest can really enhance a relationship.”

I do not mind if my partner watches porn. I truly believe that 95 percent [of people] watch porn and the other 5 percent just doesn’t want to admit it. [But while] I don’t mind if my partner watches porn, I do think there should be a healthy balance. If porn begins to affect your relationship in a negative way, obviously, that’s not good, and your partner should limit the amount of porn they watch. My partner and I openly talk about watching porn, and it’s not really a big deal for us.

I feel this way because watching porn is something that a lot of people do, especially men. My partner isn’t addicted to porn or anything, so it doesn’t consume much of his time. Also, it’s sometimes fun to watch porn together. It’s important to be open with your partner about these things. If you’re not and you catch him watching porn and you didn’t know, you might feel betrayed [and] ashamed. But it’s totally normal. Just being open and honest [with your partner] can really enhance a relationship. But if he watches porn when I’m busy or at work or something, I don’t need to know about it. But when I get home, he might say, “Oh babe, I watched a little porn today.” I know it’s normal, so I don’t get upset by it [and it’s the same for him.] It also helps me gauge what’s been turning him on recently. Then I’ll know what to do in the bedroom based off what he’s been watching.

I watch porn a few times a week. Whenever I have a free day, I usually find myself watching porn at some point. When your life is constantly moving, you appreciate the little bit of time you have to indulge. [I look at porn on] Twitter. I don’t usually go to porn websites because I’m afraid [of my devices getting] viruses. And it’s easy to casually watch porn on Twitter without feeling like you’re putting in a lot of effort. I feel like [watching porn is] so taboo, and so many people do it. Most just aren’t open or honest about it. I guess watching porn is supposed to make someone feel shameful, which I don’t at all. I do think if more couples watched porn together, they would know some of their partner’s kinks and sexual interests. It’s a fun way to explore new ideas.

—Kenny (man, 24), together with his partner (man, 24) for a year and a half

Not everyone’s comfortable talking about their sex life, but knowing what goes on in other people’s bedrooms can help us all feel more inspired, curious, and validated in our own experiences. In HG’s monthly column Sex IRL, we’ll talk to real people about their sexual adventures and get as frank as possible—with consent.

Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.