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5 Tips for Talking about Porn for the First Time with Your Partner

By March 4, 2021No Comments
Portions of this post were originally published on Verily Magazine’s site by Alysse Elhage. It has been edited for content, clarity, and updated with newer research stats.

If you’re looking for someone to share your life with, there are so many things to think about—ranging from the mundane issues to deal breakers.

But when it comes to getting on the same page with your partner, there’s one important issue you might be forgetting, or maybe even avoiding: pornography.

Surveys of college-age men show that 93% have been exposed to porn before the age of 18. According to this 2018 study, an estimated 91.5% of men and 60.2% of women consume pornography. So if you’re thinking that porn hasn’t affected your relationship or your partner hasn’t seen anything, the statistics suggest otherwise. It’s a pretty solid bet that your partner casually views or has viewed pornography at some point in their life.

That doesn’t make them a”bad” person or a low-quality partner, but it definitely means you need to have a conversation, especially if this issue is important to you.

Conversation Blueprint

Porn can be more harmful than you might expect

Time and time again, research is coming out that shows how porn damages relationships, dehumanizes sex, and exploits women—women who are often in the sex trade as a result of abuse and/or trafficking and suffer from the harmful aftereffects of someone else’s porn consumption.

So what is it about porn that harms healthy sexual intimacy?

Study after study has shown that contrary to popular belief, porn itself is bad news for long-term relationships. Not an unsupportive and porn-disapproving partner, but the porn itself. The majority of research reflects that porn negatively affects satisfaction within the relationship and ultimately can lead a person to withdraw from a loved one.

Related: Is Watching Porn The Same As Cheating On Your Significant Other?

Let’s take a look at some more info.

• Two highly respected pornography researchers from the University of Alabama, Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillmann, studied the effects of porn and media for more than 30 years. Their findings conclude that consuming pornography can make an individual less satisfied with their partner’s physical appearance, sexual performance, sexual curiosity, and affection. What’s more, some individuals felt not just dissatisfied, but critical of these aspects of their partner.

• A 2012 study by Amanda Maddox and her team concluded that individuals who never viewed sexually-explicit material reported higher relationship quality (on every measure) compared with those who viewed the same explicit material on their own. [2]

• In one of the few studies to follow married couples and their pornography consumption for several years, researchers found that porn did, in fact, harm relationship quality and satisfaction. The researchers concluded:

“In general, married persons who more frequently viewed pornography in 2006 reported significantly lower levels of marital quality in 2012… Pornography’s effect was not simply a proxy for dissatisfaction with sex life or marital decision-making in 2006. In terms of substantive influence, the frequency of pornography use in 2006 was the second strongest predictor of marital quality in 2012.”

• A new study published in 2017 examined the impact of couples where one partner consumes more porn than the other—which is a pretty common pattern. The researchers concluded that “greater discrepancies between partners in pornography use were related to less relationship satisfaction, less stability, less positive communication, and more relational aggression.” [3]

As porn becomes more normalized, we want to be a source of information pointing out that porn is not harmless. This isn’t a moral argument. This comes down to you and your personal relationships, and the opportunity to make an informed decision about what will make them indefinitely thrive.

RelatedAre Married Couples Who Watch Porn More Likely To Divorce?

Fortify

An ongoing conversation is necessary

According to Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, conversations about porn with a significant other are really important. Hawkins says that porn has a myriad of harmful effects on intimate relationships, including a wide range of negative sexual behaviors and attitudes that significantly harm men, women, and especially intimate relationships. But never fear, there are many resources for those who struggle with porn and would like to break free.

Here are some tips on how to broach the subject of porn with your S.O., and open the door for possible future conversations.

1. Don’t make your partner feel like you’re judging or shaming them at first disclosure.

This first, opening conversation won’t go well if your significant other feels blamed or shamed. If you’re a Fighter against porn, it makes sense that the disclosure of a porn habit by someone who struggles would be upsetting. Instead of reverting to being defensive and angry, though, try to keep the conversation open and honest.

For example, Hawkins advises people not to say, “Do you have a problem with porn?” because this puts the partner on the defensive. Instead, if it’s relevant to the conversation and appropriate to ask, try something like, “When was the last time you watched porn?”

Related: Why You Should Stop Feeling Like A Bad Person For Watching Porn

2. Give your partner a chance to explain before jumping to conclusions.

Because of the proliferation of internet porn, many men and women today have been exposed to porn from an early age, and some have possibly been watching porn since grade school. The start of their porn habit is not always their fault, and don’t assume that your partner knows about all the harms of porn.

Porn is so toxic because it plays on a natural human desire for sex. It’s difficult for people to protect themselves from the lure of porn, so hear them out, and be respectful of what they have to say. Actually listen. Keep your mind open to listening to their experiences or perspective before jumping to conclusions.

3. Be clear about your views on porn when it comes to your life and relationship.

If you strongly believe porn has no place in the relationship, you don’t have to be harsh or unloving in order to make your stance known. While it’s important to let your partner know that you understand the struggle to avoid porn, leave no room for confusion when you explain how you feel about porn and what that means for your relationship. Before you bring the issue up, be sure you take time to think through why you feel the way you do about porn and how you would feel if your significant other watched porn.

RelatedIs It A Good Idea To Date Someone Who Watches Porn?

This means educating yourself about the harms of porn beforehand, and then you can use the conversation as an opportunity to teach your significant other.

“Maybe your partner doesn’t realize that porn is harmful to intimate relationships or that women are often forced or coerced into participation in porn,” Hawkins says.

Skull And Dagger

4. Check in every now and then.

Even if your partner shares your views on porn, Hawkins advises checking in with each other every once in a while, just to make sure everything is okay.

“Porn thrives on secrecy, and the nature of porn is to leave people feeling ashamed and alone,” Hawkins says. “We need to provide an open environment for communicating with our loved ones about it, so they don’t retreat and try to deal with a porn problem by themselves.”

Related: Tips To Quit: 3 Stages Of Breaking Free From Porn Obsession

One way to check-in without coming across as accusatory or suspicious is to ask something like, “Is it ever hard for you to resist porn when we are apart?” or “What are some ways we could work together to protect our relationship from porn?” This gives your partner an opportunity to reach out to you for support if they are struggling with porn or to assure you that they are doing okay.

5. What if your partner thinks porn is no big deal?

Hawkins says that while viewing porn can be a red flag in any relationship, it should not necessarily be a deal-breaker because most people today have been exposed to porn in some way and because people can change if they are educated about the harms and have support.

“That’s why it is so important to let your partner know early on in a relationship how you feel about porn and what your boundaries are regarding it,” Hawkins says. “If they are not respectful of your views and your boundaries or willing to change if they have been using porn, then maybe you need to rethink that relationship.”

Related: Even After My Divorce, I Don’t Believe Porn Is A Dating Deal-Breaker

But if the proliferation of porn has taught us anything, perhaps it’s that none of us can afford to ignore the problem of porn and its negative effects, not if we value healthy intimacy and hope to build marriages and families that last. No matter how difficult it may be for us as married or single women to have conversations about porn with the men we love, we need to be talking about the harms of porn and why it has no place in healthy relationships or a healthy society.

Click here to read the original article on Verily by Alysse Elhage.

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Shame is never helpful

One takeaway is this—while it’s unhealthy to watch pornography, and life is much better without it, that doesn’t mean the person who watches it is “bad” or would automatically make a “bad” partner. It can be easy to villainize and condemn all porn consumers, regardless of how they started watching or why they continue to watch, but that would be unhelpful.

At the end of the day, people watch porn. It’s a fact of our modern digital age. These people have the ability to be amazing partners, and defining their worth based solely on their past experience with porn denies who they are as people with character and a personality and a heart. There’s always a story surrounding a porn habit or someone who is struggling to quit—take a moment to ask them about it and see what it reveals about their deeper character.

And if you need, use our conversation guide to help you get started and know what to say.

Conversation Blueprint

We can’t tell you whether it’s right for you to be in a relationship with someone facing an active pornography problem, but we can tell you it’s an important conversation to be had, especially if you feel strongly about porn and are dedicated to education about its harms. We can also tell you that love seeks to understand—and sometimes go beyond the way things seem at the surface.

Labeling someone as being equal to their porn habit or experience with porn alone can easily lead us to forget everything about them that makes them who they are. Obviously not ever having exposure to porn doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to be a great partner, just like exposure to porn doesn’t automatically make you a bad partner.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Recovering Porn Addicts Can Still Make The Best Partners

Having the porn conversation is a must in a society where sexually explicit material has become so accessible and mainstream. Be as open and non-shaming as possible with your partner when talking about porn. Odds are they have a past with it to some degree, so try to learn about how they feel about it now and what they’re doing to fight it.

Solid relationships are built on communication and the ability to talk about things that matter to both parties. Talk with your significant other about porn. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.

Citations

[1] Wilson, G. (2013). Studies Linking Porn Use Or Porn/Sex Addiction To Sexual Dysfunctions, Lower Arousal, And Lower Sexual & Relationship Satisfaction; Retrieved From https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/studies-reported-relationships-between-porn-use-or-porn-addictionsex-addiction-and-sexual
[2] Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior40(2), 441–448. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4
[3] Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., & Brown, C. (2016). Differences in pornography use among couples: Associations with satisfaction, stability, and relationship processes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 145-148, doi: 10.1007/s10508-015-0562-9
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