My Boyfriend Chooses Porn Over Me!

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Warning: Today's post deals with sexual content and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.

In today's episode, the hosts are grappling with a letter from a woman worried about her relationship — specifically, how pornography affects it. She writes about a time her boyfriend encouraged her to leave so he could watch porn and masturbate, and another time she walked in on him. "I love him, but I can't share my bed with porn," she writes. Her boyfriend argues that it's normal and not personal.

To help in their discussion, the Sugars are joined by Wendy Maltz, sex therapist and co-author of The Porn Trap.


Dear Sugars,

I am writing to you because I need advice on a taboo subject I never thought I'd need advice about: porn. I'm a woman in my late 20s and could count the number of porn scenes I've watched in my lifetime on one hand. I don't get turned on by it, and I suppose I judge its impact on relationships and its stereotypical abuse by men.

My on-and-off boyfriend of three years uses porn and has been open about it in the past, but I thought his use stopped after we got back together. Maybe a year ago, there was one evening when he encouraged me to take the dog for a walk so he could engage in "man activities." I was appalled. Cue fight. His defense: All men do it, it's natural, and I should get over it. Somehow, we got past that fight.

Now, a year later, I have moved away from a beautiful city, great job and wonderful friends to a new city to be with him. We wanted to be together and the move was seamless, as if it was meant to be. I should mention that we do have a great relationship and a great sex life.

But after two weeks of living together, I walked in the door. He said "Dangit!" His explanation was that he was about to engage in "man stuff." Seriously?! But I just walked in the door — why don't we engage in "couple stuff?" Why would my coming home be a bad thing? We can enjoy each other! I was irate. Again, cue the fight. His defense: All men do it, it's not personal, it means nothing, it doesn't diminish our sexual relationship, it's natural and it's my problem. He's not helping me feel differently about it at all.

Sugars — what do I do? I love him, but I can't share my bed with porn. I can't feel adored and accepted by him when I now know he needs those images of other women in his life. I don't know how deep this goes, but is he really picking porn over a great relationship? Help me, Sugars. What do I do?

Signed,

Scorned & Sporned

Wendy Maltz: This is a situation where there's a betrayal of intimacy and trust. Scorned & Sporned's partner has actually said he prefers to be with porn than to be with her. She has good reason to be bothered by this. She recognizes that her partner is doing something harmful to the relationship, and her partner is not seeing it as a problem. In fact, he's angry and he's pushing her away, which are responses of people who are triggered and shamed.

Cheryl Strayed: I do think that this boyfriend is being very inconsiderate and not taking his girlfriend's feelings seriously, so I'm not going to back him up on that. But he isn't totally incorrect in saying, "Listen, this is natural, normal and all men do it." I think he's saying something honest to his girlfriend when he defends his porn use.

Steve Almond: I can agree with that, but I also think that when he says, "It means nothing," that's not true. It does mean something. It means, like a lot of men, there are moments where I will say, "I'm choosing to do this because either 'couple stuff' isn't available to me or 'couple stuff' is too complicated, it's too inconvenient, it's too laborious. I just want to have a bio-emission with this fantasy of sex."

I think S&S is saying, "Wait a second, is there a part of your sexuality that I have no role in and that's taking you away from me?" She feels like porn is in their bed. She needs to say to her partner, "Look, this isn't going to go away. We need to talk about your porn use, what it means to you and what it means to me. We have to try to bring it into the light." Otherwise, her partner is going to keep saying, "You're being uptight," and he's going to keep driving her away.

Wendy: One of the things to look at, too, is how much even just the three of us can automatically confuse masturbation with using pornography, as if using pornography to have an orgasm has become today's masturbation. They're different. In my work as a counselor, a lot of female partners are not really upset by the idea of masturbation. A lot of couples have integrated healthy self-solitary sex, and it's not an issue. But pornography, for a woman, is a competitor.

Cheryl: Scorned & Sporned, I would suggest that you and your partner enlist the help of a therapist because you guys think about porn in such profoundly different ways. It will help to have a neutral, informed third party who can help you either negotiate some positive terms, or to come to the truth that you're not meant to be together.

Wendy: S&S's letter reminds me of a quote by a psychiatrist from the early 1900s, Harry Stack Sullivan: "When the satisfaction or security of another person becomes as significant to one as one's own satisfaction or security, then the state of love exists. ... Under no other circumstances is a state of love present, regardless of the popular usage of the term." And this is what's lost here in this relationship — S&S's satisfaction and security is threatened, and her partner is not loving in his response.

Cheryl: That's beautiful, and I think this applies to anyone who's having a relationship problem, whether it's porn or something else. If your partner doesn't care about your satisfaction and security as much as he cares about his own, that's something to really pay attention to, and a change needs to be made when that's the case.

You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear more about how porn can affect relationships.

Have a question for the Sugars? Email dearsugarradio@gmail.com and it may be answered on a future episode.

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