A Wife Writes: My Husband Shouldn’t Need Porn, It’s Cheating

Many women insist married men should not watch porn or use it for solo sex.

Posted Dec 16, 2018

A recent comment about a previous post: 

I just read your “His Porn, Her Pain.” It’s bullsh*t! My husband has absolutely no need to masturbate if I’m around, and if I’m not and he watches porn, it’s cheating. There is no reason for men in relationships to go elsewhere for sexual satisfaction.

Porn is disgusting and presents an unrealistic view of sex. Real women don’t behave like porn stars. Porn warps guys’ perception of what women really want and how they behave intimately. It’s dangerous and should not be part of any relationship.

Your article gives men permission to use porn to cheat on their partners with the poor excuse of needing to self-soothe. You have no right giving that permission. If a man has a real live woman to help him de-stress, why would he use his hand?

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My reply: Clearly, you have strong feelings about porn. I doubt I can change them. I offer this reply in the hope that women who don’t condemn porn as you do might decide to accept the inevitable—their men watching it with one hand busy. 

Among men, masturbation is virtually inevitable and often quite frequent, for many men, daily for decades. It's how many men de-stress and self-soothe. Compared with women, men self-sex much more—according to an Indiana University survey of 5,865 Americans age 14 to 94, around 50 percent more in all age groups. Solo sex requires erotic fantasies. Men’s own get stale so they turn to porn.

Why do so many men stroke so much? Testosterone. Men’s hormones propel them to solo sex and, by extension, to porn. Many women ask men’s indulgence regarding their own hormone-influenced ups and downs—PMS, cramps, postpartum upsets, and menopausal mood swings. But some women don't grant men the same kindness. When people born as women take testosterone on the way to becoming trans-men, they universally express astonishment at how much more frequently they think about sex—and do something about it, mostly solo.

You seem to believe that marriage licenses grant women total control over their husbands’ sexuality.  If the two of you both agree to monogamy, then spouses have the right to demand sexual exclusivity, that is, no partner sex with anyone else. 

But your husband’s masturbation is not sex outside your marriage. It’s within your relationship, just not with you. In my view, self-sexing is not cheating. People have the right to masturbate, including those in couples. Self-sexing begins in childhood and for a large proportion of humanity, continues into old age. I guarantee your husband was masturbating long before he ever met you. Why swear off apple pie once you’ve tasted blueberry? 

Perhaps you stopped masturbating the moment you said,  “I do.” If so, you’re in the minority of women. Like men, many women also self-soothe with one hand, not as often, but just as enthusiastically. Another Indiana study of a representative sample of 3,800 American women shows that more half (53 percent) own vibrators. Only a small fraction used them during partner lovemaking. The vast majority used them for self-sexing. More than three-quarters of the women surveyed (77 percent) agreed that “vibrators are a healthy part of women’s sexuality.” Do you think the tens of millions of married women who play with vibrators are cheating on their husbands? Solo sex while partnered is normal and fine—as long as it doesn’t interfere with life responsibilities or partner lovemaking. 

You are correct that real women don’t behave like porn stars, and that porn may warp men’s expectations of sex. I’ve spent a good deal of my career counseling men that porn is not a how-to manual, but fantasy—see my previous post on the subject. Porn is like the chase scenes in action movies—exciting and fun to watch, but not the way to drive. Most men understand that porn is a cartoon version of sex. In countless cartoons, men have watched the Roadrunner bash Wile E. Coyote over the head with a sledgehammer. But in real life, only a vanishingly small fraction of men attempt anything close. Sane people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Most men can tell the difference between porn sex and real lovemaking. 

The problem is that evolution is all about sending one’s genes into the next generation, which requires intercourse.  Testosterone evolved to keep men focused on intercourse.  I’ve appealed to men to expand their approach to lovemaking, to do it the way most women say they prefer, sex based on leisurely, playful, mutual whole-body massage that, after twenty minutes or so, includes the genitals. But testosterone often trumps arguments more eloquent than mine.

If you think porn is disgusting and dangerous, you have every right to your opinion. Many critics go even further, contending that porn contributes to sexual assault and divorce. Actually, since the late 1990s when porn exploded on the Internet, the U.S. sexual assault rate has declined 58 percent, and the divorce rate has dropped 40 percent. More porn seems to be correlated with less rape and less divorce.

Great sex requires hot fantasies, and porn supplies them. Erotic fantasies are a key ingredient of enjoyable sex. Studies by University of Vermont researchers show that those who report the most vivid erotic fantasies feel most sexually satisfied and report the fewest sex problems. The number one fantasy is sex with someone other than one’s mate. 

Speaking of erotic fantasies, many women enjoy steamy romance novels. Like porn, romances are unrealistic about sex and relationships. Consider Fifty Shades of Grey. Since it’s release in 2011, the BDSM romance trilogy has sold more than 100 million copies, making it one of the best-selling novels of all time. The three books and movie versions are filled with spanking, flogging, restraints, and rough sex. Nonetheless, they've been huge hits with women, fueling lots of solo sex.  I see nothing wrong with that. And if Fifty Shades and other R-rated movies spur women to pull out their vibrators, what's wrong with men varnishing the flagpole to porn? 

You say I have no right to give men permission to masturbate. Believe me, they don’t need anyone’s permission. During more than 40 years of writing about sexuality, I can’t tell you how many men have confided: I’ve yanked so hard for so long it’s a miracle the thing’s still attached.

You call porn disgusting. You’re not alone. Porn-bashing women are quite vocal. One might think most, if not all women share your opinion. Actually, only a minority of women feels the way you do. That’s what University of Arkansas researchers found in the best survey to date of women’s feelings about porn. Some findings:

         • His porn use means our relationship has big problems: 17 percent agreed, 74 percent disagreed.

         • His porn use means he no longer desires me: 17 percent agreed, 74 percent disagreed.

         • His porn use shows he no longer cares about our relationship: 21 percent agreed, 75 percent disagreed.

         • His porn use has nothing to do with me: 65 percent agreed, 25 percent disagreed.

This study shows that most women don’t feel particularly distressed that their men stroke to porn. They accept it for what it is—inevitable. Which raises a question: Why do you think most women feel this way?

References

Bridges, A.J. et al “Romantic Partners Use of Pornography: Its Significance for Women,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2003) 29:1.

Herbenick, D. et al. “Sexual Behavior in the United States: Results from a National Probability Sample of Men and Women Ages 14-94,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2010) 7(suppl 5):255.

Herbenick, D. et al. “Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use By Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2009) 6:1857.

Hicks, T.V. and H. Leitenberg. “Sexual Fantasies About One’s Partner Versus Someone Else: Gender Differences and Incidence in Frequency,” Journal of Sex Research (2001) 38:43.

Decline in the divorce rate: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/23/144-years-of-marriage-and-divorce-in-the-united-states-in-one-chart/?utm_term=.59cb6daf809a

More porn, less rape:https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fvsv9410.pdf

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