Sex

Why Do Some Women Want Their Partner to Stop Watching Porn?

Battles over porn can undermine a couple's sex and intimacy.

Posted Jun 27, 2020

As you know, every week I work with couples in distress about pornography.

Most heterosexual women who want their mate to stop watching porn have predictable reasons: it’s infidelity; it kills your desire for me; it gives you sexual autonomy; it gives you expectations of what’s normal that I don’t share; and making porn is bad for the actresses.

Since almost everyone who watches porn does it while masturbating, what some wives and sweethearts mean by “no porn” is “no masturbating, either.” A surprising number of men acquiesce to this, whether from guilt, shame, or fear; a few occasionally agree that it’s a good idea.

Some men really do change their lives and stop masturbating. Some try, and don’t last a week. Sooner or later, most men who stop masturbating resume, although they rarely tell their partners they want to change the agreement. This can lead to arguments about broken promises, which is about power, not sex or porn.

That said, every few months I see a couple where the wife or girlfriend says “If you do it without porn, you can masturbate.”

What benefits does a woman expect from this arrangement? Logical or not, conscious or not, it’s usually one or more of these:

  • She imagines her guy’s desire for her will increase 
  • She has less fear of his infidelity with a real woman
  • She feels a greater sense of control in life
  • She triumphs over her actress-competitors 
  • She no longer has to fear a prime source of sexually diverse (“perverse”?) ideas

I understand the impulses that drive the desire to feel more control, more desired, and so on. But struggling with these issues by regulating a partner’s porn use is not a very effective way to resolve them.

When a man in individual therapy tells me that his angry sweetheart has mandated he masturbate without porn, I assume that he’ll just think about porn (or neighbor, ex-girlfriend, movie/music star) while he masturbates instead of watching it. I'm not saying he should; I'm saying he often will.

Of course he will. It’s what humans have been doing since the beginning of time. The internet didn’t invent masturbation, and internet porn didn’t invent fantasizing.

So when I follow up by asking what the new arrangement accomplishes, the answer is usually “Well, she feels better.” True, the wife or girlfriend may be less angry (although her frustration may reappear when eliminating porn doesn’t change anything).

I almost never hear a guy say, “Now I realize how porn was undermining my mental health, sex life, marriage, etc.” I almost never hear a guy tell me that since he gave up porn “I desire sex with my partner more,” or “We’ve resolved our conflicts about which sexual activities are off the table.” 

Those are reasonable outcomes to want. If you want them, some serious conversation--or therapy--is a better investment than eliminating porn from a guy's life.

For years, I’ve been saying that conflict about pornography is usually about something else. One thing it’s typically about is the decline (or collapse) of a couple’s sex life. Many, many couples struggle with this and just can’t find the emotional strength to bring it up, or discuss it to a satisfying conclusion. 

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To be clear, some men act like jerks regarding porn: they carelessly leave it available for their wife or kids to stumble on; they talk about it way too much, making others uncomfortable; they criticize their mate by explicitly comparing her to porn stars. This is ugly, and any reasonable person would resent it; but these behaviors are NOT about porn. That would be like blaming golf for someone tracking their muddy golf shoes into the kitchen every week.

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If you’re concerned that your partner is too involved with porn, share your concerns, the same way you’d share your concern that he’s not going to the gym very much, or seems to be smoking a lot of pot lately. “Let’s investigate this together” is a more effective approach than “Let me tell you what you’re doing wrong.” “I’m concerned about you” is good (and should get his attention), but if he says “Thanks, but no thanks,” that doesn’t leave you many options.

Maybe your partner is too involved with porn. If so, he’s fortunate if you want to explore this with him. Talking as partners rather than as adversaries or a parent-child critique is the only way that will be effective. You may want to ask him how he thinks his porn-watching affects him and your relationship. You may want to ask if he'd rather watch less.

Do you want to bring your mate closer to you sexually? Regardless of your sexual orientation or identity, here are some suggestions:

  • Periodically tell your partner you find them attractive—and in what ways.
  • Touch your partner casually—shoulder, hair, hand—at least once on most days.
  • Once in a while, recall and share an enjoyable sexual encounter you two had.
  • Tell your partner how you feel after enjoyable sex with them—close, alive, graceful, feminine, etc.
  • Suggest a specific time to get together for a non-genital physical activity. For most people kissing is highly intimate, so you may want to start with cuddling, holding, naked rubbing, or undressing each other. When you feel “OK, now we’ve done that,” do it a little more.
  • And do remember that if you're discontent with your sex life, talk about what you'd like, not just what you dislike. Examples might include “When we take more time to get excited,” or “When you look at me during sex.”

Again, remember that getting him to watch less porn is only a means to an end. Do directly discuss what you'd like to change (more partner sex, less secrecy, a common bedtime, whatever) instead of assuming that reducing or eliminating porn is the only way to get what you want.