NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, April 13, 2024

How to Stop Getting Into Power Struggles About Your Spouse's Porn Viewing

Many women complain that their husband's porn viewing makes them feel angry, anxious and insecure.  

They say that discovering their husband's porn use makes them feel self conscious about their own bodies, especially when they see images of beautiful naked women in the porn their husband is watching.

Stop Getting Into Power Struggles About Porn

Some women also say they think mainstream porn is "disgusting" because it's degrading and exploitive of women and against their own moral values.

Now that the Internet provides access to pornography 24/7, more couples are getting into arguments about porn viewing. These arguments often devolve the point where some wives call their husbands "sex addicts" or "porn addicts" with ultimatums to go to therapy "or else."  

Most of the time arguments about porn viewing go nowhere because couples get locked in power struggles with nowhere to go. These power struggles leave wives feeling dejected and hurt and they leave husbands feeling defensive, guilty and ashamed. 

So, there's no real discussion about what would be most productive--the underlying issues involved, which could bring a couple together so they can understand each other.

(NoteI've written this article from a heteronormative perspective because this is what I usually see in my sex therapy and couples therapy private practice in New York City; however, these concepts can apply to any two people in a relationship regardless of gender or sexual orientation.)

Occasional Porn Viewing vs. Compulsive Porn Viewing
Although it can be upsetting to discover that your husband has been secretly watching porn or, even worse, that he has made promises to you that he'll stop watching porn but then you discover he's still doing it, porn doesn't have to be a threat to your relationship, especially if it's not interfering with your sex life or your husband's daily activities of living.

Stop Getting Into Power Struggles About Porn

So, I'm not referring to men who watch porn compulsively where it's interfering with his daily activities. That's a different matter. I'm referring to the average man who watches porn occasionally on his own in the privacy of your home.

Here are some things you might not know:
  • Just because your partner watches porn doesn't make him (or her) a "porn addict" or "sex addict." Unfortunately, these terms are thrown around too easily and they're hurtful and destructive. Not only are these terms of out of date and misleading, but they're not relevant if your spouse isn't watching porn compulsively to the point where it's interfering with your sex life or daily activities. So, rather than using these derogatory terms, try to get curious about why your spouse watches porn so you can listen to him with an open mind. (If you're curious about sexual compulsivity so you can understand the difference, see my article: Sexual Health: Treating Sexual Compulsivity in Sex Therapy: Sexual Addiction or Out of Control Sexual Behavior [OCSB?]).
  • Porn is fantasy. It's not real. Your husband knows that. He knows he's watching actors acting out a script. He might be drawn to the female character in the video, but he's not falling for the actual person because he doesn't know her. He only sees the character she's portraying in the fantasy--not the woman who has her own problems in her relationship and her own personal stressors.  Furthermore, your husband probably knows that mainstream porn doesn't depict real life situations where one or both spouses might be tired or unwell. He probably doesn't expect sex between the two of you to resemble what he's seeing in porn because he knows it's make believe.
  • Under most circumstances, average porn viewing doesn't take away from your sex life. Under the right circumstances, ethical porn, also known as feminist porn or fair trade porn, can enhance your sex life, if you're open to it (see my article: Understanding Your Sex Script).
  • Many men (and many women too) often use porn for quick stress relief. It can be a quick way of getting sexually aroused and masturbating to overcome stress or to help with sleep. 
  • Most men experience masturbation with porn as being a very different experience from making love to their partner. Masturbating to porn is usually a quick release whereas making love to a spouse or partner involves an emotional and sexual connection.  These are two very different experiences.
How to Stop Arguing About Your Spouse's Porn Viewing
As long as you're arguing with your spouse based on a right-or-wrong perspective and giving him ultimatums, you're unlikely to resolve this issue.  In fact, arguing in this way usually makes the conflict worse.

Typically, when men are threatened with ultimatums about porn, they might try to stop watching just to appease their partner, but they often feel misunderstood and resentful.

Also, as mentioned above, some men try to appease their partners by telling them they'll stop, but they're not being honest. They're just trying to do a better job of hiding it. 

Obviously, lying only makes the issue worse because it fuels the other partner's doubt and mistrust and this leads to bigger problems. So, when I'm working with a couple who is  struggling with this problem, I strongly urge the husband not to lie about it.

Instead of arguing with your husband on moral grounds, speak to him about how you feel about yourself when you know he's watching porn.  This will involve owning your feelings and opening up to your spouse to allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable

Understandably, this might not be easy when you feel hurt and angry.  But speaking from an "I" perspective about your feelings about yourself is more likely to evoke your husband's empathy and understanding so he can listen and respond without being defensive. He can also express his own emotional vulnerability so you can empathize and understand his point of view.

In addition, when you speak about your feelings about yourself as it relates to his porn viewing, it provides an opening for the two of you to discuss the underlying issues involved instead of getting into a power struggle about porn.  This can provide a better chance of making progress than getting into a power struggle.

Compare the following statements
Compare Statements 1 and 2 to Responses 1 and 2:

Statement 1:
"Porn is disgusting! I can't believe you would rather look at those women in the video than look at me."

Response to Statement 1:
"Well, that's your opinion! Stop telling me what to do!"


Statement 2:
"I feel insecure about my body when I know you're seeing those beautiful women in the video. When I feel insecure, I feel like you would rather look at them than me."

Response to Statement 2:
"I didn't know you felt that way. I love you and I love your body. I don't want you to feel insecure. Let's try to work this out."

Statement 1, which is hostile and judgmental, is usually a non-starter if you want to have a calm and productive discussion with your spouse. Rather than responding with empathy, your spouse is more likely to respond by matching your hostility and getting defensive.

Statement 2, which is emotionally vulnerable because it reveals an insecurity, provides an opening for your husband to empathize with your feelings so he'll be more likely to address the issue in an open way.

Statement 2 also allows for the possibility that the two of you could talk more openly about your sex life to try to improve your sex script if it has become repetitive and boring (see my article: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex).

If you object to mainstream porn because you think it's immoral or degrading to women, you might want to consider ethical porn which is usually made by feminist women with women's pleasure in mind. If you enjoy it, you and your partner could watch it together, which you both might enjoy.

If you object to all pornography--both mainstream and ethical porn--then you and your spouse can talk about reaching a compromise about it--just as you would about any other issue that you both disagree about--without power struggles and volatility.

If you can't stop the arguments and power struggles, consider seeking help in sex therapy.  

A skilled sex therapist, who works with individual adults and couples, can help you to develop the necessary skills to talk about this and get to the underlying issues involved so these issues can get worked through.

Note: Most couples therapists aren't sex therapists so they don't have the training and skills to work with this issue.

Get Help in Sex Therapy
If you and your spouse get stuck in power struggles about porn, you can seek help from a licensed mental health professional who is a sex therapist.

Get Help in Sex Therapy

Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

There is no nudity, physical exams or sex during sex therapy sessions (see my article: What Are Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy?).

Individual adults and couples seek help in sex therapy for a variety reasons (see my article: What Are Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a skilled sex therapist so you and your partner can have a more fulfilling life together.

Book: You might also find it helpful to read His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America's PornPanic with Honest Talk About Sex by Marty Klein, Ph.D., Sex Therapist.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.