Husbands Watch Porn, Wives Despair—But Why?

When couples argue about porn, they're usually arguing about something else.

Posted Jul 19, 2017

“I caught him betraying me,” wailed the email from a stranger named Mary. “He’s been watching porn. Why? And how can I ever trust him again when he watches women do anything he wants?”

SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock
Source: SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock

I get this email from Mary, or Maria, or Mishti every single week. The questions and themes are remarkably consistent:

  • Why do men watch porn?
  • Why do men promise to stop watching, and then keep watching?
  • Why don’t men understand how their porn-watching breaks women’s hearts?
  • How can I make love with a man who watches porn?
  • How can I trust a man who watches porn?
  • Aren’t there any men who don’t hate women?

I feel sympathetic toward anyone who feels betrayed, and so yesterday I responded:

Dear Mary,

  • Men watch porn because it's entertaining to watch naked women (and/or men) while they masturbate. It generally has nothing to do with how they feel about women (or men).
  • Men don't watch porn because their partners are inadequate. 
  • Some men are jerks. Some of them watch porn, others don't. Most men aren’t jerks. Some of them watch porn, others don’t. Porn-watching doesn't predict jerk-itude.
  • Men promise to not watch porn because they don't want to deal with their partner's pain or anger. It's an inappropriate promise to ask for, and it's a foolish promise to make.
  • Men shouldn't break their promises. 
  • Women shouldn't go hunting for evidence of men's private behavior.
  • Almost all conflict about porn is actually about something else. If your partner never watched porn, would you two have an ideal relationship? I doubt it, but if so, let go of the porn issue and enjoy paradise. If not, talk about the stuff you really need to talk about. If he refuses, let him know that not talking is a deal-breaker for you.

Some women seem to feel that there’s an implicit assumption that their partner won’t watch porn, even though he never suggested such a thing. Therefore, they feel betrayed when he “breaks” the assumed “contract.” That’s a mistake. 

Some women seem to feel that because their partner watches porn that the woman finds disgusting, scary, or confusing, they have a right to object to him watching it. She has no such right, any more than he has a right to patrol the TV, novels, or videos she watches. In an adult relationship, whatever objection she has to his porn shouldn’t carry more or less weight than his objection to her romance novels or cat videos.

Some women seem to believe their partner has “left” them for porn. No sane person does that. People do withdraw from sexual relationships for many reasons, often passively or without adequate discussion. That’s a legitimate thing to complain about. Criticizing a man’s porn watching as the “cause” of a couple’s poor or missing sex life is as cowardly as a man withdrawing sexually without explaining his dissatisfaction.

I would never, ever blame a woman for a man’s porn watching. And while a few men do blame their partner, most men don’t. They don’t think porn watching needs an explanation.

So why do women blame themselves? Why do women say “his porn watching makes me feel fat?” Or “I won’t do what those actresses do, and it’s not fair to compare me to them." Unless a man looks at a woman and says she should look like a porn actress or perform like a porn actress, the woman shouldn’t say it to herself. And if the man says that, don’t blame porn. The guy is a jerk.

Porn has been on earth forever, and it isn’t going away. 

Plenty of couples manage a satisfying sex life while one or both of them is a porn-watcher. On the other hand, some couples can’t manage a satisfying sex life even though neither of them watches porn. To those couples, I offer my sympathy, and my book, Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, and How to Get It.

For those couples who just can’t resolve their conflict about one partner’s porn use, I again offer my sympathy, and my new book, His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic With Honest Talk about Sex.  

Some ways of thinking maintain couples' conflict about porn. So to help—not to criticize—I also offer the following questions for women who are in agony about their mate’s porn use:

  • Why do you feel that you have a right to a porn-free house, and why is that right more important than your husband’s right to have porn in his house?
  • Why do you give your husband’s porn-watching meaning that he doesn’t give it? And why do you believe that your interpretation of his behavior is more accurate than his description of it?
  • Why would you wreck a good relationship over his private behavior?
  • Why would you wreck a good sexual relationship over his private behavior? 
  • Why is it OK for you to hack into your husband’s private stuff? Is it OK for him to hack into your private stuff if he doesn't like what you're doing?

Most importantly, if you’re unhappy about your sex life, why not talk about that instead of talking about porn?