Valley V-Spot: My Partner is a Porn Addict, Now What?

Hi Yana,

My partner has struggled with a pornography/masturbation addiction since he was a teen. I’m not against self pleasure. In fact, I believe it’s important and wonderful for everyone to experience, even when partnered.

We’ve been together for 4 years, and our sex life is generally great. He was upfront with me about his issues with porn (his words) at an early point, but at the beginning he was contacting people outside of our monogamous relationship looking for sex. I was, as you’d expect, very hurt by this. He assured me that he would never have actually cheated but was just “seeking pleasure.”

Things have largely gotten better: he doesn’t contact people or seek interaction, but still indulges in porn on the regular. I find myself resenting this, despite believing that freedom of self pleasure is important. Our sex life is hugely affected by his masturbation habits and I’m afraid of how he’s sought out other people in the past.

I’m at a point now where I can’t help but wonder if it will ever change. Is it entirely wrong for me to want it to change at all? I’m trying to do right by him emotionally and sexually, but I’m also trying to do right by myself. Am I looking at it all wrong?

All the best,

Left Loveless

Dear Loveless,

Porn addiction (not officially included in the DSM-5, FYI) is a controversial animal in the therapeutic world. And without diving too deep into that debate here, I’ll tell you where my biases lie: I believe that porn — like many other substances and habits — can be used both in healthy and also in unhealthy ways. This unhealthiness, I believe, is largely in the eyes of the beholder and also in the impact it has on their lives.

Meaning, while there are more “traditional” addictions like those to alcohol and drugs, there are also many things we can use in unhealthy ways to cope with something/s that we feel like we currently can not cope with in other, perhaps healthier ways: sleeping, shopping, or even “socially acceptable” avenues like exercise or dieting, can all be used in compulsive or damaging ways without being labeled an official “addiction.”

Where my line is drawn in the sand around labeling this as problematic, Loveless, is here: Is the compulsive behavior causing distress for the person experiencing it and/or in that person’s significant relationships?

As you’ve described, this issue is at least certainly problematic: he himself considers his porn use an “issue” and you have clearly experienced some distress around the impact his porn use has on your relationship — a relationship that at one point he agreed to as being monogamous. He then broke that agreement when he secretly reached out to others. If his porn use and outside relationships caused no distress to either of you and you were both happy and okay with it, that would be another story. But you aren’t, and that’s valid, too.

In a pleasure-positive culture, it can be challenging to give yourself permission to actually not be okay with something like your partner’s masturbation habits for fear of slipping into sex negativity. But you can be both pleasure-positive and also have boundaries in your relationship – in fact, a huge part of pleasure-positivity is knowing both your Yeses and your Nos.

His self-awareness about his own issues is all great and good, but this awareness doesn’t clear him from being accountable to the ways they affect you. This doesn’t need to be handled in a way that labels him as bad or broken (and you don’t seem like the type who would). But, it’s time for a talk between the two of you in which you each map out where your desires and your limits lie because it sounds like you’re getting dangerously close to hitting yours in an irreparable way.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com

Yana Tallon-Hicks

Author: Yana Tallon-Hicks

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