my partner watches porn
October 9, 2017

My Partner Struggled With Pornography – Excerpt from “Big Porn, Inc.”

Excerpt from the book Big Porn, Inc, edited by Abigail Bray and Melinda Tankard Reist. (Learn more about the book here.)

I’m anxious about writing this. Anxious that although I know rationally there is no way you can know who I am, I am still afraid. In one sense you will know me. I’m the woman behind you in the supermarket queue or sitting opposite you on the train. Middle-aged, middle-class, educated, professional. Ordinary. Yet there is something in my life I will hide from you, no matter how close we are.

When I first met my partner, way back when, one quiet afternoon on my own in his apartment I came across three dog-eared copies of Playboy in the back of his wardrobe. Flicking through the images of women in silk lingerie reclining in misty boudoirs, I was held. I could breathe these pictures to life with my own sexual imagination. They were mysterious, partial, hinting. It was a brief encounter with pornography. My partner and I stayed together, the paper pictures long thrown out.

Fast-forward many years. It happened like this. I borrowed my partner’s laptop and as the cursor rolled slowly over the internet history it revealed a trail of regular porn viewing. Panic. I clicked on to a couple of the sites. For someone who had never seen internet porn, the sudden imagery of women displayed arse-up, faceless, was deeply, deeply distressing. These were explicit; viciously invading my sexual identity and choking it with images that were distorted, ugly, degraded. The internet history revealed that this was no occasional thing but a regular search on my partner’s part.

How can I convey the way my stomach lurched and sickened with the discovery? A long-term loving relationship is built on things that are shared, unspoken, gathering over time. Love and making love; intimate, hidden, soft, warm and lingering; ruddy and boisterous; funny and fumbled. Trust, a commitment, ways of relating, a sexual life that you believe – oh, but believed until now – you both treasured. To discover suddenly that your partner has been visiting a secret, voyeur’s world, and has sought out these other images of women for arousal – many, many women – is devastating.

I looked. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. But I looked because I needed to know what I was dealing with. I needed to know how far it extended. Who is this person I no longer recognise? I confronted him. A wild, visceral rage. His first reaction was to lie; to lie about the extent and to downplay it. I wasn’t supposed to know. For how long? Three, maybe four years – three, four times a week. And maybe more than that when working away, alone in hotels. A rare few men may be so addicted that the viewing has become compulsive, but many more, much more insidiously across society as a whole, have become habitual viewers. Ordinary men, with ordinary partners. You and me.

I was repulsed. In this climate of permissiveness, we are not supposed to confess to repulsion. It sounds censorious, prim, prejudiced. We are supposed to be open-minded, extending our boundaries of acceptance. Rampant individualism, the free market, the liberal gods of freedom and choice, insist on each to his own by right. But where does another’s supposed right infringe upon mine?

Once discovered, he sought to justify and minimise the situation by one-sided arguments – “it’s just guys’ stuff; a bit of fun; all guys look at porn; hey, get real – it’s the way the world is now”. The implication being that I was a prude, overreacting and out of date. “It was just ‘fantasy’,” he said, and therefore not related to the real sex that we shared. My reply, “It’s obvious fakery for the women – you can see that” was met with “No, no, you have that wrong, they are genuinely enjoying it.” Any suggestion of the reality that women were coerced or treated badly was dismissed. They were fine, they were well paid; self-delusional and ambiguous arguments ran amok. He seemed to have gone to a different place; to comment about the women in porn and me in a cold and detached way, to say things about women’s bodies, about sexual acts which came out of his mouth with swingeing bluntness. A layer of empathy had been ground away. My man. The one I had promised to love and cherish.

We attended counselling. To my initial relief the first counsellor acknowledged my enormous distress, and likened it to the discovery of an affair. While I certainly wouldn’t have wished my partner to have had an affair, it would have been sex, intimate, secret, warm-bodied in a form I recognised. The next counsellor took a different line. Men, I was to understand, were visual, wired differently. Implicitly they “could not help it”, poor things – a message of the biological imperative. I was to show compassion and understanding. Did he know before that “no porn” was one of the relationship rules? No? Well, then, how could he know I would impose this restriction on him?

Restriction? Restriction! In the end I found a confidential online counselling service dedicated to women whose partners are habitual porn users the most helpful. I have no time whatsoever for those who see pornography as liberating or empowering to women’s sexuality as this is absolutely not my experience at all.
A while on now, is it better? Carefully reassembling a relationship, mourning and accepting what has been lost, trying to make some parts anew, takes much time and patience. I still have enormous anger. Anger at him for, as I see it, being so easily drawn in to it. Some of my anger has, as I come to understand the psychology of porn-viewing more, moved on to the industry. Yes, he was responsible for his actions, but the industry is so slick at inveigling its way in. It toys with the masculine mind as our culture has made it. It quickly becomes a habit, desensitising, a siren pulling men in to dare to look at increasingly edgy images.

Yes, my partner promised not to view again, and has kept to that. But only after a long period can I relax and trust him again. In the early days of abstinence, although he declared he did not need porn, and invited me to search his internet history any time, the hidden cache files still told the truth of glimpses at porn here and there. So shifting the habit was not as easy as he had declared. The topic is sensitive and raw still. If it resurfaces in our conversation, he often has another newly minted justification to offer that is ¬supposed to convince me of the innocuousness of the porn and his viewing of it – never the real acknowledgement of responsibility or the harm to our relationship. I wait for the day he’ll say he understands and that he’s sorry.

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

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