How To Talk To Your Partner About Porn (No Thanks To David Cameron)

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In the fight the crack down on child pornography and children accessing pornography at home, David Cameron has managed to get internet service providers to commit to mandatory filters. In doing so there has been one casualty: the secret porn watcher.

If someone living with a partner or spouse wants to watch porn, they can no longer do it in secret - they'll have to tell their other half as it involves switching off the filters. He said on BBC Radio Two's Jeremy Vine show: that partners are just “going to have to have a discussion" if they want to do so.

According to sex expert Tracey Cox, this could include quite a large number of men. "Studies show 98% of men watch porn on a reasonably regular basis. That might only be for a few minutes a month but it’s pretty regular."

couple talking

But how many people actually watch porn in secret? The Times sex columnist and HuffPost UK blogger Suzi Godson says: "In a 2012 survey I ran from my website moresexdaily.com 48.5% of men (1,880) said that they used porn in secret, 8.3% said they used it openly and 3.8% said they used it with their partner. Only 7.8% of women (1,431) admitted to using porn in secret, 2% used it openly and 7.4% shared porn with their partner.

"There is obviously a big discrepancy between the number of men and women admitting to using porn in secret, but compare these results to a separate survey I carried out on sexual practices. When asked “Do you masturbate?” just 14.8% of women and 8.4% of men said that they didn’t. What these results show us is that solo sex, whether it is triggered by, porn, fantasy, erotica, or battery operated devices, is a normal, healthy and virtually universal aspect of human sexuality."

The question is, however, are couples actually honest with each other about watching porn or will this be a massive issue?

"It depends on the age group," says Tracey. "Couples in their 20s have grown up with porn and are far more comfortable talking about it. They’ll use it to ‘research’ new positions or things they want to try and dismiss the stuff they think is silly or repugnant. These sorts of couples will generally discuss what they’ve watched, what they’ve liked and watch it together.
Older couples are more nervous about what their partner will think simply because they’re less used to it and less used to talking openly about sex. We’ve become better at it over the years."

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If you don't feel comfortable about your partner using porn, it may be handy to have a conversation regardless of whether Uncle Cameron is making you. Mike Lousada, an expert in sex therapy, says it's good to communicate. "Many partners don't feel comfortable sharing about their use of pornography either because they feel shame about it or because they are afraid of the reaction of their partner. In either case, it is useful to understand 1) what drives the person to watch porn and 2) why someone might have a reaction to it."

Tracey advises two approaches, depending on whether your partner is sexually open or conservative.

"You probably already have an idea of your partner’s stance on porn. If they’re reasonably open and adventurous in bed and you’ve watched sexy (mainstream) films together, it’s not a terribly big risk to drop casually into the conversation, ‘What’s your view on the whole porn debate?’ A natural progression from that would be to ask each other if you watch porn and explain to your partner why and reassure them about any concerns they have.

internet filters

"If your partner isn’t adventurous or experimental, asking what they think of adults having to opt in rather than opt out of online porn is still a good way to introduce the topic in a natural way.

"If your partner is vehemently opposed to porn and you’re only watching it now and then for solo sex sessions, I don’t see any point in admitting it. They’d probably prefer not to know, it’s not influencing the relationship - what’s the point of upsetting them?"

Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn.com, which aims to start a conversation around porn and how it should cater to women as well as men, wrote an open letter to David Cameron about this issue.

She says: "This isn't about couples needing to talk to each other about porn. It's about the fact that the last thing David Cameron and the UK should be doing is blocking porn in the first place, because that isn't going to help anyone. The issue isn't porn; the issue is the total lack of an open and honest discussion of sex in the real world - which is why MakeLoveNotPorn exists; why our mission is simply 'Talk about it'; and why our tagline is 'Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference."

Cindy doesn't have a problem with porn - and we have to agree. This isn't just about men, it's about women as well.

"I get very frustrated at the way people use the word 'porn' like it's all one big homogeneous mass," she says. "That's like saying 'literature' as if all literature were the same. The landscape of porn is the same as the landscape of literature - full of genres, sub-genres, different types (including a whole realm dedicated to objectifying and degrading men, because that is a part of male sexuality that our society never allows men to openly admit they're into). The landscape of porn needs opening up, navigation, curation (there is no socially acceptable Yelp of porn; there should be) to enable people to find the areas that would actually help them explore their sexuality and be of benefit."

If you're against porn it may be hard to acknowledge but there are benefits to having porn in your relationship. "If it helps someone give themselves permission to access their sexuality and help them with creative ideas for sex, it can be helpful," says Mike.

Tracey adds reassuringly that it's not about your partner preferring porn to their sex life with you. "Very, very few people turn on porn and watch a whole movie, they do it during masturbating as erotic stimulation and are in and out of there in under 10 minutes. The more you masturbate and orgasm, the higher your sex drive generally because it’s sex that keeps our ‘sex hormones’ flowing and topping up our libido. So in that sense porn is hugely beneficial."

Suzi agrees. "The real challenge for couples seems to be accepting that it is OK for two people in a committed relationship to have a private solo-sex life. Porn is a short cut, as is fantasy and there is obviously a boundary between normal and compulsive porn use. Yes a percentage of users are into violent hard core or paedophilia but the vast majority of men are simply looking for a means to an end. The average time spent watching a porno film in a hotel room is twelve minutes. I rest my case."

Ultimately, you need to set the benchmark for what you're comfortable with in your relationship. If you aren't happy about your partner watching porn, you may need to agree to disagree. "There are some very real concerns with the porn industry that totally justify why some people don’t want anything to do with it. That’s your decision. But you can’t control what your partner thinks and neither should you," says Tracey.

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