The type of pornography that my partner watches upsets me

Tell Me About It: ‘The frequency at which he views porn while in work is also worrying’

PROBLEM: Both myself and my partner, whom I met about three years ago, are in our early 30s. For nearly a full year our relationship was casual and based almost entirely on sex, but we eventually bonded over our mutual liberal outlook on life and became close.

We now live together and our relationship is rock solid. Sex is extremely important to both of us and we both get irritable if we go too long without some intimacy. When we moved in together, he informed me that he used porn on a regular basis. I told him that this was his business and if it did not detract from our sex life then it should not be an issue for me. During lockdown, we used each other’s electronic devices interchangeably and some way or another our laptops synced. It was then that I noticed his online searches and was shocked with the frequency at which he views porn during his working day, in a large, shared office.

Initially, it was the search terms, though, that really upset me as they are derogatory towards women and, secondly, it became apparent that he likes to look at women that are much older than us. I viewed some of these images and the women’s age range was between 50 and 70. My looks, I believe, could be described as youthful and attractive and I certainly would not pass for being middle aged or a pensioner. I have now changed the settings on both our laptops and neither of us can see what the other is viewing.

I am really upset at the terms he uses to address females and that he is wasting time at work looking at porn. He works in a regulated environment and I am concerned that he will get in trouble if his bosses become aware of how he spends his time. I have withdrawn a bit from sex, but not entirely.

I have not told him about my discovery as I am terrified that he will say that he prefers the more mature lady.

ADVICE: You have a number of issues going on here but the first and most important one is that of communication. You say your relationship is rock solid but you fear discovering that it is not, and this fear is stopping you from talking to your partner. His only clue to what is wrong is that you have withdrawn somewhat from sex and he is unlikely to draw any real information from this as he believes that you are okay with his porn use.

Now is the time to draw on the foundation of what you have built over the past three years and come clean with your experience. This will give your partner a chance to put his perspective forward. The issues you have with his use of porn are: the derogatory nature of how women are depicted in the porn he is watching, the fact that he might come under investigation at work for watching porn on his work time and that his choice of porn partner is an older woman.

Porn is largely based on fantasy and the objectification of the players is part of the scene, and it seems that you could have accepted a level of this but that you worry that some of this may be real for your partner. Fantasy, by its nature, tends to lack reality and much of it is based on a submission/domination continuum. It used to exist mostly in our imaginations but the porn industry has offered us endless versions and varieties of fantasy, and the stimulation and satisfaction it elicits can sometimes become compulsive.

Fantasy routine

The question for you is whether this is just a fantasy routine for your partner, or does it signify something deeper for him? The fact that he appears to be taking risks at work may suggest he is not in total control. A good book to read is A billion Wicked Thoughts by Ogas & Gaddam as this will offer you an overview of porn that might allay some fears that you have. However, his risk-taking at work signifies a potentially dangerous level of involvement in porn that could severely affect his life and he may need help to deal with this.

There is a school of thought that our fantasies are erotic responses to trauma – that we eroticise difficult situations we have been in and that the psyche gives us power in this way. The difficulty here is that if we eroticise, for example, dominance, we may retraumatise ourselves if we keep re-enacting, or reimagining, it. In other words, there are many possible paths to peruse in your discussions of what you have discovered.

On the “older woman” aspect of your partner’s porn use, this is one of the most common searches put into porn sites, so your partner is hardly unusual in this desire. How you interpret this is causing you hurt and worry, and so it needs to be examined as soon as possible. You may feel betrayed, rejected and sidelined and yet it is possible that none of this is true. As always, communication is what is needed and your starting point is that you need to be brave enough to start the conversation because this relationship is so valuable to you.

Perhaps seeing a psychotherapist or psychologist might help both of you with the topic and this would also emphasise your belief that the relationship is valuable and worth investing in.