Why you should ditch pornography in your sex life – Reason 1

In my previous post I said the only two guidelines for sex in a marriage relationship are 1) it should not exploit or humiliate anyone; and 2) it should not involve anyone except the two partners (including vicariously through pornography). That post, as I expected, had very high readership, but no one asked me why use of pornography should not be included in a sexual relationship. I’m guessing a lot of people who read this disagreed with that, or at least wondered what harm there is in it.

I want to be clear that I mean it when I say a couple has a right to do absolutely anything they want to in the bedroom, and if you and your partner use pornography, far be it from me to say you do not or should not have that choice. But that does not mean it is necessarily a good choice. I know a lot of times people bring this into the relationship to spice it up, to add variety, to heighten the excitement. Notice anything? There’s nothing wrong with any of those things! Spice, variety, and excitement are critical parts of a healthy sexual relationship.

But I have several reasons for believing that use of pornography in marital sex (actually, in any sex where partners are concerned for one another’s well-being) is ill-advised.

I’ll only cover one in this post, and that is that it carries so much potential for the humiliation and exploitation that have no business in the bedroom. Couples are rarely perfectly matched when it comes to levels of adventurousness with sex. When one partner first brings up using porn, the other partner will frequently be less than excited about it. But assuming the less enthusiastic partner really cares about the one who wants to use porn, they can often be quickly and easily talked into it. This is especially true when it is the man who wants to use it and the woman who does not (which is usually the case).

Women tend to use deep intuition when they communicate. They are in tune to impressions they are getting about how the other person is feeling. If they sense the other person disagrees or is a bit upset, they will often backtrack very quickly and offer a way out that already carries with it an invitation to stay connected. Example:

Woman 1: You know what would be fun? Let’s throw a surprise party for Lisa this weekend!
Woman 2: Ummm — really?
Woman 1: Sure, why not? (she has already picked up on the other woman’s discomfort)
Woman 2: Didn’t Lisa want to keep her birthday a secret? (does not forcefully disagree, but in a very gentle way states her opposition)
Woman 1: That’s what she said, but I’m just talking about a small party among a few of her closest friends. (does not escalate — remains open)
Woman 2: Oh. Okay… (still uncertain, but still not directly disagreeing)
Woman 1: You’re really uncomfortable with this! (accepting woman 2’s invitation to name, and thus identify with, her discomfort). Do you really think Lisa would not want this? (Invites her gently to express her opinion)

I know guys often get frustrated with how subtle women often are, but when you analyze what is going on in conversations between women, it’s pure genius. Most women (normal, healthy women) are relational geniuses.

Conversation between men and women is often considerably less nuanced. Example:

Man: Hey baby, I have an idea. I’m thinking it would rock if we invited Jenna Jameson into our bedroom tonight. You know what I’m sayin’?
Woman: Really? Wow. Hmmm… Seriously? I don’t know…
Man: C’mon, it’ll be amazing (he says as he sits down at the computer to find a porn video to download).

This conversation featured no invitations, no real connection or relationship. He suggests porn to her, she balks, he barely notices, and he has already moved into the action he wanted to take.

Of course this is an exaggeration, but my intent is to show that we guys are usually not very in tune with the way women sometimes try to express disagreement. They are often very tentative, and wait for us to invite them into further dialogue and connection. But we usually miss it. In a man’s world, you either agree or disagree — approve or disapprove. We don’t invite each other into anything. We just get in there and say our piece and get out (explains certain approaches to sex men sometimes have as well, doesn’t it, ladies?!).

This means that the chance of a woman ending up doing this kind of thing against her will is pretty high. The chance of a man unknowingly taking advantage of her in that moment is very high. If porn ends up being used in the bedroom once, and she is uncomfortable with it, he will not undderstand this unless she comes right out and says it very clearly, and continues saying it several times. Even then, rather than focus on her feelings, he may enjoy the sparring. Another example: Here is how women might talk about the movies.

Woman 1: Did you see The Help?
Woman 2: No. I’m not sure, I’ve read some stuff about it that makes me wonder if it’s worth it. Was it pretty good?
Woman 1: Paul and I went and saw it the other day and we loved it. We thought it was amazing.
Woman 2: Maybe we’ll check it out.

Each woman shares her opinion, and does it in a very interactive way, always with and in light of the other woman. Women tend to be characterized in their communication by continually offering themselves. Often they don’t talk, they share. They are not simply giving opinions. They are entering into each other’s world. Each invites and each enters. By way of contrast, this is probably not very exaggerated:

Man 1: Did you see Final Destination 5?
Man 2: Dude, are you kidding? Those movies suck.
Man 1: What?! Those movies RULE! You suck, dude.
Man  2: Yeah, well hopefully not enough to take a movie recommendation from you.

You notice it’s very curt. It is often a bit heated and boisterous. But most of the time, feelings do not end up hurt. It’s not even about feelings. (“There’s no crying in baseball!”)

This is a very real problem when it comes to use of pornography in the bedroom. A woman who wants to please her husband will often not like being cast as the prude who rains on her husband’s parade. She may try to express discomfort, and hopes he picks up on it, but often he will not.  Once she has allowed porn into the bedroom once, it will be even harder for her to tell him she does not want to do this anymore.

I fully realize that sometimes women are as game for using porn in the bedroom as their partners are. I also realize that sometimes men are the ones who may be uncomfortable with it. I will attend to those possibilities in posts still to come. In this post I simply wanted to point out that the same difficulties that make male/female communication tricky in routine conversations stand a good chance of making it likely that someone (and usually the woman, but not always) ends up feeling exploited, disregarded, vulnerable, and perhaps even humiliated, when it comes to a topic as sensitive as this one will often be.

Question: If a couple can manage to navigate these dangerous waters carefully, what might be other reasons to avoid the use of pornography in your sex life? Men, how do you know if you have navigated these waters successfully? Women, if you are uncomfortable with using pornography in the bedroom, how can you communicate that in a way that he will hear you but that will lessen the risk of embarrassing or angering him?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Jeff Vannest

    I don’t agree with this rational, which as far as I can tell is that communication is difficult. While I agree, it shouldn’t stop couples from having difficult conversations openly and honestly. I’ve had much, much more difficult discussions with my wife in the last 23 years, and they all turned out pretty well…I’m not going to avoid this one.

    • I agree that couples should have difficult conversations openly and honestly. I agree that those conversations ought to include the topic of sex! And if this were the only reason to avoid pornography, it’s probably an obstacle many couples could get past. That does not change the fact that these kinds of conversations (and the activities that come from them) can often end up doing lasting and needless harm to a relationship.