Should You Hide Your Porn Habits From Your Partner?

Photographed by Michael Beckert.
How would you feel if your partner took a peek at your web browser search history? There can be a few skeletons hiding in there: your secret, no-chill wedding Pinterest board, those Facebook photos of their ex you just happened to stumble upon, and all of those colorful terms you type into your favorite porn search engine. An estimated 40 to 50% of women watch porn, and there's no shame in masturbating to it, even if you're in a relationship and having sex regularly. In fact, lots of people like to watch porn with their partner. But, if you prefer porn to be a solo activity, should you tell your partner what kind of porn you're watching?
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"I definitely think you should talk to your partner about porn," says Lisa Thomas, LCSW, LMFT, a sex and relationships expert. Telling your partner what type of things you like to watch in porn gives them insight into what Thomas calls your "erotic template," or the types of things that you're into. "Porn is a great way to talk about what you like," adds Michelle Hope, a sexologist in New York City. "You can name the play you’re into and really set boundaries about what you’re not into." For example, if you're not into anal, you could say, I really don't like watching porn with anal sex.
People are usually afraid that their partner isn't going to react positively to their taste, which could make them feel ashamed or embarrassed, Hope says. If you want to start the conversation about what you're watching, Thomas suggests asking your partner about their masturbation habits. Ask them if they masturbate and what they masturbate to — like, do they fantasize or watch porn? "If they say they watch porn, just ask them what they watch," Hope says. That will likely open up a larger discussion about what you're into, too.
You could also be more explicit and try bringing up one aspect of the porn you're watching, Hope says. You could say, I was watching porn and got really turned on by some of the bondage videos – have you ever seen those? If you can find some common ground about what you're interested in watching, it'll make the conversation easier, Hope says. But it's also okay if you and your partner don't watch the same things, because it could open the door for more discussions about things you'd like to try together, she says.
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Openly discussing your porn habits also gives you a glimpse into how often your partner would like to have sex, Thomas says. "Whenever the numbers aren't adding up, you should have a discussion about your individual sex life," she says. Say your partner says they'd like to have sex four times a week, but you're really only game to have it twice a week. Maybe you should encourage your partner to masturbate those other two days if they want to, she says. That said, every couple is different, so that set-up might not work in every scenario, but it at least helps you articulate exactly what you want from your partner and relationship.

"When you have a partner, it doesn't mean you should give up your sexual relationship with yourself."

Lisa Thomas, LCSW, LMFT
But even if you take a thoughtful, open-minded approach, there's still a chance that your partner will react negatively to the conversation or just won't want to talk about their porn habits at all, Thomas says. Either of those outcomes isn't necessarily a "good" or "bad" thing, but you have to decide how much that bothers you, she says. Maybe porn is a big part of your sex life and not something you're willing to give up or compromise on, for example. You shouldn't have to put those needs aside because your partner isn't into the same things as you, she says.
Also, keep in mind that your partner might balk at first, because they're surprised by what turns you on, and it most likely isn't a direct reflection of how they feel about you. Many people aren't seeking to copy and paste what they see in porn onto their own sex life — for them, it's strictly a fantasy — but it can be hard for their partners to distinguish between porn and real life, Hope says. This is something you can clarify (if that's the case for you).
While you shouldn't feel like you must tell your partner about your X-rated preferences, being honest about your porn habits can be good for your relationship in general, Thomas says. "Having transparency builds intimacy, because there's no secrecy," she says. It's healthy to talk about your solo sex life in addition to your coupled sex life, which are actually two different things, she says. "You start off having a sexual relationship with yourself; it's the first person you ever have a relationship with," she says. "When you have a partner, it doesn't mean you should give up your sexual relationship with yourself."
According to Thomas, masturbating to porn helps you stay in touch with your own body, and learn how it works. If you feel like you have to hide what turns you on or makes you feel good from your partner, then you both may miss out on opportunities to have better sex than you could have ever imagined. So have the talk; it's worth it.
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