Is pornography ruining your relationship?

Expert advice on what to do if your partner’s watching too much porn, and how you can both work through it.

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Couple in bed, woman looking upset
Photo, Frederic Cirou/Getty Images.

Pornography has been around forever, in one form or another. But the volume of pornographic images and films has exploded in the Internet age. That 24\7 availability can have some troubling side effects for intimate relationships.

North York-based couples’ and sex therapist Irene Oudyk-Suk has seen an uptick in the number of young couples dealing with the negative consequences of one partner’s preference for viewing pornography regularly.

Here, find tips on how to identify the signs that a partner’s reliance on pornography may be causing a problem in your relationship, and some pointers for addressing the issue with strength and sensitivity.

Sign of an issue #1: Your sex life has bottomed out
Infrequent sexual contact and a lack of overall sexual desire are two of the most common consequences of a partner’s excessive reliance on pornography, says Oudyk-Suk. That’s because the appeal of pornography, generally speaking, is self-gratification.

“What kind of happens is there’s this preoccupation, in a way, with self. It’s harder to become a ‘we’, and it reinforces the ‘I’ nature,” she explains.

And a focus on self will only get you so far in both life and love. We are “wired to need social, ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ relationships. We do better in those kinds of relationships. We live longer, we have less depression, we have less anxiety, we recover from surgery quicker — we just do better in social relationships.”

There is a place for “solo sex” in every individual’s life, she explains, but going it alone shouldn’t overwhelm or overtake the sexual life you share with your partner.

Sign of an issue #2: It’s become a habit
There’s no easy answer to the question of how much pornography is too much. As Oudyk-Suk points out, the answer is subjective. Some people would be troubled to hear that their partners are looking at porn at all, while another individual may not be bothered by the news that their amour is looking at it every couple of weeks.

There may not be a fixed number that indicates you’re in the danger zone — daily is a concern, says Oudyk-Suk — but a little context can prove helpful in determining if there’s trouble brewing. For example, if you, or your partner, are watching pornography more often than you are sitting down to dinner or coffee and talking together then something is out of whack, priority wise.

How to tackle the problem #1: If you can, talk about it
If the frequency of your partner’s viewing of pornography troubles you then tell them. An honest conversation doesn’t have to be confrontational. Instead, approach the subject calmly. Tell your partner why certain types of images or films trouble you, or let them know that you’re concerned by how their viewing habits are negatively affecting your real-life sexual intimacy.

Oudyk-Suk says most women don’t understand how emotionally loaded this subject matter is for men. Instead of going into the conversation with guns blazing, take it slow and pepper the talk with “I love you,” “I care about you” and “you’re important to me,” she advises.

How to tackle the problem #2: If you can’t talk about it without it turning into a fight, find someone to help you
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your partner about this, or other hot-button topics (money, children), then “it may not be a porn issue you’re dealing with,” says Oudyk-Suk. In fact, “maybe it’s a relationship issue.” And if that’s the case, then it may be time to look to a couples’ therapist for aid.

How to tackle the problem #3: Reclaim the value of sexual intimacy
When a sex life has stalled it’s easy to get lost in resentment and to start casting blame. But rather than get angry or retributive with your partner, it’s wiser to remind him or her how sex in a committed relationship provides space for true connection.

There is “so much room for intimacy to grow” through sex, says Oudyk-Suk.

How to tackle the problem #4: Reconnect on a basic level
“Take a no Internet, no cell phone, no iPad vacation,” says Oudyk-Suk, one that includes lots of time together alone. If you can’t spare a week away, then take a weekend. If you can’t go away at all, then go on a date (sans mobile devices), or have a night at home and watch a movie together, she says. The point: to reconnect, to “stop focusing on sex and start focusing on being together.”

To find out whether your partner has an issue with pornography click here