I dated a porn addict

I dated a self-identified porn addict.

After dating for a couple of months, he admitted to me that he was a recovering pornography addict. I was quite shocked, even though I didn’t know what being a pornography addict entailed. I felt nauseous, but I didn’t show this because my then boyfriend was extremely emotional when telling me. He was crying uncontrollably. I sat, listened, and tried to console him. I asked him how he knew he had an addiction, and he said that he used to go online at work and look at pornography every day. I commended him for his honesty and his ability to talk to me about this. I didn’t know what to do or say so I just said, “It’ll be okay. I still love you. You’re still the same person you were before you told me.” But was I being honest? I did love him, but at that moment, he did become a different person to me.

We continued talking and I asked him when he last viewed pornography. He told me a couple months ago, which was when we first started dating. I felt deeply hurt—like I wasn’t enough. I felt like he was unfaithful to me (as weird as that sounds. I guess I was upset that he hadn’t told me sooner or something). I advised him to see a counselor, since he was obviously upset by his addiction, and wanted help.

Throughout our relationship, I wondered whether or not he was still using pornography. I found myself becoming more mistrustful. Whenever we engaged sexually, I wondered silently whether he was imagining a porn star in place of me, or whether he was fantasizing about a specific pornographic scene. At my lowest, I searched his bedroom for magazines or videos (I never found them)–this is when I realized I couldn’t handle the situation anymore. He abruptly stopped going to therapy, which I believe to be a poor decision. Our relationship began to deteriorate, and eventually we broke up. Since this experience, the issue of pornography has been of great interest to me.

Whenever I am asked whether I am pro- or anti-pornography, I shy away from sharing my answer. Because, really, no one wants to hear a feminist talk about how she hates porn and what it does to (some) people. If I say the truth, that I fervently dislike porn (not the people who perform in it, of course), I’m immediately cast into this box of “Anti-Sex” or “Conservative Feminism.” For the record, I’m very much sex positive. It really bothers me, however, when people I have conversations with about this subject act as though porn is just a healthy way of life. Maybe it can be–maybe it is for some–but I’ve witnessed another side.

When my then-boyfriend told me he was a porn addict, I wrestled with conflicting emotions/identities that I believed I “should” feel/be. I thought, well, shit, I’m a feminist, and I’m sex positive, maybe this isn’t such a big deal. My other thought was, I feel uncomfortable–I don’t like this; I feel sick; and any sort of addiction is never good/healthy. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that this wasn’t something I could handle, and it didn’t erase any of my feminist identity.

My ex-boyfriend may still be addicted to pornography. I have no idea. Through him though, my mind has been opened. I think about others like him and, for me, it’s most important to realize everyone’s humanity—even the people who use or produce pornography. I hate what his addiction has done to him, but he is the same person inside.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted March 29, 2011 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    For the reasons that some books/movies/shows/songs/games are reasonably good and some are exceedingly bad, I don’t think watching porn in of itself is necessarily bad. I think if such a film has characters who present (reasonably) positive values in sex, it may provide a healthy inspiration for those who watch it. If the characters are engaging in horrific sex crimes (particularly under the pretense of it being “awesome”), then you are more likely to have a problem. Many such movies probably show an awkward blend of gray area.

    Your concern that your ex- was “cheating” on you due to watching porn requires (1) you only want a closed relationship, a stipulation that would not preclude “open” partners from watching porn, (2) that watching porn is tantamount to participating in sex [or at least watching a certain amount of porn is tantamount to sex], which is a notion I think lacks clear consensus, and (3) he watched porn [or watched the necessary amount of porn to meet (2)]. For the purpose of a relationship you want to be in, since you hold (1) and (2) to be true, you need a boyfriend who would not meet (3). You are entitled to believe in (1) and (2), but you should be careful in how you deal with others who do not share these beliefs. Your ex- probably believes in (1), but he may not believe in (2), at least deep down. He may feel a certain guilt about (2), particularly since his participation in (3) has been so robust that it interfered with work, but there may be reasons that escape him pertaining to (2) [or (1)] as to why he is drawn back in. A lot of men are told to accept (2) and especially (1) without really believing in them, and an improper foundation for these beliefs may contribute towards (3) occurring during a relationship.

    The significance of (1) and (2) not both being universally accepted even among progressive individuals (even though (2) is popular and (1) is preached almost universally) is that while you are entitled to your beliefs and while you can expect a partner to share them, you shouldn’t look down or shame someone for not agreeing (subconsciously) and engaging in (3) except to the extent the person willfully deceives you. You can dump him, sure, but I think it is harmful to make him feel particularly worse about it. Take him task for leaving therapy without presuming that your expectations are absolute requirements for him to ever have a healthy relationship.

    As a general note, you have to be very careful about ever trying to “change” a person. If you try to go about it by leading the way rather than journeying together, you are probably doomed from the start.

    As for you feeling that you were “not enough” for him (which is sort of the crux of (2) applying to you), it depends on whether porn (or his particular consumption of porn) threatened you in that way. Do the two of you need about the same sex drive? Is his “extreme” behavior what bothers you? To you, what distinguishes watching porn (consensual voyeurism, generally speaking) [or this degree of it] from what you regard as sex positive behavior? If porn in general is a turn-off, do you have a decent understanding of what other non-starters your have? Which level of consumption constitutes an “addiction” or an “unacceptable” addiction to you (sexual behavior or otherwise)? Can you accept that you may have some non-starters that could still be sex positive? It’s a lot of questions, but you want to be mindful of what you are asking (not to say you can’t be strict, but you should also accept there are risks in being strict).

    Good luck in your future relationships. I hope you didn’t mind the ramblings from someone who has never had any interest in watching porn.

  2. Posted March 29, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    @Matt, thanks for your comment. As I stated in my post, I understood that my feelings of him “cheating” on me is not “correct.” I said it was due to my being upset that he hadn’t told me sooner. I understand that porn is not cheating. I’m fine with my partner using porn during our relationship, but if it gets to an addictive point, that’s when it becomes a problem–that’s when it comes into the relationship.

    For me, I guess I feel like there is “good” porn and “bad” porn. I think most of the mainstream porn is pretty horrible to women. However, I do know there is some great feminist/genderqueer porn out there going against stereotypes.

  3. Posted March 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    This guy seems like a terrible porn addict if he hadn’t watched porn for a couple months while seeing you. Any kind of addict who dropped something months ago without some kind of rehab program doesn’t sound convincingly problematic. It’s not like his supply was cut off and he’ll go back again as soon as he gets a new dealer. The internet is everywhere after all.
    While watching porn at work is kind of creepy, I feel like I’m missing something here.

    • Posted March 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      @sex-toy-james, he was looking at porn during the relationship as well–the above was just the one time that he mentioned to me.

      • Posted March 29, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        You dealt a lot with your reaction, but you didn’t really go into what he was doing in the relationship that was destructive. You painted it in a manner where it looks like you were both overreacting. I’m guessing that’s not how it was.
        I wouldn’t really see things as a problem so long as no one is choosing porn over their partner. Of course, then it’s a very big problem.

        • Posted March 29, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          @ sex-toy-james

          Thanks for pointing that out, I felt the exact same way while I was reading it. I am not sure what qualifies as a porn addict (though I guess viewing porn while at work is frequent enough to qualify, a non-addict could at least wait until they get home…) but speaking from my experience with my relationship, I do not see porn as a destructive device unless someone is making it one.

          I do not deny that a lot of porn out there is demeaning and derogatory towards women (And much of the time, it is just over the top ridiculous to the point where it is more laughable than erotic.) However, I would never feel betrayed by my boyfriend watching porn, and in fact I encourage him to do so if he wishes. Granted, he doesn’t take my encouragements for granted because he feels that I am sufficient enough for his sexual needs, but if he ever just wants to get off to a random porn flick an evening or two, there is nothing wrong with that. I find it to be the same as wanting to be able to masturbate while still in a relationship; sexual gratification between partners will always be a little bit different than by oneself imho, and it does not mean that one is necessarily better than the other or more gratifying.

          My boyfriend thinks I am the most beautiful woman and would not want to be with anyone else in the world except me; he always wants to make sure my pleasure comes before his (and I feel the same about his pleasure) and we are going on 5 years strong in our relationship, just to give a different perspective.

          Not to be rude, but it just sounds like OP is more against porn than against the addiction. Correct me if I am wrong OP, please, because there just seemed to be a lack of detail as to how this porn addiction ruined your relationship and it was more of an emphasis on how you thinking about his addiction to porn and the burden it was on your mind caused you two to break up.

  4. Posted August 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Pornography addiction is starting to be recognized as a serious problem, actually. It hasn’t been studied in women, to my knowledge (for shame, science! For shame.), but the effects of pornography (and its unrestricted accessibility) on men are starting to become well-documented. It’s already known that the male sexual response is closely tied to visual stimulus, and there is another somewhat related phenomenon called “arousal addiction” – arousal here is not meant specifically in the sexual sense, but in the sense of response to new stimuli. Addictive personalities continuously seeking new/different/more, when coupled with the excitement of risk-taking, can cause counterproductive behaviors such as viewing pornography at work – and can desensitize the man to stimuli that are not able to be found on-demand and dismissed at-will.

    Now, this doesn’t mean that pornography is inherently addictive, or inherently bad – like alcohol, it simply is what it is, though there is certainly an internal gradient of quality and a complementary gradient of effect upon the spectrum of humanity (each of which is a rabbit hole unto itself). What it does mean is that, like alcohol, one who becomes addicted can be changed by the addiction, to the detriment of that person’s well-being and interpersonal relationships. In somewhat plainer English, a man who grows accustomed to getting all the sexy-times he wants with no more effort on his part than a few keystrokes, and who is able to find these stimuli exclusively on his terms in almost arbitrary detail (as the worldwide web allows pornographers to cater to increasingly specific tastes), can become unresponsive to a real-life partner with her own will and desires who can’t be summoned and dismissed at will.

    I think the comparison to alcohol is particularly illuminating. First and foremost, it helps take the emotional sting out of the addiction itself: it’s less about “you vs. porn” for top billing in his heart, and more about “him vs. porn” for his own self-control. Second, it helps clarify the nature of the problem: his experience “on porn”, like being “on alcohol” for an alcoholic, is so overridingly stimulating to the reward circuits of his brain that it is very much like a disease (a disease, oddly enough, that we as a culture find it acceptable to blame on the patient). Third, it removes the blame from you for being unable to deal with it: while you may still feel the emotional sting of jealously and loss (and those feelings are entirely valid), this is his problem and you are in no way obligated to share that burden with him any more than you would be for an alcoholic or a cancer patient who waited to tell you about his illness.

    I would say, though, that waiting “a couple months” is probably an appropriate amount of time for telling someone that you have such a problem (mostly invisible, non-contagious, and highly stigmatized). It gave him an opportunity to present himself to you in the best light he could manage, there’s simply never a “good time” to bring it up, and he didn’t wait until you had been dating for most of a year (or had gotten married!) to tell you. This sort of thing isn’t first-date material, as it would likely make every first date also the last, and you had the opportunity to weigh that con against all the pros you’d had the opportunity to identify at that point. I think it speaks to his character and resolve that it was such a difficult decision for you, and it speaks to how serious he was about you that he was able to crack down on his addiction so soon after starting to date you. I’m not saying he was “the one” (I don’t believe in such things), I’m simply saying that from what you’ve told us all here, that looks to have been some pretty sweet ointment; more’s the pity there was such a giant-ass fly in it.

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