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Porn Habits & How to Enjoy Porn With Your Partner in a Healthy Way

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
2/10/2022
Last updated:
5/8/2022
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
2/10/2022
Last updated:
5/8/2022

TL;DR

  • Different people have very different views on what is acceptable and not acceptable when it comes to pornography.
  • Porn is often thought to have a negative impact on its users and when viewed alone can lead to addiction and negative outcomes.
  • Consuming porn with a partner has been found to correlate with an increase in sexual satisfaction and relationship quality.
  • If you would like to explore the idea of watching porn with your spouse or long-term partner, it’s important to approach the conversation in the right way.

 

The idea of watching porn can throw up different emotions in each of us. But it’s common to have mixed feelings about it.

Perhaps you feel disgusted by the idea but also a little intrigued to see what the fuss is all about? Or maybe you feel sick at the thought of your partner watching without you? If you’ve never looked at erotic material before, you might even feel unsure about what’s involved. These are all natural reactions when you’re first faced with the idea of porn usage.  

Here, we’ll look more closely at porn habits and whether exposure to porn can ever be a good thing. In short, is it possible to enjoy porn with your partner in a healthy way?

Exploring feelings around porn

When we find we have strong feelings about a subject, or have a natural tendency to negativity towards it, it’s important we sit with those feelings and explore them. Where have your opinions come from? Are you right to feel this way or are you influenced by something in your past? Do you want to change the way you feel? Perhaps find out a little more?

When it comes to porn consumption, different people have very different views. This can depend on background and upbringing, faith or religious beliefs as well as generally how comfortable you tend to be about outward expressions of sexuality. It may even depend on whether you’ve been with a romantic partner previously who has used pornographic material.

Even the experts can’t agree on whether consumption of porn can help improve sexual relationships or whether it is more likely to have a negative effect.  

Some say that introducing pornographic content can help to improve couples’ sex lives, providing an outlet for them to share and experiment with their sexual desires and fantasies. While others believe regular porn usage starts to erode romantic relationships, encouraging sexual aggression and ultimately leading to pornography addiction and other damaging behaviors.

So where does the truth lay?

Well, as with many things in life, it depends.

The positives of porn usage

Speak to any number of young adults and they’ll tell you porn is simply enjoyable. It’s fun, entertaining and part of a healthy sex life as well as a tool to aid masturbation. They might even tell you it’s helped them to open up more about sex, to better understand and express their wants and desires and to learn to communicate those better with a partner. And there have been peer-reviewed studies that agree.

This Danish study (1) into young adults’ self-perception of the effects hard core porn had on them was overwhelmingly positive. Respondents described viewing of porn as “beneficial to their sex lives, their attitudes towards sex, their perceptions and attitudes towards members of the opposite sex, toward life in general, and overall”.

While a 2021 study from the US (2), looked at the effects of watching porn with your partner. Surprisingly, many found that enjoying explicit material together is associated with greater sexual satisfaction and a healthier relationship overall. These positive benefits were not, however, observed when one sexual partner watched porn solo.

The downsides of watching porn alone

It’s become clear in recent years that porn viewing alone is very different to using sexually explicit materials to creating a shared experience in a loving relationship.

Alone, we see more negative effects emerging in attitudes and behaviors. Pornography starts to become a substitute for intimacy and real-life romantic connection. The pleasure derived from viewing more and more graphic images releases a dopamine rush that can have a real impact on the brains of people who engage with it on a regular basis.

If we become aware that a sexual partner is viewing porn, it can lead to self-esteem and confidence issues – how can we possibly compare? These are problems that seep not just into our sex lives but also into daily life.

It’s been found that pornography can negatively impact men’s attitudes towards women, leading in extreme cases to sexual violence or at the very least unhealthy relationships and unrealistic expectations of sex. And not only that, using pornography has been found to reduce commitment towards a relationship. Those who regularly watch alone are more likely to be unfaithful to their long-term partner.

A bit about porn addiction       

At its most problematic pornography can cause very real issues in everyday life. Excessive pornography use can lead to addiction, compulsive behaviors and other adverse effects. Spending too much time watching porn, instead of engaging with people in the real world, can impact your career, relationships and mental well-being among other things.   

If you are concerned about yourself or a partner, it’s important to look out for common signs of porn addiction. These might include feeling guilt or shame about your habits or hiding your viewing from a partner or loved one. Or you might find yourself beginning to withdraw from physical intimacy.

If you believe you may have a problem, a mental health professional who is experienced in the treatment of sexual dysfunction should be able to help you understand your relationship with porn and find ways to address any issues. Treatment for porn addiction can involve CBT and mindfulness as well as other techniques to help reduce anxiety and depression.

Creating healthier habits around porn

So while it seems engaging in a porn watching habit alone may have a negative impact and run the risk of addiction if taken too far, watching together can actually have benefits for your relationship.

In fact, according to this study entitled The Porn Gap, the most important thing seems to be being on the same page as your partner. The study looked at the gender gap that exists between men and women when it comes to their personal use and acceptance of pornography as well as their tendency to use or view sexually explicit materials in secret. And they also examined the relationship dynamics that result. Their findings?

Unsurprisingly, different people have different thresholds of acceptance when it comes to levels and frequency of porn usage. They found “if a woman sees pornography as an untrustworthy act that turns her partner’s attraction toward others or as an indicator that he approaches sex from a self-centered, rather than an other-centered orientation, her sense of security will likely diminish in the relationship”.

Put simply, perhaps the real problems that result from porn usage within relationships are when partners try to hide their habits from one another. “When people engage in this type of self-concealment, it not only hurts their relationships and leaves them feeling lonely but also makes them more vulnerable to depression, poor self-esteem, and anxiety. Also, when romantic partners keep secrets from each other, their trust in each other erodes and their confidence in their relationship starts to struggle.”

So with this in mind, how should you approach the subject of watching porn with your partner?

Where to start

Before you begin, remember you're likely to both have different views about porn, and potentially different opinions about appropriate behavior within a relationship. Be open to listening without judgment to your partner’s point of view. Neither of you should feel, at any point, that you are doing something you don’t want to do.

Pick a time when you’re both feeling nice and relaxed and start by simply talking about sex, share fantasies and maybe suggest watching a mainstream movie that includes a few steamy sex scenes to see how you get on. Start the dialogue and find out how open your partner is to the idea of watching porn together.

Before mooting the idea, have a think about what it is you personally hope to get out of watching porn. Is it that you want some new ideas to try? Do you want to learn more about what turns your partner on? Or do you simply just want to spice things up a bit and try something new?

Try to be open about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, and encourage your partner to do the same. If they have not watched porn before – or at least not with a partner – it may bring up all sorts of feelings and emotions for them.

If you sense your partner is nervous, set some ground-rules. Perhaps you promise never to talk to others about it. Perhaps agree whether masturbation during watching is allowed or talk about what kinds of porn you’re happy to watch or not. You may find ethical porn is a ‘safer’ place to start for example.

And remember, if at any time your partner feels uncomfortable or doesn’t want to continue, make sure you take 'no' for an answer.

(1) Hald, G. and Malamuth, N., 2007. 'Self-Perceived Effects of Pornography Consumption', Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 37, pp. 614-625.
(2) Kohut, T., Dobson, K., Balzarini, R. and Rogge, R., 2021. 'But What’s Your Partner Up to? Associations Between Relationship Quality and Pornography Use Depend on Contextual Patterns of Use Within the Couple', Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12
(3) Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Brown, C. C.(2017). The Porn Gap: Differences in Men’s and Women’s Pornography Patterns in Couple Relationships. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy,  16(2), pp.146-163.
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