Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dismaying Story #103: My Husband Looks At Pornography

Dear Andrew,

My husband and I have a 16 month old son and have been married for a little over a year. We have a lovely home and my husband works hard and he is a wonderful father to our son. He is also very caring and would do anything at all for me. He never yells or argues with me. I love him very much and I am very lucky to have him.

When I was pregnant I did not get very much attention from my husband. He didn't want to have sex with me, saying he didn't want to hurt the baby, even though I told him this wasn't possible he still did not want to. I felt very alone and rejected. One night while I was resting on the bed I had to go to the bathroom. I walked past the computer room caught him masturbating to porn. I was very shocked and felt even more rejected. I later found out that he had been doing that a lot while I wasn't around.

Why would he prefer to do that than have sex with me? He told me that it was normal and that all men do it, he said he was doing it when I met him all those years ago on the Internet, and I knew that because I had seen him do it for me, although I didn't realize that he was still doing it to this day. I feel very upset about it and I don't know why. Whenever I leave the house to go somewhere all I can think about is what my husband will be up to, it drives me nuts. If I ask him if he has been masturbating he always says NO. He downloads porno movies all the time and he says he never watches them, but why would he download them if you never planned on watching them?

Do I have insecurity problems? How can I deal with this better? Do all men really do this when their wives are out of the house or downstairs watching TV? Is it normal? Is it healthy for him? Why do I feel like he is cheating on me although he clearly isn't? I wish that I could go back to that night when I walked in on him, if I never seen him doing it then I still wouldn't know what was going on and I think I would prefer it that way. My husband says he only ever did it while watching movies and not ever chatting with anyone on the internet or paying for one of those private shows, but I find it hard to believe him sometimes.

Signed, Feeling Rejected

Dear Feeling Rejected,

I'm always uncomfortable when discussions start turning toward what "everyone else" does. It's kind of like the teenage girl rolling her eyes when the mother complains that the skirt is too short. "Mom, everybody is wearing them!" To which most mothers reply, "I don't care about every other girl; I don't want you wearing that."

Same deal here. Would your feelings change if you found a statistical survey that showed a high percentage of men were regular viewers of porn? I doubt that very much. We could debate the morality of whether what he is doing is right or wrong, but again, that wouldn't solve your issue. I'm a results-oriented kind of guy, and your husband needs to understand that the results here are not up for debate. His behavior is causing you to be unhappy, which means the two of you have a problem. That problem isn't going away regardless of any morality debate or what happens in other people's homes.

As I wrote in this earlier article: It doesn't take much head scratching to understand how porn can be immensely threatening for many women. You want to feel like you are the most special person on the planet to your husband. Your relationship is supposed to be monogamous, which means his desire for intimacy should be satisfied by coming to you, not by turning to other women. When he is getting his jollies by looking at others, the implication is that you are not enough for him, that these other women are superior or more fulfilling. Worse than that, even pictures of other women are somehow preferable, when you are right there in the flesh.

This issue arose in your household at a time when you were already feeling less than desirable to your husband. The weight gain of pregnancy runs counter to society's "slim is beautiful" message, which naturally makes many expectant women feel vulnerable in that regard. Your husband compounded this by shying away from intimacy. I don't know his reasons for doing so, but the effect is clear; you felt unwanted and undesirable in his eyes.

That is a big part of the reason why you have reacted so strongly to the revelation that your husband masturbates. You said in your letter that you didn't find it threatening earlier in your relationship, especially when it was part of a shared activity. At the time you felt secure, wanted, loved, and included. The circumstances are now much different. The two of you now have extra history between you, which includes him rejecting physical intimacy while you were pregnant. Now you feel insecure, unwanted, and pushed aside.

Your husband needs to wrap his head around the realities of your new situation. He believes what he is doing is normal and harmless, and at an earlier phase of your relationship that might have been correct. Now, though, the results are much different and he must react to that. He has not shown sensitivity to your feelings and now he must compensate to make up for that.

He should do everything in his power to make you know you are the pinnacle of desire to him. He should go out of his way to not even glance at another woman for a while, regardless of whether she is walking by on the street or posing on a computer screen. He should sit you down and look into your eyes and assure you that he loves you, that you mean everything to him, that he is sorry for making you feel so terrible, and that he will make it up to you no matter how long it takes. He should cease and desist entirely with all forms of porn (and yes, of course he wouldn't be downloading the stuff unless he was also watching it) because doing otherwise will surely hurt you. His insensitivity has left him with no other option if he wants to make things right again. More than that, he should do this in as visible and transparent a manner as possible -- rid the computer of all such material and show you he is doing so. This is part of demonstrating how much you mean to him.

He should be patient and understanding of your hurt feelings, especially if and when the two of you are snuggling or making love. He should understand it may take a while to rebuild trust, and he should not complain about or criticize any lack of desire on your part in the meantime.

In my opinion, that's what it will take to get you past your understandable feelings of insecurity. In order for that to happen, though, your husband's eyes need to be opened about the effects of his actions. Maybe you should print out this article and ask him to read it. You say he is a caring person who will do anything for you. Hopefully that is true and having his eyes opened in this way will be enough to prompt him to step up and provide the support you need.

All the best,

The responses so far to the Question of the Week provide wonderful affirmations of the power and necessity of commitment in relationships. Thanks to everyone who has contributed. I am also interested in examples of the flip side, where a lack of commitment has caused issues. Any thoughts around why commitment might have been lacking would also be helpful. I would appreciate any such insights you have to offer.


  1. Anonymous11:13 AM

    I have a lot of experience with this subject. I grew up one of seven boys and we all had a fascination with pornography, as you might imagine. Hidden stashes of Playboys and that sort of thing. As I grew up I still loved to look at them and watch an occasional movie, but when I was married it became a problem. When the Internet was launched I had a new source and I found myself looking at porn for two or three hours a day. My wife caught me, tracked visited web sites and we almost go divorced over it. Habitual porn watching is not normal, I learned, and is very self absorbed activity. This man does have a problem, and he is lying about not masturbating to his downloads and games he plays. He is willing to lie to his wife to avoid shame and guilt and try and downplay his obsession. My therapist made a point one day that may help this guy. He explained that people who go into porn do so because they are troubled and sad and probably suffered abuse and incest to drive them to that industry. Every time I looked at porn and used it for my own selfish gratification, I was participating in some poor girls misery. That hit me hard and now I do not look at porn. I still masturbate because I have a strong libido and my wife is less sexually driven, but when I do it I fantasize about HER! It works great. Now I have more time for kids and hobbies and such. This woman has every right to feel rejected and he needs to get help. I know, I was just like him.

  2. Excellent advice! Follow through on it today, if you feel you can't do it yourself, seek couples counseling.

  3. great advice doc and your poster - anonymous -- he's right on target with experience in this area...this guy not only needs to stop -- he and she should go to therapy...