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On a Boyfriend's Porn, Anger, Healing & Finding the Way to the Healthy & Whole

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dragonflyy asks:

This may get a bit vivid. Be warned. I have a twisted sexual history. After being molested at age 5 and again at 14 I somehow allowed myself to get taken advantage of and used in regards to sex. It took me many years to heal and much pain to get to where I am now and I can have a healthy sexual experience with my current boyfriend. I stayed at his house when he was renting a room out of a bachelors pad and I understood and accepted that Playboy magazines were on every toilet and the toilet seats were always up. One day he came to the kitchen with a boner kissing on me and whatnot, a short while after I went up to the bathroom where he had been showering and found a Playboy open. Are you kidding me? How dare he have the audacity to come to me with a boner he got from a slut in a magazine? It was talked about and made clear I am not comfortable with that whatsoever, he should be loyal to me mind body and soul, and I should be enough for him; as it is likewise.

It's been months since then. I found some porn videos on his phone yesterday and it really repulsed me. I get dressed up for him, I go down on him, I put out frequently. We do get kinky. Now the reason this video offended me so much is I do let him [ejaculate] on my [breasts]: its a thrill for him. In this porn video there's a girl who looks like me, disturbing enough as is, and shes giving a guy a blowjob till he [ejaculates] on her [breasts], then she turns to the next guy and does it again. Screen changes and she's [having intercourse] from behind and he [ejaculates] in her, then she crawls forward and starts giving another guy head as yet another comes up to [have sex with her] from behind as well. TOO FAR. It's not your basic porn scene, and it bothers me that its a twisted repulsive obscene image of something him and I share intimately. We've just moved in together and I can't imagine ever letting him see me naked again. I feel like he twisted our passionate and beautiful sex into some perverted expression of his twisted fantasies.

Heather Corinna replies:

The big emotion that comes through what you've written here isn't love or loyalty. It's anger. Big, big anger, in giant waves, in what you're saying and in how you've said it. There is so much here -- far more, I think, than your boyfriend using porn, or what's in the porn he's looking at -- that a column could not even come close to addressing it all well.

There's also a lot I wish I knew more about, like about your sexual history up until this relationship -- not just your abuse history, but your own sexual history: what, if any, fully wanted and consensual sex you've engaged in and how that's gone for you -- more about this relationship than what you feel you do for your boyfriend per sexual activities or that he looks at pornography, and how you feel about your own sexual self and sexuality, separate from your partner, including what you are looking for in engaging in sex with someone.

I suspect I don't know more about those things not only because you didn't mention it, but because you're not so in touch with some of it yourself. I also suspect some of the big anger around all of this may be obscuring your deeper feelings and the larger issues at hand. While all of this is way more than I could help you with in one column, I can get you started with some things, and can suggest some steps for the longer-term stuff I think you need to really work through and with everything you've brought up here. I think we need to start with your anger. Even though I can't give you even a fraction of what I think you need, I'm trying to offer as much as I can, so there is going to be a lot here to read.

I tend to think about anger the way I think about hot peppers. Anger, like hot peppers, can be valuable and useful. But anger, like hot peppers, can also stand in the way of, or drown out, the good stuff. Use the right amount of hot pepper, be moderate with it, and they can add a dimension to something you're cooking like nothing else can, bringing their own flavor and also amping all the flavors of a dish. Use too much, or use it the wrong way, and all you're going to taste is the peppers. You might burn the hell out of everyone's mouth, too. Same goes with anger. I feel like your anger right now, and probably long before now, too, might be obscuring what lies beneath it, which you need to get at to get to and experience the good stuff. I think it's probably also been so hot and so ever-present that your sexual choices and frameworks have been overpowered by it. I think you are coming to sex and your sexual relationship with so much anger that everyone involved, and likely you, most of all, is likely to get burned badly.

So, before I say anything else, I want to give you a bunch of sentences to think about and complete for yourself that I hope will help you let go of some of that anger and clarify or identify some of the feelings and experiences around and beneath it. You can print them out, then get pen and paper and start writing, or take notes in a text window on your computer, whatever works for you.

Take some time with these. Go with your gut feelings, but don't shortcut. Do some digging in your heart and mind, rather than only going with the first word or feeling that comes up for you or what you think the acceptable answer is. For some or even all of those sentences, those blank spots will probably -- hopefully -- be filled with more than one word, idea or feeling. If you don't know how to answer some of them, that's okay, but if you feel mad, scared or otherwise resistant about answering any of them, make a note of that if you can't work through your resistance and just write down the answers you have, even if you don't like them or they make you feel uncomfortable. Even just knowing there are issues or feelings you do not want to deal with at all is helpful information.

There are no wrong answers if you're real with yourself: your most honest feelings, whatever they are, are the right answers.

I've got only one limit for you with answering these, and that's this: try to think of a word for any of those answers besides words that only describe anger. If "angry" feels like the right answer to any of these, then just make a point of also adding other words about your feelings besides angry.

Here we go:

  • When I see pornography that belongs to someone I'm sexual with, I feel __________________.
  • When I know my partner has looked at pornography before initiating any kind of sex with me, I feel __________________.
  • I feel _______________ about women that I see in pornography my partner has or looks at. The women I see in those pictures make me feel _______________ about myself.
  • I feel that the sex my boyfriend looks at in pornography and the sex we have together is different in the following ways: _________________.
  • The best things that I feel I get or experience with my sex life with my boyfriend are: _____________.
  • The best things that I feel my boyfriend gets or experiences with our sex life are: ________________.
  • I feel the thing I give my boyfriend he values the most is: _________________.
  • I feel the thing my boyfriend gives me that I value to most is: _________________.
  • What I feel makes sex beautiful and good is/are: ____________________.
  • What I feel makes sex ugly, obscene or "perverted" is/are: __________________.
  • I enjoy expressing my sexuality with someone most when I feel: _______________.
  • If I am not the only person my boyfriend finds sexually appealing or fantasizes about, it means that I am: _________________. When my boyfriend finds someone else sexually appealing, it makes me feel _______________ about myself.
  • I am most afraid of the following things about a partner's sexuality: _____________________.
  • I am most afraid of the following things with my own sexuality: _________________________.
  • When I agree to have sex my boyfriend initiates, it is usually because I want: _________________.
  • When I initiate sex with my boyfriend, it is usually because I want: ___________________.
  • If I could be the only person my boyfriend had any sexual desire for, it would mean that I am: _________________.
  • Three of the best things I have to offer to a sexual partner are: ________________ and _______________ and _________________.
  • Three things I want most from a sexual partner for myself are: ________________ and _______________ and _________________.
  • I like my boyfriend's sexuality, including what I know about his fantasies, because or when: __________________.
  • I think male sexuality, as I understand it, is: _________________.
  • The sexual abuse I survived has impacted my sexuality in the following ways: _________________.
  • Being a sexual abuse survivor means I am: _________________.

I hope doing that was helpful to you, and that it gave you some clarity, or at least a start in thinking more deeply about some of these issues. I also hope that possibly getting a bit more in touch with the range of your feelings and thoughts about all of this helped you let go of some of your anger enough so that you can read the rest of this from a less volatile headspace and maybe also get some clues, all by yourself, about what you might really want and need here moving forward.

I get a sense you're not in touch with some of your deep feelings about a lot of those things, perhaps in part because some of them are probably, and understandably, really freaking uncomfortable. I also think it may be that with some of these issues, you may be making sexual choices or creating frameworks that are more about how you think you're supposed to feel, or what you're supposed to do, than about how you actually do feel and what you actually do really want.

There are some things I'd normally want to talk about that you brought up here, like calling other women sluts, like about what on earth "kinky" even means (especially since one person's normal is another person's kink, and vice-versa), and also what sounds to me like potentially having a real disdain for the sexuality or gender of someone who you're choosing to be sexual with. And I'd be happy to talk with you more about things like that if you want to over at our message boards, anytime you like. But for now, what I want to focus on are a few things I think I can give you that are most likely to get you started, some recommendations for moving forward and with what you chose to focus your question on, the issues around pornography and sexual fantasy and how you feel about being sexual with this person from here on out.

You said you cannot imagine ever letting this person see you naked again, which I presume also means you have no desire to be sexual at all with this person right now or any time soon. Whatever your reasons, if that's how you feel, not only do you not have to do either of those things, now or ever again, if you don't want to, I'd suggest you don't do either of those things when you are feeling this way.

I think if you two do get sexual together again, it's only likely to be sound for both of you after a break from sex and after LOADS of serious, calm talking together and a big-time reevaluation of both of your deep, honest feelings. Even though you moved in together, that doesn't mean you need to keep being sexually involved: I'm certain nothing about that is part of your lease. Even though you've been sexual with him in the past, that doesn't mean you have to be sexual with him in the future. You, like everyone else, are entitled to ONLY have any kind of sex when you feel comfortable and when you very much want that kind of sex with another person.

It sounds like you ideally don't want to be in an intimate relationship with someone who uses pornography. I think you're also saying you'd rather not be in an intimate relationship with someone whose sexual fantasies are about anyone but you or about any kind of sex or sexual activity that that person does not engage in with you or that you don't find appealing or want to engage in yourself. I also get the impression you're really not comfortable with pornography, period, and that you feel like a given sexual activity or dynamic which is okay or even good in real life becomes "perverted" if it's represented in pornography or in a certain way. Or, it may be that you feel anything you don't yourself want to do or find desirable or appealing sexually -- like having more than one partner at a time with sex -- is perverse.

You absolutely get to feel all of these things that you do. We all feel what and how we feel. You also have the ability to ask for, seek out and potentially have some of these things and have it be healthy for everyone involved.

You can choose to only engage in intimate relationships with people who don't have any pornography in their possession at all, or anything you, yourself, classify as pornography (since, for instance, while Playboy is one person's porn, gossip magazines with pics of celebrities or romance novels are someone else's) or who only utilize pornography when they are not in a sexual relationship with someone. Since not everyone has or uses pornography (including some "bachelors"), that's totally doable. It'd be more common to find people who just don't use porn at all than people who use it when alone but totally ditch it once they have a sexual partner on the scene, though.

What you'd want to do, if that is what you want, is to make this something you talk about clearly with someone before you get intimately involved, expressing that it's a dealbreaker for you in terms of a sexual relationship with someone. It's unlikely anyone who has porn as a part of their life and wants it as part of their life would be comfortable with that, so that's a pretty easy screening tool: those folks will likely just opt out of dating you, and folks who also don't have or want porn in their lives will be the people you can soundly consider. And really, if you feel that way, it's best for everyone to know and be clear about that dealbreaker and know that's what they're signing on to, just like it's be sound for a carnivore a vegan goes on a date with to know if that vegan only wants to date other vegans.

You could ask someone who already uses porn to stop, but for starters, that's a bit of a sexual ethics iffy-thing. Asking someone to change their sexuality for you because you feel threatened or disgusted by parts of it isn't not likely to be sound or healthy for either of you. Better bet? Don't get sexually involved with people whose sexualities you find repulsive or can't otherwise accept: if and when you find you feel that way about someone, it's healthier for both of you for you to just opt out of or end a sexual relationship. Even if ethically you felt it was okay to ask, chances are all that would result in is someone doing a better job of hiding their porn from you, which probably isn't what you want, and certainly doesn't facilitate a healthy, open sexual relationship.

A person's sexuality and sexual behavior can change over time, including using pornography or liking a certain kind of pornography, but when shifts or changes like that occur, feel right for that person and stick, that's usually about something they really want for themselves or changes that just sort of happen, without being forced, in a free-flowing kind of way. With this partner? It sounds like you knew porn was part of his sexual behaviour coming into the scene, even if you may have made the mistake of assuming that would change because of you, so didn't state the limits you wanted around it. But since it's highly unrealistic he will stop using porn regardless, I don't think we need to dig too deeply into the ethics of asking him to stop. If you want an intimate relationship where porn isn't any part of the picture, this probably isn't going to be the person you'll find that with or who wants that for himself.

You also get to choose to only pursue and stay in sexual relationships with a partner whose sexuality is just like your own, and who thinks the things you feel are ugly or destructive are, too. By all means, sexualities are very diverse, so finding someone JUST like us sexually is rarely easy, and I think a compelling argument can be made for the benefit of having at least some sexual differences in a partnership. However, these are personal choices, and what you feel most comfortable with is what it is. If what you'd prefer or feel better about is someone with a sexuality much more like yours, or exactly like yours, you are entitled to choose to only seek out and engage in sexual relationships with people like that. Again, though, if that's what you want, I don't think this person is that person, and that's not something to try and change about someone: a person's sexuality is something we need to accept and then make our own choices around per if we engage in certain interactions or relationships with someone or not.

The bit about being the only person or player in a person's sexual fantasy life is something you're not at all likely to find.

You can seek that out if you want, I guess, but fantasies, sexual and otherwise, are like dreams: not something people can tend to control, even when they want to. We could ask a partner to change what they're fantasizing about, but even if they wanted to, they probably wouldn't be able to. Instead, they'd just try, fail and then feel horrible about thoughts and feelings they couldn't control, which isn't going to be good for anyone. You could, I suppose, ask a partner not to look at pornography that illustrates their fantasies, but even then, those thoughts probably would still, happen in their heads. Asking someone to change what's inside their own minds in this respect is a big ethical no-no as it is, since again, it's asking someone to try and change something about themselves that really just needs to be accepted, or is seeking to control a person's thoughts because you wish...well, that they were a different person than they are to better suit what you want from them. That's not a healthy interpersonal approach at all.

I'd add that were your ideal of being the only subject of all your boyfriend's sexual feelings, thoughts and ideals a reality for more than a few weeks or months -- which can happen when a relationship is brand-new sometimes --- it would probably be a lot less ideal than it seems. At best, that would probably only happen for a person with very little imagination, which doesn't tend to equal an awesome sex life, and at worst, you'd be dealing with someone with an unhealthy obsession, the kind that tends to result in stalking, harassment and other kinds of abuse.

But all that aside, again, that's just not realistic. Most people, even when they are in love, are going to have found and continue to find more than one person -- object, made-up character or being or way of having sex -- in the world sexually attractive and of interest, and that's going to sometimes be part of someone's thoughts or fantasies, even when and if they choose to only sexually be with one person at a given time. Sometimes even when we are engaged in sex with that person we're choosing to be exclusive with in our sexual actions: Kinsey studies found that somewhere around 70% of all people, of all genders and orientations, engage or have engaged in sexual fantasies during sex with their partners. In other words, most people fantasize. And since the point of fantasy is that it's not reality, when most people fantasize, it's usually not just about the person they're with or the kind of sex they're having with them, or in real life, period. Fantasy also isn't necessarily about what someone wants to do that they're not, or a partner they want instead of the one they have: it's also often, instead, about what someone finds exciting, but doesn't want to do in real life, or can't, or finds exciting because it's added to what's going on for real, outside of their heads.

People's feelings about pornography and fantasy are more often complex than simple, which is in conflict with how both those things can tend to be presented in the world, where people are either seen as being all-in or all-out, totally big yay about either of those things, or very strongly against them.

What feelings a given sexual or pornographic image or sexual idea triggers or creates for one person can be or feel radically different than for another person looking at the exact same imagery. So, you look at the image you described at the end of your post and have very negative feelings, feel that what you're seeing, or someone liking that, is twisted and perverted. You don't see anything appealing or beautiful there, or find that image makes you feel good, for whatever reasons you have. Someone else, like your boyfriend, may look at that and get positive feelings. He may find the image or idea of that kind of sex with more than one person appealing and beautiful, joyful and happymaking. He may like am image that has someone that looks like you because it reminds him of sex he enjoys with you. If you two see that differently, that also doesn't mean one of you is right and the other is wrong, one of you thinks sex is beautiful and the other ugly, that one of you is healthy and the other "twisted." In a lot of ways, porn is like poetry: our interpretation tends to carry a lot more weight than whatever the intention of the creators, actors or models in it happened to be (besides wanting a paycheck, a big intention for people for whom porn puts food on their table).

Of course, some of your negativity about this seems to center on the idea that you should be all there is for him sexually, and that the sex you two have should be all he wants and nothing more. There are some big problems with that framework.

The biggest is that your boyfriend has a sexuality that's all his own, with or without you or anyone else, and that needs to ultimately be his, not yours. Same goes for you and your sexuality, even if you haven't yet felt that way about your sexuality, which you may not yet, from the sounds of things. Sexuality is something we, when we choose to, can share with people. It's not something to monopolize or own or that it's okay for someone else to seek to monopolize or own. The idea it can be taken, totally controlled, or owned full-stop by someone else is an unhealthy way of viewing sexual interactions: the kind of attitude that's all about rape and other sexual abuses. It's common when a person has been sexually abused, especially from early childhood on, to wind up having their sexuality greatly influenced by those ideas to some degree, because that's a strong message sexual abuse sends, so that could be some of where some of this is coming from for you, especially if you haven't had good help in your healing. It's not a framework a person can operate from in healthy sexual relationships.

No one is, or should be, everyone's everything. In any respect. That's even true for highly dependent and vulnerable people like infants. And that's not a bad thing: it's a healthy thing. Expecting that of someone or ourselves is expecting more than we can handle, more than is emotionally sound, and is also expecting something which makes for unhealthy relationships, not healthy ones. And to be really important to someone, we don't have to be their everything. And like my colleague Charlie Glickman said, when I asked him to double-check my answer to you today, lots of people -- I think it's fair to say most -- can make room for partners to still feel sexual attraction to and interest in others even when they want to be the only one (and are the only one) that partner actually engages in sex with.

To retain our own healthy sense of self and healthy boundaries in a relationship, we can't be someone's everything or aim to be. Like sex, relationships are about people freely choosing to share themselves and their lives. To do that safely, we all need some boundaries, and what those are might vary. But there's a line some people cross where having boundaries turns into trying to have control, and sometimes that's something they seek because they feel so scared and so unsafe without all the control. And if we ever find ourselves feeling that way, the big takeaway there is usually that we're just not in the right relationship for us, or in the right place in our lives for a given kind of intimate relationship. If and when we feel that way, instead of seeking more control over others, we need to back off and figure out what we need to do to take care of ourselves and get the safety we need in healthy ways that let everyone still be who they are by themselves when we're together, including sexually.

One last big thing I'm hearing is about all the sexual things you do for him or let him do to you; what you give him, how you do some or most of the things he's seeing in his pornography. What I don't hear any of, at all, in what you said is what you do together, what's a thrill for you, what this sexual relationship really offers you or what your sexuality is about for you besides a "twisted history" and how it is about or serves your boyfriend. I'm hearing you resent the sexual performance of women in porn, and yet the way you describe your sex life, it sounds more like performances you feel you give for your boyfriend (and don't feel good about) to me than like a free expression of shared, mutually beneficial and reciprocal pleasure and joy. Unless you feel like your sexuality has a lot to do with service and submission -- and I don't get the feeling that's something you're delighting in, since it sounds like there's real resentment and shame here -- I don't see you and your sexuality in the picture here at all, which probably makes it tough to see why his sexuality should still be allowed to exist without you and be about things it was before you came into the picture.

I think you have a much longer way to go in your healing process with abuse, and in really claiming your own sexuality, than you think you do. I know that sucks to hear, because healing from abuse tends toe process that takes so much longer than we'd like and asks for a lot of our time, work and energy. Saying that is something I'd rather not say to anyone. But you're asking for my input, and I can't imagine glossing over what seems very obvious to me, and what I think is critical, will help you out.

The way you describe your healing process and the way you sound around it, it doesn't sound like anything, or much of anything, earnestly therapeutic has been any real part of that process. I don't hear you talking about any comforts in this process: supportive friends or family, a support group of other survivors you've talked with, creative healing work that might have been hard, but felt empowering and positive, the help of dedicated counselors. Given your timeline, it also doesn't sound like you've taken any real time to positively explore your sexuality and your feelings about it all by yourself, in ways that have not been painful, before this or other sexual relationships. It doesn't sound like you've yet chosen to enter a sexual relationship with the limits, boundaries and models you might need or want from the start to be able to build trust and comfort with someone over time. And if none of those things have happened yet or been things you've done, it's no wonder you still are feeling so angry and still have ways to go when it comes not only to healing, but to being able to create and enjoy a healthy sexual relationship you feel truly good about.

My very best advice, which I think is the only sound advice here, is that you seek out in-person, ongoing help and support from qualified people. Ideally, if you can access both, I think a qualified counselor and/or support group to help you specifically with the sexual abuses you suffered AND a sex therapist to help you work on and with sexuality would be just the ticket. It seems clear to me you have some abuse issues to work through (and by the way, for those of us who are survivors, we always will, for our whole lives, not just months or years after), but how much those are impacting your sexual life is a question mark: while they tend to have a big impact on sexuality for everyone, that also may not be all that's gong on here. It's not like only people who have suffered sexual abuse have these issues and conflicts, nor does being sexually abused or assaulted mean that any and every sexual issue someone has ever after must be about abuse. As well, I think a lack of separating what sex is from what abuse is may be an issue for you, and I think having that separation in counseling would be a good approach to help with that.

Again, ideally, I think that deeply dedicating yourself to one or both of those kinds of helps and work and to yourself -- instead of to giving your whole body and soul to a sexual partner -- for months or years is what's most likely to get you to a place where you really can have sexual relationships you feel seriously good about, and where sex is something that's really about feeling good and really about you, authentically, not just or mostly about a partner, sexual performance or what you feel sex should or could earn for you if you put out.

I don't suggest these things to make you feel bad or broken: I'm suggesting them with the aim of having you find what I think you need to feel a whole lot better. You obviously feel awful and have for a while. I'm suggesting these things because I want you to feel a lot better.

In the meantime, I'd be happy to talk with you in more depth over at our message boards, including about whatever might have come up for you when you did those sentence stems up top. There is really so much to talk about here, and while I've written a lot, I am still seriously shortcutting. I'd also strongly suggest that you step back from sex with partners for a while, not just this one. I think that it's pretty likely that sex with people is keeping you stuck in negative patterns and feelings instead of helping you get away from them. I also really don't thin that as things stand now, a healthy sexual relationship is likely for you or your boyfriend together. I'm concerned about both of you in that respect. I think that when it comes to expressing your own sexual desires and feelings, masturbation would be a better sole partner for you right now than another person

P.S. I'm sorry to have had to edit your initial post, but some of the words you used in the context you did could very easily cause our website to be flagged as pornography itself, which cam limit the ability of some users at some computers to be able to read our website. As well, some of the language you used in the context you did seemed very likely to trigger some other readers, including abuse survivors.

I know I already gave you a lot, even though it's way less than you need, but I'll also leave you with a few extra links I think might be of value to you. Again, feel free to come talk with me more, and I'd also be more than willing to help you find support and counseling services in your area if you need help with that.

written 28 Dec 2011 . updated 21 Jan 2014

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