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He only wants sex with me after watching pornography.

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Maggie asks:

My question is my husband watches other girls get off on cam. I don't like it and he has been told but he still does it. He doesn't seem interested in me until after he has watched them. He pays no attention to me and when he is in the mood it's like after he's watched the other girls and I feel like I have to give it to him because I feel I have to. I guess it's fear of him going out and getting it from someone in person rather then me but I am tired of feeling like I have to and I'm tired of being put on the back burner. I need help as to what to do or how to deal with this.

Heather Corinna replies:

I see a few issues that need to be addressed here.

First things first: giving someone any kind of sex they want any time they want it not only will not keep them from having other sex partners, it is -- as you're experiencing -- something that doesn't create a healthy sexual dynamic or feel very good emotionally. Partnered sex is supposed to be about shared, mutual pleasure and shared, mutual desire, not about customer service or emotional bribery. If he wants sex at times you don't, you decline. The times when you are interested in sex, you see if he is as well, and if so -- and vice-versa if when he asks, you are feeling it -- those are the times to have sex together.

Really, truly, what you're doing isn't going to stop someone from cheating. Plenty of people who have sex with partners often and when one or both partners want it have sadly found that out. It's only going to cultivate a shared sex life that likely isn't very satisfying for either of you, and that's not a result either of you likely wants.

Next, you get to have a say in what is and is not acceptable foreplay when it comes to the sex you're both having. In other words, clearly, watching porn is foreplay for him, but since it involves sex with you right afterwards, if you are not okay with being part of that, essentially, you get to set a limit and make clear that when the two of you have sex, you only want to do so when it hasn't started with porn. And if it feels like that is the only way he is interested in you, then it's time for the two of you to talk and commit to rekindling your sex life together so that isn't the case.

Whether or not he's willing to make that commitment, I can't know, but in order for you to find out, you have to make clear that what's going on now is simply not working for you and needs to change, period. Let him know why you're troubled by this pattern, not just THAT it troubles you. Ask for him to listen and really hear you, and ask for him to try and be empathetic. Ask him how he feels about it, too, and listen to his feelings. Talk about how you're both feeling about your sex life: what's missing, what you need, what you wish it were like, when it has been as you really liked it, what you both think you can do to improve things for each other. You two need to have a real discussion, not just a directive or ultimatum, and you both are going to be helped by each truly understanding -- or at least trying to understand -- where the other person is coming from.

I'd also suggest being honest about you having had sex with him out of fear he'll have sex with someone else, and make clear that you feel obligated to have sex anymore, rather than feeling a real desire for it. Without a couple being really honest, even when it's painful, repairing bad patterns isn't often doable. From the sounds of things, he's not the only one with diminished desire here, you are as well, and taking responsibility for the things you have done or are feeling which compound the problems you're having -- rather than just talking about what he's doing -- is important. While that may seem even more hopeless, it may, in fact, be common ground that's actually quite helpful. When both partners are having an issue, it can sometimes be easier to work on it since one partner doesn't feel like he or she is the sole problem.

Mind, you do not get to control what he does when it comes to his solo sex life: with his masturbation. That's his own sex life, just like your masturbation is your own sex life. Our solo sex lives are separate and different than the ones we share with someone else. It's tough for married couples or those who live together and are sexually monogamous to have privacy people need and to retain some semblance of a self that's separate from the couple. Leaving room for each person to have a solo sex life they enjoy (with themselves, not other partners) is one thing to do to be sure you both have some space to breathe and some of a sexuality that's just yours.

Certainly, if you don't want porn in your life at all, you get to choose to only be with partners who feel the same way and don't use it. Obviously, that's a limit best set before you get deeply involved with or married to someone, but you still get to choose whether or not you stay in this relationship now, per that issue or any other. Only you know what the rest of your relationship is like, and if the porn use is a dealbreaker for you or not. If the relationship as a whole is wonderful, and this is a lone sour spot, it's probably worth both of you trying to reach a compromise when it comes to his pron use that stays in his sex life alone. If, on the other hand, the relationship as a whole is lousy, or you've tried to work on this and either he won't cooperate, or nothing the two of you are trying to fix together is working, then it may be time to really give thought to if staying in this marriage is good for both of you or not.

A marriage is a big commitment. So ultimately, I usually advise married couples having big problems, sexual or otherwise, to look into joint counseling. I know that the married couples we usually hear from are very young and new to their marriages, so it might seem like you shouldn't be having problems or need counseling so soon. But marriage in and of itself doesn't guarantee harmony or happiness, nor does that mean you're not going to have conflicts or problems. In some ways, marriage can even create problems which didn't exist before, just because it is life-altering, and it also changes a person's identity, which can be something challenging to work through and adjust to. Compared to the investment that marriage is, financial and emotional, investing time and money in a few counseling sessions together to save a relationship you both want to stay in is seriously minor.

So, if my suggestions here don't work after a few months, or you feel like you can't even have a constructive talk about all of this, then it's time to call in the pros for help. Who knows: if you two are otherwise solid and deeply committed to each other, this conflict may well turn out to be one of those things that brings you closer, and makes you more happy once you work through it, than you would have been otherwise.

Here are a few links which I think may help with some additional perspective and also in your talks together:

written 21 May 2008 . updated 26 May 2008

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