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Porn: the eternal conversation killer.

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Teresa asks:

Why do men freeze up when you ask them about watching porn movies?

Heather Corinna replies:

Well, not all men do freeze up when asked (and not all men watch porn, either).

For that matter, some women also watch pornographic movies, and they don't all become mute when you ask them about it, either. As someone who has written on these issues a lot over the last ten years, and asks others about porn in a myriad of different contexts, I can say for myself that I can't say any one group of people has ever reacted to questions or discussions about pornography in any one way.

But, why might someone freeze up when asked?

Part of that probably depends on how they're asked, and what ideas they have about why they're asked. If you ask someone a question which sounds more like an accusation, they're likely to understandably behave as if they have been accused and sit like a deer caught in your headlights. Have you ever had someone ask you, as a woman, about abortion or about how many sexual partners you have had? If so, you might have some sense of what I'm saying here: you know full well that there are some people with whom your answer is going to create a value judgment about you as a whole person. These can be a scary things to be asked sometimes, particularly by someone you don't know very well and haven't established trust with yet.

If it's something you have expressed a disapproval of, or where a person expects disapproval, they may well be stunned silent, because they can feel very cornered. If they feel like or suspect that if they say that they do, you're going to be angry or upset with them, then obviously, they're going to want to avoid answering you at all or feel nervous to answer. If you keep meeting with stunned silence when you ask men about it, that silence may even be some of them trying to figure out how to answer in a way that isn't going to create a bad reaction with you. Or, someone you're asking may have had an experience before where they shared an opinion and got a bad reaction.

Too, for plenty of people, pornographic use and the masturbation that usually goes along with it is something they consider private. If you're asking about something very private with someone you don't yet have that level of intimacy with, it may feel like an invasive question.

Lastly, for the men who don't watch porn, plenty of them have grown up surrounded by the idea that that is something normal for men to do, and they may combat feeling like they are not normal if they choose not to, or don't even have an interest in it. They can feel vulnerable to share that if they have the idea they're somehow not normal, because letting another person in on that may make them feel exposed. It's also typical for men to feel that -- or to have directly or indirectly experienced -- porn is something women either strongly disapprove of or feel insecure about or threatened by.

I don't know who you're asking or why you're asking, which would have been helpful information. But it might be helpful for you to put your cards on the table first in these discussions. If, for instance, you're asking men you're sexually or romantically involved with or considering those kinds of relationships with and porn use is a dealbreaker for you, then rather than asking them what they do, you should probably just state it's a dealbreaker. If it is, how they feel about it or what their habits are are secondary to the fact that it's your dealbreaker, or something where you have limits. When you express those feelings, they then simply will decide if they can work within your limits or not.

If you're asking because you use pornography yourself, or it's something you'd want to share in a relationship, then be assertive and put that out there on your part, first. Or maybe you're just curious, and don't have any strong feelings, limits or experiences with it yourself.

Whatever your motivation for asking and your own feelings about it are, it might be helpful and a bit more forthright if you took the first step and put them on the table.

Mind, that doesn't mean you won't still get silence sometimes, particularly if your feelings and theirs are in conflict. Pornography can be a very loaded topic for a lot of people, and plenty of folks understandably feel like however they feel about it or behave with it isn't going to be the "right" way to feel or behave, since a whole lot of people have very strong feelings about it, particularly in interpersonal relationships. But if you put your own stuff out there, you're more likely to either get an actual response, or if something just isn't in alignment, to have the other person know the deal and make their choices accordingly. I'd also suggest qualifying what you're asking with the acknowledgment that it can be both a loaded issue and a private one, and leave the other person room to be able to say that it's not something they want to talk about with you, or with you yet.

written 10 May 2008 . updated 11 May 2008

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