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Sexpert: Porn revelations

Dear Sexpert,

I just found out that my boyfriend prefers a certain type of porn a few months into our relationship. When we first started dating, I asked him, but he lied to me repeatedly, saying he has never watched porn. What he’s into isn’t bad, but it is different than what I was expecting. Is it a red flag that he lied to me when I asked the first few times?

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Confused Viewer

Dear Confused Viewer,

Watching porn is fairly common and can be a healthy part of sexuality. Unfortunately, it is also very stigmatized, and many people avoid talking about their habits and views surrounding porn for fear of being judged negatively. Watching porn is common among both people who are single and those who are in relationships; in fact, in a large study of people in relationships, 85 percent reported watching pornography in the last six months. Some people who watch porn consider it a part of their sexuality that they would like to share with their partner(s); others consider porn something they like to enjoy only by themselves, or something that should be kept private. Others may also prefer to involve porn in their sexual relationships only after becoming comfortable with other types of sexuality together. How someone chooses to watch and talk about porn, if at all, really depends on the individual’s preferences and comfort level. However, let's talk more about the dynamics surrounding your and your boyfriend’s interactions with porn.

It seems like what you are most concerned about is not the porn itself, but the fact that he lied to you and that lying might be a bad sign. While it's ultimately up to you to assess the fact that he lied, it makes sense to consider the bigger picture and the reasons he might have done so. Porn is still considered very taboo in society; people have varying viewpoints on the ethics of porn in general, especially about specific types of porn or the fetishes or fantasies represented in them. Many people who watch porn don’t talk about it with friends or partners, perhaps because they believe it is something to be kept private or because they fear adverse reactions. One possibility is that your boyfriend was worried that you would disapprove of him watching porn, making him embarrassed or hesitant to tell you. Something else that might contribute to this is myths about gender surrounding porn. It’s a mistaken common view that porn is something only viewed by men. In fact, in the aforementioned study of people in relationships, 73 percent of women, compared to 98 percent of men, had watched porn within the last six months. If you don’t identify as a man, the mistaken conception that your gender indicates your interest in porn may have contributed to an assumption on your boyfriend’s part that porn wasn’t something you would be interested in or approve of. 

In addition, porn is notably very different from real-life sex. It is scripted and performed for the enjoyment of the viewer, and it often does not portray realistic or healthy sexual encounters. You said the kind of porn he watches is “not what you were expecting” —  from that, it sounds like what he is into might not be something that’s part of your current sexual experiences together. It is possible that some people, like your boyfriend, might be worried that sharing the porn that arouses him with you would seem too different from what you do together sexually. There is a big difference between fantasy and reality; some people’s sexual fantasies are not things they would really want to do in real life. Your boyfriend might have been worried that you might assume he wants your sex life together to be like the porn he watches, or that he wants something different. Finally, it is possible that your boyfriend was worried you might consider watching porn a violation of the boundaries of your relationship, and hoped to conceal it from you.

With all of these possibilities, and potentially more, it seems like the best thing to do would be to have an honest conversation with your boyfriend. It’s likely that a lot of what led to his lying was miscommunication and mistaken assumptions. An open conversation about porn, your sex life, and your relationship could bring clarity and reassure him that what you most want is that you are both honest with each other. Approaching the conversation with an open mind can assure him that you won’t judge him and allows you to understand why he withheld his porn usage from you. Then it’s your decision, ideally in conversation with him, about what to do going forward. Lying is never a positive in a relationship, but it is not necessarily a red flag. Instead, it might be a sign that the two of you need to work on having more open communication. 

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However, if it turns out that he withheld his porn usage from you because he thought you would consider it a violation of your relationship, then this might be a more serious issue to consider and talk about. Lying to avoid acknowledging the breaching of boundaries in your relationship is a red flag. If you do consider watching porn to be a violation of these boundaries, it might be best to clearly establish your boundary and ask him his opinions. Your partner should always respect your boundaries and what you are comfortable with, but porn is often a neglected “gray area,” especially in otherwise-monogamous relationships. Being clear with each other on your feelings is important going forward.

Porn can — within limits — be a healthy part of one’s sexuality within any relationship status.

However, stigmas against watching porn can often cause feelings of shame that result in a lack of communication surrounding porn, including with one’s partner(s). It is completely reasonable to be upset that your boyfriend lied to you, but it is important to have an honest conversation with him about your feelings surrounding his dishonesty, porn, and your relationship. From there, it is up to you to assess with yourself what boundaries to set and changes to make in the future, as well as how you feel about his lying to you once you know why.

Best of luck!

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