Is Pornography Healthy For Women?

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With more people viewing pornographic content than ever before, it’s easy to become complacent about how it affects intimacy and relationships. After all, if so many people are watching it, it can’t be that bad, right? Well, that depends.

It is possible that an activity like watching porn can be a healthy part of a sexual relationship. If you’re OK with your partner’s consumption, or if you enjoy the occasional video yourself—whether alone or with your partner—by all means, go for it.

The problem, of course, is that pornography can cause harm. As well as being addictive and isolating, a growing number of experts are concerned that watching porn can warp people’s idea of healthy sexual expression. They point to the fact that the sex depicted is often performative and not reflective of an equal relationship, that female pleasure is secondary (if it’s considered at all), and that the female participants are frequently subjected to violent and degrading behavior.

Many women also report feeling insecure knowing that their partner watches porn. They worry that their partner will compare their body and ‘performance’ unfavorably with what they’ve seen online, or that their partner will expect them to engage in sex acts that they’re not comfortable with after having seen them on screen.

With all that in mind, what can you do if you’re worried about your partner’s consumption of porn and the repercussions to your relationship? Here are my top five tips.

1. Recognize that you and your partner may have opposing views on the subject.

Studies show that men and women view the consumption of pornography differently. As a general rule, men don’t see porn consumption as a sign of instability within their relationship or as an indicator of infidelity, whereas women may be more inclined to have this viewpoint. This difference is something for you both to keep in mind as you put your next tip into action.

2. Get clear about both of your feelings on porn.

Because it’s such a polarizing issue, this is an important conversation to have in order to set boundaries around what you both consider appropriate and acceptable. Ideally, have this conversation early on, but it’s never too late to dig deep and share your truth.

If you and your partner decide that porn does have a place in your relationship (whether it’s one of you "going solo" or a joint activity), you might choose to lay down some basic ground rules—for example, when, where, and how often it is acceptable to watch, and if there are any genres that are unacceptable.

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3. If you're uncomfortable with your partner's porn habits, speak up.

Begin the conversation from a place of love, softness, and openness, and avoid ambushing your partner—that’s unlikely to lead to anything but a fight. Instead, speak from your heart about your concerns, and practice clear communication.

If you’re worried you might become overwhelmed by anger or emotion, try making a list of your concerns before your chat so that you can stay on topic. Use lots of "I" sentences to spark the conversation, rather than placing blame. For example, "I feel insecure when I see pornography on your phone" or "I worry that I'm sexually inadequate when you choose porn over being intimate with me." In instances of porn addiction, or when you and your partner reach an impasse on the subject, getting professional assistance can be helpful as well.

4. Seek out alternative porn sources.

If you and your partner enjoy the excitement of porn but want to consume it in an empowered way, there are ways to upgrade your viewing habits. Many pornographic websites include a category called "female-friendly," which may provide a healthier alternative to mainstream porn (although when you realize what that name says about all the other categories, it can make your head spin!).

An even better and more empowered solution is to search for porn made by women for women that portrays sexual expression in a way that is respectful of both parties and honors both their needs, showcasing genuine interactions between consenting individuals. Some good places to start are MakeLoveNotPorn.tv and XConfessions—two websites created by women with sex-positive messages.

5. Talk to your kids about sex.

This might be the most important tip of all: Age-appropriate conversations about sex are incredibly important. Though they might be uncomfortable at first, if you as a parent aren’t having those kinds of chats, your kids will look elsewhere for information—and unfortunately, porn is always there to fill the void. And whatever role porn has in a consenting-adult relationship, I think we can all agree that it is not a good educational tool for young, impressionable minds.

Again, speaking from your heart is incredibly important here—open wide, be vulnerable, and practice clear communication. And if you’d like to supplement your conversations with responsible and empowering resources, try this awesome video about consent or this helpful list of books for kids, which you can search by age group.

Getting on the same page as your partner can take some work, especially with a tricky issue like this one. But once you do, trust me: It's one of the most fulfilling things you can do for your relationship.

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