By Dr. Jenn Mann
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 @ 6:56 pm
Eva Hill

DEAR DR. JENN,

I found a stash of porn on my boyfriend's computer that can only be described as degrading, gross, and weird. Should I be worried? —Ummm

DEAR UMMM,
You are not the first woman to be surprised by her man’s porn—that he has it or the chosen content. Men watch porn. And, yes, many women watch porn too. A few years back, researchers attempted to do a study comparing men who watch porn to men who do not. The study was cancelled because researchers literally could not find men who had not watched porn. With free access online, you will be hard pressed to find a man who has not taken part.

Watching porn, even when in a committed relationship, is normal. Those same researchers adapted their study to analyze men’s porn use: They found that single men watched pornography for an average of 40 minutes, three times a week, while those in relationships watched it for around 20 minutes, 1.7 times a week. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your BF’s viewing habits are a warning sign of some sort.

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Chances are, you probably watch porn yourself too, right? And if you don’t because it makes you feel guilty—or if you worry that watching porn is a form of cheating—let me stop you right there. Masturbation is a healthy part of adult relationships across genders. And if watching porn helps someone get their rocks off, who cares? You may be thinking about Channing Tatum while you rub your lady parts, but that doesn’t make you his next wife. Just because someone is in a relationship, doesn’t mean that they are not visually stimulated by seeing an attractive person naked. I always say: It doesn’t matter where you get your appetite, as long as you eat at home.

But why would anyone want to get off to a video clip when they can get off with a real, live human? Because not every climax is about the 360-degree emotional, physical, intimate experience of sex. Your man may masturbate because he's turned on and you're not around. But he also may masturbate because he wants a quick physical or mental release (which doesn't make for a great intimate interaction anyway). Also, it's fast. He may love the romantic, candle-lit dinners he shares with you; doesn't mean stuffing your face with a bag of Cheetos isn't delicious.

Regarding the content of your partner’s selections, you would be shocked to know that he’s far from alone in being turned on by the “gross” and “weird.” What’s important is to remember is this: What people watch is not always what they want to do—and is rarely politically correct. I once had a woman call my radio show wracked with shame because she liked to watch porn involving animal characters. While I would never condone beastiality of an kind, she didn't either. I don’t judge what turns people on through a screen (as long as the content features only participants who can and do give their consent).

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In the book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire, computational neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam analyzed the results of 400 million online pornography searches to better understand porn use and what turns us on. The results are pretty shocking. There are 20 popular searches that account for 80 percent of all the porn people search for and spend money and time on. The top five were "youth," "gay," "MILFs," "breasts," and "cheating wives." "Cheating wives" was searched more often (#5) than "cheerleaders" (#79)! For every search for “skinny girl,” there are three more for “fat girl.” “Granny porn,” which is the name given to porn featuring women in their 40s, 50s, or 60s (granny? Please.) is also extraordinarily popular.

The things that turn us on often have to do with power, control, and dominance more than real-world desires. People often feel a deep sense of shame if they are turned on by a pornographic scene in which a rape is played out by actors. But the truth is, that doesn’t mean they want to assault or be assaulted. It’s more about playing with power dynamics in a situation that’s safe—mostly because you know it’s a fantasy and will never actually happen.

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Women watch their share of porn, too. According to a 2007 Nielsen reports, 13 million women are watching porn on a monthly basis. So forget about your boyfriend’s porn collection for a moment—should you tell your S.O. about your own? While you have a right to privacy, talking about your porn preferences opens the door for good sexual communication and potentially taking your sex life to the next level together. Maybe watching together is even the way to go. According to one survey, 12 percent of women watch porn with their partners. For some couples, that can be an exciting way to add new visual stimuli without bringing a third party (or more) into the actual room. It can enhance the sex, open up discussions about sexual fantasies, and further the connection. For others, though, it is not a good idea. For the highly jealous or those who have a tendency to compare their bodies to others', porn can highlight those insecurities and create problems. Figuring out which camp you as a couple fall into is about knowing who you both are as individuals.

But even if you don’t sit down in front of the screen together, using porn as a gateway to talking about what you like and don’t like can open up great discussions about sexual curiosities, desires, and fantasies, which can enhance your sex life. Finding out that your S.O. loves to watch women play with vibrators, for example, doesn’t mean you have to watch with him but could open the door for you playing with yours while he watches. Again, not everything that turns us on online turns us on in person, so the key is using that Redtube link as an invitation to broaden the conversation about sex. Don’t start your torture chamber blueprints just because one shows up in his browsing history. But maybe even just voicing those fantasies will turn you both on in new ways.

In short, don’t worry about your discovery. Use it as an opportunity to expand the sexy things you’ve discussed as a couple. Getting to know each others’ fantasies, and learning not to take them as a criticism of your IRL sex life, can enhance your intimacy—even your relationship.

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