Warning: if you’re uncomfortable with frank talk about marital sex, topics of pornography, you may want to skip this post.
Another blogger that I follow, Matt from Must Be This Tall To Ride, wrote a blog post that talked about many of the things we often don’t discuss in polite company. Not because it is bad so much as it isn’t done. He’s someone from the other side of the divorce equation: a man whose wife left him but who has been working hard to figure himself out ever since. Although he speaks primarily to men, I connect with the frank authenticity that comes from his posts, and appreciate the male perspective he offers. The focus of this recent post essentially discussed the necessity of talking about sex and physical intimacy and needs within the context of marriage. Speaking to other men, he also tackled the topics of masturbation and pornography, and his perspective on how these two items can impact husband and wife.
When commenting, sharing an incident in my past and it’s impact on my marriage, it suddenly occurred to me that even in the realm of sexuality my sense of what might be normal for men or in a relationship is skewed.
You see, my ex struggled with pornography. We discussed it before we married, and he acknowledged he had a problem, but that it wasn’t something he wanted to control his life any longer. At the time, I felt like he was baring his soul and putting himself out on a limb because he wanted… I am not sure what he wanted from me, honestly, now as I look back at the inexperienced young woman I was. In the Christian culture of the church that we were immersed in, he’d felt convicted that he had grown over-reliant on pornography. And, to be honest, it sure sounded like it was controlling him and intruding on his personal life. I’ve never wanted that kind of imagery to be the third wheel in my relationship, and made that clear.
I remember working through my own feelings upon hearing his confession. At twenty-odd years, my first boyfriend, it seemed like a big topic to be confronting when I had been firm that I was waiting until marriage to have sex. It was the one and only time I felt like he was truly vulnerable with me. We went out later, and had a really in depth conversation about it, his expectations, mine. I was honest, that it wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of my relationship. He said he intended on making sure it wouldn’t be.
A year after our marriage, hopping on our one shared computer for something, I encountered pictures focused on women’s behinds, red from spanking, looking like they were covered in welts. There was more, but those stand out because they betrayed a level of violence that I couldn’t understand or grasp, in addition to being sought after by someone who had staunchly professed he had eradicated pornography from his life. I think any kind of porn would have been difficult to discover, but my own exposure was so limited at that point, that that became what I saw. True to form, my ex cycled through all the emotions possible when I finally managed to confront him. Instead of my shock and hurt, our discussions and late nights revolved around his deep depression, and his feelings of deep inadequacy, suicidal depression. If not those, he would swing up into angry outbursts. Looking back, every encounter where I was the injured party, ended up with me consoling and comforting him. I was never allowed to really resolve my own pain or hurts, whether it was about discovering pornography or anything else. Somehow we ended up with a program on the computer that red-flagged any suspicious sites and sent me e-mails. That was such a terrible idea, and was the start of many years of increasing expectations for me to do for him, what he couldn’t do for himself, even if that particular set-up didn’t last long. That topic, of parenting one’s spouse, is probably a good blog post on it’s own for another day. (I never called it that then, but hindsight is 20/20.)
Now, nearly a decade later, after commenting on another blogger’s post, it finally occurs to me that the more violent pornography he sought isn’t necessarily the ‘normal’ either. It’s hard to unlink those extreme images, especially with things such as ’50 Shades of Gray’ being popularized in modern fiction.
Over time, I could tell when he was looking at porn because he would treat me differently. He would be rougher, and though I drew a sharp line, he always pushed it, even to the point where I couldn’t entirely trust him. As a result, we were never terribly adventurous with sex, and there was a distinct lack of intimacy and lack of communication over likes, dislikes (heaven forbid I say anything he would take as a criticism). I realized, recently, that there was precious little of making love in my marriage, and only occasional sex. For a man so addicted to pornography, it astounds me how little he was actually interested in the real thing. When I realized my interest level was greater than his requests, I would try to initiate, and 3/4 of the time would be turned down. (I sympathize with the men who have a greater sexual drive than their spouses. When you hear people talking about giving up asking, when they are constantly turned down, I can relate.)
If I had advice to give myself, back when I first got married, it would be as follows:
- Yes, you should be able to talk about your likes and dislikes and have a conversation about sexual intimacy without it devolving into an argument.
- You don’t always have to say yes to sex with your spouse.
- You’ve already communicated and agreed, together, on your expectations regarding pornography in the home. However, it is not your responsibility to watch him and ‘keep him honest’. If he wants to change, that is on him.
Nowadays, I still think porn doesn’t have a place in any relationship that I want. Is that realistic? I honestly don’t know. What I know is more damaging than pornography is keeping secrets from your spouse. Not being able to talk about your needs, sexual or otherwise. Not being able to be your genuine self. Even more damaging, is someone making promises they know they can’t keep or have no intention of keeping.
I suppose, in the end, most marital problems including sex, intimacy, masturbation, pornography all boil down to a few common elements: trust, respect, communication, a willingness to be vulnerable, and the strength to make these things a priority.
Disclaimer: Although I grew up in a Christian environment, my mother was always frank with me about sex and willing to answer my questions. Yet despite her willingness to be open, and answer my questions, I was always rather squeamish about the whole thing. I, luckily, never internalized the belief that sex was bad, but growing up in church I do think some of the teachings about body ownership and what husband’s are ‘due’ are very skewed to the Patriarchal side of things. I still consider myself a Christian, but I also am re-evaluating much of what I’ve been told and working to form my own opinions and beliefs. My philosophy is that there should be no taboo topics or questions. My God is big enough for me to rock the boat a little without worry that I will drown.