Miss Information

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Is my boyfriend’s porn affecting our emotional intimacy?

Dear Miss Information,

Is my boyfriend’s porn affecting our emotional intimacy? I’m dating an ex-professor who watches a lot of porn. Mostly, it seems that he does it out of boredom; much of the time, he watches without masturbating. The porn he watches tends to feature women receiving anal (something I’m not that into), and women being dominated.

My first interaction with him was strictly sexual in nature. We were both rather legless and aroused and had some decent sex. Agreeing that this was a bad idea because I was still a student majoring in his departmental field, we decided never to do it again. Obviously, it did not work.

The first time we decided to have sex again, it was quite rough and uncomfortable. He choked me and stuck two fingers in my mouth; he did this without asking my permission first or asking if I was comfortable with it along the way. I talked to him about how uncomfortable it made me, and we worked slowly to a point where I was comfortable with these sorts of sex acts.

However, he is exquisitely unemotional. He is so stolid that it is easy to mistake him as being aloof, though I do not believe this to be the case. When I question him about this, he claims that his depression medication forces him to remain emotionally mild (e.g. he cannot experience extreme highs or extreme lows), however, I suspect that he is suffering from an intimacy disorder as a result of his porn-viewing habits.

He has so many great qualities that I absolutely admire, but the fact that he is so unemotional both inside and outside of the bedroom makes me wary of pursuing a relationship with him any longer. I suspect he loves me; not only does he say so, but he has introduced me to his family and paid for me to spend the summer at his dad’s house (something he has never done with past girlfriends). 

What should I do? I really feel like this has got to be some sort of porn-related issue, but I don’t want to be some sort of controlling girlfriend who makes him choose between porn and me. However, I also feel like the times in bed during which we should be connecting emotionally are spent with me imitating the women he sees in porn videos. Additionally, it seems like most of our sex is centered on his pleasure, though he does pleasure me if I ask him to.

Is this all too unclear? Too weird? Too foreign?


—Turn it Off

Dear Turn It Off,

While it’s satisfying to blame your boyfriend’s porn viewing for his emotional intimacy issues, you’re misdirecting your energy. The lack of intimacy is coming from him, and the porn is just an accessory.

While you’ve had your eye on the porn, it seems like the more relevant information sailed right by: he’s struggling with depression. Depression is a serious one-two punch in the gut. It causes people to withdraw, yet treatments for depression are rudimentary at best and have a host of difficult side effects, including the emotional static he describes. Medications also frequently affect sex drive and performance. If you’re at this kind of breaking point, talk with him about it. It’s delicate territory, but see if he is willing to open up to you about his mental health. What kind of treatments is he trying? How is he feeling overall? Is there anything he wishes you understood about his condition, or is there any way you can make things easier on him? If you get greater clarity on what his experience is like, you may be better able to tell what is truly “him” and what is a function of depression/medication. This should improve your communication and help you feel closer.

The relationship shouldn’t be just you bending to his whims, though. Depression, like any illness, requires compassion, support, and understanding from a partner, but it should not turn you into a doormat. He needs to be aware and proactive enough to be a good partner. To that end, your letter makes him sound fairly selfish, at least in bed. He choked you without discussing it…and then you worked on tolerating it to make him happy. He expects sex to be mostly revolved around his pleasure…unless you ask for attention. Those are the things the porn definitely has an affect on. You also say there are many great traits about him that you “admire.” Given the age/power dynamic between ex-student and ex-prof, it’s worth a quick spot-check: are you equals in this relationship, or do you find yourself consistently working to stay in his good graces?

In deciding whether to continue the relationship, it sounds like there are two separate things to work on: understanding each other on an emotional level, and getting needs met on a physical one. The porn he watches falls solidly into the latter camp. It’s worth having a conversation about the insecurity his porn watching engenders in you, and/or the expectations it sets for him in sexual encounters; you shouldn’t have to feel like you have to imitate a girl in a porn film just to get him off. But remember that porn doesn’t create intimacy issues. It’s just a convenient fix for someone who is already experiencing them.