Dear Amy: I’ve been happily married for 13 years. My husband and I have a beautiful daughter.
One thing that bothers me in our marriage is my husband’s need for pornography.
He watches porn on TV and on the Internet.
I’ve confronted him about it a few times.
He pretty much tells me that it has nothing to do with me.
But I’m hurt that he does this, and it makes me feel self-conscious.
I don’t like to be compared to the silicone-enhanced liposuction-ed bimbos.
It makes me wonder about what else he might be doing behind my back.
I think that I’m a smart, strong, beautiful woman.
Am I not good enough?
I try to understand that men are visual beings, and I think that most men think that looking at pornography is normal.
Is viewing pornography cheating?
Dear Wondering: Whether or not pornography is actually “cheating” is beside the point.
What matters is that your husband is choosing to do something that according to you is hurtful. I would also think that as the father of a young daughter, your husband wouldn’t want to engage in activities that are demeaning to women and girls. If he can’t make the connection between his own daughter’s life and how pornography depicts and exploits females, then he’s either not trying very hard, not very bright or hooked on something that has become more important than the people in his life.
A thoughtful husband and father should not be engaging in this sort of exploitation. I hope that the two of you can work this out. If you need to sort through your feelings about this, talking to a professional counselor will help.
The good news is that this column gave my wife and me something to discuss. Not that we necessarily disagree on pornography. Depending on how you define pornography, she likely enjoys a lot more of it than I do. As a fan of homoerotic fan fiction, a.k.a. slash, she both reads and writes the stuff. It can consume hours out of her day.
Since I am a male, I am more likely to be turned on by the visual pornography than the written kind. So maybe because her pornography is written, it is not really pornography. Maybe it is “erotica”. I strongly get the feeling though that Amy Dickerson, unless the portrayal is of an airbrushed Vargas Girl, would call any other photographic depiction of women in an undressed state, particularly who are engaged in sexual acts “pornography”.
So if it is written down and marketed for women then it must be erotica. However, if women choose to undress themselves and let themselves be photographed in sexual acts with other people, not only is it pornography but according to Amy, these women are also exploited. By this husband viewing pornography, even if it is only done privately when his daughter is out of the house, he is engaging in activities demeaning to women and girls and exploiting women. Gosh! What a guilt trip! And why? Because, according to Amy, he is dismissive of his wife’s feelings and/or is addicted to pornography.
It’s a good think Amy Dickerson doesn’t come strolling down my street. I would have to throw a big, wet raspberry at her. She can do much better than falling into stereotypes.
Let me try to give “Wondering” some useful advice, instead of rushing to embrace stereotypes.
“Cheating” is whatever you and your husband defined it to be before your marriage. If you agreed before marriage that viewing pornography was the same as cheating then you were cheated on. If you discussed it and it was not an issue with either of you, it is not cheating. If you never got around to discussing it at all before marriage but you assumed your husband felt as you did, this was your mistake. You have the right to bring up your concern to your husband and tell him how you feel, but unless you both agree that he will refrain from it because you feel it is cheating, it isn’t. Instead, your feelings being hurt and you are just upset that you cannot coax or guilt trip your husband into changing his behavior and pretending to agree to your values.
Sorry, you do not have the right to unilaterally add an additional previously undisclosed constraint on your marriage. A marriage contract may not be written down, but it is still a contract. It is exactly what you jointly agreed to at the start of the marriage plus any subsequent amendments to which you both agreed. If you did not discuss it before marriage that was your mistake because it is clearly important to you. Your husband certainly should listen carefully to your feelings and you should listen to his, but neither of you has the right to impose a new unilateral demand or to frame the relationship in a new way. If it is a source of great friction between the two of you, you should both be willing to work through the issue with a therapist. If your husband’s looking at airbrushed pictures of “bimbos” is that dang important to you but does not affect your husband’s feelings for you, there is an alternative. It is called divorce. Your husband has already told you that looking at naked pictures of other women does not affect his feelings for you. What does it say about you that you cannot take him at his word?
As for your daughter, I certainly agree your husband should not be watching pornography in front of your daughter. And if it bothers you, even though it appears that he is being open with you about his interest in pornography, he shouldn’t do it in front of you either. If he has a pornographic stash, and many men do, you should agree that he will keep it in a locked box that is out of the way. If he gets all his pornography online now, which seems to be the modern way of doing these things, he should ensure that his daughter does not have access to his computer or, if she does, that the files are kept in encrypted electronic vaults where only he has the password.
As for pornography “exploiting women”, doubtless some women who get into the business are underage runaways or are vulnerable because of bad or dysfunctional relationships. However, Amy is painting with a very broad brush. Women, like men, are sexual creatures. Pornographers scrupulously avoid hiring underage women. Those women who go into pornography may be desperate for money, or are supporting a drug habit or could be making a very bad choice, but they are still of legal age and get to sort out these issues for themselves. It is also possible, indeed even likely that they get some enjoyment beyond the monetary aspects of being sexual on camera.
Getting back to Wondering’s daughter, parents are doing a disservice to their children if they are pretending they are asexual creatures. I am not suggesting that parents should engage in heavy petting in front of their children, even if they are all grown up. However, children do need to understand that both Mommy and Daddy have a sexual side to them. Is it not it dishonest to pretend otherwise? The parents should express a hopefully real warm and intimate relationship between each other that shows that not only do they love each other, but also that they are passionately physically, emotionally and sexually connected with each other. The son or daughter who does not occasionally hear Mom and Dad squealing behind locked doors is getting an artificial view of life. Parents can help their children through the treacherous waters of human sexuality by showing that they are sexual creatures too and comfortable with their sexual nature. They should communicate the truth: that sexuality in its many variations, including enjoying pornography, is part of the broad spectrum of being a sexual being. To pretend otherwise is hypocrisy.
Since this issue is so important to this wife, it should be discussed. I hope they will get joint counseling on the issue. However, I do think there should be some respect for both the inherent sexual natures of the wife and the husband. There should be some middle ground here. A reasonable middle ground would be some of the steps I outlined. Neither total capitulation to the wife’s demands nor dismissing the husband dismissing the wife’s concerns is appropriate for a healthy marriage. Honest dialog and open communications is the glue that truly binds a marriage together.
Women seem to have a near monopoly in the advice columnist business. They should not. We need more advice columnists like Salon’s Cary Tennis, who can give the male perspective. In any case, Amy Dickerson should be clear that her opinions are just that, opinions, and they align well with the XX chromosome perspective of the world. Nevertheless, they do not necessarily align with those of us in the XY chromosome set. In short, like all people including myself she brings a bias. She should be very mindful not to paint such a broad brush with hurtful advice like, “If he can’t make the connection between his own daughter’s life and how pornography depicts and exploits females, then he’s either not trying very hard, not very bright or hooked on something that has become more important than the people in his life.”