Is Using Porn OK in Your Relationship?

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Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW, CSAT

In a previous post, I presented my 21st century, digital-age definition of infidelity: Infidelity is the breaking of trust that occurs when you keep intimate, meaningful secrets from your primary romantic partner.

Using this definition, we see that cheating is less about the behavior and more about telling lies, keeping secrets, and breaking relationship trust. It also means that the definition of fidelity (and infidelity) can (and should) vary by couple, depending on the couple’s mutually agreed upon relationship boundaries. So if one partner’s porn use is agreeable to both parties and not kept secret or covered up, it’s not cheating. Otherwise, it’s a betrayal of the relationship and counts as infidelity.

Unfortunately, a lot of couples don’t discuss porn and how it fits or doesn’t fit within the bounds of their relationship. Instead, they simply agree that they are going to have a monogamous relationship without ever exploring what that means. Thus, one partner may think about pornography as “sex outside the relationship,” but the other might not. In such cases, serious discussion is needed.

Even if porn is defined as acceptable (or not) within the relationship, the couple may need to explore what qualifies (and does not qualify) as porn. Is webcamming with strangers a form of porn, or not? Are camgirls and camboys (live online sex workers/performers) a form of porn, or not? Is looking at sexy photos on hookup apps a form of porn, or not? And what about the ESPN Body Issue? Game of Thrones?

At the end of the day, what qualifies as porn is up to the couple, and whether porn is acceptable within the bounds of a relationship is up to the couple. But porn and porn-like behaviors do need to be discussed so the boundaries are clear. When these potential behaviors are not clearly and specifically discussed, problems can arise.

So What’s the Verdict? Cheating or Not?

At this point, you may still be wondering if using porn counts as cheating. My answer is that it depends on you and your partner and how you define your relationship. If, through mutual discussion (with no manipulation or coercion), you agree that viewing porn is fine, or that viewing porn is fine within certain parameters, then using porn (within the agreed-upon parameters) does not qualify as infidelity. But if using porn is not within your mutually agreed-upon relationship boundaries, it’s definitely a form of cheating.

One final note: If you and your partner have not discussed porn and whether it’s acceptable in your relationship, it’s wise to assume that it’s not. Telling yourself that everyone looks at porn and it’s no big deal is a bad idea without your partner’s agreement. Remember: Infidelity is less about what you do and more about the loss of trust you create. Using porn, in the eyes of your partner, may or may not be an issue. Lying, covering up, and keeping secrets about that behavior, however, will absolutely be an issue.