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No!

Despite what you may have heard — whether you’re multi-partnered, partnered, or single — watching, reading, or listening to (ethical, consensual) porn isn’t inherently wrong.

Likewise, engaging with (ethical, consensual) porn while in a relationship doesn’t inherently count as cheating.

As Caitlin V., MPH, clinical sexologist for Royal, a vegan-friendly condom and lubricant company, puts it, “Having a porn-viewing and solo sex practice can simply indicate that a person has a healthy sexual relationship with themselves.”

Still, someone’s relationship to porn can become unhealthy (i.e., they become dependent on it).

And someone’s relationship with porn can either:

  • point to a larger problem in their relationship(s), or
  • become a relationship within their relationship(s)

Basically: It’s complicated.

That’s exactly why we tapped Caitlin V. and Jenni Skyler, AASECT-certified sex therapist, sexologist, and licensed marriage and family therapist for AdamEve.com, to answer all your Q’s about watching porn while partnered.

A partner using porn can feel like cheating for a lot of reasons,” Caitlin V. says.

For instance:

  • They’re exploring sex without you.
  • They’re having sex with themselves instead of you.
  • They’re fantasizing about having sex with people who aren’t you.
  • The porn features sex acts that you and your partner have never done.
  • They’re hiding their porn-viewing habits from you.
  • Their sexual expectations have been affected by their viewing practices.

Ultimately, what qualifies as cheating comes down to the specific rules and boundaries of that particular relationship (put into place a la communication).

“Watching porn is only considered cheating if the couple distinctly agrees watching porn is off-limits,” Skyler says.

Regardless of whether porn usage is explicitly permitted in your relationship, your porn use can point to a larger issue in your relationship if:

  1. You’re consistently choosing solo sex featuring porn over sex with your partner.
  2. You prefer solo sex featuring porn than sex with your partner.
  3. You feel guilty, ashamed, angry, or disappointed after having sex with your partner.

“Porn use also becomes an issue for you if your porn viewing is getting in the way of your financial, emotional, or social well-being,” says Caitlin V.

Ditto goes if you’ve forgotten that porn = entertainment, not sex education.

If you start basing your expectations of IRL sex off what you’ve seen in porn, you’ve lost sight of this fact. Or if you’re reenacting things you’ve seen in porn, rather than asking your Sex Mate what they want.

“[These all] suggest that someone’s porn use has grown out of control and needs to be addressed,” says Caitlin V. Likely, by a sex therapist.

Start by sussing out your feels about your partner jacking or jilling off without you. Then, investigate the porn piece.

1. First, the masturbation

“Maintaining a solo sex life while in a relationship is 100 percent healthy and normal,” Skyler says. And rather than detracting from the relationship, it can actually enhance it. Really!

For starters, think about all the pressure it relieves you from having to bang anytime your partner’s libido calls.

Beyond that, an active solo sex life has been linked to:

  • boosted mood
  • reduced stressed
  • improved self-image

Oh, and that rumor you’ve heard that sex begets sex? Actually true! (Shoutout to oxytocin and endorphins!).

So, while it sounds counterintuitive, solo wanking may actually make you and your partner crave partnered play more — not less.

If you’re bothered by the notion of your partner self-gratifying, ask yourself: What sex-negative messages about masturbating was I taught growing up?

In the answer, you’ll likely find why your partner masturbating makes you uncomfortable. (A sex-positive therapist or certified sex coach will be able to help you move through these feelings.)

2. Next, the porn

Again: “Porn can be part of a healthy sex life,” says Caitlin V. “So long as it’s not being used to replace any components of a healthy sex life.”

So tease out whether your partner watching porn is actually affecting your intimate relationship.

No matter your viewpoint on porn in a relationship, you should bring it up with your partner. And ideally before there’s reason (read: their Google search history) to bring it up.

Why? Because communication!

“Own your feelings and fears by using I-statements,” Skyler says. “Take ownership of your interests or your apprehensions, and express your willingness to find middle ground and talk about it further.”

Some ways to bring it up:

  • “Before we started dating, watching porn was a big part of my solo sex life. And I’d like it to continue to be. But because I love you and I know people have different feelings about porn use, I’d love to talk through it together.”
  • “I read an article about the ways watching porn together or separately can enhance or detract from a relationship. I’d love to send you the link and have a follow-up convo about it.”
  • “Before we move in together, I’d love to talk about our individual porn use, and how we can allow each other space to continue masturbating and watching porn while cohabiting. Do you have time this weekend?”
  • “I’ve been finding myself feeling jealous of the people in the porn you watch. I’d love to better understand the role porn plays in your solo sex life. Is that something you’d be willing to talk through with me?”

No matter what you say, Caitlin V. offers the advice: “Leave judgement and shame tactics out of it.” Decent advice for any convo, ever.

So your partner is vehemently against you watching porn, but watching porn is an important part of your solo sex life… now what?

Your different POVs on porn usage may be an insurmountable sexual incompatibility. And you may have some tough decisions to make. Mainly, to break up or not to break up.

Here are some things to consider before cutting ties with either your boo or your favorite porn platforms.

Could you watch porn together?

What if porn was something you and your boo did together? How would your partner feel about becoming part of your porn-viewing practice? How would you feel about inviting your partner into viewing?

This, Skyler says, can help demystify porn.

Plus, because you’ll likely be clawing at each other’s clothes halfway through the film, it can prove that you can watch porn and still want to have sex with your S.O.

Some great ethical porn sites to check out with your boo:

Would you be willing to go to couples therapy?

A sex-positive couples therapist can help you or your partner unpack where their porn aversion is coming from, as well as help you both better understand your individual POVs.

How is your partnered sex life?

Whether you’re down to quit porn or break up with your partner likely depends on how happy and satisfied you are with the relationship itself.

And importantly: how you feel about the partnered sex you’re having.

Porn viewing doesn’t inherently qualify as cheating. But it can still be a tricky topic to address and navigate within a relationship.

Open and honest communication about porn and the role it plays can go a long way in getting you and your partner on the same page.


Gabrielle Kassel is a New York–based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.