Why are men hiding their porn use, anyway?

If it’s just harmless fun, why all the secrecy?

Image: Pixabay

Anything that happens between consenting adults is the standard by which we are told we must determine acceptable versus unacceptable sexual practices. But if that is the case, what to make of porn use?

In an article published at The Guardian on Sunday, Dylan Curran reminds men that, while they may have successfully hidden their “odious” search history from “other people” who might be sharing their device, by using a private browser or clearing their search history, they haven’t really deleted those records. That information is still logged by advertisers and Google, for example. While clearly Curran believes he is simply offering well-intentioned help to men who for whatever reason don’t want their wives and families to know they’re searching “Latina schoolgirl ass to mouth gangbang” in their spare time, who may not know that their supposedly harmless masturbatory habits are being tracked via the interwebs, the more interesting question is: why are these men concerned about being outed, in terms of their porn use?

To be fair, there is plenty I would like to keep private in terms of my search history. My job as a feminist writer, plus my obsession with diagnosing myself with various diseases online, leads to some pretty odd searches that would likely concern anyone with access to that history. And, sure, wanting privacy online is reasonable — most of us don’t want advertisers (or the state, for that matter) to have access to our every move, online. But when it comes to porn — a thing we are told is “harmless” and “perfectly normal” — why do men feel the need to hide it from their wives and girlfriends, in particular? Why has this secrecy been normalized alongside the “it’s just a fantasy”/”all men do it” narrative?

Marriage devotees will tell you that the relationship between a husband and wife is the most sacred of all relationships — that this is a special bond, based on special trust, honesty, commitment, and devotion. We are to believe this relationship is much more valid and important than relationships between friends and non-married couples. Now, if this is the case — that you are in a monogamous relationship with the person you supposedly value most in the world, who you are meant to be more connected to and honest with than any other human, devoted to treating that particular person with particular love, compassion, and respect, wouldn’t it follow that your porn use be an open part of that relationship? If your partner is your best friend and soul mate, why wouldn’t you share your sexual practices and desires with them? And, if you truly believe porn use is harmless and normal — a completely acceptable thing to do while you are in a marriage — why lie? Why go to extremes to hide it?

I think we all know the answer to this question: most women don’t like their husbands’ porn-use. Some tolerate it, believing they have no other choice, and some are blissfully unaware their beloved partners are watching women be choked with penises while they are asleep.

There are good reasons for women not to want their male partners to watch porn, but too-often it’s chalked up to “jealousy.” But the idea that women would be hurt, disturbed, or unhappy at discovering what their husbands are masturbating to because they legitimately believe their husbands will abandon them to run off with a porn star is laughable. It’s also incredibly insulting and dishonest.

Men’s porn use has a notable impact on the women they have sex with — it shapes their sexual behaviour (let’s be honest — it makes men really bad in bed) and their ability to maintain an erection during intercourse. It shapes the things men want their sexual partners to do in bed. It teaches men to dehumanize women. If we care so much about consent, in terms of sexual practices, shouldn’t the one and only person you are having sex with and your most intimate relationship be aware of your sexual practices, that impact her? Shouldn’t she be made aware that you are using other people in your sex life (believe it or not, the people on the other side of your laptop screen are real live human beings with real things — often painful — being done to their bodies, so that you can get off)?

Men know that what they are watching offends women because pornography is offensive to women. They know that it’s wrong to call a woman a “dirty slut” while she is being penetrated by three different men at once. They know this is not something that is physically (or psychologically) pleasurable for women. And so of course men know that if their wife discovered that spewing misogynist vitriol at a woman while she is in physical pain is something that turns them on, their wife — a woman who her husband claims to love and respect — would likely be confused, appalled, nauseous, or hurt.

And not all women of course of course. Some women love to be face-fucked, I know! I mean, gosh, who doesn’t like to be choked by a dick until they vomit! We’re so hot. You’re turning us on. Hang on to your erections. But if your defense is that women enjoy this too, then explain to me why you’re hiding this proclivity from your wife. If she was into it, she’d be watching it with you, and if she was truly just ok with it, you wouldn’t have to sneak around to watch, and then clear your search history lest you be discovered.

To be clear, I am no fan of marriage. I don’t believe it is sacred and I wish people would stop doing it. I believe love and meaningful relationships can (and should) happen outside the patriarchal institution of marriage. But people are still getting married — sometimes for practical reasons, but most-often on the basis that it is sacred and special and meaningful. If you want to make the claim that marriage is a special bond and commitment, how did we, as a society, come to the conclusion that it was ok for men to engage in private, misogynist, sexual practices, knowing that those practices would hurt, upset, and disturb their wives? We are, after all, talking about the person who is meant to be your only sexual partner and most intimate relationship…

The truth is clear: we know pornography isn’t a harmless practice that is “just a fantasy.” We know it hurts and disrespects women.

Despite the fact liberalism has told us we mustn’t “shame” anyone for anything ever, sometimes we feel shame for good reason. I feel shame, for example, if I behave badly toward someone I care about. I don’t believe that sense of shame is necessarily bad. If I act badly or in a way I am not proud of, I perhaps should feel ashamed. If I didn’t, that would be a problem, as it would imply I felt my every action was “good” or acceptable, no matter what. Perhaps men should listen and pay attention to the shame they feel around their porn-use. That shame is telling them an important truth.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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