You Need Help: My Trauma is Activated When My Partner Masturbates to Porn

Content warning 11/18/22: This question mentions childhood sexual abuse.

Q:

Dear Autostraddle,

A while back, my partner of many years and I (both they/them) spoke about Crash Pad Series, and they said that it meant empowerment for them to see very different bodies (trans and non-binary people, mascunline-presenting persons, various sizes) and how it normalized kink for them; and I was absolutely fine with it. Recently however, I learned that my partner masturbates when watching Crash Pad Series. This made me feel hurt and betrayed. Maybe this is naivete on my part, as I know most people masturbate when watching porn, but I did not receive any prior indication that masturbation was a part of what they were looking for in Crash Pad Series in the way they described it to me. It feels as if a crucial information was omitted on their part.

Moreover, I feel like a bad queer for not being into queer porn or having a problem when my partner masturbates to it. It seems to me that the only people who are critical of porn are religious fundamentalists and those feminists who want to outlaw pornography, which is no company I want to be in. To make matters more complicated, I was brought up in a fundamentalist Christian environment in which pornography was absolutely condemned, and I was sexually abused by my father in my childhood; he also showed me porn. As a teen, I discovered feminism which was very much second-wave, and my socialization in this regard is Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Steinem, who were critical of pornography. And as a young adult, when I believed to be straight and had a boyfriend, he watched porn that I considered sexist and that was made by cis-men and for cis-men. I wanted to be the “cool” girlfriend who didn’t have a problem with his porn consumption; but deep down, I did. I crossed my own boundaries when watching porn with him.

Back to the present – I feel really down by the recent information. To be clear: It is not that I expect my partner to only be attracted to me; also, I believe they should be free in their fantasies when masturbating. Yet, it feels (to a limited extent) like cheating or a breaking of trust that they didn’t tell me before. Somehow, it feels very different if they masturbate to videos and images of other people on a website they pay for, as opposed to fantasies in their head.

My partner cares about how I feel and said we could negotiate if I didn’t want them to use porn. To the same time, I don’t want to reduce or “prohibit” something that is empowering to them.

I have been doing research. The only thing I seem to find on this topic are narratives by straight couples, in which a) the guy consumes porn that the woman considers misogynistic, and/or that b) he is addicted to porn. Neither is true in regard to my partner and me, or Crash Pad Series. I would love to hear some how queer/lesbian couples handle it – besides joyfully watching porn and happily going to queer porn film festivals together. It feels like I am the only queer person who has this problem, which is probably not true, but it surely appears to me right now.

I’d really appreciate your thoughts and considerations.

A:

Wow. Hey reader. Thank you for this question. I’m gonna try to be as gentle as I can with this but I think you need to hear it.

It may not feel like you’re coming from a bad place when you feel, to use your own words, “betrayed” by your partner’s porn consumption. Honestly, that’s a strong word and a strong reaction and makes me think you are laying claim to a part of your partner’s sexuality that you don’t necessarily have the right to. They aren’t cheating on you, though it may feel like it. They are just practicing a very healthy sexual relationship with themselves while supporting a queer indie porn site. The fact that you feel betrayed or like you’ve been cheated on says more about you than it does about your partner.

I know I may sound harsh, but you really have to ask yourself why this bothers you so much. You say that you know they have a right to their fantasies, that a lot of critique of porn is usually through a fundamentalists lens and you don’t want to be in that company, but do you really grasp that you’re basically asking your partner to stop doing something that brings them a feeling of joy and acceptance because you personally have a problem with it?

I’m operating from a place where I assume people watch porn to masturbate to it. Especially porn that is made by sex workers who are queer and have a range of body sizes and abilities. Your partner says they find something really special in watching Crash Pad, and I don’t know but I think masturbation is a key part of that. To see bodies like theirs being desired and catered to is probably really hot for them!

I fear you aren’t gonna like my solution which is essentially that you have to accept your partner’s porn and masturbation habit. I know you probably want a happy medium, but if that medium consists of your partner having to reduce or limit their fantasies because of you, that doesn’t seem very fair. To be clear, they are just watching queer porn. By your admission, they aren’t doing it obsessively, and they aren’t watching something that depicts another person being harmed, so I don’t see a solution in which you get what you want, which is for them to not masturbate to Crash Pad or do it less.

You aren’t a bad queer. You’re someone with a history of trauma that has probably affected the way you view those who watch and masturbate to porn. You may say all the right things in this post, but you also admit that you feel betrayed and cheated on. That tells me that you are still viewing porn consumption as something that is bad or is somehow taking away from your partner’s desire for you, which it isn’t. They can be 100% into you and still want to see another person engaging in sexual activity.

I don’t know if you’ve tried it yet, but you say you think Crash Pad is cool and everything. Maybe try watching a few together without masturbating. Talk about what you see and how it makes you feel. You can work up to doing a mutual masturbation session while watching porn when you feel comfortable if that’s something that interests you. You haven’t spoken about your own masturbation rituals so I don’t know how you do that or if you do at all. But mutual masturbation can be a hot, fun way to connect with your partner and share something that is important to them.

I want to leave this by just reiterating that your partner isn’t doing anything wrong. They are just masturbating which is normal and a part of a healthy sexual relationship with the self. It’s on you to work through your feelings around this, not on them to change their behavior.

Best of Luck!

x
DJ


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danijanae

Dani Janae is a poet and writer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not writing love poems for unavailable women, she's watching horror movies, hanging with her tarantula, and eating figs. Follow Dani Janae on Twitter and on Instagram.

danijanae has written 132 articles for us.

47 Comments

  1. I want to say how seen I felt when reading this letter and its answer! You are not alone! I am also a survivor of sexual abuse in childhood, and I feel similar feelings of betrayal in regards to my partner and their own sexuality. Even though *in my mind* I agree with Dani’s answer, I understand first-hand how intense and consuming those feelings can be, in my body. It feels like a common thing, with people who have lived childhood sexual trauma, to be stuck in feelings from the past while, to some extent, understanding that they have nothing to do with the present. I have often asked my partner to stop doing or saying things that I had absolutely no right to, because I was so triggered I only wanted the overwhelming feeling to stop. Like the letter writer, I also felt like a bad queer and just a generally bad person.

    Like Dani says, you are not a bad person! It is very brave of you to ask for help, considering how much shame you feel around your feelings. It also shows how much you care for your partner and their well-being. I think you need support for these feelings of betrayal and break of trust, because they might not be related to your partner, but stem from your trauma. These feelings need to be expressed and held gently. There might be other feelings underneath them, like anger or fear. For me, validating these feelings and giving them room to breathe and exist not only erased the shame I felt for having them, but also helped me seperate past from present a little bit more. It helped me refrain myself from asking my partner to compromise on something that I had no right to ask them.

    These feelings might never go away, because partnerships might always trigger them. They’re also very normal feelings to have, considering the horrible betrayal of trust in your childhood. I still don’t have answer for how to live with my own trauma feelings while respecting my partner’s boundaries and autonomy, but therapy and having a support network of people who have lived similar childhood experiences really helped me. I love you with all my heart, letter writer, and I hope you (and your partner! chances are, they might have a hard time setting boundaries) get the support you deserve.

    • Ok, so after having read all the other comments I have this to add:

      I was the only commenter who said that, *in my mind* I agree with Autostraddle’s answer, and after having read all the other comments I now understand why I wanted to agree so much. A big part of the answer sounds like the “just get over it” voice that I have in my head and that tells me that I have no right to feel my trauma feelings when they’re complicated and messy. I do agree that the answer is too harsh and that suggestion the letter writer watch porn (without support from a therapist) is very misinformed and harmful. Not just to the letter writer, but to other survivors who have internalized this message. People can’t just get over it. I also feel a bit impatient for Autostraddle to acknowledge that, but I am really glad we are having complicated discussions around trauma and sex positivity. From her other writing, I know Dani has her own experience with sexual trauma and I also want to extend empathy toward her.

  2. These are hard feelings, LW. And I agree that they’re yours to take responsibility for, which I know you’re trying to do by writing in. The most direct thing I want to say is: do not take your partner up on the offer to ‘negotiate’. I see your instinct is to not want to limit that, and I’m glad. I worry a little about their having offered, especially knowing firsthand how meaningful it can be to see certain bodies and identities represented in this way, but this is about you for now.

    I don’t see anything in your letter about your relationship to being desired by your partner or fears that they might desire someone else, especially someone who ‘has something you don’t’, but I wonder about them. Is there anything to be explored here? Sometimes we can center our political or philosophical stances on things in a way that obscures, or provides convenient cover for, deeper feelings and triggers. I think it’s totally within the range of normal to have feelings of jealousy or insecurity when confronted directly with your partner’s sex life outside of the one the two of you share- yes, there are people who don’t care at all! And there are plenty of people who do. The feelings are okay, but you have to go towards them if they’re going to be expressed and addressed (even if just in yourself).

    I also want to say: I watch porn. I get off on porn. I have for many years. It’s not personal for me and it does not feel anywhere close to cheating. It is fine with me for my partners to watch and get off to porn, too. But! I don’t really want to know the specifics of what or who my partner is watching, because it has the tendency to make me, personally, feel bad rather than sexy. And I don’t really want to talk about what I’m watching because a) I believe in having a private sexual relationship with myself and b) some of it’s fucking weird. I have still had a fantastic, creative, active sex life where there is open discussion about things people want to try (which is not always the same as what people watch or imagine in fantasy!) and exploration of the same. Good on you for knowing you’ve had a boundary around joining someone on this in the past and for recognizing how bad it felt to cross it. You do not have to watch porn with your partner to move through this issue. You do not have to debrief on what y’all whacked it to. You only have to let the soft animal of your body feel the feelings you’re actually having and try to move through them with as much compassion as you can. Keep holding that self-responsibility, keep holding that respect for your partner’s autonomy, keep being honest in those desires and in whatever needs you have for reassurance and affirmation of your connection. You’re not alone in having complicated feelings and you can work through this.

  3. i want to say i hope you can appreciate yourself, LW, for slowing down and asking these questions. that’s really awesome. i think a lot of ppl, including me sometimes, miss that when we’re uncomfortable about something, not necessarily sex, and wondering about what’s ours and what’s not in a relationship. . .

    to answer this question “I would love to hear some how queer/lesbian couples handle it – besides joyfully watching porn and happily going to queer porn film festivals together” – we enthusiastically support each other masturbating (aka sexual relationship with self) however is good for each of us, which is quiiiiiite different for each of us!!

    i grew up in a very patriarchal, sex negative situation. is that partly why i experience video porn, even crashpad series, as medical and not a turn on? maybe. i’m not worried about it either way for myself, i just don’t watch video porn of any kind. i am turned on by other things! but i would never in a million years want to get in the way of a partner or anyone else watching it, masturbating with it, etc.

    i do not think it makes sense, based on what you wrote, to in any way challenge yourself to engage with porn at this point. you don’t need to, and it could lead to you resenting everything about this. instead put energy into recognizing that your partner has as much right to engage with crashpad as fantasies in their head while masturbating. your partner’s masturbation is theirs, and its important to find and honor where you end and they begin on this, for both of you. congrats again on asking about it – i think its great & could open up cool things for both of you in entirely other realms (food! fun! friends! decor! money! travel!) to find space for you to not take on “the cool kids say” pressure yourself, own your own preferences for YOURSELF, and not project your rejection of ‘the cool kids say” onto your partner, and let you partner do their thing!

    • back with a distillation bc there is sooo much going on here – LW, it is completely ok and great to want nothing to do with porn yourself. no justification needed. no one should ever pressure you otherwise.

      its completely ok and great for another person including your partner to masturbate with consensually made porn like crashpad series. no one should pressure them otherwise (and i see you recognizing that in yr letter, but struggling with your own feelings).

      agreed the feelings of betrayal / cheating need care and healing, but from those skilled in healing trauma working with you, not via your partner doing less of something thats good for them.

  4. I completely get where OP is coming from, I completely empathize and feel seen by it, too. My relationship to porn is also very complicated and I do think it’s normal to be critical of it and for it to cause feelings of jealousy/betrayal. I feel like we have to have these hard, nuanced conversations. I feel like this is much more normalized in heterosexual relationships, while in the very sex-positive environment that queer people have (rightfully and importantly) created, talking about feelings of discomfort or confusion around porn (esp in relation to our partner’s consumption) are trivialized and stigmatized. I consider these emotions to be valid and important and indicative of things to figure out in the relationship. Then again, I often half-jokingly call myself ‘sex-negative ‘ or second wave because of my discomfort with a certain type of approach to sex positivity that I feel is prevalent and does not leave room to discuss problematic aspects.

    • Dear M, it made me smile that you half-jokingly refer to yourself as “sex-negative.” I often ask what people mean by “sex-positive” and “sex negative” when they drop these words. Many feminists of the second wave would not consider themselves sex-negative: They were looking for female liberation and more female pleasure (yes, it was very much by and for cis-women, and trans* people were missing from the discourse for sure, which sucks so much!). Being critical of porn does not mean that one is sex-negative, rather than one has a particular opinion. I feel that the dichotomy “sex positive vs. sex negative” is false to begin with, because these are labels or buzz words that create an assessment instead of speaking about different political stances in a non-judgemental way. Further, who wants to be labelled sex-negative? It is really cool that you take up that label and re-appropriate it with humor (if I understood you correctly).
      Similar to you, I find myself identifying more with second wave feminists than third or fourth wave… But then it is more complex, as there were second-wave-feminists who were pro and against porn, pro and against sex work etc., lots of conflicts among feminists about this in the 60s, 70s and 80s, as well as feminists having opposing views in our time. It’s complicated!
      In any case, so much gets lost when there are two polar ends and one has to pick a side because many shades are missing.

  5. I disagree with Danijanae here and see much more empathy and compassion in the comments. As a survivor of sexualized violence and who also works with other people’s sexual trauma, it saddens me to see such a harsh reaction here on Autostraddle to a person who is clearly in pain. One can tell a person why they are wrong about something and silence them, or understand where they are coming from and what something means to them and go from there.

    Trauma sucks and mixes up times, spaces and people – and yes, it brings up strong reactions. How could it not? To me, it is understandable where LW comes from in regard to their feelings. This doesn’t mean that their partner does not have the right to masturbate when watching Crash Pad series. Their partner can do what they do – it is their body and their sexuality. And yes, I agree, it is up to LW to distinguish what feelings come from where and when.

    Further, I am profoundly confused. Danijanae writes: “…but do you really grasp that you’re basically asking your partner to stop doing something that brings them a feeling of joy and acceptance because you personally have a problem with it?” I don’t see where this is coming from. LW explicitly stated that they “don’t want to reduce or ‘prohibit‘ something that is empowering to [their partner].“

    Why suggest LW should watch porn? Nothing in the letter indicates that LW would like to watch porn themselves. As they said, they were shown porn by their dad who committed sexualized violence against them. I agree with “woo where one of us ends and the other begins” that LW does not need to challenge themselves to engage with porn and that it could lead them to resenting everything about it.

    As I see it, there is more than “yay porn is great, let’s all celebrate it” or “it has to be outlawed.” It is my impression that queers who are not on board 100% get ridiculed, looked down on, called out, stigmatized and criticized harshly. Like M., I would like to see more nuanced conversations to discuss problematic aspects on this regard.

    • i wholeheartedly agree with Marie. I felt taken aback by Danijanae responding to the writer in a way that feels careless at best..
      Very happy to see people in the comments providing compassionate and thoughtful responses. <3

    • I second everything you said!! I think even outright rejection of porn by certain people for certain reasons should have a place in the conversation. I also don’t like the tone of the letter. I remember one time joining a workshop on sexuality that include a group watching of porn. Of course we were not forced to watch but nowhere was it explicitly stated that we could leave, there was no alternative activity, and only me and my friend left on our own, and I do strongly suspect there might have been people who would have felt bad for leaving the situation.

    • Yes!!! This!! LW, I see how clearly in your letter you do not want to limit or control your partner’s sexuality – I know how upsetting to me it is to think about exerting control on someone that way, and it’s not an uncommon reaction for survivors to have. It does not seem to me like you’re just “saying the right things” – I think you truly believe in your partner’s sexual autonomy but are struggling to reconcile how bad this trigger can still make you feel, even knowing what the “right” answer is. Having the head and the heart be on very different pages isn’t oppressive, it just… is.

      You also don’t have to watch porn to be healed, or for the sake your relationship, or because someone on the internet said so, or, like, ever. It’s a boundary you’ve identified around something that was used to hurt you, and that’s okay and does not mean there’s a secret value judgment happening. There are also other forms of sexual expression that might feel interesting, and if you want to explore erotic poetry or tantric sculpture or whatever then you could at your own speed, but just like your partner’s sexuality is their own, **so is yours.** I’m really surprised and disappointed by the suggestion that you work up to it, which would essentially be unsupported exposure and could have all sorts of unintended results.

      IMO it would also be fine to tell your partner that you don’t want to hear any details about when/what/how they’re watching, and name that as a boundary, while identifying if any parts of it feel okay to hear about – the format I use for this kind of thing would maybe look like “I don’t want to hear ABC, but I’d be down with hearing about XYZ (how it feels for you to be represented/seen, how you see yourself as a sexual being, what kinds of acts/scenes you like to think about, something else).” These can change over time or day to day, and can create chances to connect while respecting the things that don’t feel good for you to know about.

      It sounds like you have a strong relationship with someone who cares about you and I hope you can both keep talking this through.

  6. Dear LW, I love you and the pain in your letter was so relatable to me, even though I have never been in your exact situation. I don’t have sexual trauma of the kind you do and don’t have problems with porn, but I have different kinds of trauma and it makes me react in extreme ways when my partner does things she has every right to do!! The trauma response is SO painful and SO strong that, as a commenter wrote before, even if I don’t //want// to control my partner, I end up trying to control her anyway because I just want the pain to stop. I think it’s admirable that you wrote in to ask for help with this and want to ask you to please have empathy for yourself and be kind to yourself about this. Being mad at yourself for having the “wrong feelings” or being a “bad queer” is extremely counterproductive. I can completely understand where your reaction is coming from. I agree with some other commenters that you personally don’t need to be into porn, but it sounds like you very much want to stop having this painful and betrayed reaction to your partner masturbating to it. (And I think your partner deserves to feel free to do so!) Maybe it would be a good idea to find a trauma therapist, someone who can do EMDR-type things, to help you cope with these feelings and lessen their intensity. It’s helped my relationship a bunch. It’s hard when trauma responses make us feel like we are bad queers with the wrong feelings about things, and when they make us act in ways that don’t align with our values. I hope you can find the help you need to work through these feelings. Please be kind to yourself <3

  7. Hi LW, since you asked how queer couples deal with this:

    I have occasionally watched erotica with exes and enjoyed it, but mostly I like to keep my porn to myself. Sometimes I’ll tell them about things I liked or something I’ve been watching, as a slightly sideways way of bringing up something I want to happen (“the other day I learned there is a subreddit just for gifs of strap on sex —yeah i didn’t know Reddit had porn either—and it was just what I wanted at 5am when I couldn’t sleep…maybe we can dig out the strap again sometime.”) Or more in passing—plenty of my uhhh erotic material is gay fanfic, and my girlfriend is not a fanfic person and finds the whole thing baffling, so I will explain the whole fandom vibe sometimes and talk about the sexy parts of that.

    But overall porn and masturbation is like a hobby of my own, and pretty much the same for my girlfriend (i think? Writing this is making me realize I want to ask her some of these questions because I’ve sort of forgotten the answers/maybe they have changed over time.) I know some people like sharing porn with their partners, but at least in this current relationship I don’t really like to.

    Anyway—it seems normal to me that it’s hard to grapple with your partner who you love and are sexual with, having such a different relationship to porn. I really appreciate how you are struggling to figure out what is yours, what is theirs, what is your relationship.

    Just from my perspective, which is not Gay Law: seems extremely fine to not be into porn at all and find it deeply unsexy for yourself, as long as you let your partner have that zone of erotic autonomy and don’t make them feel icky for liking it. I don’t think anyone has exactly the same overlap of sex stuff they like and want—it would be way too hard to find a partner if we had to be 100% match on every sex thing, and it’s actually kinda nice for me to have some stuff that my partner is not into in sex, just like it’s nice to have a craft group that she’s not part of.

    I wonder if it would be helpful or nice to talk with your partner about what masturbation is like for you both these days (maybe one time to start, without creating an obligation to do it all the time). Do you usually watch/read/listen to something? In bed or in the shower? Do you use a vibrator or any toys or not really? Face down or face up? To fall asleep, to wake up, for fun, in the bathroom at work…?

    If that doesn’t sound good to either of you, don’t do it! But what I’ve found in the past when something my partner does hits my own sexual or relationship insecurities is that sometimes if we Can find a calm moment to back up, once the peak insecurity and hurt feelings have died down, asking broader questions and understanding how something fits in their life can help them feel heard, and help me feel less insecure or upset. And eventually over weeks or months help us figure out whether we need to change something in the relationship—but for me it’s helpful if we can have an expansive conversation without action steps being on the table.

    Love to you and good luck. I also wonder whether some kind of in person or online group therapy or support group or queer talk group might be something you’re into. I went to an in person support group exactly one time when my partner was transitioning and I was having resentful bad confused feelings that i was similarly struggling with where me and my feelings ended and his began, and had A LOT of “shoulds” clonking around my head, and it was extreeeeemely helpful just to share in a safe honest place. Just throwing it out there because I think group doesn’t get enough attention among the people I know as a way we can help each other, collect reference points, see our own stuff in a different light, and feel less alone.
    <3

  8. Just popping in to offer some empathy! Sure, I agree with the conclusion by Dani and everyone that don’t control your partner, but I see you trying to figure out how to implement that, and that can be really hard! I really struggle with it too when there’s agreement among lefties that we believe a thing, but my visceral experience is otherwise.

    the only time I’ve seen porn on a screen was at the exact type of workshop M was describing where we were told we could just leave if we didn’t want to see it, but the implication was that we would only do that if we were some sort of weird puritanical people. It was ethically produced, and totally in line with my values that it was being shown, but I still had a really visceral reaction then, and even now my body stresses when I think about it. Trying to ignore that reaction and telling myself that I should just feel good about something because of my political opinions about it is nice in theory but doesn’t really help.

    So, for practical suggestions, sure the comments about therapy makes sense. Mostly because therapists can be awesome with the question of “my values say one thing, but my experience is another. How do I reconcile that?” I find that when I am kind to myself in recognizing that oh, shoot, my values and my lived experiences are in contradiction, things tend to work out better.

    So, from a fellow queer, I feel you on struggling with the seemingly binary options of either love or hate porn. Sure, the intellectual solution is your partner can totally masturbate to it, and you want to work towards being totally okay with that. But as long as you’re working towards that, treat yourself with kindness when your reactions aren’t what you want. Good luck buddy!

  9. This reply by Danijanae really lacks kindness. Not just the content, also the tone of the response. I get that advice is not like “You’re perfect and the other person is wrooooong and I hate them, bye.” But… there are other ways to go about it than saying “you’re clearly the problem here and that’s why.”
    To the OP: You are not alone, and you are not a bad queer. I’ve been there, and it will get better if you communicate with your partner and genuinely want to understand what it is like for them.
    How the other queers handle in their relationships? Honey, my take is that many queer (and straight) couples do not communicate with one another if they watch porn or not. Spoke to some of my friends recently and this is what they ALL said. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. They found it surprising that my partner and I spoke about it. Which surprised me!

  10. I agree with the other commenters that I found Dani Janae’s response to the letter-writer to be wayyy off. The OP asked for help in figuring out how to untangle all these thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and the response was basically “yes, you absolutely have to do that,” and then stopped there. The response had much less caring, empathy, and ideas about questions to ponder than I have come to expect from You Need Help. I’m glad the comments stepped up, and I hope the letter writer reads them.

  11. I was really saddened by the lack of empathy in Dani’s response here. I think it was thoughtless to suggest that the OP tries watching porn with their partner, having shared in their letter that their abuser showed them porn as a child. I can only imagine how triggering porn must be for the OP. My partner watches porn; I never have. Perhaps not coincidentally, like the letter writer, I also experienced childhood sexual abuse; my partner, thankfully, did not. So, you’re not alone.

    I thought that it was really heartening that your partner cares how you feel, and is willing to negotiate. It sounds like they are supportive, and respect your feelings. I wonder whether a compromise could be for them to pause watching porn while you take some time – perhaps with the support of a professional – to work though your difficult feelings and responses? It doesn’t sound at all like you are trying to ‘prohibit’ them from watching porn.

  12. LW, I strongly feel that you should NOT watch porn with your partner! If watching porn was something you were forced to do in childhood abuse, that feels very unsafe. (I experienced this, so I can relate in some way.) Work through these feelings about porn with a therapist if at all affordable (if there’s even a chance you can afford it, trauma and PTSD counselling would probably help a LOT), and if not affordable try and talk to a trusted neutral party.

    I think the outcome of watching porn with your partner will be re-traumatising for you and deeply upsetting for them. I think they don’t deserve to feel guilty and worried that they’re hurting you by enjoying porn, and it feels like watching it together will almost certainly lead to that since you clearly need to process a LOT of negative feelings about it. And while they deserve a safe space to explore their own sexuality through porn, you also deserve a safe space to work through your feelings about porn and your own sexual experiences.

    Again, cannot stress how much I think the path to healing lies in NOT watching porn together while you work through your own journeys.

    • I agree! I was really surprised by this recommendation and it seems like it could bring up traumatic memories for LW. Therapy (if possible/affordable) seems like a much better option for LW to work on their feelings about porn (which are clearly connected, in part, to childhood trauma).

      Also just wanted to say — LW, if you’re reading this, it is okay not to like or watch porn yourself, and if you need that as a boundary for yourself, that’s fine! It would be okay even without trauma. You can respect that this is a healthy choice for your partner without ever engaging in it yourself, if that’s what’s best for you.

  13. I may be a fuddy duddy or a bad queer for saying it, but I don’t think there is any thing surprising about your first reaction to a partner’s secret (or at least unspoken) use of porn. A lot of hetero folks, especially religious ones, talk about porn as emotional cheating. In a lot of cultures that focus on purity or monogamy, porn and masturbation are seen as breaking celibacy rules. That is a lot of dominant culture thinking for us to unlearn. You can’t just magically change your thinking to declare that it is a private matter you aren’t allowed to have an idea about. Add that to your trauma history and you are entitled to some really complicated feelings that your partner should be willing to hear (and, it sounds like they are!) We all negotiate on many things to make our partners comfortable, and you are lucky yours wants to on this. I don’t think you are required to just get over it – Work toward unlearning/healing sure, but with your partners support!

  14. Dani’s answer is devoid of gentleness; I agree with others on this behalf. And I also agree with a number of commenters that the letter writer rather not engage with porn! They were subjected to porn as a kid and addressed crossing their own boundaries in a previous relationship. Watching porn might trigger them and put them in a worse spot, so I truly don’t understand why this advice was given.
    Also, I agree with Amanda that a content warning about sexual violence at the top would have been good.
    Dear letter writer: Instead of beating yourself up and soaking in this unkind advice, I recommend asking your partner about their porn in a curious, friendly, welcoming and non-accusing way. Attempt to understand what your partner likes about it, ask them questions (given your partner is comfortable with it). Offer them a space to share their positive emotions about porn, and be interested and open. Your partner should not feel shame around porn as an aspect of their sexuality, and you don’t need to feel shame that porn is not for you! It is clear that you have some trauma baggage.
    But even if you didn’t have trauma baggage, porn is not for everyone and that is OK! I can relate to Paige and M about their experiences in a workshop with porn. It’s an experience I share, as well as others in my circle of friends. Great for everyone who loves it! But in this instances, the organizers don’t seem to have a grasp on what is liberating and awesome for them and some participants can be alienating (and sometimes horrible) for people who are not into porn for various reasons – all legit – and/or who experienced sexual violence and have a strong and negative physical reaction to what they see on screen.
    Best of luck letter writer! I hope you and your partner figure it out together. It seems that you have good communication and that’s a major foundation!

  15. More re LW’s ask: “would love to hear some how queer/lesbian couples handle it”

    – you and your partner are NOT ALONE in being in a situation where for one of you watching porn is a really negative, even harmful experience, and for one of you it’s really positive. (and on that, along w other commenters, i STRONGLY disagree with the suggestion you engage w crashpad w your partner, and think it kind of derailed your actual ask for examples and thoughts that might help you work through your feelings taht are getting in the way of supporting your partner doing something that empowers them, which i read you want to support!).

    – not only are you not alone in having that difference, it does not need to be a problem. your partner can engage with porn however they want on their own, and you don’t have to engage with porn at all.

    – you are also NOT AT ALL alone in having something that is healing/empowering for one partner be triggering or otherwise just not good for the other. In terms of how other queers handle this, me and my partner have found it helpful to NAME that difference, and for the person who is triggered to get help on that largely separately (NOT with the goal of ‘getting over it’ just tending to the pain, bc just you deserve care, and bc it can make it easier to give the other partner(s) space), and for the person who benefits to engage in it separately. (very much appreciate Maria’s comment above). honestly if two or more ppl share life long and fully enough, this kind of thing is probably inevitable.

    – I also exist out here as a human who thinks Crashpad is such a wonderful project and I’m so stoked it exists and many people benefit from it, but I’m not going to watch it. I don’t need to justify that, I don’t need a trauma analysis of it. It’s a preference like any other. so i just wanna affirm that you are not alone if, as i am understanding from your letter, you appreciate Crashpad in the abstract without wanting to engage yourself. i feel the same way about a lot of TV & movies, videogames, sports, mystery novels, and complicated boardgames! so great for other people! not for me, i have other hobbies.

    Thanks all for the space for this very important convo!!!

  16. First of all, letter writer, I can only imagine what a cruel mindf*ck it was to be raised in a fundamental Christian home where porn is vilified while simultaneously being shown porn by your sexually abusive parent. You were a child and you were in NO WAY to blame. Your abuser is to blame for their choice to abuse you.

    That is just an unfathomable level of cruel and unusual punishment for one child to go through, and I’m sorry you went through it, and I hope you have gotten the support and therapy you need and connected with networks and support groups that let you know that you are not alone in recovering from this pain. There is SO MUCH help and support and love out there for childhood sexual assault survivors, and you deserve ALLLL of that love and support. Not just like the bare minimum support needed to squeak by but like massive, structural, maximalist support. Seriously, please, get yourself all of the types and levels of support you can muster.

    On that note….. I am extremely alarmed by the fact that neither the letter writer nor the advice columnist mentioned therapy in any context, despite the admission of childhood sexual assault. Has the letter writer ever had (good) therapy? Does the letter writer currently have therapeutic support? There is no way unmetabolized sexual trauma is not going to have a massive impact on this person’s relationships, and they deserve a safe place to talk out and process those feelings. And that safe place isn’t this advice column, and that safe place isn’t inside their relationship. (Even if your partner was a therapist, OP, they would not be YOUR therapist. Talking to your partner is nice but they are most likely in NO WAY trained for the gravity and complexity of this conversation, nor will they be able to provide you the emotionally neutral support and sounding board that a therapist can provide that will help you focus on YOUR feelings about this. You really really really need a safe space that is simply about allowing you to process these feelings with safe guardrails in place. You are important and your feelings are important and valid and they deserve this space.)

    Letter writer, I just want to point out, since I don’t see it in the advice or in the comments so far, that you have options. And one of those options is breaking up with your partner. And that that option is totallyyyyy OK if that is what you chose to do.

    If you know right now that you hate this (your partner masturbating to porn) and will always hate this on a deep gut level, you’ll need to decide if it is important enough to be a deal-breaker for you. If it is, you will need to break up with your partner. If you know you feel that deeply and strongly about it, I think that’s the only fair way to handle this. You recognize asking them to change for you isn’t what you want, and I do agree with the advice in the column that it’s not cool to control/change one’s partner, on purpose or accidentally, based on one’s own trauma, fear, or insecurities.

    That said, it’s interesting to me where your own particular line lies, and this may be a place where you and your partner could negotiate without it verging into control/manipulation territory. You’re OK with them masturbating and having fantasies while doing so, and you’re also OK with them watching porn without masturbating. Would you be OK with them using erotica? Would you be OK with it if they didn’t pay for the porn they watched? You mention that the fact that they pay for this porn also bothers you, which gives me a whiff of anti-sex-worker bias. I’m sure you probably don’t intend that, but I think that’s the kind of thing that’s worth exploring with a trained therapist. What are your feeling around sex, sex work, porn, masturbation, and fantasy? What are your beliefs about what is cheating and what is not?

    I think that, in a sense, is the other heart-of-the-matter – what you personally define as cheating, and what your relationship agreements are about what you both have agreed is cheating. What are your agreements about cheating? Have you ever had these conversations? Did you ever tell your partner that you view masturbating to porn as cheating, early on in your relationship? Did they agree and promise they wouldn’t? I don’t think this can be a “betrayal” as you say, without an agreement beforehand. Your partner cannot read your mind.

    I will note that this is a place where the overlap between “humans are not mind readers” and “you have serious unprocessed sexual abuse” gets really messy. Trauma is by definition somatic, and makes humans into non-verbal reactive fear/stress/survival machines. So although I’m asking you these questions about whether you articulated this as a deal-breaker or at least a Big Deal for you early on, I feel those questions are unfair if you haven’t had therapy that lets you work through the body feelings. Again I ask – have you had therapy?

    If not, your other option is to go to therapy and process these feelings with a professionally trained trauma therapist, who can help you navigate whether masturbating to porn by a partner is a deal-breaker for you. It is possible that after you do some EMDR and process some of these feelings, that it will feel like much less of a Big Deal, and that you may be able to relax a bit around this topic.

    If it IS a deal-breaker for you, that is fine! That is totally OK! You don’t have to be OK with it. Deal-breakers are completely personal and subjective. You are not a Bad Queer or a Bad Feminist if this is a deal-breaker for you. It may be, for you, that no matter how resolved you are with this trauma, you will NEVER EVER want to date or be with someone who uses porn to masturbate. That is OK, that is not shameful or puritanical. If that’s your personal boundary, that is OK. You don’t have to force yourself to be OK with something you’re deeply not OK with. You are valuable, and your boundaries are also valuable.

    Post-script – And yes, I agree with others. Please do not watch porn with your partner, at least not without some serious heavy-duty trauma therapeutic supports in place, and not unless you (and your partner!) really want to.

  17. I also wanted to offer support and solidarity to the LW that I share a conservative Evangelical upbringing (without the trauma and abuse situation) and I too often feel like I am the only queer person who isn’t in porn or doesn’t really get it I guess, even if intellectual I want to support consensual/non-exploitative sexuality, etc. You are most definitely not alone (as the many other LW also testify!).

    I wanted also to amplify something that commenter LL raised above: I do feel like the Dani misses an opportunity to suggest good therapy and other forms of support. She replies in her response “you really have to ask yourself why this bothers you so much” but it seems to me that the complexity of the LW’s childhood experiences (both the systemic Christian narratives and the personal abuse) is very clearly sharping their response to this revelation about their partner. It feels a little like Dani is on the offensive about perceived anti-porn/shaming, but that’s not really what I heard coming through in the letter at all.

    LW, you seem very self-aware and I also want to commend the way you’ve been able to be open with your partner about the complexity of your response. I hope you can continue communicating honestly as you work through this yourself (and with them) and hopefully also with professional support. It’s ok to feel what you feel, and it sounds like you are working already not to project those feelings onto them as shame, judgement, or control.

  18. dani’s harsh advice made me wonder how safe <you need help< on autostraddle is. i've been wondering whether i should send in a question for a while now. reading dani’s judgemental reply made me decide against it. usually i love <you need help< bc the autostraddle writers are gentle and warm. this response however was just careless and cruel. in stark contrast to the people who gave their advice below. the community in the comment section is so caring, sensitive and insightful that it is heart-warming <3 <3 <3

  19. Everything about this response is irresponsible and the opposite of trauma informed. Posting a letter with description of sexual abuse without a content warning; suggesting someone engage in an activity that was originally used to abuse them as a child; framing the poster’s TRAUMA RESPONSE as something “on them” to figure out without suggesting trauma therapy; this feels like stock “”””sex-positive”””” advice that is really not sex positive at all. Agreed with every other commenter. I am surprised that this is still up unedited and with no acknowledgment of the incredibly thoughtful feedback and actual good advice offered in the comments. LW, please don’t listen to Dani’s response; listen to the commenters instead. And definitely do not force yourself to watch porn with your partner.

    • And just to add – the hed and teaser paragraph on the site are part of the issue here. Very misleading and again, unempathetic to what is actually at play. Better ones would be: “My Trauma is Activated When My Partner Masturbates to Porn,” and “Your feelings are deeply understandable, even though your partner isn’t doing anything wrong. If you haven’t already, it’s time to seek trauma therapy.” Or something like that. Honestly, I have mixed feelings abt AS even attempting to answer advice questions that center around trauma in the first place! Especially if “seek trauma therapy” is not a default part of the response.

  20. I almost never comment here anymore, but I have to say I’m disappointed by the complete lack of empathy from this response.

    Suggesting that LW, who for whom porn was part of their childhood sexual abuse, just give porn a try, is downright cruel and harmful. LW has had every opportunity to try porn again, and if they don’t want to, it doesn’t mean they’re doing something wrong.

    You say that LW has no right to “take away” something that brings their partner joy, and your best solution is to get over it by re-traumatizing themself?

    Not everyone enjoys porn and not everyone has to, and LW’s feelings are completely valid.

    The fact that there’s no content warning on this post shows that this is not coming from a trauma-informed place.

  21. I’m the editor of this piece (and of the You Need Help column in general) and I want to respond to the comments here.

    First, I take full responsibility for this column, and in retrospect I wish I had asked Dani some follow up questions when I received her response. This is on me, not on Dani. Based on the comment responses it seems clear to me that I missed some important moments in this question.

    I appreciate the commenters who have suggested trauma therapy to this LW, and this has helped me as an editor consider important questions to ask in the future. I also respect the suggestion that some questions are outside of the scope of Autostraddle’s team of writers and editors to respond to, and will take that into account in the future (either by hiring professional therapists to take on particularly complex/trauma related questions, or by accepting that we unfortunately cannot answer all questions).

    That being said, I also stand by Dani’s advice that one partner cannot dictate the private masturbation habits of another. I do want to challenge the urge to pile on in the comments at this point, because the writer, who spent her own time and vulnerability in crafting this response, is not solely responsible for this content, however the comments are directed almost wholly at her. Also, as editor of YNH, I’ve noticed a distressing pattern, where the comments sections of YNH pieces written by our writers of color tend to receive more critical responses. This is an extremely nuanced question and situation, but this overall pattern is not something I want to be quiet about. If anyone has further questions or concerns about the decision making behind this piece, I welcome you to email me at vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com, rather than to leave them in this comment section. Of course, further direct advice for the letter writer is welcome in the comments.

    Upon further reading, I also realize that the answer we provided was not the crux of the question. That was on me, as an editor, to catch. There are other nuances that I should have handled with more delicacy, as well. There is a lot of helpful feedback in these comments, so we are opting to leave this piece up, although I am going to edit the headline, excerpt and include an editor’s note and content warning at the top.

    Part of what makes YNH work best is that we explicitly welcome commenter additions to our weekly advice, because one person can never cover all perspectives, and usually the comment section becomes an additional helpful space for other perspectives. This is by design. If you disagree with a writer’s advice or want to add your own perspective, we welcome that.

    Thank you, in advance, for your help with keeping our comment section a space where readers and writers feel as safe as possible. Thank you also for speaking up when something did not sit right with you, and thank you, especially, to those who offered up their own vulnerable experiences and shared helpful advice with the letter writer. Although we are a small, often time-strapped operation, we don’t want that to be an excuse, and we are committed to having oversights like this one be as rare of an occurrence as is possible.

    • I really appreciate your thoughtful response and I think the steps you’ve suggested for going forward sound really helpful.

      Also the pile-on to DaniJanae and the constant ad hom remarks calling her “unkind” are suspicious. I disagreed with her advice and commented as much – but I don’t think it is useful or correct to frame the advice as, like, deliberately malicious. That smacks of bullshit.

  22. Thank you Vanessa for editing the headline, the teaser and for providing clarifications! I appreciate it.
    On another note, I truly don’t see the part in the letter in which one partner dictates their partner’s masturbation habits.

    • i am also confused as to why Vanessa felt the need to point this out again. in general ‘don’t dictate anyone else’s masturbation habits’ is a statement i agree with; why it is used as an argument in this case i fail to understand, as the LW didn’t suggest they’d want to control anything, but was rather trying to understand and deal with their emotional response towards their partner’s inclusion of porn in their masturbation practice, with porn being named as being instrumental in their abuse as a child..

      i’m glad Vanessa acknowledges, that some Q’s might be beyond the autostraddle-team’s scope. hiring therapists/ other trained professionals to answer (some) Q’s sounds like a good (and needed) step to provide a safe environment for LWs, readers and also the YNH writers team

  23. Vanessa has already chimed in and acknowledged lessons learned.
    i still want to express that it feels like an editorial mishap, not protecting danijanae from working on a question assumably triggering for them. i feel there is transference (Übertragung) happening, with danijanae being overly and inapproprietly harsh and failing to see what it is about for LW.
    obvs i might be wrong.

    i am very glad the community stepped in with such nuanced appropriate feedback.

    i appreciate the changing of the headline
    and would additionally wish for a quick editor’s note next above the text, to reflect the changes made and the discussion and additional reader feedback in the comments.

    • Yes, I also had this thought about transference (Übertragung).It is an important concept and worth taking into consideration. I have read other responses by Danijanae in “You need Help” that are very caring, thoughtful and kind, so this one stands out.
      And I further agree that we could be wrong about it.
      In any case, transference takes place frequently when it comes to trauma, also in social work, even with trained professionals, and it is good to know that it exists and is very common.

  24. I have mixed feelings about Vanessa’s response. Something about it does not sit well with me.
    First of all: Thanks for acknowledging what went wrong and for making the edits. It is good to learn about the process. While I’m aware that editing is happening on Autostraddle, I wasn’t sure whether this is also true for “You Need Help,” and as a reader, I can only see the name of the writer, not the editors and/or other people who are also involved. So it does makes sense that we, as readers, question Danijanae’s response and not focus on invisible people who might or might not be involved in the background. I’m glad to see there is editing in this section though in this case, it didn’t work well.

    Further, I understand that writers of color and Black writers receive more criticism for their work than white writers (in addition to that their articles are less clicked on by 5 times). Yes! It’s a distressing pattern, I agree! And I think that simultaneously, including this in your reply derails from the advice given. The comments focused on Danijanae’s answer (the content) and did not attack her as a person. Including the information about criticism regarding writers of color gives me a vibe of silencing the content-focused critical feedback in the comments.
    Thank you for the option to email you with questions and concerns about the choices in the article. It kind of comes across as individualizing to me though: People who are dissatisfied with the advice can write to you and then this is not part of the community any more who addressed their points of critique. Personally, I see a lot of solidarity from the comments that led into re-thinking the advice and the changes made, and am happy that people wrote their impressions in the comment section rather than in individual emails (I know this is before your explanation, but still).

    Like Anastasia and Nnk, I don’t comprehend why you had to point out something (“one partner cannot control the private masturbation habits of another”) that was nowhere in the letter itself.

    Hiring professionals around trauma sounds perfect. Given how many people (including Autostraddle readers) carry around trauma, and given how many people responded here and shared their own stories with traumatic reactions, this idea is something I welcome with great enthusiasm. I agree with Nnk that this is a needed step to provide a safe environment.
    I’m writing all of this not to attack Autostraddle or any writers ot its team, but because I love Autostraddle very dearly and want it to grow and do better in specific instances.

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