Six years ago, when I first met Tim*, everything seemed to be perfect. We clicked immediately and were married within a year of meeting. It seemed fast, but we loved all the same things, could talk about anything, and worked in similar jobs. I really thought I’d found my soul mate.
But six years later, last November, we split and Tim moved out. I filed for divorce in January, and it was official by June.
Everyone wanted to know why: Why weren’t we trying counseling first? Why didn’t we tell anyone we were having problems? Why couldn’t we work it out for our son? And, of course, why did we get divorced?
I can tell you in one word: porn.
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s the truth. The porn wasn’t just a part of some bigger problem, it was the problem.
I never took issue with porn, before…
I’ve never had a problem with porn or with people looking at it in their free time. When we were dating, Tim told me he started looking at it, like most boys, in his young teens. I didn’t worry too much about it, chalking it up to just a thing guys do. But then our sex life started to suffer. To be honest, it was never amazing. I thought that was from the stress of working, living with roommates, and planning a wedding, and figured once we settled down we’d work it out. Not so much. Sex always seemed like a lot more work for Tim than it should be, and the longer we were married, the less sex we were having.
At first, I wondered if Tim was suffering from depression, had a low libido, or might even be gay (even though he’d never shown any interest in men). But then I saw his open laptop one evening and read all the tabs he had open, and realized that he had an enormous sexual appetite—just not for me.
Instead of coming to bed with me, he was choosing to stay downstairs every evening with his laptop, watching porn. We were down to having sex maybe once every three months. And it definitely wasn’t good sex. So not wanting to be a nun in my own marriage, I finally confronted Tim about what I had found.
He couldn’t get aroused with me because I’m real
I told him it wasn’t the porn itself I was worried about, but that he preferred it to me, a living, breathing woman. Plus, we had talked about wanting to try getting pregnant, and that just wasn’t going to happen having sex every three months. Tim agreed it was an issue and then he said something that really shocked me: he was having a hard time being physically aroused by me.
I was young and kept myself healthy. I waxed, I wore deodorant, I dressed well. It didn’t make any sense! Then he told me that my body disgusted him. He said it didn’t react the way he thought it should, that I made weird noises, and that my bodily fluids grossed him out. He also mentioned that he wished I looked more like the porn stars, with bigger breasts, etc. Then he said he just couldn’t get hard, plain and simple, when he was with me.
It was the most devastating conversation of my life and I still cry when I think about it. Can you imagine having your body picked apart piece by piece like that and being told you’re not good enough? That the natural way your body responds to sex is wrong?
Still, Tim wanted to try to make our relationship work and because the rest of our life together was so good, I was willing to go along with that if he went to counseling. Things seemed to be getting better—we were having more sex—but I started to notice something.
Tim always wanted to reenact things he’d watched while asking me to dress or wax or talk like his favorite performers. And a lot of the things he wanted to try, positions or toys that seemed to work so well in porn, involved rough, violent sex that treated women in a very degrading way. Even then, it still took a lot of effort for him to climax. There was nothing fun about that sex for me, nothing. It was getting to the point that it was actually traumatic for me.
All this seemed to make him more sure that something was wrong with me, and I was starting to believe he might be right. My self-esteem was destroyed; I hated my body. But one good thing did come from it: I got pregnant.
The downward spiral, and the lies
Pregnancy was a massive turn-off for Tim, so we took a nine-month hiatus from sex. And I was okay with that. The rest of our life was good, our son was amazing, so I kind of gave up caring about sex for about two years. I knew he was downstairs with his laptop again, but I didn’t want to deal with that. It wasn’t perfect, but it was okay. Plus, Tim was still attending weekly sessions with the therapist.
Eventually, though, I decided I couldn’t live without sex for the rest of my life. So I made an attempt to initiate sex one night after our son was asleep, only to discover that Tim had been lying about seeing the therapist and he was more dependent on porn than ever. I felt so angry and betrayed. I packed up my things and the baby and went to stay with a relative.
A week later, Tim called, saying he was sorry, and asked to meet at a hotel to try and “work on things.”
“No laptop?” I asked.
“No laptop,” he promised.
So I left my son with a sitter, dressed up, and met Tim at the bar in the lobby. He said he wanted me back and was willing to get treatment for his porn addiction—for real this time. He listed all the good things we had together and I began to remember why I fell in love with him in the first place. After a few drinks, we headed up to the room. But as soon as I started trying to kiss him, he involuntarily shuddered and turned away.
I knew then it wasn’t ever going to work.
As a real woman, I didn’t fit into his porn perfection
Instead of learning to see me as a woman, he was still trying to fit me into his porn fantasies. But I wasn’t going to compromise my body and my wants anymore for his. I was done. I’d spent years being compared to completely unrealistic women, and I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I haven’t told many people the real reason for our split. I’m worried they’ll think I’m being dramatic or overreacting. And there’s a lot of shame. Part of me still thinks I did something wrong, that if I could have just been that fantasy for him, we’d still be together. It’s humiliating.
I’m not ready to talk about it with other women yet, but I do wonder how many other wives like me are out there, suffering and wondering how they’ll ever measure up to the pornographic ideal. I think there are a lot more of us than anyone knows.
*Names and identifying details have been changed
Betrayal isn’t uncommon, it’s the norm
There are definitely a lot more of these stories than anyone knows, and far too many. We receive countless emails and direct messages from significant others who have been betrayed by their partner’s porn habit. Unfortunately, this woman’s story is as common as it is heartbreaking.
Porn reshapes expectations about sex and attraction by presenting an unrealistic picture. In porn, men and women always look their best. They are forever young, surgically enhanced, airbrushed, and Photoshopped to perfection. So it’s not hard to see why, according to a national poll, six out of seven women believe that porn has changed men’s expectations of how women should look.
As writer Naomi Wolf points out, “Today real naked women are just bad porn.”
While porn is something that both men and women struggle with, it seems that a large number of the messages we get are from girlfriends, wives, and female partners. We summed up the damaging effects of porn in a letter we wrote and released on social media:
Two of the most respected pornography researchers, Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillman at the University of Alabama, studied the effects of porn and media for more than 30 years. They found that consuming pornography makes many individuals less satisfied with their own partners’ physical appearance, sexual performance, sexual curiosity, and affection. They also found that, over time, many porn users grow more callous toward females in general, less likely to value monogamy and marriage, and more likely to develop distorted perceptions of sexuality. Other researchers have confirmed those results and added that porn consumers tend to be significantly less intimate with their partners, less committed in their relationships, less satisfied with their romantic and sex lives, and more likely to cheat on their partners.
In reality, there’s nothing sexier than authentic love built on trust, mutuality, and honesty. That’s what we’re fighting for.
Originally published on Fight the New Drug on September 12, 2018 and can be found here.