My partner’s secret porn addiction made me question our whole relationship
Relationships

“Discovering my partner’s secret porn addiction made me question our whole relationship”

For Amy*, 25 , finding out about her partner’s secret porn addiction betrayed much more than just her trust. 

“Lying in bed, I just couldn’t sleep. Fragments of the day kept flashing through my mind: the things I’d seen on his phone, the way he’d hung his head in shame. I looked over at David* sleeping beside me, and one question kept percolating in my mind. The man I’d lived with and loved for almost four years – did I know him at all?  

I was in a vulnerable place when we’d first met on a dating app in April 2018 because I was recovering from an abusive relationship.  Although I was 20, I didn’t feel young. Dealing with the aftermath of that relationship had led me to draw on reserves of strength I didn’t know I had, and it had set me apart from friends who were my age. 

When I first saw David on the app, I didn’t overthink it. He was good looking, five years older than me and lived just 10 minutes away. I sent him a message before I’d even read to the end of his profile.  We met the following day and our connection was instant. Upbeat and confident – he worked in sales – David wasn’t just some smooth-talking guy, he was genuinely warm and extremely respectful.

I knew all too well how it felt to live your life on edge: to be wary, to second guess every word out of my mouth in case it somehow antagonised the man I was talking to. But as David and I talked about our jobs and families, my annoying housemate and the clients he’d met at work that week, I felt totally at ease.

I surprised myself by opening up about my past. As I falteringly spoke about the abuse, David didn’t jump in with platitudes or make it all about him. I didn’t see the look of panic on his face that some people have when they realise they’re speaking to a “damaged” person. He just sat and quietly listened, something so many people struggle to do. I realised then that David was the first man I’d felt safe with in years.  

 We spent eight hours together that evening, and over the next few weeks, we were barely apart. We had dinners and movie nights, we went out for drinks. I was taken aback by the strength of our connection – a powerful feeling that I’d known David forever. The self-protective part of me remained cautious for a while, but when I met his parents and sat smiling as they imparted family stories, those doubts drifted away. David was a stable, normal guy. I could relax.

Our relationship accelerated fast and it was thrilling to realise how compatible we were.  We found the same things funny and genuinely enjoyed just hanging out and spending time together, talking. It helped that we both had very high sex drives. David made me feel confident and beautiful, and the way he looked at me, touched me and spoke about my body made me feel more desirable than I’d ever felt before.

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We had sex every day, using toys and exploring some light kinks like rope play. It was always consensual and based on mutual respect. We openly talked about what we both wanted, and I never struggled to articulate what made me feel good.

One thing we didn’t do, though, was watch porn. I didn’t have a problem with it and had enjoyed using it in the past when I was alone. So, from the start, I told David that I totally understood if he watched it too. For me, communication was the key to everything; I told him I didn’t want any secrets, embarrassment or awkwardness between us. His reaction actually surprised me: he was adamant that he’d never watch porn while in a relationship, insisting that it wasn’t a healthy thing to do.

When we moved in together in October 2018, our sex life got even better. David made me feel so good about myself and prioritised my sexual pleasure. Outside the bedroom, we settled into an easy, happy routine. I wasn’t crazy about my job in marketing, but that didn’t matter. David loved his job and we’d spend all our free time together, decorating our flat or cooking for friends and family.

By the end of 2020, even with the financial and emotional impact of the pandemic, we were still really happy. When restrictions lifted, we enjoyed trips away to Cornwall and Norfolk, taking long walks on the beach and talking about our shared goals for the future – getting married and having a baby, saving up for a house. It wasn’t an unusual vision, but it made me feel so secure to know we wanted the same things from life. Our initial rip-your-clothes-off sex life had slowed into loving sex three times a week but our libidos were still equally matched. Sex remained a huge and happy part of our relationship.

Then, out of nowhere, in early 2021, that spark vanished. After years of playful, exciting, explorative sex, David seemed tentative and awkward when he touched me.  It was such a sudden shift, and so unlike anything that had happened before. I reassured myself that this was just a blip that lots of long-term couples go through and put it down to him feeling stressed about work. 

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We tried sex toys to re-inject the fun and it worked at first, but then David would only have sex with the lights off. Next, he stopped foreplay; it was as if he didn’t want to see or even touch my body anymore. Finally, he was unable to get an erection. “Please don’t worry,” I said after the second time it happened. But he couldn’t even look at me; he just turned his head and mumbled: ‘I can’t talk about it.’

As the days turned into weeks, I’d try to initiate sex but David just wouldn’t respond to me, which left me feeling rejected. “This is nothing you’ve done,” he said quietly one night, as he once again turned away from my attempts to touch him.”I’m still really attracted to you. I just don’t know what’s happening.”

Within a few months, we’d gone from an active, loving sex life – to nothing. I was devastated, and a voice in my head started convincing me that there must be something wrong with me if he didn’t want to touch or even look at my body. With that bedrock gone, everything else started faltering too. We could no longer sit and happily watch a film or cook together; the unspoken tension brought stress to everything. My internal monologue constantly regurgitated the same questions: what was going wrong between us? Why wouldn’t he discuss it?

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That said, he would show he still cared for me. He’d encourage me to take relaxing baths and have time for myself. But I desperately missed our connection and drove myself crazy trying to understand what was going on. I didn’t confide in anyone, though; I was too embarrassed to find the words. I also felt it would betray David to share his private struggles with someone else.

Then, at the end of last year, we were out having lunch when I saw an image pop up on his phone. It was only there for a second, but I knew immediately it was porn. As soon as I looked up and saw David’s panicked face as he grabbed the phone from the table, I knew something awful was going on. “There’s something I have to tell you,” he said, quietly. “But please, not here.” In that moment, I clammed up and my stomach began to churn. We didn’t speak as he paid the bill and drove home, and he wouldn’t even look at me as we walked into the flat. Somehow, I kept it together until he sat next to me on the sofa, face white and unable to look me in the eye. 

“I’ve been watching porn,” he eventually said. “A lot of it.” At first, I felt a surreal wave of relief. Here, at last, was the reason things had been going so wrong between us. I wasn’t going mad. “I’ve been watching hours every day,” David said, tears filling his eyes. “It’s been going on for months. I’m addicted and I don’t know what to do.” He spoke quietly, and with his head down, he passed me his phone. 

On the screen was a video of a couple having really rough sex and wearing latex. It was more hardcore than any porn I’d seen before.”This is just from last night,” he said. “The stuff I haven’t had a chance to delete yet. I’ve been struggling so much. I felt like I needed to leave you because I was so scared of how you’d react.” The next video began to play – this time of a woman and a gag – and I heard David say that these were fetishes he felt compelled to explore. I couldn’t look anymore.

“I told you years ago that watching porn was OK,” I said, finally finding my voice and trying to keep it calm and even. Even in my distress, I could see the pain he was in. I just wanted to understand what was going on. “I wouldn’t have judged you. Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. “I know,” he replied, shaking his head. “An ex made me feel so bad for watching porn and I was scared you’d be the same. I’m just so, so sorry.”

All the confusion and pain from the past months came flooding back. As we sat in silence, the phone on the sofa between us, I thought of all the baths he’d encouraged me to have which, in spite of everything, had made me feel loved and cared for. It was all a lie just to get me out of the way. I felt so betrayed and couldn’t process what I was feeling. Who was this man I’d trusted for so long? 

In the days afterwards, the tension between us was sky high. It was like two strangers sharing a bed, our conversations forced and civil. We didn’t mention what had happened, and as we went through the routine of eating, dressing and going to work, I knew he was watching me, waiting to see how I’d react. 

But I just couldn’t articulate what I was feeling. If I’d simply been shocked by the nature of the porn itself that would have been easier. The things I’d seen certainly weren’t fetishes I was into, but I wasn’t judging him for that. This was about the lies. It was like seeing a different man in front of me, someone I didn’t know anymore. My perception of David, and of our relationship, was totally upended.

A week after our conversation, we were still tiptoeing around like polite acquaintances but I finally decided to take some action. I could see how broken he was so I went online and found a local psychotherapist specialising in porn addiction. As soon as I told David, he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. I think he took it as proof that I wasn’t going to leave him, and that I wanted to help.

He began having regular sessions and I felt proud of him for committing to changing. But when, a few weeks in, he asked me to change the wifi password and take his phone whenever he went to the toilet, I refused. I couldn’t control his life and I didn’t want to – this was his battle. Stepping back in that way has led to our most difficult moments. Sometimes I know he’s in another room with his phone and I find myself praying he’s not secretly watching porn – it’s extremely conflicting.

I have been in therapy myself for a few years, and when this happened, I chose to switch from a male to a female therapist. With her, I can talk through my own feelings of distrust and the distance I feel this has put between us. But with both of us seeing therapists and finding our equilibrium again, our emotional connection is slowly returning. We are starting to laugh together again and speak tentatively about the future.

I tell myself David hasn’t looked at porn since that day he confessed, but I’ve also accepted the fact that I can’t know for sure. We share a bed but our sexual intimacy is still non-existent. For now, I think that’s important. I’m just not ready to be vulnerable with him again until the trust is completely back, and I really hope it will be one day. Because I do love him. I want the future that we planned together, for us both to be the people that we were before. For us to return to a place where I look at him and see a man I truly know.”

*Names have been changed

As told to Kate Graham 

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