“My husband of 30 years secretly watches sex shows and uses sex chat lines” – The Irish Times
My husband of over 30 years started watching live sex shows and using online sex chat lines. I also found out that he took intimate photos of himself and deleted them. I went to look when I came home one night and found his phone next to him as he fell asleep. He was still logged into the chat site. We still enjoy a healthy sex life (until now) and I’m upset because I consider it prostitution. I will discuss it with him, but my question is: why does he need this and what am I for?
To start, I’m going to use the term “sex work” instead of your term “prostitution”. The term “prostitution” has connotations of criminality, immorality and shame around the value and personality of sex workers (mostly women) that many, myself included, disagree with. The term “sex work” recognizes work around various forms of sex work and recognizes the choice, agency and professionalism of people who consensually choose to engage in the modern sex industry, which includes many complexities and varieties of work, including cam girls, phone sex operators, porn performers and more.
I’m also going to start by asking you why you felt compelled and allowed to check your husband’s phone. I’m not going to issue a blanket condemnation of espionage; people are human, sometimes people lie or act abusively, and if spying is the only way to confirm reality, sometimes it can be justified retroactively. But it’s still a betrayal of someone’s privacy, and I wonder what made you look into your husband’s phone instead of asking him about feelings of mistrust, suspicion, or hurt you felt?
I bring this up not to make your spying the main issue, but to point out that even before you knew about his online activities, there had been a breakdown in communication, honesty and trust between you . I wonder how it was in your relationship before this moment of discovery?
As for the central question here, regular readers of the column will know that I believe that everyone deserves to have their individual sexuality respected even within a relationship. This means that the partners do not control each other’s masturbation, pornography use, or fantasy life. If there are issues in a couple’s shared sex life, those issues may need to be addressed, but controlling, limiting or infringing on someone’s individual sex life is almost never the solution.
However, the fields of pornography and sex work are growing rapidly, and the growing accessibility of things like online sex chats, OnlyFans, and interactive online experiences means the lines between the two can become blurred. Given this changing landscape, couples need to have open and ongoing conversations about what they consider to be respectful and ethical behavior within their relationship.
I consider masturbation and the consumption of “mainstream” (non-interactive) pornography to be part of an individual’s sex life, and individuals are entitled to privacy and autonomy – neither else does not mean silence. Couples can respect each other’s individual sexuality and still have conversations about masturbation and porn use. For example, couples can discuss boundaries around privacy and masturbation; what they see as ethical consumption of pornography; or if one or both of you pay for porn, make sure the amount works for your joint finances.
The increasing accessibility of things like online sex chats, OnlyFans, and interactive online experiences means couples need to have open and ongoing conversations about what they consider respectful and ethical behavior within their relationship.
However, when browsing any form of pornography or sex work that involves interacting with someone – such as talking with or messaging; share photos, videos or voice messages; or engage in other sexual services – I believe the conversation stops being about the individual, and becomes about the couple and what you both consider to be respectful and faithful. (Conversations can and should be ongoing, as boundaries can change over time.) Different people and different couples will have different perspectives and boundaries on this, which makes explicit discussion important.
You wonder why your husband needs this form of stimulation and what is it for you. You’ll have to ask him these questions, but I’d venture to guess that he likes online sex shows for the reasons many people enjoy: the purely sexual content that requires little emotional labor from him, the novelty, the fantasy, and the ability to satisfy their specific desires.
And I guess he’s with you for the reasons most people are with their spouse: care, love, companionship, a deep emotional connection, coupled sex, intimacy, partnership, family. The problem is that he jeopardized the latter by not being honest about his desire for the former. This may be because he genuinely views these activities as just a more personalized version of pornography and has not viewed them as an act of infidelity; or maybe it’s because he knows you would consider it an act of infidelity. But either way, he chose not to discuss it openly and honestly with you, so you could set boundaries together. His refusal to do so, is at the most generous reading, willfully ignorant and negligent, and at worst a conscious act of infidelity.
There obviously needs to be a serious discussion about his engagement with sexual content, the lack of honesty and trust in your relationship, the boundaries you want to establish in your relationship around loyalty and respect, and the redress that needs to be be done if you want your relationship to survive this. He must recognize that he alone cannot decide what is permitted in terms of sexual interaction with any other person – couples decide together what they consider to be disrespectful or unfaithful behavior, and her refusal to have these conversations with you has led to understandable feelings of hurt and betrayal. If you have completely different opinions on what counts as infidelity in a relationship, you can either compromise or end the relationship.
A relationship is a collaboration between two people, and boundaries around loyalty and respect must be mutually agreed upon.
I will note that while I believe couples can successfully navigate pornography consumption and even engage in various forms of sex work if they so choose, it is important to recognize how cultural and gender norms can often pressure women to accept male partners. ‘ Engagement with sexual content and sex work in a way that men are rarely expected when it comes to their female partners.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, the services of strippers, porn actors, sex performers on camera or over the phone, and sex workers have historically and culturally adapted to men. Even when these services are aimed at women, gender and power dynamics mean that the tone and dynamics of these interactions can be very different. Women in relationships with men can therefore often be asked to feel comfortable with the engagement of male partners in sexual interactions for which there are few reverse gender equivalents, and this imbalance is worth discussing. . A couple’s sex life does not have to be a completely parallel counterpart, but imbalances in relationships can cause understandable resentment and it is important to recognize and discuss how gender and cultural frameworks encourage or perpetuate these imbalances, and instead strive to create a dynamic that will work for individuals in a relationship.
A relationship is a collaboration between two people, and the boundaries around loyalty and respect must be mutually agreed upon. Your husband didn’t buy into this basic idea and you both let honest communication and trust disintegrate. Open the discussion and strive to lead with honesty. I hope you can step into a new place of understanding, respect and trust. Good luck.