Is Watching Porn Cheating?

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Watching pornography is something that many people do, but that most don't talk about. Like masturbation, which it usually goes alongside of, there can be a lot of shame around watching porn. Discussing it in your relationship can be a challenge no matter how long you've been with your partner(s).

Whether or not watching porn counts as cheating is of concern for some people. The answer to that isn't black and white, or a simple "yes, it's cheating" or "no it isn't." Rather, it's highly dependent on your relationship and the rules all parties in that relationship have agreed upon.

Porn watching can impact the satisfaction couples feel in their relationships. Ahead, we'll discuss when watching porn is and isn't cheating, along with how you can help make talking about it more comfortable.

For Monogamous Relationships

A monogamous relationship is one in which you and your partner are the only parties, period. So if one of the people in the relationship is watching other people have sex, does that count as infidelity?

Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD, LMHC, Qualified Parenting Coordinator and Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator, says that it depends on a person's expectations of their relationship. She says that, "If the couple have a mutual agreement regarding the use of porn and one partner strays from those limitations then porn may be considered cheating."

This can be tricky, because lots of couples just don't discuss porn watching. Janice Miles, LMFTthinks that it's dependent on the established rules of a relationship. For example, some couples discuss porn watching and agree that each person can do it on their own. Or, they may watch it together.

However, if a couple has never discussed watching porn, it can lead to a problem, as one person might assume the other never does that. They then might feel like their partner has been cheating on them when they find out about it. If this seems like an issue that isn't common, you may be surprised to learn that about three quarters of men and one third of women in monogamous relationships watch porn alone.

Janice Miles, LMFT

When watching pornography is a violation of trust and honesty, then it can be considered cheating.

— Janice Miles, LMFT

For Non-Monogamous Relationships

You might initially think that if your relationship model involves other people besides your primary partner, watching porn can't possibly be cheating. This actually isn't the case at all.

Gulotta stresses that establishing boundaries and rules determines how people in a relationship, no matter how many or how few people are involved, should behave in relation to watching porn.

A non-monogamous couple could have an open agreement about watching porn, whether alone or with other partners. In this case, doing that isn't ever cheating. But just like in monogamous relationships, if a couple hasn't discussed it, then one or more people might consider it cheating.

Non-monogamous relationship don't have any fewer rules than monogamous ones; if anything, they may have more.

Can Watching Porn Be Emotionally Healthy?

There is a lot of stigma around watching porn, and many people, especially those who don't feel that sexuality should ever be made public, consider it a "dirty" and unhealthy thing to do.

Luckily for everyone who enjoys it, watching porn can be both a perfectly healthy part of one's life and of one's relationship.

Watching Porn Together May Make You Closer

Gulotta thinks that watching porn together as a couple can be a healthy, bonding experience that can bring a couple closer together. She says that "watching porn together can improve their communication in the bedroom, and make them feel closer intimately."

Watching Porn May Be a Form of Self-Care for Some

In addition to this, she notes that watching porn can be a part of a person's self-care routine. All couples need space and time alone, and porn watching can be a way for someone to decompress.

When we take time for self-care, we have more energy for others. How one person finds that state of relaxation is up to them, and there is nothing wrong with that, provided no one else is hurt in the process.

When Porn Becomes Unhealthy

Miles says that porn becomes unhealthy when it shifts into having a negative impact on your life. She suggests, "if its use is causing a negative impact on your life or relationships, then you may want to re-evaluate your use and assess the benefits that you gain from it."

What About Cam Situations?

Even if everyone in a relationship has agreed that they're allowed to watch porn without the involvement of anyone else, watching porn can actually still be cheating. That's because nowadays, porn may be live, and viewers can become involved to some extent.

Some cam girls/guys have chat windows, and offer paid services such as shout-outs to single viewers. This blurs the lines of cheating even for couples who have established that watching porn is OK. You might not mind your partner watching other people have sex, but do mind them talking to one of the people performing sexual acts, live while it's happening.

If a person uses porn in a secretive manner to connect with someone besides their partner, it can be considered cheating, according to Gulotta. She says that the other person in the relationship might feel betrayed when they learn about that happening, which can cause a disconnect in a relationship. She says it may be considered a breach of trust and may significantly damage a relationship.

Communication Is Key

As with every other part of a relationship, when it comes to watching porn, communication about it is key. You might consider it a harmless activity, but if your partner disagrees, you could cause them serious emotional pain by doing it. How can you know how you should behave about something if you never discuss it?

Have an Open Discussion

Gulotta says the conversation should be straightforward, and may lead to great outcomes. She tells us that "having an open discussion with your partner will help you both to share your feelings. If you listen to understand your partner then you will both feel validated in your emotions and feel heard." This is, of course, everyone' goals when talking intimately. We all want to feel heard and understood.

It may seem like a hard conversation, but you can start very simply. As for what a conversation about watching porn should entail, Gulotta tells us that "The best questions to ask are always starting with, how do they feel about this and what are they comfortable with."

She tells us that by talking and setting up boundaries each person feels comfortable with, everyone can move forward in a more relaxed manner. Because couples who communicate openly experience more relationship satisfaction than those who don't, this is a good practice for you and your partner in general.

How to Deal With Feelings of Betrayal

In an ideal world, you've talked about watching porn with your partner before you find out that they're doing it. Unfortunately, because it's a tough subject to discuss, this isn't always the case. If you catch your partner watching porn, or if they tell you about it and you're taken aback, know that feelings of betrayal are understandable and valid.

Tell Your Partner Why You Feel Betrayed

If you're feeling betrayed about your partner's porn watching, Miles recommends you tell them why. She says to tell your partner about how their viewing porn makes you feel, and notes that you should "identify if this is a personal issue or related to the relationship...and explore if there is an opportunity for compromise."

Because there can be shame around pornography, you might not feel comfortable right away telling your partner. In this case, Gulotta recommends you first speak to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or your therapist.

Or, you can try talking about this together with your partner and a couple's therapist. She says that a couples therapist can be key to establishing healthy boundaries, and can facilitate a conversation around what feels right for each person in the relationship. Each person can, and should, be clear about what is right for them individually and as a partner in a relationship.

A Word From Verywell

Whenever there's cultural shame around something, it can feel very daunting to deal with. This is especially true when the topic is personal, and intimate in nature. If you're feeling betrayed by your partner's watching porn, reach out to someone you trust as soon as you can. The quicker you can begin the journey of establishing rules and boundaries in your relationship, the better its chances of success.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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