I’m a 26 year-old girl, I have been in a relationship for over a year. In the first months, my partner confessed to me he’s into shemale porn. I didn’t know much about that world until he told me. The problem is that he is obsessed with that. He used to watch it every day since his twenties, he can’t get that out of his mind and it’s affecting him physically and psychologically. Every time he watched it, he used to feel awful about himself, low self-esteem, procrastination, loneliness…he has had 4 experiences with t-girls (prostitutes) and he said he didn’t like it…although he did it 4 times, he told me he just finished a relationship and he was desperate.
So, about a couple of years ago, he decided to stop watching that porn and about 9 months ago he asked me for help. I accepted but it’s been harder than I expected…he keeps on relapsing in silly ways and I feel like he lies to me and treats me badly sometimes because I’m the person who stops him from watching that… I don’t judge him when he relapses but he locked himself and he doesn’t want to see me or he hides it from me and eventually I find out and everything feels like a lie…
Recently he asked me to watch it together. Also he mentioned he might like if I wear a strap-on and that he might like to be penetrated… Our sex life is good normally; when we feel good about each other, we are adventurous, we like role-play and we feel comfortable with each other. BUT after all the bad experiences he has had with t-porn and all I have had to suffer because of that I don’t feel like I can do those things he is asking me… It just doesn’t appeal to me. Idk if I’m being selfish or it’s just fear… Also I wouldn’t like to penetrate him…what do you think about it? I don’t think he’s gay but I’m starting to have some doubts…
Thank you very much! I would appreciate a lot some advice because I don’t know who I can talk to… (btw, I’m not English so I’m sorry for any mistakes you might find)
I have read and re-read your letter, because there are a number of different issues wrapped up in this. I will try to address each individually (in no particular order), so bear with me.
Using porn as a coping mechanism
Pornography can be a healthy part of a person’s sexuality, individually, and within a relationship. Alone or with a partner, it can aid masturbation, sexual exploration and fantasy. However, some people use pornography obsessively, excessively, or compulsively. It interferes with their daily life, with their emotional and psychological wellbeing or with their relationships. These people often use pornography as a kind of coping mechanism, a form of escape and brain-chemical reward, and this can cause problems, as with the misuse of any substance (i.e. drugs or alcohol) or process (i.e. shopping or gambling).
If this describes your partner (and it may not, as I will explain), it might be worth exploring some tools for healthier internet and pornography use. You can find some tips on sites such as yourbrainonporn.com, and/or speaking with a sex-positive counsellor or therapist for support.
On the other hand, it might not be the way your partner uses porn, but his relationship with porn itself that is causing distress and problems for your relationship.
Inner conflict about using porn
For some people, the negative feelings evoked by pornography use come from a person’s feelings of shame, negativity or internal conflict. This conflict can be about using pornography, period. For instance, if they believe pornography or masturbation is bad or morally unacceptable. Or they may feel conflicted about the content of their fantasies and the material they are consuming.
For these people, the frequency and duration of their pornography use may not be a problem. However, they experience significant distress simply because they are using pornography or for its subject matter. I suspect this is a significant contributing factor to your partner’s distress, as he seems conflicted about his attraction to transwomen (what he calls ‘shemales’).
Researchers have found using pornography causes greatest distress where the person consuming it feels shame or conflict about their porn use. In other words, if your partner did not feel so awful about using ‘t-porn’ he might not experience so much distress.
For others, as I mentioned, using porn is an escape, a way to cope with feelings of low self-esteem, procrastination, loneliness and so on. If you combine these factors, it can create a vicious circle. Your partner feels down, so uses porn, then feels bad for using porn, and so after the temporary relief or escape from negative feelings he obtains while using porn, he feels even more down, and so is more likely to want to escape (and therefore use porn again), and so on.
So how can you help? Reassure him pornography use is perfectly okay, and attraction to transwomen is perfectly normal, too, which is what I will come to next.
Struggling with sexual attraction
Your partner appears to experience distress about his sexual attraction to transwomen. You write he has experienced multiple sexual encounters with transwomen, but that he did not like (or felt bad about) those experiences. This suggests he experiences significant internal conflict about his attractions.
This may be the root cause of most of his distress and poor behaviour, including his deception, and that he makes you his gatekeeper and scapegoat (which I will discuss shortly).
All you can do here is reassure him (and yourself) that:
Sexuality is diverse
While there is not much research into this area specifically, there are studies that suggest men who are attracted to (or have sex with) transwomen (let’s call them MSTW) have a unique sexual orientation (sexual preference). One study found this orientation was closer to heterosexuality than homosexuality, but still men with this orientation demonstrated a much stronger sexual response to transwomen than ciswomen, and among bisexually identified men, to transwomen than cismen or ciswomen.
In other studies, MSTW identified as heterosexual or bisexual, but rarely, if ever, homosexual. One such study suggested heterosexually identified men are attracted to a combination of the overtly feminised gender role and overtly masculine behaviour of the male gender role that transwomen represent. (This is very much a stereotype – but that is what pornography models in its sexual scripts). In this way, transwomen represent a combination of performative gender roles and transgression of social norms. In the same study, bisexually identified men reported being attracted to the combination of male genitalia and female secondary sex characteristics (i.e. penis AND breasts).
Neuroscientists have another theory about the popularity of ‘shemale’ porn among heterosexual men (and it is worth reminding your partner it is one of the most popular porn categories). They argue ‘shemales’ represent a fusion of different evolutionary sexual cues. I highly recommend watching Neuroscientists explain why straight men like trans women and why straight women like Edward Cullen (and sharing it with your partner) to learn more about this theory.
So what does this mean? Does your partner’s sexuality need a label? Is he attracted to you? Does it matter if he is also attracted to transwomen? Aren’t you also attracted to, and have fantasies about other people? Many straight women watch gay male porn. Many heterosexual men love watching ‘lesbians’ and other men in porn. The healthiest approach for the both of you is to accept that sexuality is diverse and attractions and fantasies of various kinds are normal.
If you can reach that point, the next step is to move past the deception, which I will now address.
Hiding and dishonesty
From what you have described it seems likely your partner has been lying and hiding because he feels ashamed, distressed, conflicted, and everything else we have just discussed. If he can get beyond those feelings to reach acceptance (from himself and from you) about his desires, he should have no reason to lie or to hide anymore. It seems much more like a symptom of a bigger issue, than the issue itself. If he (and you) can come to terms with his attractions, and the lying and hiding does not stop, then you need to ask yourself whether you want to be with someone who does not trust you, or who you do not trust.
Possibly the much bigger issue is what we will discuss next.
Making you his scapegoat
Of everything you have described about the dynamics of your relationship, this is what bothers me most. Correct me if I am wrong, but your letter reads as though your partner has put you in charge of helping him stop using porn. Then, instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he makes you the bad person when he inevitably uses t-porn, while going behind your back. This screams projection, whereby he is making you his gatekeeper and then using you as a scapegoat when he messes up. This is a toxic situation and needs to stop.
While he can enlist your help in supporting him – including by reassuring him his attraction to transwomen and trans-porn is completely normal – he cannot make you responsible for his behaviour. He is responsible for his actions and his choices, and if he needs help addressing these, he should seek it from a professional, not his partner.
If he can stop this toxic behaviour, and (again) if you can BOTH accept his desire for transwomen, then you need to work out how this affects your relationship and sex life, and whether you are even sexually compatible.
This is perhaps where I should have begun, because if you are not sexually compatible, it might be better to walk away than try to work through everything else. However, I thought it was worth stepping through each issue you raised, because I am not sure you are in a position to answer this yet.
So, now that we are here, let’s break this down. How do you know if you are sexually compatible? First, you need to separate your emotional baggage and the residual issues from the hiding, lying and shame of the past, so you can evaluate whether you are congruent, sexually.
You have only been together for a year or so, and this is already causing significant problems. You are only 26, which is still young to know what you might grow to like and discover about yourself sexually. Do his sexual interests interest you? Are you willing to explore them? I think it is probably a good thing to try using a strap-on and see if you like it, rather than dismissing the possibility outright. You might be surprised.
However, if the answer is no, you are not willing to explore them, or once you have explored them, discover they are not for you, you may have reached an impasse.
Where to from here?
The way forward is to work out how each of your sexual interests can be accommodated, whether inside the relationship, outside, or both. How much are you willing to explore, to compromise? How much is he willing to offer in return, to give up? You won’t know unless you are open and honest with each other about your desires, and until you give it a try. If that is too much to ask, then the relationship may be too much to ask, also.
I am sorry your partner feels such distress and struggles with his sexual attractions, and I am sorry this is having such an impact on you. You are in a unique position to support him, by reassuring him he is actually very normal, and by helping him come to terms with this, even if that means helping him find professional support. At the same time, he needs to own his sexual orientation, take responsibility for his actions, and stop scapegoating and mistreating you. If this is something you want to work through together, there are sex-positive and diversity-friendly counsellors out there. Always shop around and don’t stop until you find the right fit.
I wish you the best of luck.