Betrayal
Trauma
Recovery

Many victims of betrayal trauma and emotional abuse asked their partner, or ex-partner, about his sexual history, including pornography use, before committing to the relationship.

Disturbingly, most men lie about their sexual history, especially when it includes pornography use and other depraved sexual behaviors.

When I was really young, my mom was telling me about rape. She said, “If anyone is raping you, I want you to look them in the eye and I want you to strongly and forcefully say, ‘This is rape and I will prosecute.’” She had me say that several times and we even role-played a little bit. That’s what she wanted me to say. I want women to say that too. “This is what sexual coercion is, and I will be very hurt, and it will be sexual abuse. If you want to participate in that then you either go on your merry way or you tell me but, if I find out, that’s what you would have done to me.”

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

On the free BTR Podcast, Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, interviews Jessica Barr, an anti-pornography activist and member of the board of directors at Culture Reframed.

Jessica shares validating and empowering truths about sexual coercion and how women can find safety.

I Asked My Husband If He Uses Porn, And He Said No

You might have this great conversation about porn use and how they think it’s awful and how they haven’t used it or they used it and stopped, or whatever, but if their intent is to hide their porn use, you would never know, and that conversation is abusive in and of itself.

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Many victims of betrayal have languished in their grief, re-living those moments when they asked their partner about pornography use and he denied it. Women wonder if they should have pressed the issue harder, or asked at a different time, or waited until they had evidence.

The truth is abusive men lie, and women are not responsible, in any way, for the abuser’s choices. Pornography use is abuse. Most women will be lied to when they ask their partner about his sexual behavior.

Did He Lie If He Told Me Some Of His Sexual Behaviors?

When a man tells partial truths about his sexual behavior, he is lying. Lying includes:

  • Withholding the truth
  • Telling bits and pieces, or minimizing
  • Under-exaggerating the amount of time, money, or ways that he engaged in the behavior(s)
  • Refusing to give direct answers to questions about his sexual behavior

When women are lied to by their partner about his sexual behavior, they may experience betrayal trauma.

When abusers lie about their sexual behavior and still engage in sexual contact with their partner, they are sexually abusing her.

Have I Been Sexually Abused By My Husband?

In relationships, safety is first and foremost, and if you don’t feel safe in a relationship: emotionally, physically, spiritually, you can’t have intimacy. Those two things cannot coexist.

Jessica Barr, Anti-pornography Activist

The concept of sexual coercion isn’t popular in a society where pornography use, infidelity, and the dehumanization of women has been normalized and even promoted.

Understanding what sexual coercion is empowers women to find safety.

What Is Sexual Coercion?

When a woman asks her partner, or prospective partner, about his sexual behavior, she uses what he says to determine if she will stay in the relationship, commit further, and have sexual contact with him.

When a man lies or withholds the truth about his sexual behavior, including pornography use, he is stripping from her the right to make an informed decision before giving consent to sexual behavior.

Without Informed Consent, Sexual Contact Is Sexual Abuse

When a woman cannot give her consent (which is an enthusiastic yes, with a full understanding of his sexual history and behaviors) because her partner has lied or withheld the truth, she is a victim of sexual abuse and rape.

When a woman is sexually abused by her partner, she may feel powerless and confused. Oftentimes, sexual coercion occurs without the victim knowing for years, or ever even knowing at all.

Women are not powerless or helpless, even when their right to informed consent is stolen from them.

How Can I Know If My Husband is Lying About His Porn Use?

You can’t know. But that’s not where your power lies. Your power lies in setting and maintaining safe boundaries.

We have control and we have choices. I really want to empower the listener to know that we have a choice and, especially in this day and age, women really need to own that choice.

Jessica Barr, Anti-pornography Activist

Boundaries are not statements, requests, or ultimatums. They are courageous actions that women take to separate themselves from abuse.

Safety does not come from knowing why he has betrayed and abused you: it comes from identifying what brings you safety and security, and then setting boundaries to ensure that you have the safety that you deserve.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Abuse

At BTR, we know how devastating it is to discover a spouse’s lies about his sexual behavior. It can feel like you will never be okay, that the world has stopped turning.

The trauma that women experience from betrayal is real and excruciatingly painful. No woman should go through it alone.

The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers women the validation, community, and support that they need to begin their journey to healing. Join today.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

BTR Group Helps Women Process Abuse

Before we get to this episode’s guest, I want to give a shout out to our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group members. We love you and are so grateful for you.

When you join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, you have access to multiple live sessions each day in every single time zone. You can talk to our expert coaches who can help you process what is happening. It can help you process am I being abused or not? If I am being abused how can I set boundaries that lead to my safety? To see our group session schedule go to btr.org. We hope to see you in a session today.

I want to mention that I record these episodes at different times. This episode was recorded, I think in January, and we’re not posting it until now. If you hear things and you think, “Wait, that’s not chronological,” it’s because when we record an episode, it isn’t immediately aired.

Also, I talk a lot, and sometimes I misspeak, so I want to thank you all for your patience if I misspeak, and thank you for understanding that I am not perfect and that I am doing the best I can. I thank all of you for your support, in spite of the imperfections of this podcast.

“Empowered Victim’s” Podcast Review

We have a review on the podcast that I’d like to share with you. Someone wrote in as an empowered victim. She says:

“As my world has recently been turned upside down, I found your podcast and I’m trying to listen to as many episodes as I can. Your podcast helps victims and survivors, like me, feel encouraged and empowered in such a difficult and traumatic time.

“I’ve also joined the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group in order to reach out to other women walking through similar things, and we’re all seeking professional advice along the way. My favorite takeaway isn’t to bash all men or promote divorce, it’s for women to realize and create healthy and safe boundaries in their lives, whatever that looks like for them.

“Unfortunately, for me, I am a stay-at-home mom of three young girls, 5, 3, and 1, and my biggest fear is the financial and independence pieces. I’m working through those fears and what it means to provide the best life for me and my girls.

“The podcast also helps me name and process the depth of the hurt and pain, emotional abuse, financial abuse, lying, gaslighting, and sexual coercion. Thank you for creating this encouraging and safe place for women.”

We appreciate every single one of your reviews on the podcast. If you haven’t already and you’re so inclined, please go to Apple Podcast or your other podcasting apps. Every single one of your ratings helps isolated women find us.

Culture Reframed: Building Resilience and Resistance to Hypersexualized Media and Pornography

We have Jessica Barr on today’s episode. We have interviewed her before. She is amazing. She recently graduated with her master’s in mental health counseling.

Jessica is on the board of directors for Culture Reframed, a non-profit health organization, with a mission to build resilience and resistance to hypersexualized media and porn. She is passionate about helping people navigate the myriad of ways the modern digital world is impacting our relationships and sexuality.

Welcome, Jessica.

Jessica: Thanks, Anne. Thanks for having me again.

Can Women Detect Covert Abuse Early On?

Anne: We’re going to talk about something that everyone wants to know, and it is how do you talk to someone who you’re newly dating about their porn use or their relationship with porn or even someone that you’re already in a relationship with?

This is a very tricky topic and we’ll talk about why it is tricky. It’s never a bad idea to talk about pornography, everyone should be talking about it and everybody should be having layered, ongoing discussions about it.

The tricky part is, when it comes to emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion, the manipulation and the lying that happens is so covert and so hard to know what’s happening that, even a discussion about porn, where you feel like, “Oh, they really get it,” could be grooming you because they’re actually hiding their true porn use.

As we talk about this, I want everybody to kind of keep that in mind, that there are no cut and dried solutions. There is no guarantee.

Jessica: Correct. Yeah, that’s a really good point.

Anne: Let’s start there. Jessica, when you’re talking with people, what is your recommendation about when and how soon this pornography issue should be bought up in a relationship?

When Should Women Ask Potential Partners About Pornography Use?

Jessica: That is where we start and I do like to always tell people right away that, like you said, this isn’t cut and dry. It’s not one formula that works for everybody.

Timing is a thing, how much you already know about the person, what kind of history you have with this issue or betrayal, your own boundaries, your own activism, there are just so many variables. I think in this day and age every woman, who’s wanting a monogamous, intimate, healthy relationship, is going to want to bring this up early on in a prospective romantic partnership.

We Can’t Control Others’ Pornography Use, But We CAN Set Boundaries And Honor Our Values

What I like to do is, because there’s not a formula, I like to give kind of tips and tools and skillsets for people to draw from, so they can combine that with their own personal judgment and feel out what works for them. To your point earlier, you can do and say all the right things in this conversation and still be betrayed later on or even during that time.

What I want to really emphasize is to take control over what we have control over. In other words, we can’t control everything that anyone does, especially something as covert and secretive and stealth as porn use, but we can be really, really clear with ourselves about our boundaries and our values, then we can take those boundaries and values and express those and communicate those to our partner or our prospective partner in the best way that we can.

That’s to empower my clients or the listeners of this podcast to say, “I’m going to focus on what I can do.” We’ll talk later you and I, Anne, about what happens if and when there is a betrayal. How to go from there because, again, we have choices in that too. We have control and we have choices.

I really want to empower the listener to know that we have a choice and, especially in this day and age, women really need to own that choice.

Abusers Lie: Be Prepared When You Ask About Pornography Use

Anne: Yeah, and I think when you say they could be betrayed later, I want listeners to know they also could be betrayed during that conversation. They could be lied to and groomed during that conversation.

A woman I know of thought she’d had this amazing heart-to-heart with the guy she was dating, where he really told her “everything” and she really knows about him, and she felt, “This is a good guy because he told me stuff,” but that’s not what it was.

That’s what I really want to caution people about. You might have this great conversation about porn use and how they think it’s awful and how they haven’t used it or they used it and stopped, or whatever, but if their intent is to hide their porn use, you would never know, and that conversation is abusive in and of itself.

“Somebody Could Say All The Right Things… And Be Lying.”

Jessica: This is such a good point and why this conversation we’re having is so important. I would like to frame this conversation as an exploration of ideas that you and I are sharing with each other and that the listeners can chew on a little bit and maybe even add some of their ideas.

For example, to your point, somebody could say all the right things and be lying. We have to, as sisters, as a sisterhood of women who are all affected by this issue, we really need to share with each other red flags. Like what are the behaviors to watch for? What are the changes to watch for? What are the red flags?

Because, unfortunately, we’re kind of in a position where we have to play detective and be on the offensive around this issue. It’s not to say that we need to go around projecting onto our partners or prospective partners or blaming and shaming and accusing them. However, this is the reality we live in.

I believe if the partner is worth their salt they’re going to hear what you have to say about it, they’re going to hear about your concerns, they’re going to say, “Hey, I’ve noticed this behavior change in you.”

Women Can Champion Other Women To Find Safety

For example, I was on a relationship Facebook group the other day, and I read a lot of people’s issues that are going on and this one woman said her, I think it was husband or long-time boyfriend, stopped kissing her.

Now, when they have sex, he won’t kiss her, and she can’t figure out why and it’s not a bad breath issue and all this stuff. She’s wracking her brain trying to figure out why she’s no longer being kissed during sex or before sex. Of course, I pose the idea that it could be a porn-watching habit, this is one of the symptoms of porn use, I have the inside scoop on that because this is what I do for a living and also I’m an anti-porn activist as you know.

I brought that up and she said, “You know what, that did cross my mind and I did ask him, and he denied it.” Okay, so again, you have that denial, but at some point, she’s going to need a reason why he’s not kissing her. It’s either going to happen in front of a coach or a therapist that she’s going to get that answer or he’s going to have to get real about what’s happening.

Women Don’t Need Answers, They Need Safety

Anne: I actually disagree. There’s no point at which she needs an answer. What she needs is, if that is not how she wants the relationship to be, then she just needs to set a boundary.

Jessica: Agreed. If she doesn’t want to go along with that, exactly.

Anne: Because there is no way to force an answer out of him.

Jessica: There is no way to force an answer but, for example, if there is a reason around—let’s say he’s not using porn and he’s not being unfaithful or dishonest, but he’s got some serious psychological issue going on, I don’t know what, she deserves to know that answer too. To your point, if he continues in the behavior, she might never know.

Anne: Right. If he refuses to tell her and it’s blamed on a psychological issue, she might think, “Oh, it’s because of this psychological issue,” but really, it’s still due to porn and she would never know. Do you see my point?

The “Why” Behind Betrayal and Abuse Doesn’t Matter: The Behavior Does

Jessica: She would never know. I totally see your point, and the bottom line is, to your point, to take it even further, if that behavior doesn’t change then that’s the real issue.

No matter what the reason is, right. If he doesn’t do anything to change the behavior, she is probably better off walking away from that relationship, if he’s not willing to do that work or share that information.

Anne: Or setting a boundary. “If you will not kiss me before we have sex, I won’t have sex with you. “

Jessica: Yeah, “it doesn’t feel good to me. It doesn’t feel safe.” Yeah.

Set Boundaries Around Safety-Issues Instead of Playing Detective

Anne: At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we really try to encourage people not to look for reasons, because you will never find them or if you find it, it may be a fake reason. Focus on the behavior that makes you feel unsafe, the non-kissing, and set a boundary around that. That way, you’re always going to be on the right track.

Jessica: That’s a really good point. I agree. I think the boundary around behavior is, first and foremost, because ultimately I want these men—generally men, most of them are men—to stop the behavior. In the meantime, the partner should absolutely 100% be safe and protect herself and exercise choice and make the decision that “I’m not going to stay.”

My whole thing about relationships is that safety is first and foremost, and if you don’t feel safe in a relationship: emotionally, physically, spiritually, you can’t have intimacy. Those two things cannot coexist. You cannot feel unsafe and also be close to somebody and have bonding and intimacy and trust and all of that.

If a person doesn’t feel safe, then either she and her partner need to get to a place where they feel safe and make each other feel safe or the person who feels unsafe, I feel like, is better off alone than in an abusive relationship.

Make YOUR Health And YOUR Safety The Priority

There’s new data on that too, and I’m really happy about that because there is so much data in attachment theory about the importance of bonding and attachment in relationships and how it is innate to our species and our health as a species. We, more than food, we crave intimacy.

There’s this idea, or has been this idea, that at all costs you make the relationship work and if you’re in a relationship you stick it out.

Now there’s new data that says your health; psychological health, emotional health, physical health, all of that, is better being a single person or being alone and not being constantly in that state of nervous system arousal, anxiety, watching your back, wondering, questioning because that wreaks havoc on the nervous system.

I want the listeners to know that too. I think there is a lot of people out there, especially women, thinking I have to make this work, or I have to stay in this because the alternative is worse, and that is not always the case. The alternative is sometimes way, way better.

Don’t Worry About The Relationship: Focus On Boundaries

Anne: I always say don’t even worry about the relationship. Don’t even worry about whether you want to be in the relationship or not.

If you set boundaries around the behavior, for example, “If you don’t want to kiss and if I don’t feel safe then I’m not having sex with you,” the relationship will take care of itself. He will be like, “Oh, well I don’t want to date you anymore,” or he’ll be like, “Oh, okay.

You don’t have to be like, “Well. if he doesn’t start using a spoon properly then I’m going to break up with him,” right. You could say, “Well, if he’s not going to use a spoon properly, I don’t even have to say anything to him, but I’m going to take my food and I’m actually going to go in the other room.”

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Trauma Mama, Husband Drama Helps Women Identify Abuse

I’m going to take just a short break to remind everyone that Trauma Mama Husband Drama is the perfect book to give to family or friends or women who you find out is just going through this and they don’t know that this is an abuse situation. You can go to our website, btr.org/books, or you can go to Amazon.

Women are really finding that sharing that book with their family and friends is improving other people’s understanding of what abuse looks like and what sexual coercion looks like in this context of pornography use.

If you do buy the book, please rate it on Amazon. Every single one of your ratings helps isolated find that book, and although they might not buy the book, that will also help them find this podcast which is free to everyone. Thank you to those of you who have purchased it. Again, to find that book go to btr.org/books.

Boundaries Are Actions, Not Statements

Jessica: Boundaries are really about us, more than the other person. It is about us taking control, empowering ourselves, and it’s about what is a deal-breaker or a non-negotiable for us, and that is really really important because if you get into the back and forth and the justifications, like you were talking about, then you’re kind of giving your power away.

Now, if you set a boundary with a man and he has questions about it, that’s fine you can answer. Like, “Why is that upsetting for you?” or, “Why does that trigger you?” is fine. That’s a really good conversation to have.

Anne: But the cool thing is you don’t even have to tell him. You don’t have to say, “If you put your elbow in my face, I’m going to leave.” A boundary isn’t something that you say. It’s the action that you take.

When you talk, when you say, “Hey, I don’t like it when you put your elbow in my face,” that’s just a statement. It’s not a boundary. You don’t have to only make boundaries around deal breakers.

Jessica: Absolutely.

Anne: You can make boundaries around any type of behavior that you’re like, “This is not working for me.”

Sharing Impact Can Give Women Important Information About Their Partner

Jessica: Exactly, I agree. I do think it is helpful, sometimes, to share what’s called sharing impact, where two people are coming from two different histories—of course, when you’re talking about male/female relationships, you’re talking about major cultural differences. We are socialized in completely different ways, then we grow up and we’re supposed to come together in this relationship and, somehow, make it work.

Coming from very different backgrounds, I think it is helpful, in terms of communicating, to share impact with somebody. I might say to my boyfriend, “When you raise your voice, I feel hurt or I’m reminded of my mom, when I was a kid and she raised her voice at me.” I’m just sharing the impact that his behavior has on my being, so that is good feedback.

That’s really good information for him because now he’s like, “Oh, I’m not triggered by raising my voice but, obviously, Jessica is, so I’m going to try to change that behavior.” That’s just a mild example of how I do believe sharing impact with somebody and giving them that feedback can change the discussion and maybe even make people more open to diving a little bit deeper.

How They Respond To Questions About Pornography Use Tells A Lot

Anne: It can also give you an idea of where this person is. Let’s go back to the first question I asked. When and how should it be brought up?

For example, if you’re sharing the impact of their behaviors and they react in a compassionate way or a kind way, then you observing that is like, “I’m observing the way that they respond.” That is one little clue in your bag of clues about “Is this person a healthy person to be in a relationship with?”

It’s always a good idea to start sharing things and talking and then observing how they’re reacting. When it comes to bringing up the porn issue, if we said “general guidelines,” and we know that it’s going to be different for everyone. you can’t mess it up.

If this is a healthy great person you can’t be like, “Okay, if this person is super healthy and amazing and they don’t use porn,” but you ask them about it at 10 pm on a Saturday it’s going to ruin it. You can’t do that, so you have to make sure that you’re sitting side-by-side, so it’s not confrontational and you have to make sure you blink. NO! I don’t think anyone should worry about that.

In general, observing them for a little while, I think, and I’d like to know what you think because I used to bring it up on the first date and I always got lies. They just lied to me all the time. Now, if I were to do it again, which I would like to date right now but I don’t want to get online and I don’t drink so I don’t go to bars, and people aren’t setting me up or whatever.

I’m not dating but I’m open to dating I guess, but I would be like, “I’m going to observe them for four to six dates to see if I even remotely like this person first, and then maybe I might foray into that.” Why bring it up on the first date when I don’t even know if I want to go with them a second time? That’s my thought about it, but I don’t know how you feel?

When Should I Ask About Porn Use?

Jessica: I think that’s great. I think you’re spot-on, especially because, on the first date, you don’t even know if this is somebody you, potentially, want to have sex with. It’s good to get to know the person, take it slow, but when you start to feel like it’s going somewhere, romantically, I do think it’s good to start talking about what are your views on this? What are your values around this?

You can even bring up your past. You could say, “Well, I’ve had issues in the past with boyfriends or husbands who’ve abused porn and it was a deal-breaker for me. It ruined the relationship. It’s a boundary that I have. Maybe we can talk about it from that point?”

Anne: Right. A note here really quick, I just want to say Jessica is agnostic, spiritual, but I’m going to put words in your mouth here. You are not of the type that’s like, “no sex before marriage,” right? If you’re dating someone and you feel like, “Okay, this is going somewhere. I think I’m ready to have sex with this person,” marriage is not a boundary for you for sex. Is that accurate?

Jessica: That’s accurate.

Anne: Okay, so for me my sex boundary is marriage. When I’m looking at it like that, if you’re thinking, “Okay, these are the things I need to know before I would have sex with this person, right.” Your perspective is going to be a little bit different than mine because mine is going to be what are the things I need to know before I would marry this person, ergo have sex with them. Do you see what I’m saying?

Jessica: Right. Absolutely. This is why there is no formula, right.

Anne: Exactly. Your commitment level, for when you’ll have sex with someone, is way less than mine because I’m tying sex into marriage. When I’m deciding, “Okay, do I not only want to have sex with this person?” which would just be, maybe, a decision that was about a few things, I’m thinking, “Do I want to marry them and, ergo, have sex with them?”

Set Safety Boundaries Around Your Choice to Have Sex

Jessica: Right. Are they marriage material? Yeah, that’s what you’re thinking. For me, there is obviously a wide spectrum, but for me, it’s love, and safety, and respect. I’m not loose or boundaryless or even, dare I say, liberal. I’m not liberal when it comes to sex. I think it has meaning and I think its bonding and I think people need to be more responsible, when it comes to sex and sexuality, because it is a big deal.

Again, there is data that supports that on what it does in our brain and how we feel bonded through that, and betrayed when that connection is broken in certain ways. There’s just a lot to support that, so whether you’re waiting for marriage or you’re waiting to get to know the person and have these other values addressed, it’s important, I think, just to bring it up in a way that’s about you. “Here is how it affects me. Here is something value wise I don’t believe in, I don’t subscribe to, and it’s a turn off to me to have a partner who uses porn.” There is a myriad of reasons, right.

I’m an anti-porn activist, so, for me, it does come up right away because of our jobs it’s like, “Well, what are you interested in? What do you do?” Of course, I’m going to say it right away and, in a way, that’s helpful for me because, if the person sticks around, great and, If they don’t, well, that helped me weed them out. It’s not just romantic partners but friends, colleagues, it goes on and on.

Pornography Use Is Easily Hidden

Anne: The interesting thing about dating and marriage is that porn can be an issue in the relationship, but you could never know.

For example, the person could say, “Oh, yeah, I agree with you.” Let’s say you’re not getting married. You have sex and then a few months later it’s just not working out, and you think, “Oh. that guy was nice but it’s just not working out,” and go on your merry way, thank you, and you move on. You would have thought, “Well, that was a good nice situation,” but you may never know that porn was part of it.

I think that’s what the tricky thing about porn is. It’s not like smoking. It’s not like meth. People can hide their drug addiction but, after a little while, you’d be like this person doesn’t have any teeth. You can see it. Or maybe with alcoholism, you can smell it on them or something, but with porn, there is no tell.

Jessica: It’s true you may never know, and this is why, going back to an earlier part of our conversation, you really have to pay attention to behavior and what is, or isn’t, working for you. I do think it’s important to say—and this is just a guideline because some people may not feel comfortable saying this but I do, and that is to say that, if my partner watches pornography, I count that as cheating.

If you’re in a relationship, let’s say you’re dating somebody and you talk about what do you want out of a relationship, and they say, “I want monogamy.” Okay, good we’re on the same page there, we both want monogamy. These are things that, obviously, need to be discussed, right. We’re both in it with one person.

Then you can even take that conversation further by saying let’s define monogamy in this digital age we live in. For me, monogamy means my partner is not seeking sexual stimulation outside of the relationship with me, and that’s a broad statement that encompasses a lot.

Define Your Sexual And Relationship Boundaries

Not seeking sexual stimulation outside of the relationship, that means not going to strip clubs. That means not looking at porn. That means not even going to somebody’s Instagram page and looking at their bikini pictures, seeking sexual stimulation.

Obviously, we live in a hypersexualized and very misogynistic and objectified world. Men are going to see sexualized images of women everywhere. That’s uncomfortable for most women, but it is the reality. That’s like the polluted air we breathe, you can’t avoid it, it’s just pollution.

What you want though is the person’s commitment to not seeking it out, and also paying attention to you and the sexual relationship he has with you, and really focusing that sexual energy on your monogamous relationship. Because that’s what defines monogamy, is that you are having sex with one person.

It might not be a lifetime of monogamy but, at that time, it’s that person. Five years from now, you might divorce and then it becomes a different person, but it’s still monogamy because it’s one person.

I would say, as a guideline, to define the kind of relationship that you want and define what monogamy means for you. When you say to somebody, point-blank, “Watching porn has the same effect on me as a man cheating on me.” That’s a pretty solid clear statement.

If he decides to go home that night and view porn, or when you’re further along in your relationship, he views porn, he is knowingly and willingly doing the thing that you said is cheating.

Sexual Coercion = Lying (Or Withholding Information) About His Sexual Behavior

Anne: Yeah, and I think going even further then that, saying, “This is what I see as monogamy and this is how I define it, and if someone is lying to me about their sexual behavior and hiding that from me or manipulating me to make me think that it’s not happening when it is, that is sexual coercion. That is sexual abuse, and I do not want to be sexually abused. You would be doing that.”

When I was really young—I can’t remember how old I was—my mom was telling me about rape. She said, “If anyone is raping you, I want you to look them in the eye and I want you to strongly and forcefully say, ‘This is rape and I will prosecute.’”

She had me say that and had me repeat that several times and we role-played a little bit. That’s what she wanted me to say. I want women to say that too. “This is what sexual coercion is, and I will be very hurt, and it will be sexual abuse. If you want to participate in that then you either go on your merry way or you tell me but, if I find out, that’s what you would have done to me.”

Trust Your Gut, Always

Jessica: Calling it like it is and being really strong in that, I think, is very important. That’s part of setting the boundary and owning your power. I do think women find themselves in situations, though, that without proof—as you know, there’s a lot of gaslighting and manipulation going on—we might sense that there’s porn use, especially if we come from a history of that kind of betrayal.

We have a spidey-sense. We know something is wrong, the hair on the back of our neck stands up, just somethings off, so we might start thinking like that or talking about that and, if you don’t have proof on it, the person might just be like, “That’s not happening, this is all in your head, what are you gauging this on?”

Then it’s really important, to be honest, and say, “I am gaging it on this behavior, X, Y, Z behavior.” and just open up that dialogue and be like, “Look, here is how I’m feeling. Come help explore with me where that is coming from? Yeah, I don’t have proof, but I can tell you somethings off and I want to explore that.”

Women Are Hurt By Sexism, Pornography, and Objectification: Men, Be Compassionate

The problem is, with a lot of men, they start to feel blamed and accused and, a lot of times, they’ll go running for the hills because they feel like, “Wow, she’s paranoid, this is not really happening, nothing bad is happening.”

Here’s what I would say about that. If he is a healthy person and worth his salt and he knows your wounds, he knows that you have betrayal trauma, he knows that you’re a woman in this culture who is constantly affronted by these sexual images, by cheating, by the way, men objectify women, all of that. There needs to be a certain level of empathy and compassion, on the part of men towards women.

We are a class of people who deal with this trauma every single day. Like driving down the highway passing a Hooters sign or a strip club sign, it’s an affront. That’s sexism blatantly out and normalized in society and that hurts me as a woman. It’s offensive.

If you’re going to make somebody feel safe, you need to reassure them. You need to hear what they’re saying, hear what they’re feeling, and talk to them about it and reassure them. If there is nothing going on, hear her, understand her wounds, understand her trauma, and be with her in that. Say, “Yeah, I get it. You’re scared because you got burned before, you’re scared because you were lied to for ten years.”

All humans, relational human beings, walk around with wounds. Things from our past that are a sensitive spot, our Achilles’ heel, if you will, and it’s important for a partner or prospective partner or a committed partner to know what those places are. What those sensitive spots are and treat them kindly.

Your Partner’s Job: To Create Safety

That’s what I would say to men who are listening or women who want to pass this on to the men in their lives is that you may feel accused, you may feel like you want to run for the hills because this person is coming at you, but you have to remember they’re the one who is feeling unsafe. They need to feel safe.

Here’s what I say everybody’s job is in a relationship: to help your partner feel safer. I know that might be a controversial statement, but I do think that.

Anne: Yeah, I was going to say, depending on what the behaviors are right. If you’re being manipulated and abused and you don’t know it, you’re trying to attach or trying to help him feel safer because so many abusive men will say, “Well, she doesn’t make me feel safe,” but that’s just part of his manipulation tactics, so it gets really, really tricky.

We are going to pause the conversation here and continue with Jessica next week.

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Until next week, stay safe out there.

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