Sexplain It: My Partner Won’t Stop Masturbating to Other People’s Nudes

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I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical manwhore (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I’m here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn’t just “communicate with your partner,” because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.

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Dear Sexplain It,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for about two years now and up until recently, everything has been great. We get along really well and have sex a few times a week. We totally trust each other, except for this one thing that’s been bugging me lately.

While we’ve been quarantining together, I found out my boyfriend receives a lot of nudes from guys on Instagram and Snapchat, both unsolicited and solicited. When I caught him in the act, I told him I felt weird about it. He said it was a recent thing he started doing. Sometimes he looks at them when he masturbates, but that’s it. He said it’s no different than porn, and it’s not like he’s planning of cheating on me with any of these guys. Obviously, I don’t care if he looks at porn—we often watch porn together. But this feels different.

I’m a little suspicious, but I don’t know if I’m being jealous for no real reason. I feel like people are super horny during quarantine, and some guys are just really comfortable sending nudes. I don’t want to overreact or seem possessive, but at the same time, I’m not sure that if this is actually a big deal. Am I overreacting, or is our relationship in trouble? Does he still want to be with me? What should I do?

— Trouble in Paradise


Dear TIP,

“Overreacting” means having an unreasonably over-the-top response to something relatively benign. You are not overreacting. (In fact, I think you’re being pretty chill about this, TBH.)

You’ve just learned that your partner asks other men to send him nudes, and he masturbates to them. You’re uncomfortable, and you’re concerned about the future of your relationship—and rightfully so! The thing is, your partner didn’t tell you himself about his new passion for collecting nudes from thirsty gays. Lord knows he easily could have, as you’re both stuck in quarantine together. He could have called to you from the other room and said, “Hey, Trouble in Paradise (I’m assuming that’s also what he calls you), come look at this dick pic a rando messaged me on Instagram!” (Note: While I’m not typically in favor of sharing someone else’s nudes, I think if someone is handing them out like candy, then you’re free to share away.)

But that’s not what happened! You caught him in the act. His omission of the truth—or his lie, depending on your moral compass—proves that he was hiding something. And it makes sense that you still feel uneasy, even after talking to him about it. He didn’t say, “Yeah, I see why this bothers you, and I’m happy to stop soliciting nudes. But just so you know, I’m just using them to jerk off. Our relationship is still great!” Instead, he was like, “It’s not a big deal. Stop worrying.” Uh, not helpful!

I showed your message to Dr. Daryl Appleton, a psychotherapist and fortune 500 executive coach, and she seems concerned about your boyfriend’s dismissive attitude.

“The red flag I see has less to do with viewing and getting nudes and more in the potential brush-off you received from your partner,” Appleton says. “While it doesn’t sound like he is cheating on you, it does sound like he did not validate your feelings around the situation.”

And for the record, your boyfriend’s claim that receiving nudes is the same as watching porn is total bullshit. The two activities are different in so many ways. When you watch porn, you’re not engaging with the performers on the screen. When you’re soliciting nudes, you’re actually messaging back and forth with someone—not to mention that the guy sending nudes is likely asking for your boyfriend to reciprocate with nudes of his own. That’s the etiquette. Your boyfriend can’t just ask for a nude, get one, and then when the guy messages, “Send me something,” go on and reply, “Oh, I can’t. I have a boyfriend. Thanks though! I’ll be thinking of you next time I bust in the shower!”

I’m also assuming your partner doesn’t just receive the nudes and not reply. He probably says something along the lines of, “Damn, you look so sexy.” The conversation might even escalate to full-on sexting.

young man lying on bed looking at smartphone

Ophòlie FasGetty Images

And even if your boyfriend says he doesn’t plan on cheating on you with these people, the possibility is still there. These guys could send your boyfriend their address. (I mean, I wish porn stars would send me their address asking me to bone, but sadly, that’s not how it works when you watch a pre-recorded video.) That shit doesn’t happen with porn, and I bet that’s why he likes getting nudes: because it is so clearly different than watching porn.

So, is your relationship in trouble? Yes, but you can fix it—as long as your partner is down to put the work in, too. First things first, he dismissed you, and you’re going to have to address that. I also wouldn’t be surprised if your boyfriend is unknowingly dealing with a bigger issue—in other words, maybe he’s not aware that getting nudes is fulfilling some deeper need. Perhaps he isn’t satisfied sexually? He hasn’t felt connected to you in quarantine? Something else?

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To get to the bottom of allllll this, try saying something along these lines: “I know we previously spoke about this, but I still feel really uncomfortable knowing that you’re receiving nudes. I know you said it’s just like porn, but to me, it’s not, since you’re actually talking and engaging with these men. It makes me worried that you’re not satisfied with our relationship and are looking for other men to be with. I’m having a hard time trusting you and believing that everything is fine between us. And I would like us to get back on the same page. Can we talk about it?”

The best-case scenario is that he stops with the nudes, because they make you uncomfortable, and he opens up about how he’s been feeling lately. The worst-case scenario is that he doubles down, saying everything is fine, and that receiving nudes is no indication of any larger problem in your relationship. In which case…fuck this dude. I’d break up with him. I know that may sound a little extreme, but he’s dismissing your feelings and refusing to work with you on a problem (and likely is hiding something).

That said, I really, really don’t think it’ll get there. You two seemed to have a great relationship before all this. I’m just laying out options for all potential scenarios. If he refuses to stop soliciting nudes from random dudes and makes you feel shitty for asking him to stop, then yeah, dump his ass. (FYI: Here are some tips for how to break up with your partner while in quarantine.)

Zachary Zane is a Brooklyn-based writer, speaker, and activist whose work focuses on lifestyle, sexuality, culture, and entertainment.

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