DILEMMAS
This week's problem: Sandra cannot bear to touch her husband, after discovering a stash of pornography under their bed. He says it is none of her business - all "normal" men like it, and she is being a prude. She thought they had a marvellous sex life, and cannot understand why he likes the magazines, which show women in humiliating positions. Should she insist he gets rid of them?

Sandra should get real and acknowledge that all men are insatiable porn-addicts, and that their tacky habits are just something partners have to put up with - that was one response to her problem. The other went on the lines that Sandra was a hung-up prude, she should look at the magazines together with her husband, discuss what is obvious- ly wrong with their sex life and "spice it up by trying new positions".

What a funny bunch you are out there! While it may be true that most men, if they discover a pornographic magazine lying around, would look at it out of interest and perhaps get aroused - men tend to be stimulated by visual images, while women are more turned on by words and thoughts - the vast majority of men in relationships don't buy pornography.

Even if you take into account the Campaign Against Pornography's estimate that of the 500 pornographic magazines in this country, the top six sell 2.5 million a month, assuming these are mostly private multiple buys by single men, this still leaves most men reaching for their Sun or Spectator rather than the top shelf. The truth is that it's in the porn-buyer's interest to claim that everyone's at it; it makes them feel less guilty.

As for the idea that Sandra should try to get turned on by the pictures herself, too, what good would it do? If looking at a picture of a naked woman being flogged leaves her cold, then it leaves her cold. Men and women get their sexual buzzes from different things. It would be a rare man who would read romantic fiction aloud to his lover, to turn her on, without exploding with laughter; and if you completely turn the tables, a man shown pictures of hugely well-endowed males by a drooling woman (unlikely because women tend not to drool at pictures) could become extremely threatened, and some, even, temporarily impotent.

Sandra's husband's private sexual tendencies have nothing to do with her or their sex life. But this doesn't mean she has to tolerate seeing itlying around, or join in. It will be hard for her to forget that her husband gets turned on by humiliating pictures of women in pornographic postures, but this problem is not so much about sex as good manners. We women have a good hiding place for our sexual fantasies - our heads - and we only share the acceptable ones with our partners. We keep the cruel, creepy ones, or the scrummy ones about his best friend, to ourselves.

So, too, should he keep his magazines at the office, or buried in floorboards under the garden shed. As he rightly argues, they are his business, nothing to do with her. So keep it that way.

The wife who learnt to live with it

Several years ago, I discoveredtwo decades worth of S&M mags, novelettes, photos, videos, sex aids and underwear stashed away in a locked cupboard at the back of our large garage.I was actually sick in the gardenand, yes, I too trembled for days.

No, I didn't leave him. After all, where can one go with four young children without revealingone's discovery?

Sandra, this is something that he doesn't associate with you in any way. It's a habit that he keeps apart from you, which doesn't touch on any aspect of your life together and you must learn to distance yourself emotionally from it if your relationship is to survive. Your physical love for your husband may not.

You must concentrate on your husband's good qualities and think positively aboutyour life together. My husband is a dear sweet man - a good and loving husband and father of our four children who would never dream of doing anything to hurt any of us. Perhaps this escape has helped to keep him sane over the years, I don't know.

Ruth, Southampton

The unashamed

consumer

There is a simple course of action for the woman who found her husband's stash of pornography, complicated only by Britain's ridiculous obscenity laws, which make it so difficult to obtain explicit sexual material.

Assuming her husband is heterosexual, she should obtain some hard-core gay porn - the more extreme, the better - and leave it for him to find. These kind of images will make him as uncomfortable as his heterosexual porn made her feel.

Once he's seen how unnerving and unerotic porn can be, the playing field will be more level, and the talking can begin. It is a fraught and upsetting subject, but you can't shut Pandora's box once it is open.

The main problem with pornography is that it is so bad, playing on men's lowest common denominator. The solution to the problems of pornography is to produce better, more imaginative, sexier pornography. And the only solution to this particular problem is to get beyond the shame and furtive thrills and talk about why he - like most men, me included - reads this stuff. Good luck.

Julian Duplain, Kent

The husband and secret porn-reader

I sympathise with Sandra's incomprehension upon discovering her husband has an interest in pornography, but as one who could well find myself in her husband's position I also appreciate the difficulty he has in explaining his interest.

I have purchased soft pornography over a number of years despite having a happy and sexually satisfying marriage. It is something I am deeply ashamed of and always tried to hide as I regard myself (and am generally regarded by others) as being enlightened, liberal and sensitive.

What I would say to Sandra is that her husband's use of pornography does not reflect an inadequacy in his relationship with her. Pornography operates at a different level than loving sex. It is pure fantasy, which I think most men quickly realise is rather unrewarding.

But for others (and judging by the top shelf of most newsagents this must be quite a few) this child-like fascination is less easy to overcome.

I am far too ashamed to give my name.

Anon

NEXT WEEK'S DILEMMA

Dear Virginia,

My husband and I divorced last year. He had spent a lot of time working abroad, and hadn't seen much of our son, who is now three-and-a-half. But whenever he came home, our son absolutely worshipped him.

My now ex-husband has settled in England, has remarried and has access every Saturday. Although I find it extremely hard to speak to my husband, except through solicitors, because I'm still so hurt about the situation, I know he's a good dad and I've been happy for my son to see him.

The problem is that every time his dad picks him up he screams and screams, crying his little eyes out. His dad literally has to tear him off me. When he delivers him back, his dad claims the boy has enjoyed himself, but my son will tell me very little about what happens.

But every Friday night he clings to me, begging not to go to dad's the next day. Every weekend is more agonising for both of us. Should I stop him seeing his father?

Yours sincerely, Hilary

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with readers, let me know.

Comments