Ask the Doctors: I Found Naked Pics On My Boyfriend’s Computer

I found really sleazy pics of a girl my boyfriend knows when I was checking mail on his computer. They were graphic close-ups and even though he said they’re no big deal, I’m devastated. He said he’s never slept with her, but I don’t believe him. Why would she send him crotch shots then? I’m freaking out, I need advice! He told me he’s known her for fifteen years and she’s just a crazy whore who gets drunk and sends him pics, he doesn’t care about them. But I found them offensive. He said it will never happen again but he was okay with it happening in the first place, and he didn’t want me to be able to see his email because he knew they were there and didn’t want her to stop sending them. How do I know for sure? It’s been going on for as long as we have been dating. I can’t understand how they can have this kind of relationship, and this is not the first time I have found naked pics from other women. He knows how I feel about it, yet he let this go on — cuz he thought I would never find out? I am so confused… I know I should probably dump him, yet I want to forgive it but I am not sure that I can… What do I do?
–Not a Prude, But…

I don’t find graphic crotch pictures problematic except in context, and in this context they definitely are: first because they upset you so much and he isn’t clear about this boundary with you; second because he terms a long-time friend of his a “crazy drunk whore” — wonder how she’d feel about knowing that? She’d either say “ha ha, yes I am, I’ve been pestering him with snatch pictures for 15 years, it’s sooooo funny,” or she’d be well and truly (and rightfully) pissed off that he spoke ill of her to you to save his ass in an argument. And it surely does sound a little suspicious that someone he isn’t intimate with (or interested in being intimate with) would be sending him unsolicited junk pictures. Not out of the realm of possibility — but if he didn’t want them, he’d delete them or tell her not to send them in the first place. While it’s not unlike a guy (and for that matter many girls) to be interested in explicit genital pictures, there are plenty of them to be found on the Internet. And it’s possible for him not to have sex with someone whose junk pix he has; but if he’s keeping them, he pretty much can’t say there’s no sexual interest.

This is one of those situations where you can communicate how it hurts you and feels like it breaks your agreements, and I think you should have that conversation with him. But you should also consider whether this behavior is a relationship deal-breaker and make sure he knows what your boundaries in fact are, and he needs to tell you whether he agrees to them. This sounds like one of those “Well, she never told me I could never have a female friend who’d send me pictures, I didn’t ask for them in the first place, it’s not my fault” situations; if you have to spell out every last thing you can’t handle, trust is really a moving target, but neither are most partners mind-readers, no matter how much we wish they were.

He may think of this essentially as a porn collection that just happens to be from someone he knows. He truly may not think it is a big deal. The real issue is how he responds to your feelings. If he tries to minimize them, instead of being good about understanding that it hurts you, that would be the biggest red flag to me.

Here’s the thing — if he’s great to you in all other ways and can manage to convince you, in your hurt and skepticism, that he really just does keep nekkid-woman pix whenever he gets them because they’re fun to have… again, this is not a super-unusual thing. Maybe it’s not a fabulous policy for a man in a relationship, and maybe he’s not  terribly mature about this issue, but if he’s open with you about discussing it and he understands why it would make you upset, you can likely find a way to forgive and trust him. But if this feels like the tip of the iceberg to you and he isn’t really the best boyfriend in other respects either, that’s another matter entirely; consider this a useful, if painful, red flag.

To be clear, I wouldn’t find this scene to be a problem if you and he had an agreement that it was cool to look but don’t touch, or whatever — some couples agree to open relationships, for heaven’s sake, so a photo would not likely be a big deal to everyone. But you do not have such an agreement, you are hurt, and he knows that — and this isn’t the first time this has come up, either. So at the very least I find this a symptom of big incompatibility between the two of you re: expectations, and he seems unwilling to change what’s normal for him as a single guy to acknowledge that he’s a partnered guy now. This is something that you two could probably get though with some couples counseling, but for that to happen, he’d have to want to go and you’d have to at least be on the same page that you both want to put some effort into preserving and improving your relationship. In the meantime, if you aren’t using condoms with him, you might want to consider it.

I almost never recommend flat-out that people break up, unless it seems like there is an actual abusive situation and safety is an issue. But I will also tell you I don’t think it’s good to stay in a relationship where you feel hurt and disrespected, unless the other party is clearly, in good faith, trying to get better in communication with you. People can almost always move in a positive direction if both of them want to, and want to work on it. It’s entirely possible, I should remind you, that if you sat down with him in front of a counselor and began to process this situation, he might respond by wanting an apology from you for looking at his email.

That’s the thing about boundaries — pretty much everyone has them, they are sometimes completely different, and we need to figure out how boundaries having to do with separate issues can be made compatible. And that kind of tune-up would be the specialty of a couples’ counselor.

I am sending you my hopes for a resolution to this that feels good to both of you.


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Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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