How Porn Is Damaging Relationships


Countless couples are trying to figure out how to deal with pornography in their relationship. Some couples report that they use pornography to enhance their sexual relationship. Other couples choose to avoid using pornography completely in their marriage. A third group of couples are discovering that they don’t agree about the use of pornography in their relationship or any other time.

Due to the proliferation of pornography via the Internet and other media outlets, countless couples are being forced to respond to pornography. What happens when one partner wants to view pornography independent of the relationship? What does this solo attempt at sexual gratification mean to the relationship? Should it be a threat to a partner? Or should a partner just accept that viewing porn is the norm?

Many people argue that porn is just a part of our society and society should lighten up and not make such a big deal about viewing it. After all, it is just another form of entertainment. Those who follow this line of thinking should also be willing to entertain these questions: 1) Under what circumstances does viewing pornography trigger trauma in a partner? 2) How does viewing pornography influence the consumers’ day-to-day emotions and in turn how they approach their relationships? 3) Under what circumstances does viewing porn harm a relationship?

Those who are against a partner using pornography solo or in a relationship should be willing to explore the answers to these questions: 1) Why does a partner’s involvement in pornography trigger trauma? 2) Why do some people experience trauma while others do not? 3) How does my approach to my partner’s involvement in pornography influence our relationship?

While mental health and addiction experts argue about whether pornography can be addictive or not, we are ignoring what real people are saying about pornography and what it is doing to their lives. In an attempt to answer to that question, more than 4,000 people have been asked and completed an online survey. These are people who are seeking help because pornography has had a negative impact on their personal lives and their relationships.

What are these people telling us?

First, individuals who want to stop viewing pornography are having a difficult time doing so. Their frequency of viewing pornography (3-5 times a week or more) is related to elevated depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Those who view frequently also experience less overall happiness and life satisfaction. These are the results of research with more than 3,000 married and single men and women.

Second, women who discover their partner’s sexual behaviors are experiencing tremendous amounts of fear and anxiety related to their partner’s involvement in pornography. Here are four specific examples:

1.  Question: I experience intense feelings of indescribable fear since discovering my partner’s sexual behaviors.

    Results: 75 percent of women (791 out of 1062 respondents) answer that at least half of the time they experience intense feelings of fear.

2.  Question: Since discovering my partner’s behavior, when I see sexually suggestive images I feel anxious.

Results: 80 percent of the women (833 out of 1062 respondents) answer that at least half of the time or more they are anxious when they see sexually suggestive images.

3.  Question: When I am in social settings I don’t feel like I belong anymore.

Results: 62 percent of the women (607 ouf of 1062 respondents) answer that at least half of the time they don’t feel like they belong in social settings.

4. Question: I feel like I am emotionally on edge more now than I used to be before all this happened.

Results: 84 percent of the women (889 ouf of 1062 respondents) report that at least half of the time they are emotionally on edge in contrast to what they felt before they discovered their partner’s behaviors.

What we see with these responses is fear, anxiety, avoidance of social bonding, and being emotionally on edge.

Individuals trapped in pornography are not doing well, and their partners are not doing any better. The evidence is clear in this sample of more than 4,000 individuals that involvement in pornography is hurting individuals and their relationships.

The struggle to make sense of pornography use in committed relationships is not an issue that is going to go away. Therapists from around the world have contacted me about dealing with relationship issues stemming from pornography use. The most common situation has to do with a man hiding his involvement in pornography until his wife finds him viewing it. In this situation, a common one in today’s society, the wife is often shocked, hurt, and angry. On the other hand, the man doesn’t know what to say. After all how should he respond? “I enjoy viewing pornography; please don’t let it worry you.” Or, “I am sorry I just don’t know how to stop.” Neither response is comforting to an anxious mind that doesn’t know how to make sense of solo pornography consumption.

The challenges couples and society face regarding this issue are real. Far too many couples don’t know how to deal with pornography in their relationship. My research indicates that many women are experiencing trauma and men are struggling with compulsive behaviors and other mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. These real-life challenges make relationship bonding and connection much more difficult.

Is it fair to say that porn is harming relationships? It is for thousands of individuals who have shared their stories with me.

In my next blog I am going to share a theory of why pornography use is triggering a traumatic response in partners.

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