Inside Porn Addiction

The path to healthy intimacy.

How Porn Really Affects Relationships

New surveys uncover deeper pain and concern.

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Countless couples are trying to figure out how to deal with pornography within their relationship. Some couples report using pornography to enhance their sexual relationship. Others aim to completely avoid using it. And a third group are discovering that they don't agree about the use of 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 seen as a threat to a partner? Or should a partner just accept that viewing porn is the norm?

Many people, in fact, argue that porn is just a part of our society and that we should not make such a big deal about it. To this group, porn is just another form of entertainment. But they 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?

Similarly, those who are against a partner using pornography either solo or within a relationship should be willing to explore 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 debate whether pornography can be addictive, we may be ignoring what real people are saying about pornography and its effect on their lives. More than 4,000 people who had sought help because pornography had a negative impact on their personal lives or relationships have completed an online survey. 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 it frequently also experience less overall happiness and life satisfaction. These are the results of research on more than 3,000 married and single men and women.

Second, women who discover their partner's involvement in pornography report experiencing tremendous amounts of fear and anxiety. Here are four specific statements to which this group responded:

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

    75 percent of women (791 of 1,062 respondents) answer that at least half of the time they experience intense feelings of fear.

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

    80 percent of the women (833 of 1,062 respondents) answer that at least half of the time or more they are anxious when they see sexually suggestive images.

  3. When I am in social settings I don't feel like I belong anymore.

    62 percent of the women (607 of 1,062 respondents) answer that at least half of the time they don't feel like they belong in social settings.

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

    84 percent of the women (889 of 1,062 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 in these responses is fear, anxiety, avoidance of social bonding, and feeling emotionally on edge. Individuals using pornography are not doing well, and their partners are not doing any better. The evidence is clear, from 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 going to go away. Therapists from around the world have contacted me about dealing with relationship issues stemming from pornography use, the most common involving a man hiding his use of pornography until his wife finds him viewing it. In this situation, becoming common in today's society, the wife is often shocked, hurt, and angry—and 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 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 many men are struggling with compulsive behaviors and other mental health concerns 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 the thousands of individuals who have shared their stories with me. 

 

Note: In the past, individuals have questioned my data. This is a self-selected sample of men and women seeking personal guidance and help in dealing with pornography in their lives. Because this sample is self-selected, it should be clear that I am not saying these results apply to all of society. However, what is clear is that consuming pornography is harming many relationships in our society. I believe that we all should be concerned about the negative impact it is having upon individuals, couples, and society.

Kevin B. Skinner, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the author of Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery.

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