Does Watching Pornography Have an Effect on Marriage?

Surprising results from a recent porn-watching survey.

Posted Jul 06, 2018

All sorts of things cross my desk and my screen, seeking me out because I write about sex and relationships. One that popped up a few weeks ago had a bold headline: Study Says Divorce Rates Double When Married People Watch Adult Entertainment. This study was about married people who watched it alone, not together, which implied sneaking

The people who conducted the survey are not against porn in general, and neither am I, but I do have a lot of quibbles with secret watching, hiding it from one’s partner. What might be the reasons that such a simple “sin” might be connected with (but not necessarily causing) divorce?

  • The person watching might have a kink that s/he hasn’t shared with the partner.
  • The partner might have strong feelings against such films.
  • The partner might see watching porn as cheating.
  • The watcher might expect the partner’s body or responses to mirror porn actors'.
  • The porn watcher might, without discussion, try some of the moves from the films as an unpleasant surprise to the partner.

I’m sure there are more reasons, but what these all have in common is that there is a major sexual secret being withheld from the partner, and that doesn’t bode well for the couple’s sex life. A discussion about pornography hasn’t been initiated, and it needs to be.

In most cases of infidelity that wind up in my counseling office, the wronged party usually says something like, “It’s not so much that you had sex with someone else; it’s that you lied to me!” The same could certainly be said about watching pornography and sneaking. The spouse feels betrayed and perhaps cheated upon because of the secretiveness and the avoidance of talking about it since it also is about sex. Some people may see a partner watching pornography as actually cheating, even with no live flesh involved.

The partner of a secret porn watcher may feel deceived, inadequate next to the porn actors, humiliated by the comparisons, and all these things because a secret has been kept. So if you are the one who watches in secret, there is one thing to do to avoid a dreadful fight if you are found out: begin a discussion in which you fess up before that happens. “There is something I haven’t told you because I was afraid you might be upset by it.” Then off you go. Be prepared to at least try to answer the perhaps impossible to explain: Why do you do it?

Your partner might be upset that you didn’t invite her/him to watch with you, that it was something sexual you didn’t choose to share. The upset might be that you’re watching films with a focus on something the two of you don’t do together, or the anger might be about imagined comparisons between your mate and exaggerated porn actor bodies. 

If any or all of these are true, own up to it with reassurances to your partner: “Yes, I like to watch men with big penises, but that does not mean I don’t love you or that I’m not satisfied with our sex.” Or use this to talk about an unpleasant truth: “I’m afraid I find our sex life a bit dull. Since you are unwilling to try any new positions or activities, I turn to porn.” 

Then the partner has a choice to make. It might open up new, honest discussions about your joint sex life.