Several studies have found that partners of porn users often report feeling loss, betrayal, mistrust, devastation, and anger when they learn that the other half of their committed relationship has been using porn. Many show physical symptoms of anxiety and depression.


 

Here’s an inconvenient truth: While porn is something users can choose to do on their own, that use doesn’t just affect them—it affects their partner too, and not for the better. Two of the most respected pornography researchers, professors Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillman at the University of Alabama, who have studied the effects of porn and media for more than 30 years, said that when it comes to porn use “no rigorous research demonstrations of desirable effects can be reported.” [1] In other words, in all the serious research that’s been done on porn, no one has found that it has any benefits. What several studies have found, however, is that porn use can cause serious damage not only to the user, but also to those closest to them—especially their partner. [2]

Studies have shown that even casual use of porn can cause the user to feel less attracted to their partner. [3] And when a person frequently uses pornography, they’re far more likely to feel less satisfied with their partner’s looks, sexual performance, and willingness to try new sexual acts. [4]

Why all the sudden disappointment with one’s partner? It’s likely due to the fact that porn promotes a completely fictional version of how people look and behave (See Porn Is a Lie), and makes it look like an exciting reality—one that their partners often feel they can never live up to. [5]

Given that the women depicted in porn are surgically enhanced, air-brushed, and photoshopped, [6] it’s not hard to see why, according to a national poll, that only one in seven women doesn’t think that porn has raised men’s expectations of how women should look. [7]

And it’s not only looks that are being depicted with unrealistic standards. In almost all porn, sex is all about men; [8] women are depicted as being happy with whatever a man wants to do, even if it’s dangerous, painful, or humiliating. [9] A study of the most popular porn videos found that nine scenes out of 10 showed women being verbally or physically abused, yet the female victims almost always responded with either pleasure or appeared to be neutral. [10] In even the most mainstream porn, the sex acts shown are overwhelmingly degrading toward women, and are usually geared toward enhancing male pleasure. [11] As a result, male porn users’ ideas of what sex should be are often warped [12] and their partners often report that they are asked to act out porn scripts or do things they’re not comfortable with or find demeaning. [13]

In interviews with college-age women, writer Naomi Wolf has found that in sexual relationships, women frequently feel that “they can never measure up, that they can never ask for what they want.” [14]

And the emotional pain can run much deeper than having a bad experience in the bedroom. Since women in our culture typically expect their intimate relationships to be built on trust, respect, honesty, and love, when a woman learns that her partner is using porn—which typically glorifies the opposite: disrespect, abuse, aggression, and infidelity—it can not only damage the trust she has in her partner, but also shake the foundation of everything she believed about her relationship. [15]

That pain can have very serious consequences. Several studies have found that women often report feeling loss, betrayal, mistrust, devastation, and anger when they learn that their partner in a committed relationship has been using porn. [16] Many women show physical symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some show signs of PTSD, and some even become suicidal. [17]

To make matters worse, the majority of women who learn of a partner’s pornography use isolate themselves at least somewhat from their normal sources of social support, just when they need those support systems most. [18] In many cases, women fear telling anyone at all, either because they’re embarrassed about it or they’re afraid of being blamed for their partner’s problem. [19]

For many partners, the blame can even come from themselves. One study of women in relationships with porn addicts found that while the women often felt their partner was uncaring or selfish, they also worried that somehow the problem was their fault. [20] And for many of the women, their partner’s porn use made them feel like the entire relationship was a complete farce. [21]

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[1] Zillmann, D. (2004). Pornografie. In R. Mangold, P. Vorderer, and G. Bente (Eds.) Lehrbuch der Medienpsychologie (pp.565–85). Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe Verlag.
[2] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 160; Ryu, E. (2004). Spousal Use of Pornography and Its Clinical Significance for Asian-American Women: Korean Women as an Illustration. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 16, 4: 75; Bridges, A. J., Bergner, R. M., and Hesson-McInnis, M. (2003). Romantic Partners’ Use of Pornography: Its Significance for Women. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 29, 1: 1–14; Bergner, R. and Bridges, A. J. (2002). The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications. Sex and Marital Therapy 28, 3: 193–206.
[3] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Bergner, R. and Bridges, A. J. (2002). The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications. Sex and Marital Therapy 28, 3: 193–206.
[4] Zillmann, D. and Bryant, J. (1988). Pornography’s Impact on Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 18, 5: 438–53.
[5] Bergner, R. and Bridges, A. J. (2002). The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications. Sex and Marital Therapy 28, 3: 193–206; Senn, C. Y. (1993). Women’s Multiple Perspectives and Experiences with Pornography. Psychology of Women Quarterly 17, 3: 319041.
[6] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction—a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 20767; Paul, Pamela. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 145.
[7] Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute.
[8] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 132.
[9] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085.
[10] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085.
[11] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085; Marshall, W. L. (2000). Revisiting the Use of Pornography by Sexual Offenders: Implications for Theory and Practice. Journal of Sexual Aggression 6, 1 and 2: 67.
[12] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 187; Layden, M. A. (2004). Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Science and Space, U.S. Senate, Hearing on the Brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction, November 18; Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health 27, 2: 41–44.
[13] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Ryu, E. (2004). Spousal Use of Pornography and Its Clinical Significance for Asian-American Women: Korean Women as an Illustration. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 16, 4: 75; Shope, J. H. (2004). When Words Are Not Enough: The Search for the Effect of Pornography on Abused Women. Violence Against Women 10, 1: 56–72.
[14] Wolf, N. (2004). The Porn Myth. New York Magazine, May 24.
[15] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[16] Bridges, A. J., Bergner, R. M., and Hesson-McInnis, M. (2003). Romantic Partners’ Use of Pornography: Its Significance for Women. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 29, 1: 1–14; Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of Cybersex Addiction on the Family: Results of a Survey. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 7, 1 and 2: 31–58.
[17] Steffens, B. A. and Rennie, R. L. (2006). The Traumatic Nature of Disclosure for Wives of Sexual Addicts. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 13, 2 and 3: 247–67; Wildmom-White, M. L. and Young, J. S. (2002). Family-of-Origin Characteristics Among Women Married to Sexually Addicted Men. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 9, 4: 263–73.
[18] Manning, J. C. (2010). The Impact of Pornography on Women: Social Science Findings and Clinical Observations. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 69–87). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[19] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Manning, J. C. (2010). The Impact of Pornography on Women: Social Science Findings and Clinical Observations. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 69–87). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Wildmom-White, M. L. and Young, J. S. (2002). Family-of-Origin Characteristics Among Women Married to Sexually Addicted Men. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 9, 4: 263–73.
[20] Bergner, R. and Bridges, A. J. (2002). The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications. Sex and Marital Therapy 28, 3: 193–206.
[21] Bergner, R. and Bridges, A. J. (2002). The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications. Sex and Marital Therapy 28, 3: 193–206.