This is a topic that I feel very strongly about, but not having any background or personal experience with the subject, I've never approached it here on the blog. I was grateful when Diana reached out and offered to share this post with all of you because I feel like it's a subject that needs to be addressed more often in a world that is accepting pornography as "normal".
Is pornography harmful to relationships? Can porn be helpful and spice up relationships? There is growing research that is backing up serious negative impacts of pornography habits while at the same time, society is becoming more open, accepting and sexualized. To make things more complicated, the multi billion dollar pornography industry continues to make a powerful push for pron to be accepted as mainstream. There are likely individuals and couples who watch porn and don't have serious side effects, but the risks and increasing negative impacts cannot be ignored.
The opinion gap on how pornography impacts relationships continues to grow and ranges from recommending that couples watch pornography to saying that it will kill a marriage or relationship.
With so many different opinions and advice, it's hard to know what to believe. As a therapist specializing in relationships, sex and pornography, I have seen a steady increase in clients who have been negatively impacted by pornography. As pornography continues to be glamorized and pushed into mainstream, it is important to understand the real risks and impacts that it can have on us and our relationships.
How Pornography Can Negatively Impact Your Relationship
Pornography can hurt your sex life
The trend we are seeing more and more of is that couples who view pornography actually report less sexual satisfaction over time. Some couples started viewing pornography to spice things up but it quickly escalated and created more problems and issues in their relationship. While some couples do use pornography to spice up their sex lives or get in the mood, what we are seeing over time is that both partners are less satisfied with their sex life and some end up preferring pornography more than actually being with their partner. This theme has emerged when the couple was viewing porn together and when only one person was watching. After viewing pornography, people reported less satisfaction with their "partners' affection, physical appearance, sexual curiosity and sexual performance" (1).
Pornography can lead to less satisfaction with your partner
Couples and individuals who view pornography tend to be less satisfied with their partner, not just sexually, but overall (2). They have developed an attraction and arousal to the unrealistic people and scenes in pornography and their partner can never live up to this. This creates a dissatisfaction and discontent with their partner and the relationship. Because the scenes in pornography are not real and are extremely edited, using this as a measuring stick for a real person and relationship only leads to disappointment. Individuals who heavily view pornography tend to objectify and be much more critical towards their partners.
Pornography hurts your partner
If one partner is more critical, dissatisfied and holding a standard that cannot be met, it only makes sense that the other partner feels this immensely. In my practice, I have seen a huge increase in spouses coming in saying that they feel not good enough, less loved, unwanted and like they did something wrong. This takes a huge toll on their self-esteem and overall life satisfaction (3). Many women I have seen report feeling shocked and betrayed when they find out about their husband's addition. They continue to feel betrayed and not good enough every time he relapses or turns back to pornography. This can wreak havoc on both partners and the relationship. I have worked with many couples through this process and it is a difficult road even when both are committed and engaged. Pornography is not an easy habit to break and once someone is ready to quit, it still takes extended effort and treatment.
More extreme pornography is continually needed for the same "high"
This is a huge risk and negative impact for viewing pornography and is often overlooked. Just like a drug, over time more extreme pornography is needed for the same "high". Our brains are very adaptable and eventually the porn that once got us aroused will not have the same impact. We then start to see more and more extreme versions. The pornography industry knows this and uses it to get people hooked in and addicted. In a relationship this can play out in multiple ways, one partner may seek a high outside the relationship, want something that the other person is not comfortable with or it can lead to one or both partners seeking more extreme (and often violent) pornography on their own and not engaging with each other anymore. One couple I worked with started pornography together as a way to connect. The woman reported that after finding out that her husband was watching porn, she was curious and wanted to watch with him as a way to try and reconnect with him. He reported that at the time he was very happy about this and thought it was a win win. Eventually they said that they were essentially coming home and sitting in different rooms watching porn. They had lost their connection and attraction to each other, were spending massive amounts of time looking at pornography and both reported they now watched more extreme porn than they could have ever imagined. This scenario is not an uncommon one. Pornography can be addicted, brain altering and damaging to you and your relationships.
1. Zillmann, D. and Bryant, J. (1988), Pornography's Impact on Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18: 438-453.
2. Manning, J.C. (2006). The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 13, 2-3.
3. Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishers.