The Impact of Pornography on Women

Social Science Findings and Clinical Observations

Over the last several years, I’ve grown quite an appreciation for the work of Dr. Jill Manning. Dr. Manning is a licensed marital and family therapist who has worked with the Heritage Foundation researching the subject of pornography’s impact on society and family.

In a statement at Princeton University in association with the Witherspoon Institute’s “The Social Costs of Pornography,” she mentions three groups of women she has worked with who have been negatively impacted by pornography: (1) adolescent females exposed to pornography from a young age, (2) adult female consumers of pornography, and (3) wives of consumers.

What Dr. Manning says about her work with wives is most intriguing:

Instead of the traditional “other woman” (or, heaven forbid, women), the spouse of a pornography user is betrayed with hundreds, if not thousands, of fantasy images that invite her into thinking she doesn’t measure up. […] The discovery of this problem in a marriage is uniquely devastating, evoking an intense range of emotions. In fact, research supports that this is just as painful, if not more so, than a traditional affair. Hence it’s not surprising that we are seeing an increase in divorces relating to this issue.

To understand the psychological, spiritual, and relational harm pornography use evokes, we must keep the cultural context in mind for these women. North American women […] are socialized to seek after, if not expect, marital and intimate relationships that are based on equality, and partnerships founded on mutual respect, honesty, shared power, and romantic love verses family arrangement. In stark contrast, pornography promotes and eroticizes power and balances, discrimination, disrespect, abuse, voyeurism, objectification, and detachment—all of which represent the antitheses of marital ideals for Western women.

Consequently when a North American woman discovers her spouse is using and viewing pornography secretly, it is not only devastating to her sense of self as a woman, and her sense of trust, but it can threaten the very foundation upon with she has constructed her relational world—not just with her spouse, but the larger world around her. Moreover, she is suddenly confronted with just how psychologically split her so-called “modern man” is.

To add insult to injury, these women face a myriad of misconceptions and assumptions about why their husbands view pornography. Things like: “She must have let herself go.” “If she were more sexually available, he wouldn’t be turning to pornography.” “They must have a bad marriage.” “He’s just more open-minded and sexually creative than her.” Etc. Etc. It is not surprising then to discover that the majority of these women experience intense isolation due to the judgment, shame, blame, and implications of disclosure. As a result many of these women do experience psychological and spiritual crises, as they grapple with who to turn to and what to do.

It has been troubling and intriguing to me how many times I encounter derogatory beliefs about this group of women, beliefs that dismiss the magnitude of the issue and the legitimacy of it, by framing them as pathological, overreacting, and frigid women who need to lighten up. “After all, he’s just looking?”

The irony is profound. The wives who experience normal reactions—healthy reactions—to betrayal and deceit on many fronts are patholigized, while the porn stars—who are commonly drug addicted, sexually traumatized, and dealing with a range of psychiatric problems, commonly—are “simply performers” who help men have a safe outlet for extra-marital fantasy. Neither group of women win.

Over the last several years we’ve heard from hundreds of women who are hurting because of their husband’s porn use. If the comments from wives throughout our blog are any indication, there is a great need today for safe communities where women may freely express their hurt, frustration, and confusion, and receive counseling.

For more resources, visit our page for wives.