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Rebuild Your Marriage 7 minute read

Yes, Using Porn Is Cheating. Here’s Why.

Last Updated: January 12, 2024

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this post do not reflect the official stance of Covenant Eyes. While recognizing the reality of brokenness caused by pornography, Covenant Eyes celebrates restored relationships whenever possible. We recommend our article 6 Powerful Stories of Marriages that Overcame Porn if you are looking for encouragement!

I’ve heard it said that there are men who don’t look at porn, and then there are men who are breathing. If recent surveys are any indication, porn use has become the norm among men, not the exception.

Still, I get a lot of questions from women who are feeling the heartbreaking impact of porn on their marriages. To them porn feels like cheating, and for good reason.

It is.

I understand why many don’t think this is true (reasons I’ll address below), but first, it is important that I define some terms.

By “using porn” I don’t mean merely seeing it. It’s hard not to walk about in public places or go online without seeing something that is at least meant to titillate the eyes of men. When I say “using” I mean intentionally taking porn in through one’s senses with the intention of being turned on and then, most likely, masturbating or at least getting sexually aroused.

By “cheating” I mean that using porn is breaking a vow—either implicitly or explicitly—made to one’s spouse. This is because marriage is, in part, about sexual exclusivity; it is about “forsaking all others.”

The Slippery Porn Slope

Take some steps with me down a morally slippery slope.

Step 1: Let’s say I were to visit a prostitute and have sex with her. That would be cheating on my wife. I assume no one would debate me on this point.

Step 2: However, let’s say that when I met with the prostitute we didn’t actually touch each other: I just watched her have sex with someone else while I masturbated in the same room. (Weird, I know. But just go with it.) Would that be cheating? Both in this case and in the previous case I am seeking the services of a prostituted woman for sexual pleasure—seeking out and enjoying the body of a woman who is not my wife in order to be sexually gratified.

Could a man rightly say, “Yes, I pleasured myself in front of a hooker, but we didn’t touch each other. I stayed faithful to you”? I don’t think so. The pretense of no physical contact doesn’t matter because the action still violates the spirit of sexual exclusivity.

Step 3: However, let’s say I didn’t visit the prostitute in person but only interacted with her online through erotic video chat. Let’s say I masturbated during the chat session while using the video image as the source of my fantasy. Is this cheating? Has the lack of physical proximity suddenly changed the situation that it is no longer breaking my marriage vow? I don’t think so.

Step 4: Now let’s say that instead of engaging in the video chat live, the prostitute recorded herself for me so I could masturbate at my convenience. Is this still cheating? Am I now suddenly remaining faithful to my marriage vows because someone hit the record button? No. That’s just stupid.

Step 5: Now let’s say the prostitute has a business card with a fancy title on it: “Pornographic Actress.” She even has a website with a resume listing of all the films she’s been in. Her pimp—I mean, agent—pays taxes and everything. Totally legit. Let’s say I reach out to this prostitute and pay her to view her recorded videos which she gladly sells me. Is this cheating? Does the change in title and the veneer of professionalism change the nature of the act? No.

Step 6: Now let’s say that this entire enterprise is industrialized so that this woman is part of a large network of other prostitutes who are doing the same thing. Much like walking into a brothel, I can pick the woman I want when I want, pay my fee, and enjoy her body for my lustful purposes. Is this cheating? What about the industrialized nature of the product changes the nature of the act? Nothing.

And on this last step we have arrived at what the modern porn industry is. This is why using pornography is cheating. It is engagement with a digital prostitute despite one’s vow to forsake all others.

Hold On, I’m Not Convinced.

I can hear the screeching of mental breaks right about now. Many are thinking, “Wait a second. Something major has shifted between the first scenario and the last. No one sees porn as digital prostitution. If this was the way our culture understood porn, it might be one thing. But very few people who watch porn go online thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get sexual gratification from a digital prostitute.'”

This is a good objection. After all, motive and intention count for something when it comes to the promises or vows we make. If I sign a contract saying I will not share proprietary information from my employer, but then forward a work e-mail along to a friend, not knowing it counts as “proprietary,” I’m not guilty of intentionally breaking my promise (even if my employer has grounds to fire me). Someone who uses porn might think along the same lines: “I’m just watching video clips made by actors and actresses, not intentionally seeking digital interactions with a prostitute.”

I agree, but motives only carry some of the weight when it comes to our moral decisions. The above slippery slope is not as much about motives as it is about the nature of the actions. Behind the making of pornography are real people really selling themselves for the sexual gratification of viewers. The medium doesn’t change the fact that a prostituted woman was used for her body and sex appeal, no matter the viewer’s understanding of the act.

This is why so many women say using porn feels like cheating: the act of seeking out another woman for sexual pleasure—even if she is hidden behind a veil of pixels and a sleazy acting agency—is not a movement towards faithfulness, but away from it.

[Tweet “Seeking out porn is engagement with a digital prostitute. #pornischeating”]

Why Cheating Matters (and Why It Doesn’t)

However, by saying that using porn is breaking a marriage vow, I am not prescribing a specific reaction we should have to it. The six-step slippery slope presents six different scenarios, each having their own gravity of offense. They may all be cheating, but they all show different levels of intensity.

We need to turn the tables on those who ask, “Is using porn cheating?” and address why it matters.

  • For some, when they ask, “Is using porn cheating?” they bring a lot of baggage with the question. They think, “Since porn is cheating, I can never forgive you.” “Since porn is cheating, I have grounds to divorce you—and I will.” “Since porn is cheating, I will lash out and cheat on you.” These dispositions are, quite frankly, completely separate issues to address. To say a man has broken his marriage vow by seeking out porn is one thing. To say that he cannot be forgiven, that he should be divorced, or that he deserves revenge are other matters altogether.
  • For others, when they ask, “Is using porn cheating?” they simply want their spouse to know that when they said, “I do,” they expected a spirit of monogamy. Yes, the world is full of sexual temptations. Yes, they know their spouse is full of hormones and attracted to other people walking about in the world. But they expected to be the focus of their spouse’s sexual energy, attention, and devotion. When they vowed to “forsake all others,” that is what they promised and what they expected in return.

The Heart of the Matter

Two facts lie at the heart of the issue.

First, people often desire the perks of marriage, but marriage vows are not taken seriously. As such, we find ourselves straddling two worlds. In one world, we embrace an idyllic picture of finding “the one,” growing old together, loving and serving another person until death we do part. In the other world, we enjoy the convenience and self-centeredness of solo-sex in front of the computer screen. These two worlds mix like oil and water in our miry hearts. Before long, you will either have to abandon pornography or abandon a genuine spirit of monogamy.

Second, people have been blinded by the sense of distance the digital world places between ourselves and the real world. We believe something doesn’t count as much if it is “online” or “on television” or “just fantasy.” We rename offenses: stealing becomes downloading, cruelty becomes speaking one’s mind, and exploitation becomes entertainment. We have settled for what Chris Hedges calls an empire of illusion. “Pornography does not promote sex, if one defines sex as a shared act between two partners. It promotes masturbation,” Hedges writes. “It promotes the solitary auto-arousal that precludes intimacy and love. Pornography is about getting yourself off at someone else’s expense.”

So, He’s Cheating. Now What?

If your husband (or wife) is engrossed in porn, you are right to feel like this is cheating. He is defrauding you of something that should be your exclusive domain. You are not a prude for thinking this. You just take your vows seriously, as everyone should.

But where do you go from here? Start by getting educated about the addictive nature of pornography and the steps other couples have taken to take a new direction. Read, “6 Common Questions Asked By Wives of Porn Addicts.”

  1. uracuck

    sounds like an article written by a white knight, judging by the photo of said author… I can see why he’d side with women. it’s the only way they’ll acknowledge his existence.

  2. A couple of yrs ago I noticed my husband was different in bed, ex certain positions and foreplay felt rushed and he seemed to not care if my needs were taken care of just his and started to have slight ED every once in a while .. So 1 day he needed help with something that kept popping up on his phone and he handed me his phone so I could help. Well I came across several adult websites on his history in the Google files. I asked him about it and of course he denied it, which infuriated me bc it was RIGHT THERE! So I showed him and he still denied it and claimed he didn’t know how it got there.. Yaaa oook.. It literally took me to get severely pissed before he finally admitted it.. He had been watching porn and getting off while I was staying at my parents to help my mom take care of my dad with cancer! I felt soooo betrayed and let down and it made feel like I wasn’t enough or doin it for him of that makes sense. He doesn’t see how it was a form of cheating but to me its the emotional connection he had with those women he watched to get off and to this day our sex life isn’t like ot should be.. I haven’t found anymore porn on his phone thank God but I still have hurt feelings about it and can’t let it go which is why I feel the need to check his phone if I’ve been gone for a night or if he has road calls that keep him away from home overnight or a couple days. Its like I lost the trust with him and we’ve been married for 24yrs.. So to me, watching porn and getting off IS cheating no matter which way its twisted..

  3. Sexless relationship

    In the first place, almost no men would watch porn if they were Sexualy satisfied. 😌
    That’s the problem here. 50%men are in a sexless relationship, then women would also deprive men from having solo pleasure, cos porn is not the only thing, they also shame solo-masturbating.
    Porn is for majority of men an arousal purpose so they can satisfy their needs that their wife or partner denied.

    I m not even talking of those women who use sex as a recompense or a punishment, so imagine if he’s going to satisfy himself with porn, the punishment fails lol.

    Well, women simply have to find another way to blame men for their own insecurities or failing to fulfill their needs. They will even wonder why their husband “changed”, irritable, angry, etc… 😌 After being rejected several times, a lot of things goes through your mind, you even wonder if she has even been sincere when she confessed her feelings towards you., if she has ever loved you.

    No women marry a man for his penis, well there might be some rare ones who do. And no man would marry a woman of he knew he would be imprisoned between a duty of loyalty and a sexless marriage.

    • Martin Reid

      I’m in a long term relationship *3 decades* with a wife *4 years * having physical and verified medical difficulties to actually engage like I would wish her capable to………………. I find your response a little too simplistic.
      Do I stop loving her because she’s not physically fit to make love to me any more?
      Should I banish her to the spare room whilst I move a more virile woman into the Bedroom?
      YES rejection can be brutal, yes we can become Irritable, moody, depressed, etc.
      Have you actually sat down and talked to Whomever wife, partner, gf, etc?

      If you truly believe that a lasting and genuine loving relationship is purely based on Physical Sexual Interaction?

  4. Yasmine

    V

  5. anonymous

    There is a lot of lying trash on the internet, but you’re definitely breaking all records. – the worst is that there are those who fall into your hateful trap.
    You should look for specialists to treat your dementia.

  6. anonymous

    In this case, that means that all women are cheaters, and almost without exception. (and it’s not worth lying, it’s the reality, since at least two out of three women do it, in the world. – precisely because all women like to see homosexual men doing it together).
    In any case, it’s the total opposite of what psychologists and doctors say…

  7. We can find freedom from sin

    🤍Thank you for writing this. The truth is this is hard to read. We dont want to believe that porn is cheating. I am a women and I sin with porn. So did my husband.

    💔So, When my husband and I began dating we talked about the sin issue of porn and we both agreed to NOT do it , and to keep each other accountable(that was a mistake! always always ALwAYs make sure your man has another godly man to be accountable to for this stuff)
    I checked in with him every month. He helped me when I struggled and he forgave when I confessed. I was able to abstain from it on the web due to The Lords help and my hubbys help during our marriage. After 5 years, my husband suddenly decided to leave to me. During our only session with a mediator with the divorce process, I then found out my husband had never given up porn.
    he told me “it never really stopped.”

    💔Men, or women, if this is you-please hear me. I understand part of how hard this is. This is an addiction and you NEED help and you are DESERVING of getting help. Please go after it. Don’t let guilt and shame keep you from coming before The Lord or from finding freedom and redemption from your sin. Walk freely. can you imagine being free of this?

    💔I was devastated. Finding out that I had been lied to every month for 5 years…after all the counsel my hubby gave me to overcome porn myself…
    it all makes sense why we had sex only once a month now. (and yes, I did “put out” Trust me, if it were up to me we would have had it at least every other day. ) Porn lead to masturbating, which lead to him wanting to please himself by himself( I would have been happy to at least watch him masturbate with no porn but he didnt want that either) which lead to “I’m too tired tonight babe” almost every single time. For 4 out of those 5 years of marriage.

    💔💔That road lead to him divorcing me.
    Because. Porn is an online affair of the heart.
    There is emotional cheating(where your spouse talks to someone they are attracted to and pursues them and flirts with them all while keeping it a SECRET from you on PURPOSE) and there is online cheating and affairs, and then there are physical affairs. Which lines up with this article. But most importantly, with Jesus himself. Who calls us to live faithfully in every regard, not just one. We cant sin “just a little bit” as if it doesnt count as sin.
    sin is sin.
    an affair is an affair.
    what kind of affair? Thats for you to answer.
    and then know that the consequences will vary-but the outcome is the same.

    ❤️You and I, we either choose to repent, or remain where we are.

    💔❤️‍🩹❤️To the wives or husbands who get my story, hang in there. Please. It may feel like we are worth less than trash , but that is a lie. We make it through by talking to our friends and confiding and seeking wise counsel in them and The Lord. Surround yourself with like minded people during this time.
    dark thoughts will come.
    Hang on to the promise of Light.
    💔❤️‍🩹❤️🙏🏻😌

    #pornischeating

  8. Smarter then Christians

    Lol your article is stupid. And you bible thumpers are just plain dumb. Also most of what you described is not watching porn.

  9. king rocker

    Leave it to religious nuts to define good sex life. Go away, nutcases.

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