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Why Porn Hurts Marriages (and why marital sex is so much hotter than porn)

Last Updated: August 9, 2021

Sam Black

Sam Black joined the Covenant Eyes team in 2007 after 18 years as a journalist, serving as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines in six states. Sam is the author of The Porn Circuit, and he creates partnerships with like-minded organizations to strengthen the worldwide fight against pornography.

Porn argues that variety is the spice of life, but studies show that long-term sexual intimacy with a spouse is much more satisfying.

Porn tries to convince people that more porn and more partners brings satisfaction. But a 2011 study of long-term committed relationships (with a median duration of 25 years) showed the opposite. The study showed that the longer a man was in a relationship, the more likely he enjoyed relational happiness and sexual satisfaction. Women, in turn, enjoyed sex less during the early years of their relationships and experienced greater satisfaction later.

Another study in 2010 showed that couples who delay sex until their wedding night enjoy more stable and happier marriages. They also rated the quality of sex and the satisfaction in their relationships 15% and 20% higher respectively than couples who had premarital sex. The results of these studies are nothing new, says Dr. Doug Weiss, author of Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity. Studies and surveys of married couples, he said, have shown positive sexual satisfaction results for decades.

“The research shows that people who have consistent sex inside of a marriage—spiritually connected sex—have the best sexual satisfaction over time,” Weiss says.

Two Pleasure Systems in the Brain

Porn and masturbation is more exciting than satisfying because we have two separate
pleasure systems in our brains: one for exciting pleasure and another for satisfying pleasure, writes Dr. Norman Doidge in The Brain that Changes Itself.

Dopamine is the neurochemical that focuses our attention, gives our brain a little feel-good reward, and helps us become aroused. The exciting system, fueled by dopamine and anticipation, is all about appetite, such as imagining your favorite meal or a sexual episode, Doidge explains. The satisfying system involves actually having the meal or having sex, which provides a calming, fulfilling pleasure. This system releases opiate-like endorphins that provide feelings of peace and euphoria.

Pornography excites the appetite system, Doidge writes, because dopamine likes things that are new and different. But the satisfying system is left starving for the real thing, which includes actual touching, kissing, caressing, and a connection not only with the body but also the mind and soul. Real and meaningful intimacy ignites the satisfying system, and in addition to dopamine, it releases oxytocin and endorphins that provide feelings and emotions of fulfillment.

Sex is for Intimacy

The porn-saturated brain is stuck on sex, but real sex is intended for intimacy, explains Dr. William Struthers in Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. A brain trained by porn is fixated on multiple partners, images, and sexual scenarios, but real sexual intimacy is designed for exclusive sharing. The neural pathways for porn are built for speed, but satisfying sex is designed for the slow and evolving discovery and appreciation of a loving partner. Porn seeks relief through masturbation, but the effects are fleeting and habit forming to the point of compulsion and addiction. Meanwhile a committed couple can have long and satisfying encounters with unending variety for expressing intimacy that are not genitally oriented.

Unlike a porn video or a magazine, sex with a real-life committed partner has many points of arousal and satisfaction, from words and tones of voice, to touch, to the temperature of skin, and many other interactions. Yes, dopamine likes novelty. For the porn user that means more porn, but in a committed relationship novelty never has to end.

“Fortunately, lovers can stimulate their dopamine, keeping the high alive, by injecting novelty into their relationship,” Dr. Doidge writes. “When a couple goes on a romantic vacation or tries new activities together, or wear new kinds of clothing, or surprise each other, they are using novelty to turn on the pleasure centers, so that everything they experience, including each other, excites and pleases them.”

Photo credit: 93963757@N05
  • Comments on: Why Porn Hurts Marriages (and why marital sex is so much hotter than porn)
    1. MeraG. on

      Sam, great article! The first part of the title, “Why Porn Hurts Marriages” I think of many reasons. As I speak from experience, it all boils down to breaking trust between partners. I couldn’t trust my husband t:, be faithful, be concerned with my life, or trust that he’s coming home tonight.
      Porn was the Great Divider.

      Reply
    2. Diana on

      This is so terrible! Please stop telling people that porn is bad for their marriages. OBVIOUSLY sex with a real person is more satisfying than porn and masturbation, but for crying out loud! Sometimes you or your partner may go some days or weeks without wanting sex due to stress or exhaustion, and then porn and masturbation are great! My husband and I both watch porn and masturbate separately, and have sex, and watch porn while having sex. We’ve been married for five years. Women, jealousy of porn is completely absurd, The visual of people having sex is super stimulating, the idea that your spouse is somehow ‘cheating’ on you with the porn is totally absurd.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Diana. There’s really nothing in this article about men “cheating” on their wives with porn. The point is to look at studies that show evidence that porn rewires the brain in ways that are unhelpful to all our potential as sexual beings. Your experiences with porn are, of course, your own. There are probably many people who don’t experience every kind of negative effect of pornography. But the overall aim of the article is how recent scientific finding can help those who are experiencing the negative impacts.

      • BrokenCracker on

        I feel maybe your in the wrong forum.. i don’t think people feel that masterbastion is the problem… the problem is men making excuses to masterbate… over stimulation with porn! Eventuley the need to satify oneself gets too
        desinsified it takes more for my HB to cum.

      • Lisa Eldred on

        That’s correct – porn is the problem. Many men have reported erectile dysfunction as a result of overusing porn (see this Reddit group, for example).

      • Raymond Thornhill on

        @Lisa Eldred

        As an avid consumer of porn, I strongly disagree! Porn is not the problem. Men who indulge in excessive consumption of porn are the problem. They are using porn as a scapegoat for their own inability to exercise self-restraint. Just like alcohol, when used in moderation, porn can be a healthy activity. In fact, I would argue that there is no such thing as porn addiction and this article (see link below) backs up my claims. The concept of a porn addiction is invented by jealous Christian housewives and crooked psychotherapists who want to make money.

        No such thing as porn ‘addiction,’ researchers say

      • Lisa Eldred on

        Hi Raymond, thanks for your comment!

        It’s true that there is a lot of debate as to whether the clinical diagnosis of porn “addiction” exists (see this blog post, for example). Regardless of the addiction label, though, there is plenty of evidence that porn use changes your brain’s neurochemistry, including what you find sexually attractive, and influences how you think about sociological concerns. Regarding the former case, many men (young men, even) have discovered that their ED is tied to their porn use; because they have been rewired to be aroused by variety, their monogamous relationship of only one partner has not been enough to stimulate them. In the latter case, even four hours of porn use a week has been proven to result in attitudes of leniency for convicted rapists.

        For more information on either of these issues, I recommend that you download our e-books The Porn Circuit and Your Brain on Porn. Or, if you don’t trust us to be a reliable source of carefully-researched information, you may find this site informative.

    3. James on

      Great article. 2 types of pleasures. Good to know!

      Reply
    4. Stella on

      Does viewing porn and not masturbating, cause the same brain effects? Dopamine and testosterone. My 68 year old husband, who thought he had E.D. was into it and it escalated to bazaar acting out. Like propositioning other women and sending the sexual gifts.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        He was looking at porn but not masturbating? Really? I have a hard time believing that. I don’t know why he would look at porn and not masturbate. To me, that’s like baking a cake and then not eating it. There’s no point! But anyway, I think the story of ED and escalation speaks for itself here, that he requires more chemical input as time goes by.

    5. Stella on

      I was trying to determine if his brain circuitry was hooked on porn, or was it just him trying to figure out if he still had the capacity to feel turned on. (The Porn Circuit article says that masterbation while viewing is what cuts the circuits deeply in the brain)
      He had a stroke years ago and thought he was impotent or had E.D.. He is home bound and can’t go anywhere unless I drive. There was no porn until the advent of the internet, then he was accessing porn, and the escalation took place (his brain was hijacked) . I confronted him a year and half ago. He apologized and vowed to never do it again. I told him in no uncertain terms that I would leave if he ever even looked sideways or made any contacts whatsoever. I haven’t seen any evidence of it since. I get the mail, check his emails, our facebook account is now joint as a couple, I check his history and his searches. There is nothing there. He is a religious man, we talked to our priest and the priest told him it was the equivalent of adultery. He apologized, asked for forgiveness, and invited me to check on him Since then we began to have a sex life inspite of his physical disabilities, after years of nothing.
      I don’t know what to do or how to behave, I thought that a normal sex life would diminish the thrill of porn .
      Are you saying he still needs the chemical input of pornography?

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Well, it’s hard to say what’s going on in the brain exactly. You can only go by the physical evidence, usually. I think his escalating behavior was evidence to support the theory of a chemical addiction. If he’s been without porn or other inappropriate sexual contact for several months, then it’s likely his body chemistry has had a chance to normalize.

        However, I’d just remind you of what we often say here: real recovery is about so much more than no porn. Real recovery is about the restoration of a real friendship and emotional intimacy as well as the physical act of sex together.

        And also, real recovery is about each of you taking responsibility for your own part of the picture. He takes responsibility for his own choices and behavior–he has a plan and he works his plan. The two of you would be able to talk about what’s going on, how he’s doing, etc., but it would be his responsibility to take care of himself.

        And then your part is to take care of your own emotional processing and what this means to you, without making everything about controlling his behavior. Personal counseling would probably be a help to you, and perhaps a group as well.

        Boundaries in Marriage would probably be a good book for both of you to read and discuss together.

    6. Stella on

      Thank you for responding to me and I WILL order the book you suggested. I appreciate your answer, I was just kind of bumping around the dark on this until I found your website. I prayed for understanding of what happened and the same day I found Covenant Eyes on my facebook page.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        I’m so glad you found Covenant Eyes right when you needed it! There are lots of resources here, and I hope they help. You can always make comments and ask questions–we try to keep up and be as helpful as possible! Kay

    7. Sherry martin on

      This is not a fun problem to deal with. My husband and I have been married for 32 years. It’s been awful going through this. I thought for years he only had eyes for me. he had me convinced he was never interested in looking at anyone but me. I was devastated to find out that was a big lie. It’s a betrayal that they don’t want you to know about. I think it started way before me. I ask him about it when we were dating he said it was his roommates. I believed him. I’ve had a lot of anxiety from it. I can’t stop him from doing it. He’s had a drug problem he’s addicted to porn drugs and tobacco. He supposedly has stopped but I know he has relapsed off and on. There is no trust. I told him he’s a nasty sick pervert. That’s what you are. Is that the kind of person you want to be? Do you want your kids to think of you as a sick nasty pervert. What do you think you are when your doing this. Don’t hide it expose them. I told him if I ever catch you doing this again I will destroy you for the sick pervert you are. I will make sure everyone knows about it and take everything you have and never let you see the kids again. I ask him is that what you want? He said no. I will turn it back around on him if it continues. I’ve decided it’s not going to destroy me. If he chooses to continue doing this he will destroy himself. I am going to be strong and press on no matter what happens. Ladies we have to be

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Sherry. It might be helpful for you to know that many women in your situation meet the criteria for PTSD–post traumatic stress disorder. It is extremely distressing to a relationship and to the people in it. I’d like to encourage you to think about your own healing and wholeness in this situation. Whatever your husband chooses, YOU can choose to find support and healthy community for yourself. I’d encourage you to find a counselor who can help you work through the emotions you’re experiencing: the anxiety, the anger, the pain. You might also like to find a support group (Celebrate Rcovery, Pure Desire, xxxChurch, S Anon). Getting the support and healing you need will help you have the strength to press on into healing, no matter what he chooses. Blessings, Kay

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