9 minute read

Porn in Marriage: Its Harmful Effects on Relationships (and How to Heal)

Last Updated: September 9, 2021

Abby Willmarth

Abby Willmarth has worked with several anti-trafficking organizations to educate and mobilize churches and individuals to fight trafficking. Over those years, she began to see just how many ways trafficking connected to porn. Now she works at Covenant Eyes to create educational content that helps people find freedom from porn. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons.

If you’re reading this, your marriage has probably been impacted in some way by porn use or you know a marriage that has. And even though there are many voices telling us that pornography and marriage can mix—that it’s normal and even beneficial—you don’t have to dig deep to see the havoc pornography wreaks on marriages. Porn claims to be an expert in intimacy. In reality, it drives you further and further from the true intimacy we crave.

So if you’re married, want to be married, or know somebody who is married (i.e., this is helpful for us all), the following will give you a look into the impact of porn in marriage. Understanding this can help us start reclaiming health and intimacy in our relationships or help others get started on this journey.

Porn in Marriage: Stats and Stories

If porn use has made it’s way into your marriage, you’re not alone. In a 2004 report to Congress, Dr. Jill Manning shared that in her research over 56% of divorce cases involved one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.¹ There has been some debate over how accurate this statistic is–but even if it were a factor in only 25% of divorces–with 782,038 divorces in 2018,² that’s 195,509 marriages that ended at least in part because of porn.

Whether or not porn use leads to divorce, there’s a high chance it leads to betrayal trauma for the spouse. Research shows us that 69.9% of partners met all symptomatic criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder using two assessments–the IES-R and the PDS.³

Every day we hear from individuals whose lives and marriages have been devastated by pornography use. Here are just a few of their comments and stories:

“I thought his problem was because of me. Maybe if I was skinnier or taller or blonder or more endowed he wouldn’t need to do this anymore. I honestly believed that I was the damaged one. I spent those 10 years trying to change for him, trying again to meet his needs in every way.” –April 

“I recently discovered my husband has been viewing pornography behind my back. I found out he has been doing this for most of our marriage. I can’t sleep, I can hardly eat, and I can’t think about anything else. I think I am going crazy.”

“Being in our mid-sixties, and with my husband having indulged in porn, dating sites, etc., for a couple of decades, resulting in PIED, I don’t have a lot of hope that we will ever be able to have a satisfying sex life like we had prior to internet porn invading our lives. It’s been over 2 years since d-day and he is 11 months porn and inappropriate fantasy free, and he now says that he hates sex, and wants to puke when he thinks of it, because of the damage that it has done.”

“My ex-husband told me that sometimes he wanted to have sex with me and sometimes he wanted to skip sex with me and look at porn. He wanted both and he said that men have to have both because they want variety. He ended up leaving me because I was not happy about the porn. He actually left a marriage with a wife who told him she was willing to have sex as much as he wanted if he didn’t look at porn and he left. He said that porn was that important to him.” –Kim“My husband thinks that I am wrong for asking him to stop watching porn. It simply makes me feel insecure. I feel like he looks at women as pornographic images. He imagines them naked. He loves looking at petite teen porn. I am 36 years old, tall, and chunky. How can I compete?” –Jaime

4 Common Myths About Porn and Marriage

If the stats and stories above are any type of true indication of how many marriages are impacted by porn and how deep those effects run, then where do we get this idea that porn and marriage can mix without any problems?

Popular media strongly affirms (if not downright encourages) porn’s acceptability, even for those in relationships or marriages. And for those using porn, there’s a natural desire to justify behavior and overlook the negative impacts it’s having. Here are a few common lies told about porn and marriage:

Lie #1: “Porn will spice up our sex life.”

In reality, porn makes you think that what you see on the screen can and should happen in the bedroom too. This is an unrealistic expectation to fulfill, and trying to make it happen may lead you down harmful paths you never thought you’d go. As Noah Filipiak says on our blog,

“The sex in porn (and lust) is of a totally different substance than the sex God designed within marriage. Porn is a smorgasbord of unlimited, perfectly-shaped bodies who have no problems and who ‘want’ you. Your spouse is not going to be a smorgasbord; they are one person.  They will not have a perfect body, even if they have one when you get married. They will have problems. They will not ‘want you’ every second of the day. In other words: they are a human being.”

Related: Should porn be used to spice up the bedroom?

Lie #2: “A little bit of porn never hurt anyone.”

Some say porn use only hurts a spouse if the spouse allows insecurity to seep in. But, please read the real-life stories and comments above, and you will see that porn is hurting spouses and significant others.

For those with kids, do you want them stumbling upon your porn stash? Also, consider porn’s relationship with sex trafficking and how it affects those working in the porn industry.

Lie #3: “Once I get married, I’ll stop looking at porn.”

The primary issue at stake here is viewing marriage as a transaction that is focused on “taking” instead of “giving.” If a man or a woman enters marriage with the primary objective of “taking” something from his/her future spouse in order to satisfy something that’s broken today, then the marriage is destined to fail. The internal dialogue goes like this: “I have sexual needs and use porn to fill those needs. Once we get married, my husband or wife will give me enough sex [do you hear the “take” language?] so I won’t need porn anymore.”

Related: Mythbusters–I’ll Stop Looking at Porn When I Get Married

Lie #4: “My spouse struggles with porn because of me.”

This plays out in many different ways: I’m not sexy enough. Not available enough. Not adventurous enough. Too fat. Too skinny. Too [insert reason of your choice].

All of these are lies. The truth is your spouse’s struggle with porn use probably started as a kid. And the science behind porn use shows that it’s very addictive and has little to do with all the “not enough’s” or “too much’s” above.

Related: 5 Lies I Believed When My Husband Watched Porn

Effects of Porn in Marriage and Relationships

Porn use may impact relationships differently, depending on the extent of porn use and whether one or both individuals use it. Here are a few common effects of porn in relationships:

  1. Decreased satisfaction with sex: Porn eventually trains your brain to prefer more porn over sex with a real person. In attempt to make sex more appealing than porn, one spouse may try to bring porn-specific behaviors into the bedroom, which can have devastating effects on the other spouse.
  2. Porn-Induced ED: Many guys who regularly watch porn develop porn-induced erectile dysfunction, which means they can get an erection to porn, but not their spouse or significant other.
  3. Jealousy and comparison: Porn contains false expectations about sex. This can cause your spouse to feel jealous or not good enough. They may feel like they cannot meet the expectations of sex that occurs in porn.
  4. Escalation to real world, extramarital sexual encounters: Eventually porn doesn’t give you the high it once did, which has lead many porn users to turn outside of their committed relationships to act out their fantasies or try to find the variety porn offers.
  5. Financial strain: Lamar Odom’s porn use often cost him $5,000 in fines because he showed up late to the bus to get in one more scene. Nate Larkin sepnt thousands and thousands on his porn and sex addiction. Countless others have lost their jobs due to watching porn on company computers or time. The financial stress of any of these situations impacts both parties in the relationship.
  6. Increased loneliness and shame: Hidden struggles or dishonesty in marriage push us farther away from the intimacy we should be experiencing in marriage.
  7. Betrayal trauma: Many people who discover their spouse has been hiding a porn addiction experience symptoms that meet the requirements for PTSD.

My girlfriend or boyfriend watches porn. What should I do?

Maybe you’re reading this as someone in a committed, pre-marriage relationship. Remember that one of the biggest myths about porn and relationships is that marriage (and the sex that accompanies it) will make a porn problem go away. This is just not true.

The best time to deal with a porn problem is before saying “I do.” Here’s some great advice from counselor Kay Bruner on how to navigate dating relationships when porn is involved.

Porn in Marriage: How do we start healing?

If you’ve seen how porn hurts your marriage or relationships, here are a few steps you can take toward recovery. And, yes, healing from the negative effects of pornography is possible–not easy–but possible.

1. Start the conversation.

No matter what your relationship status, the first step is talking about it. Whether you’re seriously dating, engaged, recently married, or married for a long time, if you haven’t talked about pornography and what role it has in your relationship, you really should. What we keep in the darkness by remaining silent grows in power.

2. Realize your spouse controls his or her actions, and you control yours.

If you find out porn use has been a part of your relationship, you now have a healing journey ahead of you. No matter what you discover, remember that we each control our actions and responses to others’ behavior. And no matter whether your spouse chooses to pursue recovery or not, you can get started on individual health.

Setting boundaries will be vital for both of you to recover from porn use or the betrayal of porn use. We have written extensively on this topic before, so check out the following articles to learn more:

3. Do the work to recover and rebuild trust.

The individual struggling with porn use has recovery work to do to quit porn. But sometimes it’s easy to focus solely on sobriety and forget that the marriage relationship needs attention too.

Or betrayed spouses can focus so much on helping their spouse recover that they forget to spend time on their own recovery–betrayal trauma is a real thing and needs attention.

Learn more about how porn use impacts individuals and their spouse:

4. Bring others in to your story.

Support groups—both for the addict and for the spouse—can be a huge help in recovery. More important than the practical tips and accountability they bring, support groups provide a safe place for you to connect with others who are in your similar situation.

Accountability partners, or allies, have also been a key relationship for those who’ve successfully overcome porn addiction. When you have a person you meet with regularly, who’s a phone call or text away during any moment of temptation, who asks you the hard questions and reminds you of who you want to be, it transforms your recovery process.

5. Make honesty an integral part of your marriage.

If you’ve been hiding a porn addiction for years, your spouse may not believe the words you say for a while. You need to fight to make honesty an integral part of your relationship. Many couples have found an accountability software like Covenant Eyes can help bridge this trust gap–it sends a detailed report of your internet activity to the individuals of your choice. This report provides an extra layer of verification and allows you to recruit trusted friends into your recovery journey.

6. Remember that hope exists!

I’d be lying if I said every marriage or relationship impacted by porn is eventually restored. Rebuilding a marriage destroyed by porn is hard work, and it takes commitment from both parties. You need to know this upfront.

But, you also need to know this upfront: HOPE EXISTS for marriages devastated by porn use! We’ve heard from hundreds and hundreds of couples whose marriages have made it through, and they often come out stronger on the other side. You can hear from four of these couples in our free ebook Hope After Porn

Porn use does not have to mean the end of a marriage. Recovery is possible, and we’re here to help you along the way!


¹Manning J., Senate Testimony 2004, referencing: Dedmon, J., “Is the Internet bad for your marriage? Online affairs, pornographic sites playing greater role in divorces,” 2002, press release from The Dilenschneider Group, Inc.

²Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “FastStats – Marriage and Divorce,” 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/marriage-divorce.htm.

³Steffens, Barbara, and Marsha Means. Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal. New Horizons Press, 2009.

  • Comments on: Porn in Marriage: Its Harmful Effects on Relationships (and How to Heal)
    1. Ellen Waltman on

      You guys have been so helpful to me in dealing with my spouses porn addiction.

      Reply
      • Ash on

        Same here. Thank you

    2. Christian Pickett on

      People have zero right to impose their insecurity on others healthy sexual habits .

      They will figure this out by pushing people further into secretive acts or ending a relationship . Horrible advice in 2020. Inexcusably outdated dogmatic and downright pathetic to have the person that is insecure about their own body and rigid sexuality impose their fragility and beliefs on another .

      Reply
    3. Vamporean Monaco on

      I doubt you’ll approve this comment, but I’m a clinical therapist and I’m going to dissect this article word by word:

      1. Claim: “There are many voices telling us that pornography and marriage can mix”

      Response: You don’t think porn and marriage can mix? Not in any circumstance? That’s absurd (also who are these voices?).

      2. Claim: “that it’s normal and even beneficial”
      Response: I will agree that porn viewing is not inherently beneficial, but let’s take a quick look at the definition of NORMAL: “The usual, average, or typical state or condition.”

      Psychology Today reports that 73% of women and 98% of men reported internet porn use in the last 6 months. If true, then porn viewing is actually quite normal by definition. Understand the difference between NATURAL (those things found in nature) and NORMAL (what the majority of people think or do) and the numbers are clear on this front.

      3. Claim: “see the havoc pornography wreaks on marriages.”

      Response: Porn doesn’t “wreak havoc” on relationships, PEOPLE wreak havoc on their relationships. If partner is consuming an unhealthy amount of porn that interferes with their day to day life and/or relationships; it’s because THEY ARE AN ADDICT. This is true with all vices, whether it be gambling, food, video games, social media, cigarettes, drugs/alcohol, shopping, etc…

      4. Claim “You don’t have to dig deep.”
      Response: I JUST DID.

      5. “Porn claims to be an expert in intimacy.”
      Response: Porn is not a person. Only people can make claims and right now, I only see one person claiming to be an expert on intimacy.

      6. “In reality, it drives you further and further from the true intimacy we crave.”

      Response: Qualify it. Better yet, don’t even bother…
      This is by far, the single most absurd assertion in this article and I don’t even know why I’m entertaining this. First of all, not everyone craves “true intimacy”. Secondly, while 2+2 always equals 4, no two relationships are the same. If you really want to get scientific, I’m happy to oblige: Correlation does not imply causation.

      7. Claim: “Every day we hear from individuals whose lives and marriages have been devastated by pornography use.”

      Response: I read the testimonials and I’m not swayed in the slightest. I stand by my initial statement that excessive pornography consumption is not a cause, but a symptom of underlining relationship issues.

      8. Claim: “The sex in porn (and lust) is of a totally different substance than the sex God designed within marriage.”

      Response: You want to go there, do you? BRING IT ON.

      The Bible states: “the love of money is the root of all evil” and Covenant Eyes Inc. is a FOR PROFIT corporation that generates 26 MILLION DOLLARS in annual revenue. What are you doing with that money? Why aren’t you a 501(c)(3)? Do you actually believe what you are proclaiming or are you just trying to sell your software? We all know the answer to that.

      That explains everything.

      Reply
      • Matt (not a therapist) on

        Hey covenant eyes, I just wanted to say great job in not deleting this post. After reading it carefully, I can appreciate the depth in which this “therapist” went in writing his argument.
        That’s about all though. I think men and women should see counterpoints like this one and test it against what they know. The original article tests true to the Word and has very sound theology when tested against it.
        This response however, while it appears to have weight and substance, in the end is just drivel. A little bit of truth mixed with lies. No offense to the author intended, but I hope that if people read these comments, they will be able to weigh and ascertain for themselves where truth and freedom lie.
        Blessings!

    4. Thomas Graine on

      I found this article because my wife and I like to watch porn together and I was looking for some good videos that match our tastes. I think you should include some articles about how great it can be to watch with your partner—maybe embed some good couples videos!

      Reply
      • Moriah Bowman on

        Hi Thomas!

        As I’m sure you might already know, we definitely would not encourage couples to watch porn together (or at all). This blog post speaks into our thoughts on the topic!

        Blessings,
        Moriah

    5. Jack on

      I am having a problem with my wife after having sex with me she looks for porn videos On her phone.

      Reply
      • Moriah Bowman on

        Hi Jack!

        First, I want to thank you for reaching out on our blog to ask for advice! Please know that your situation does not stand alone. Have you talked to your wife about this? If not, I would encourage you to graciously approach her and just ask her about it! Perhaps it is stemming from something else, or something in your marriage that you both need to talk through?

        If she is not willing to talk about it or even consider stopping, I think that therapy would be a worthwhile choice. If anything, it’ll bring someone else into the picture who can ask you both the right questions and help you talk through what is going on.

        Although it may be difficult at times, keep loving on your wife! She is a treasure, and marriage is beautiful (even on the days it seems otherwise)!
        Blessings,
        Moriah

    6. Lucy on

      I overheard my husband watching porn in the room, when I entered he hid his phone under the pillow and pretend to be sleeping. What does that mean? Why did he do that?

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Lucy,

        Your husband is violating his values, he’s ashamed, and he’s hiding his behavior, hoping you won’t notice so he won’t have to take responsiblity for himself. Here, here, and here are some articles on boundaries that might help as you consider how to respond. You might also appreciate the online support at Bloom for Women. There’s a small monthly fee that’s worth every penny!

        Kay

    7. Tim Lytle on

      My wife cut me off from sex 13 years ago. I was 57 she was 52. She will not tell me why. So I will not physically cheat on her, I love her. I watch a lot of porn to get me by. She will not discuss why she won’t have sex so I’m stuck with porn a lot. Any answers for me?

      Reply
      • Keith Rose on

        Hi Tim! Thanks for reaching out, I’m sorry to hear about your difficult situation. When a spouse decides to withhold sex, there’s usually quite a bit going on beneath the surface. I strongly encourage you to seek out marriage counseling from a good counselor you both respect! Porn may also be impacting you or your marriage in ways you don’t realize.

        Blessings,
        Keith

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *