10 minute read

6 Ways That Watching Porn Affects Relationships

Last Updated: July 5, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. He has also served as a Bible teacher, pastoral assistant, and music director at his local church. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

Studies have shown that as much as 70% of men and upwards of 30% of women view porn regularly.1 Furthermore, each successive generation seems to grow more tolerant and accepting of porn. Now, most people accept porn as part of life, a private matter of preference, and nothing to do with their other relationships.

Nonetheless, research shows that porn impacts relationships. It’s particularly noticeable in cases where one person strongly disapproves of pornography. A spouse’s porn use, for example, can be traumatizing. But evidence also suggests that porn may negatively affect a relationship even if nobody involved sees a problem with it.

Let’s look more closely at porn and relationships and see the six ways they are affected.

1. Can Porn Benefit Relationships?

First, we need to acknowledge that some have pushed the idea that porn helps relationships. They say it educates people about sex, provides an outlet for overactive sex drive, and can even rekindle a tired romance. Some research seems to support this.

But, is it true?

Our friends over at Fight the New Drug say “dozens of studies have repeatedly shown that porn consumers tend to have lower relationship satisfaction and lower relationship quality.”2 In 2021, a national study out of BYU likewise found strong negative effects of pornography on relationships.3 A 2020 review of 30 national surveys found, “in instances where viewing pornography is associated with relationship quality at all, it is nearly always a signal of poorer relationship quality, for men and women.”4

Despite claims to the contrary, the most compelling evidence indicates the harms of pornography far outweigh any possible benefits. Porn affects relationships most evidently in negative ways.

2. Porn Inhibits Relationships

Data presents a strong correlation between the rise of porn consumption and a lack of romantic relationships. For many years, the average age of first marriages has risen steadily. And, the upcoming generation is more likely to avoid committing to relationships altogether. One group of researchers concluded, “a higher percentage of Americans in recent cohorts, particularly Millennials and iGen’ers born in the 1990s, had no sexual partners after age 18.”5

Certainly, many cultural and societal factors come into play. But some experts believe that porn may be inhibiting relationships on a wide national scale. In his research, award-winning sociologist Dr. Samuel Perry found, “[H]igher levels of pornography use in emerging adulthood were associated with a lower likelihood of marriage.”6 Others have found that, “Internet pornography use frequency correlated with low sexual desire. Of those who consumed Internet pornography more than once a week, 16% reported low sexual desire, compared with 0% in non-consumers (and 6% for those who consumed less than once a week).7

Why would porn prevent relationships? There are at least two reasons.

Inhibited Social Skills and Confidence

The more porn you watch, the more difficult it is to interact with real people, especially in romantic relationships. A 19-year-old male commented, “It just seems like when I watch a lot of porn, my self-confidence plummets.”

On the porn recovery forum NoFap, you can find hundreds of testimonies of increased confidence and motivation after a period of abstaining from porn and masturbation.8 While scientists may disagree about the causes of this, anecdotal evidence suggests that porn inhibits the skills and confidence critical to developing relationships.

Additionally, constantly succumbing to urges to look at porn robs people of the necessary drive and motivation to pursue real relationships.

Unrealistic Relationship Expectations

Second, constant porn consumption can create unrealistic expectations for sex and relationships. As opposed to the first reason, where the people watching porn might want a real relationship but lack confidence, here, the people watching porn have lost the desire for real relationships altogether.

Matt Fradd writes, “In 2002, the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy published research showing that when men are shown pictures of centerfold models from Playboy and Penthouse, this significantly lowered their judgments about the attractiveness of ‘average’ people.” Real people have bad hair days and body odors. Even the most attractive partner can’t compete with airbrushed photos and edited videos.

Some have responded by contending that they prefer unedited porn made by amateurs rather than professional porn stars. However, more “natural” pornography contributes to unrealistic expectations, if not about the bodies of those involved then about the nature of sexual relationships.

While real relationships offer a much deeper and more profound experience than porn, they’re also much more difficult. It takes time to develop romance. Real-life sexual partners have their own needs and can’t always be there to satisfy yours. Porn creates a fantasy alternative designed just for you. It takes no effort and no commitment.

Remarkably, many people actually prefer porn to real sexual encounters! So, being absorbed in porn may rob people of the ability to pursue relationships effectively. But porn may make real relationships seem less desirable.

3. Porn Changes Dating Relationships

“My boyfriend of two years just opened up about his porn addiction and I’m freaking out.”

“Two days ago I found out that my boyfriend has been watching porn all throughout our relationship… we’ve only been dating for 5 months but talking for a year. Since I found out I have struggled with a heap of emotions.. insecurities and doubts. “

We’ve seen that in many cases, porn may in fact be preventing relationships from developing entirely. But, even when people are dating, porn plays a decisive role in the relationship where it’s present.  

Porn changes expectations and values when it comes to relationships. Porn use correlates with a lower view of traditional marriage. Another study showed that porn is associated with more permissive attitudes regarding sex and sexuality. In other words, porn makes people more likely to engage in premarital sex, risky sex, or more deviant forms of sexual behavior.9

For more on the effects of porn on dating, check out When Your Boyfriend Struggles With Porn.

4. Porn Hurts Marriage Relationships

“We are now in our 37th year of marriage and he is still going on with porn. Our sex life is truly damaged. He can not perform with me anymore, he can’t even fake it anymore. His addiction has severely damaged whatever we had.”

Even more than dating relationships, porn can wreak havoc on marriages. Statistics indicate that porn factors into well over half of all divorce cases.10

Furthermore, porn in marriage can leave a spouse feeling hurt and betrayed. Many wives experience betrayal trauma because of their husband’s porn use, and this can be experienced by husbands whose wives watch porn as well.  

We have written extensively on porn and marriage; see here for a more in-depth look.

5. Porn Complicates Other Family Relationships

So far, we’ve looked at how porn affects various romantic relationships, from preventing them all together to breaking up established marriages.

It’s not always as obvious, but porn can hurt non-romantic relationships as well, especially those in the family. How so? In 2005, Dr. Jill Manning testified before the senate about the risks of pornography.

“When a child lives in a home where an adult is consuming pornography, he or she encounters the following four risks:

1. Decreased parental time and attention

2. Increased risk of encountering pornographic material

3. Increased risk of parental separation and divorce

4. Increased risk of parental job loss and financial strain”

At Covenant Eyes, we’ve heard testimonies from many people who’ve hurt their families through porn consumption.

Parent-Child Relationships

Porn often complicates relationships between parents and children. A 12-year-old girl wrote to us last year:

“I’m going to tell my mom tomorrow. She already knew that I had been looking before, but I started again 4 months ago. I’m a Christian and I decided that I needed to be worthy and stop lying to everyone. I thought I could get rid of it on my own, but I realized it wouldn’t work. It was like some part of my brain wanted to keep looking at porn, but the right side of my mind didn’t. The only thing is, I’m nervous of whether or not I should tell my mom my dad also had been looking at porn, because a week ago, I was on his phone and I saw he had porn open on a tab.”

This heart-breaking comment reveals the two sides of how pornography affects parent-child relationships. First, the child feels guilty for hiding her porn habit. This is very common, and unfortunately, many parents have little idea how to respond to their children if they do admit to watching porn. (We’ve created a series of free resources to help!).

Second, and more troubling, she became aware of her father’s porn use, putting a tremendous burden on her that she should not have to bear. No child should be forced to mediate between her parents. Doubtless, he thought his porn use was a private matter, but this father unwittingly put his daughter in a traumatizing situation.

6. Porn Hinders Friendships

Looking at porn hurts your closest relationships the most, as we’ve seen in dating, marriage, and family. But the effects of watching porn go beyond the closest relationships. Watching porn can harm your friendships as well.

Porn Sexualizes All Relationships

Many porn users have reported a feeling of hypersexuality. When you watch porn regularly, the images tend to shape the way you encounter human beings in real life. In fact, one study found that people who watch porn are more likely to have “friends with benefits,” that is, non-romantic sexual partners.11

Watching porn especially trains you to see women as sex objects. Porn routinely objectifies female bodies, and this treatment can cause porn users to view women strictly through the lens of their sexuality.

Porn Isolates People From Friendship

Aside from hypersexuality, the Institute for Family Studies found that porn causes feelings of loneliness and isolation.12 Covenant Eyes author Sam Guzman writes:

“The more one is immersed in pornography, the more one’s isolation grows, and the more anxious about social contact one becomes, reinforcing the dependence on porn. The tragic paradox is that many seek out pornography because they desperately crave relationship, intimacy, and genuine love. Yet, pornography ensures they never experience those things. Instead, it traps users in a cycle of dependency, isolation, depression, and shame. It is the ultimate betrayer.”

We’ve looked at six ways porn affects relationships. Have you experienced any of these?


1 “Proven Men Porn Survey” (conducted by Barna Group), located at https://www.provenmen.org/2014PornSurvey/

2 Fight the New Drug, “Porn Can Hurt the Quality of Your Relationships,” April 14, 2022. https://fightthenewdrug.org/porn-can-hurt-the-quality-of-your-relationships/

3 BYU Wheatley Institution, “National Couples and Pornography’s Survey 2021,” November 8, 2021. https://wheatley.byu.edu/National-Couples-and-Pornography-Survey2021/

4 Samuel L. Perry, “Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality in 30 National Surveys,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49, (2020): 1199–1213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01616-7

5 Jean M. Twenge, Ryne A. Sherman, & Brooke E. Wells, “Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood Is More Common Among U.S. Millennials and iGen: Age, Period, and Cohort Effects on Having No Sexual Partners After Age 18,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 46 (2017), 433–440. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0798-z

6 Samuel L. Perry, Kyle C. Longest, “Does Pornography Use Reduce Marriage Entry During Early Adulthood? Findings from a Panel Study of Young Americans,” Sexuality & Culture 23 (2019), 394–414. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-018-09581-4

7 Brian Y. Park, Gary Wilson, Jonathan Berger, Matthew Christman, Bryn Reina, Frank Bishop, Warren P. Klam, and Andrew P. Doan, “Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports,” Behavioral sciences (2016). doi:10.3390/bs6030017

8 Bob, “Does NoFap Improve Social Skills (Here’s The Deal),” PMO Flatline, June 25 2021. https://pmoflatline.com/does-nofap-improve-social-skills-heres-the-deal/

9 Nathan D. Leonhardt & Brian J. Willoughby, “Longitudinal Links between Pornography Use, Marital Importance, and Permissive Sexuality During Emerging Adulthood,” Marriage & Family Review, 54:1 (2018): 64-84. DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2017.1359811

10 Covenant Eyes, “Porn Stats,” www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats.

11 Scott R Braithwaite, Sean C. Aaron, Krista K. Dowdle, Kersti A. Spjut, and F. Fincham, “Does Pornography Consumption Increase Participation in Friends with Benefits Relationships?” Sexuality & Culture 19 (2015): 513-532.

12 Mark Butler, “Is Pornography Use Increasing Loneliness, Particularly for Young People?” Institute for Family Studies, July 3, 2018. https://ifstudies.org/blog/is-pornography-use-increasing-loneliness-particularly-for-young-people

  • Comments on: 6 Ways That Watching Porn Affects Relationships
    1. Josep kiss

      Sorry i live in london yet don’t know how to find your similar minded ones could you advice me who I can see here in GB?

      • Keith Rose

        Hi Joseph! We have Covenant Eyes members all around the world, including quite a few in GB. If you’re looking more specifically for a therapist or counselor, there are quite a few places offering online options that should be available anywhere.

        Blessings,

        Keith

    Leave a Reply

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