The Effects of Pornography on Relationships

Individuals struggling with a pornography addiction often have difficulty developing and maintaining healthy, positive relationships. In some cases, there may be a fear or inability to bond and commit to a real-life relationship. Physical and emotional intimacy may feel very frightening to the pornography addict.

If an individual has grown up in a family where commitments were not honored and trust was not developed, she may not believe that these things are possible for her as an adult, either. Pornography presents a person with relationship illusions, seemingly without the risk of disappointment, failure, or abandonment.


Pornography has been identified as a significant problem in American families. One 2003 survey suggested that as many as 47 percent of the families questioned identified pornography as a problem in their homes. Pornography addiction is leading more and more couples into therapy for help and is also becoming a significant factor in many divorces.

For many who discover that their partner has a pornography addiction, feelings of shock, confusion, and betrayal are typical reactions. These feelings may be just as deep and real as if the object of the partner's affections were a real-life person and an actual affair had occurred. Pornography addiction is often considered an affair of the mind by the person's partner, so the implications of these feelings are often quite similar to those of an actual affair.

In a marriage or committed relationship, trust may be severely damaged and the sexual relationship may become difficult or impossible to sustain. Partners of the pornography addict frequently claim that the secretiveness, the lying, and the betrayal are worse to handle than the pornography itself. The pornography addict, who may have distanced himself emotionally from his real-life relationships, frequently finds this reaction to his addiction difficult to understand.

This creates further conflict in the relationship. For the partner of the addict, it may be difficult to comprehend that pornography addiction is not about sexual or relational intimacy. Pornography addiction, as with other addictions, is often about escaping emotional problems and achieving a biochemical “high.”


Even though pornography may not involve real-life sexual partners, real-life feelings are strong and powerful. Anger, jealousy, fear, depression, anxiety, and hurt may have a significant effect on the partner of the pornography addict. The partner of a pornography addict may need professional treatment to deal with these emotions, just as the addict will likely need professional treatment for recovery.

An individual who is addicted to pornography very likely has a public image of normalcy and respectability. The pornography addict's partner may fear how exposure of the pornography addiction could affect the family in the community. If the addict is engaging in pornography in the workplace, the possibility of job loss and the economic impact that would have on the family may be quite real.

Both individual and couples psychotherapy will likely be required to work through the complexities that this addiction creates.

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