Recently, I was interviewed by a prominent newspaper regarding what effect pornography addiction has on relationships. After 27 years as a clinical psychologist, I have worked with individuals, couples and families from all age groups and walks of li
fe. I can tell you that pornography addiction has a devastating impact on relationships. Most often, the damaged relationship we think of first is the marriage relationship. While porn addiction is most certainly destructive to marriages, there are other relationships that pornography can devastate—the addict’s relationship with self; parents, siblings and other family members; dating relations and fiancés; friends, co-workers and contacts in everyday life. In addition, porn addiction can affect future relationships that have yet to be formed.
Here are some of the newspaper reporter’s questions and my responses. I believe you’ll be surprised by some of the information. I hope it helps increase your understanding and provide greater light on your path forward.
Reporter’s Question: How does pornography affect relationships before and after marriage?
My Response: Most people think of porn use as a mainly “male” pastime. Unfortunately, with the Internet and cell phones, virtually everyone has access. I just finished meeting with a 15-year-old girl who is addicted to pornography. She mentioned that she is “terrified of anyone finding out.” The shame is incredible. The addiction is so strong, she fears that she will never be able to overcome it. She also fears that when she does have a boyfriend, she will become addicted to sex with him. She is so afraid of this that she doesn’t allow herself to date or get into a romantic relationship. She fears that this addiction is “screwing [her] up generally.”
She has lost confidence, self-esteem and self-respect. She is afraid that her parents or minister will find out. She also mentioned that she is afraid that she is going to Hell. She is fears that this addiction is ruining her ability to relate normally with guys because she is objectifying guys rather than relating to them in a healthy way. She is intensely ashamed because she believes that porn addiction is largely a “guy thing”, which only makes her feel more “freakish.” Lastly, she is afraid that it’s messing her up so that she won’t be able to have a normal sexual relationship when she is married. Her concerns are typical of kids I see who are struggling with pornography and sexual addiction.
Additional Response: Often, the reason marriages are impacted by porn addiction is because the addict relates less and less in an emotionally intimate way and relies more on the physical sex act to connect with their spouse. Emotional intimacy takes skill, maturity, love, unselfishness, risk, and courage; whereas, sexual intimacy does not. Often spouses are increasingly seen as objects and are treated disrespectfully. I saw a man yesterday who faces a church sanction because he “raped [his] wife.” He was acting out what he was seeing in porn.
Because of guilt, shame and a reduced ability to relate to others generally, addicts often become depressed, withdrawn and isolated. Because many men, children and adolescents manifest their depression through irritability, anger and aggression, an attitude of disrespect and resentment are common towards family members. Aggression and violence can sometimes be an end result. Because of the obsession, distraction and actual time spent looking at porn, family relationships are diminished and neglected. When the addict is with family, often he is physically present, but absent mentally and emotionally. Sometimes an addict will seek to justify their neglectful and abusive words and actions, declaring it to be their spouse’s fault. The spouse often feels angry and resentful towards the addict because they personalize the porn addiction—“I must not be attractive enough, or good enough for him.” Trust, confidence and closeness are usually lost when the addiction is discovered. Divorce is not uncommon.
Reporter’s Question: Studies I’ve read indicate that pornography desensitizes a man toward “real”-world women, because they’re not as hard core or extreme in nature as the women portrayed in online pornography.
My Response: True. Addicts build up a tolerance and habituation to the pornography. What was initially “extreme” is considered more normal. The porn user needs more and more stimulation to achieve the same high. Mentally trained through constant repetition by the grossly exaggerated and twisted world of Internet porn and how it portrays women, the addict increasingly expects the same type of behavior from women in real life.
Reporter’s Question: Even if addicts or self-described “porn hobbyists” don’t spend more and more time online, studies do show that in the same amount of time spent viewing pornography, it becomes increasingly deviant.
My Response: I have found that generally, consistent porn users increase both the time on the computer, and also become more deviant. This is due to the brain’s natural tendency to habituate to an activity and build up a tolerance, thus requiring greater levels of stimulation to get the same high. This is the case with any addiction. Tolerance with alcohol builds up so that more and more alcohol needs to be consumed in order to get drunk or get the “buzz”. It’s the same with Porn.
Reporter’s Question: How does this increased interest in more extreme and fanatical things relate to pre-marriage relationships, as one searches for a marital partner?
My Response: It can lead someone to put a higher priority on sexual criteria than on other criteria such as compatibility with values, maturity, personality, quality of the relationship, ability to relate, spirituality, etc. With a major focus on physical attributes and the sex act, two individuals can form a very shallow relationship—one that in many ways is not really compatible or sustainable. If a marriage is entered into with sexual criteria as the first priority, then the marriage is in trouble generally after a few weeks or months because the sex becomes common and the relationship isn’t strong enough or deep enough to sustain itself through the difficulties that occur in the normal course of marriage. Interest is often lost very quickly, likely resulting in cheating/adultery and eventually divorce.