Relationships Spouses & Partners Marital Problems Is Pornography Destroying Your Marriage? By Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT Marni Feuerman is a psychotherapist in private practice who has been helping couples with marital issues for more than 27 years. Learn about our editorial process Updated on November 06, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Carly Snyder, MD Medically reviewed by Carly Snyder, MD Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Since pornography's migration from magazines and videos to a digital format, it is readily accessible, easily kept private, and anonymous. Women at times view porn, yet men are still by far the biggest users. Unfortunately, pornography use can negatively impact marital intimacy in many ways. How Porn Impacts Relationships An increasing number of couples report that pornography is causing difficulties in their relationships. Research shows that pornography use is one of the strongest predictors of poor relationship quality and stability, both for those in dating relationships as well as married couples. It's even been linked to divorce. But what is it about porn that harms relationships? Breaks Trust Usually, the person looking at porn doesn’t want their partner to know. The secrecy, shame, isolation, and lies this kind of sneaking around introduces into a relationship often snowballs into all kinds of problems. Keeping secrets from your partner is a recipe for disaster. When romantic partners keep secrets from each other, their trust in each other erodes and their confidence in their relationship starts to waver. This, in turn, can negatively affect your relationship. But even if porn isn’t kept a secret—even if partners are open and honest about their consumption—it can still do real harm. Tips for Rebuilding Trust in Your Marriage Decreases Satisfaction There is some research out there that suggests porn viewing can improve a couple’s sex life. For some couples, it might add a little “spice” to an already awesome experience. But for the majority, research says that porn does the exact opposite. In "An Open Letter on Porn," world-renowned clinical psychologists and relationship experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman write about how porn negatively affects relationships. Drs. John and Julie Gottman, Founders of The Gottman Institute Use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction…We are led to unconditionally conclude that for many reasons, pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony. — Drs. John and Julie Gottman, Founders of The Gottman Institute Obstructs Emotional Intimacy Frequent porn use can also cause users to emotionally detach from their partners. Michael Taylor, a marriage and family therapist in Kentucky, agrees, saying "Pornography is a poor substitute for the bonding version of sex. The vulnerability is removed in pornography, and that makes it too simplistic to produce the security and bonding that are a significant part of the physical interaction of a couple." In the most extreme cases, porn can separate the user from their partner—both in terms of time and emotions. The resulting emotional detachment from sex is very dangerous to the viability of the marriage. How a Fear of Intimacy Sabotages Relationships Creates Unrealistic Expectations When you go to the movies, you know that the movie has been edited, and that the people on screen are actors who have been paid to bring a scripted character to life. But for some reason, people have difficulty making these same connections when they watch porn. They forget that real sex isn't the same as the perfectly scripted scenes they see on the internet. This leads them to have unrealistic expectations about sex and a warped view of what a sexual partner should look like and be willing to do—expectations that can never be met. Decreases Self Esteem Janie Lacy, a licensed mental health counselor and certified sex addiction therapist in Florida, says, "Pornography can lower the sense of self-esteem and self-worth of the wife because she may compare herself to the women that her husband is viewing on the screen." And research shows that her assessment is spot on. For example, some women worry they can't compete with the beautiful young women her partner is viewing on the screen. Many even begin to view themselves as “sexually undesirable, worthless, weak, and stupid.” When you are constantly bombarded by negative thoughts about yourself, they eventually start to creep into how you relate to your partner. Low self-esteem eventually gives rise to jealousy and overall distrust in the relationship. What to Do If Porn Is a Problem Of course, there are relationships in which porn use is mutually enjoyed. But if porn isn't OK with you, then it’s not OK in your relationship and should be addressed. Unfortunately, this is an important conversation that far too few couples have. Here are some tips on how to broach the topic of porn with your partner and get back on track: Start your conversation right. The first few minutes of a difficult conversation generally determine the outcome, so be direct and calm. Use the same tone and attitude you would use for any low-pressure topic. Do you want steak for dinner? Are you into having a porn conversation with me tonight?Leave judgment at the door. Tread lightly and choose your words wisely. Nothing is more upsetting or alienating than feeling like your sexuality is being judged.Ask questions. Ask them what they like about porn. Find out if their porn use is something they consider a problem and need to work on, or if they think that porn is OK.Own your feelings. Take the time to calmly and clearly explain why you feel the way you do about porn. Be honest about why it bothers you. This may require you to open up about insecurities you may have about what you look like or how you have sex. If you can't resolve the issue alone, consider seeking the help of a couples' counselor or sex therapist. You can also look into marriage counseling to see if you think there are other problems in your marriage that may be leading to excessive pornography use. Taylor warns that while experimenting with porn is understandable, doing so just to please your partner can wind up backfiring. Not only will it "reinforce or excuse avoidant or abusive dynamics," but it also has the potential to lead to addiction. Best Online Sex Therapy Programs of 2022 A Word From Verywell Pornography use is a risky venture that can wreak havoc on a relationship if used in excess. If pornography crops up, view it as an opportunity to express your sexual needs, and explore together how to improve your sex life. Don't sweep it under the rug. Your marriage may depend on it. How Pornography Addiction Is Treated 9 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Perry SL, Schleifer C. Till porn do us part? A longitudinal examination of pornography use and divorce. J Sex Res. 2018;55(3):284-296. doi:10.1080/00224499.2017.1317709 Maddox AM, Rhoades GK, Markman HJ. Viewing sexually-explicit materials alone or together: Associations with relationship quality. Arch Sex Behav. 2011;40(2):441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4 McNabney SM, Hevesi K, Rowland DL. Effects of pornography use and demographic parameters on sexual response during masturbation and partnered sex in women. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(9). doi:10.3390/ijerph17093130 Perry SL. Pornography and relationship quality: Establishing the dominant pattern by examining pornography use and 31 measures of relationship quality in 30 national surveys. Arch Sex Behav. 2020;49(4):1199-1213. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-01616-7 The Gottman Institute. An open letter on porn. Maas MK, Vasilenko SA, Willoughby BJ. A dyadic approach to pornography use and relationship satisfaction among heterosexual couples: The role of pornography acceptance and anxious attachment. J Sex Res. 2018;55(6):772-782. doi:10.1080/00224499.2018.1440281 Zillmann D, Bryant J. Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction. J Appl Social Pyschol. 1988;18(5):438-453. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb00027.x Bergner RM, Bridges AJ. The significance of heavy pornography involvement for romantic partners: Research and clinical implications. J Sex Marital Ther. 2002;28(3):193-206. doi:10.1080/009262302760328235 Erol RY, Orth U. Actor and partner effects of self-esteem on relationship satisfaction and the mediating role of secure attachment between the partners. J Res Pers. 2013;47(1):26-35. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2012.11.003 See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Relationships Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.