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Impact of Pornography on Marriage and Family Life

Pornography Intervention - A Training Resource
By Jim Messina, Ph.D., CCMHC, NCC, DCMHS-T

Not much has changed since this survey was conducted in 2000.

Respondents to the survey where partners who experienced the impact of internet sex activity of their spouses.

  1. In response to learning about their partner's online sexual activities, the survey respondents felt hurt, betrayal, rejection, abandonment, devastation, loneliness, shame, isolation, humiliation, jealousy, and anger, as well as loss of self-esteem. Being lied to repeatedly was a major cause of distress.
  2. Cybersex addiction was a major contributing factor to separation and divorce of couples in this survey: 22.3% of the respondents were separated or divorced, and several others were seriously contemplating leaving.
  3. Among 68% of the couples one or both had lost interest in relational sex: 52.1% of addicts bad decreased interest in sex with their spouse, as did 34% of partners. Some couples had had no relational sex in months or years.
  4. Partners compared themselves unfavorably with the online women (or men) and pictures, and felt hopeless about being able to compete with them (Schneider, 2000).


A 2000 study found prolonged exposure to pornography impacts adolescents and young adults’ attitudes toward marriage including:

  • An exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society
  • Diminished trust between intimate couples
  • The abandonment of the hope of sexual monogamy
  • Belief that promiscuity is the natural state
  • Belief that abstinence and sexual inactivity are unhealthy
  • Cynicism about love or the need for affection between sexual partners
  • Belief that marriage is sexually confining
  • Lack of attraction to family and child-raising (Zillmann, 2000).


In 2002, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported the following as the most salient factors present in divorce cases:

  • 68% of the divorces involved one party meeting a new lover over the Internet
  • 56% involved one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites”
  • 47% involved spending excessive time on the computer
  • 33% involved excessive time spent speaking in chat rooms (Dedmon, 2002)

Research from 2005, indicates pornography consumption is associated with the following six trends, among others:

  1. Increased marital distress, and risk of separation and divorce
  2. Decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction
  3. Infidelity
  4. Increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity associated with abusive, illegal or unsafe practices
  5. Devaluation of monogamy, marriage and child rearing
  6. An increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and addictive sexual behavior (Manning, 2005).

A study of wives of sexual addicts in 2006 found that they experience distressing symptoms in response to the disclosure of their husbands’ compulsive sexual behaviors and often describe the disclosure event as traumatic. A majority of wives of sexual addicts respond to disclosure with significant trauma-related distress. The data also reveal that years married at the time of disclosure and number of previous traumatic event exposures best predicted total trauma symptom severity scores (Stefens & Rennie, 2006). In the survey the finding were:

  • 70% met most criteria for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • 75% discovered evidence of compulsive or addictive sexual behaviors themselves (as opposed to a planned disclosure on the part of a husband)
  • 71% demonstrated a severe level of functional impairment in major areas of their lives
  • Length of marriage at disclosure and number of prior traumatic event exposures were the best predictors increased trauma symptoms (Stefens & Rennie, 2006).


In studying the differences between male and female use of pornography researchers found that males indicated (Butler, Holm & Ferraro, 2011):

  • a younger age of first exposure to pornography
  • higher total number of times pornography was viewed
  • more frequently viewing pornography within the last year compared to female participants

Although men viewed more pornography more frequently than women, both male and female participants reported similar reasons for viewing pornography

  • Wanted the sexual excitement" was frequently indicated as a reason for viewing pornography
  • However, a higher percentage of women reported "never looking for pornography on purpose" than did men
  • The difference between "wanted the sexual excitement" and "never looking at pornography on purpose" was only 3%, suggesting that there is great discrepancy within reasons for viewing pornography among female participants. The discrepancy suggests that there is not a "typical" relation between women and pornography (Butler, Holm & Ferraro, 2011).


A 2012 analysis of five different studies examined the correction between pornography consumption and commitment to romantic relationships with the expectation that higher levels of pornography consumption would correspond to weakened commitment in young adult romantic relationships.

  • Study 1: found that higher pornography consumption was related to lower commitment
  • Study 2: replicated this finding using observational data
  • Study 3: participants were randomly assigned to either refrain from viewing pornography or to a self-control task. those who continued using pornography reported lower levels of commitment than control participants
  • Study 4: participants consuming higher levels of pornography flirted more with an extradyadic partner during an online chat
  • Study 5: found that pornography consumption was positively related to infidelity and this association was mediated by commitment.

Overall, a consistent pattern of results was found using a variety of approaches with the conclusion that  more pornography consumption is associated with a more weakened commitment to one’s relationship partner (Lambert, Negash, Stillman, Olmstead,& Fincham, 2012).

A 2013 study examined:

  • associations among pornography use
  • the meaning people attach to its use
  • sexual quality
  • relationship satisfaction
  • factors that discriminate between those who use pornography and those who do not.

Participants were couples who were either married or cohabiting at the time the data were gathered. Overall results from this study indicated substantial gender differences in terms of use profiles, as well as pornography’s association with relationship factors. Findings:

  • male pornography use was negatively associated with both male and female sexual quality
  • Female pornography use was positively associated with female sexual quality
  • Meaning explained a relatively small part of the relationship between pornography use and sexual quality (Poulsen, Busby & Galovan, 2013).


A 2014 study investigated female participants in committed relationships concerning honesty regarding pornography use and mutual consumption between partners, along with honesty and mutual use as predictors of satisfaction.

  • Participants reporting more honesty showed higher satisfaction and lower levels of distress
  • Participants disclosing mutual use showed lower levels of distress, although no differences were reported in satisfaction

Honesty regarding pornography use significantly predicted relationship dissatisfaction (Resch & Alderson, 2014).


In a survey of women in 2015, found that women’s reports of their male partners’ pornography use were related:

  • to less relationship satisfaction
  • more psychological distress.

In addition, relationship trust mediated the links between male partners’ perceived pornography use and relationship satisfaction and psychological distress. Results from the moderation analyses indicated that:

  • the direct effect of male partners’ perceived pornography use and relationship trust and the conditional indirect effects of male partners’ perceived pornography use on both relationship satisfaction and psychological distress were contingent on relationship investment.
  • These findings indicated that when male partners’ perceived pornography use is high, women who have low or mean levels of relationship investment have less relationship trust.

The survey revealed that the relationship between male partners’ perceived pornography use and relational and psychological outcomes exist regardless of women’s own attitudes toward pornography (Szymanski, Feltman & Dunn, 2015).


By 2016, an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. regularly view Internet pornography, 10 percent of whom admit to having an addiction to Internet pornography. Self-perceived pornography addiction (SPPA) has increasingly emerged as a concept in research and popular culture.

  • “Pornography or porn addiction” is not a formally recognized disorder and there is disagreement among researchers regarding its definition or even its existence however there are reliable findings about the impact of SPPA. Therefore, how SPPA is operationalized often varies, and this is likely to influence the conclusions made about the impact of SPPA.
  • SPPA is most frequently operationalized as excessive pornography use and negative consequences.
  • SPPA is reported to affect users and their partners in similar ways, such as increased feelings of isolation and relationship breakdowns.
  • There still exist a debate regarding the definition and etiology of SPPA as distinct from self-perceived sex addiction (Health & Medicine, 2016).


A 2016 study identified that men’s sexual difficulties and the sharp rise in erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, decreased sexual satisfaction, and diminished libido during partnered sex in men under 40 is directly related to overuse of internet pornography. The study concluded that alterations to the brain's motivational system are the etiology underlying pornography-related sexual dysfunctions (Park et al., 2016). Their explanation is that the characteristics of internet pornography may be potent enough to condition sexual arousal that do not readily transition to real life partners. These characteristics include:

  • Limitless novelty
  • Potential for easy escalation to more extreme material
  • Video formats

The result of the impact of internet pornography is that

  • sex with desired partners may not register as meeting expectation and arousal declines.

Clinical reports suggest:

  • Terminating internet pornography use is sometimes sufficient to reverse negative effects. (Park et al., 2016).
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