fbpx Skip to main content
Blog

Why Does It Hurt So Much When Your Partner Watches Porn?

It’s common for people to feel a whole range of negative emotions including rejection, loneliness, anger, and shame when they find out their partner watches porn when they were not aware.

By August 12, 2022No Comments

No one ever woke up and said, “Today, I want to get out there and damage my current and future relationships. Guess I’ll go cut myself off emotionally, undermine trust, and leave my partner feeling confused, rejected, angry, and betrayed.”

No one says that, yet a growing number of studies show that may be exactly what can happen as a result of consuming porn, especially while in a committed exclusive relationship.

When porn is kept secret

Perhaps the most consistent finding of pornography studies to date is that there is a sizable gap that exists between men and women when it comes to their personal consumption and acceptance of pornography.

Dozens of studies show that while it’s not uncommon for women to consume porn, men are more likely than women to view pornography, and this is particularly true of viewing pornography regularly on a daily or weekly basis.Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Brown, C. C. (2017). The porn gap: Differences in men's and women's pornography patterns in couple relationships. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 16(2), 146-163. doi:10.1080/15332691.2016.1238796Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Negatively Impact Love and Intimacy

And, studies also show that many women in heterosexual relationships are frequently not aware of the amount of porn that their partners view.Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Brown, C. C. (2017). The porn gap: Differences in men's and women's pornography patterns in couple relationships. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 16(2), 146-163. doi:10.1080/15332691.2016.1238796Copy 

Given this gap between men and women, it’s probably no surprise that women tend to view porn and its effects very differently from men.Olmstead, S. B., Negash, S., Pasley, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). Emerging Adults’ Expectations for Pornography Use in the Context of Future Committed Romantic Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 625-635. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9986-7Copy  While anyone of any gender can develop a pornography habit, studies indicate that many women—even if they believe that pornography consumption is okay for other people—see no acceptable role for porn within their own committed relationship.Olmstead, S. B., Negash, S., Pasley, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). Emerging Adults’ Expectations for Pornography Use in the Context of Future Committed Romantic Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 625-635. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9986-7Copy 

Live Presentations

It’s also common for people to find out that their partner has been consuming porn when they were not aware, or that their partner is consuming types of porn that they are not comfortable with. When this happens, partners can feel a whole range of negative emotions including rejection, loneliness, anger, and shame.Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784Copy 

Even if they don’t believe that porn is the same as cheating, they can often feel a deep sense of betrayal and mistrust.Szymanski, D. M., Feltman, C. E., & Dunn, T. L. (2015). Male partners’ perceived pornography use and Women’s relational and psychological health: The roles of trust, attitudes, and investment. Sex Roles, 73(5), 187-199. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0518-5Copy Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784Copy  The secrecy, shame, isolation, and mistrust that can be introduced into a relationship by porn consumption can then snowball into all kinds of problems.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4Copy 

Even if porn isn’t kept a secret—even if partners are open and honest about their consumption—it can still do real harm.

Porn and changing expectations

If you think those unrealistic depictions don’t work their way into consumers’ beliefs, expectations and actions, think again.Peter, J. & Valkenburg, P. M., (2016) Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research. Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441Copy 

For example, a recent poll found that the more porn a man consumes, the more likely he is to be dissatisfied with his penis size. And the same goes for women with male partners—the more porn they consume, the less satisfied they are with their partner’s penis size.International Andrology London. (2017). The porn hypothesis – findings prove porn consumption fuels the desire for penis enlargement surgery in the UK. Retrieved from https://london-andrology.co.uk/news/the-porn-hypothesis-findings-prove-porn-consumption-fuels-the-desire-for-penis-enlargement-surgery-in-the-uk/Copy 

And in one survey of 16 to 18-year-old Americans, nearly every participant reported learning about sex by watching porn, and many of the young women said they felt pressured to play out the “scripts” their male partners had learned from porn.Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908Copy 

They felt badgered into having sex in uncomfortable positions, faking sexual responses, and consenting to unpleasant or painful acts.

Be kind to yourself, and your partner

The research is clear—porn is not a harmless pastime, especially when it’s hurting a romantic partner.

But the research is also clear that shame is not an effective way to motivate someone to change.Brown, B. (2012). Understanding and combating shame. Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Avery.Copy  According to one study of individuals trying to quit porn, researchers found that shame actually predicted increased pornography consumption while guilt predicted sustainable change.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior. 18(1), 12-29. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.551182Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Harm Consumers’ Sex Lives

So if you’re trying to give up porn, be kind to yourself and be patient with your progress. Like anything, it takes time for the brain to recover, but daily efforts make a big difference in the long run.

To love someone is to focus—to see the good and the bad and love them anyway. Focusing your time, your energy, and your love on someone who focuses back on you is one of the best feelings in the world. Too often, however, porn breaks that focus. Let’s refocus on love.

This is a selected excerpt from one of our Get The Facts articles. Click here to read the full article, “How Porn Can Hurt a Consumer’s Partner.”

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

Fortify

Fight the New Drug may receive financial support from purchases made using affiliate links.

Support this resource

Thanks for taking the time to read through this article! As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we're able to create resources like this through the support of people like you. Will you help to keep our educational resources free as we produce resources that raise awareness on the harms of porn and sexual exploitation?

DONATE