Addictions — 19 August 2013

Why pornography damages intimate relationships

Pornography use has undoubtedly damaged many marriages. It is important for both genders to understand the impact of this behavior on their relationship. Why would viewing images on a screen be so debilitating to the viewer and devastating to the partner and, for some, cause the termination of their relationship?

Men are the ones who more commonly watch porn and women are the ones who more commonly feel the intolerable pain of rejection, shame, inadequacy, threat and even despondency. Some men are bewildered by their wives’ intense devastation about their private habit of watching images on a screen.

Most people understand the damage that infidelity may inflict on relationships. Since marriage is built on the foundation of a unique commitment to the “one and only” special person in one’s life, any behavior that weakens that perception damages one’s view of being the cherished, unique and irreplaceable partner in the other’s life. Even an inkling of a partner’s interest in another individual may shake the mate’s sense of security, stability and safety.

As infants, our primary attachment figure, usually the mother, was the first source of need fulfillment, validation and love connection. Infants survive and thrive by the responsiveness and affirmation they receive from their primary caregiver. In adulthood, we transfer the need for validation, reassurance and support to our spouse. When a man becomes obsessed with another, or even images of others, with compulsive intensity and pleasure, it leaves the wife feeling rejected and ejected from his life, threatened and invalidated.

Wives of porn viewers state that they feel “invisible, unimportant, unattractive and abandoned” by their compulsive porn-obsessed husbands. How can any woman be comfortable being compared to a female porn star? As wives become impotent in changing their husbands’ porn activities, they may use their anger to berate their spouse who is perceived as their tormentor.

Men often talk about how misunderstood they are by what they perceive to be a harmless act. They say that they make no comparisons between their wives and the porn actresses and feel that they are unfairly maligned and maltreated.

The sex life of couples, one of whom is a porn viewer, deteriorates in frequency and quality. Women feel inept at matching their partner’s screen interest and men may find their home love life unexciting.

There is also the issue of a power struggle within the marriage. When the woman insists that the man discontinue an activity that is pleasurable, thrilling and satisfying to him he is likely to feel controlled and judged. The woman feels that since this activity is so stressful to her, he should lovingly acquiesce to her request and cease the behavior.

When both spouses feel misunderstood, hurt, judged, rejected, abandoned and unloved, it is clear how their marriage may collapse. To restore their mutual admiration, love and primacy in each other’s lives, pairs are advised to seek professional help.

Dealing with porn:

  •  Understand that both partners are hurting emotionally.
  • Seek professional help.

Do you need to improve your relationship? Contact Offra Gerstein, a clinical psychologist in Santa Cruz with more than 30 years of success in helping couples restore their love. Call 476-7666 or visit










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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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