One person’s porn habit can hurt a whole family, even if it’s kept a secret—perhaps especially if it’s kept a secret. Research has shown that porn undermines the trust, respect, love, communication, and happiness that are at the core of a healthy family.

Last summer, T’s father finally confessed. [1]

All those times he’d stayed late at work to finish projects? Those were lies. The years and years of piano recitals and family events he’d missed because of another work emergency? Lies. Locking himself in his room night after night to finish work he’d brought home? Nope. Didn’t happen. It was all a lie.

He’d been watching porn.

He told all this to T. as she was standing in the kitchen making cookies. She couldn’t believe her ears. It didn’t even make sense to her at first. And then, it did.

It had all been part of a plan, he admitted. The angry outbursts. The unfair punishments. The screaming through the closed bedroom door demanding that they stop making so much noise! It had all been on purpose, he said. You see, if they thought he was in a bad mood, they’d leave him alone. And that was all he’d wanted, to be alone with his porn. If they were afraid of him, they wouldn’t interrupt him to ask a question or tell him how their day went. He could sit in his room uninterrupted, watching his porn, alone.

He was sorry, he said.

But T. was devastated. “My dad was a workaholic,” she explained in the letter she sent to Fight the New Drug, “which sucked, but at least he was doing the right thing and putting food on the table. Right?” How was she supposed to accept that, all along, he’d just wanted to go back to his room and look at naked women?

“He makes jokes about his kids probably needing therapy because of his parenting skills,” she wrote, “and what he doesn’t know is that all six of us currently see or have seen a therapist because of the scars of our childhood.”

Most of us have a pretty good idea of what we want to do with our lives. For the majority of us, that plan includes having a family. In fact, more than 80 percent of young adults say that getting married is an important priority in their life plan. [2] And, considering that married people are more likely to feel “highly satisfied” about their lives than unmarried folk, a family probably isn’t a bad goal. [3]

Unfortunately for many young people, that goal of a fulfilling family life may be in direct conflict with their use of porn.

T’s story is one example of the toll porn can take on family life, but there are many others. Study after study has shown that porn viewers are less stable in their relationships [4] and have higher rates of infidelity [5] and divorce. [6] They are also less committed to their partners; [7] less satisfied in their relationships, [8] and more cynical about marriage, love, and relationships in general. [9]

Advocates of porn argue that those studies can’t prove that the porn is actually causing the problems. Maybe it’s the other way around, they say. Maybe people who are cynical, untrusting, and unhappy in their relationships are just more likely to use porn. To be fair, it likely works both ways. [10] (See How Porn Kills Love.)

But we can’t just ignore the strong correlation between porn use and messed-up relationships. And what’s more, plenty of studies do demonstrate that porn directly affects its viewers. For example, in one study researchers showed softcore porn to one group of subjects, and they showed non-sexual images to another group. After six weeks of these movie-viewing sessions, the two groups were given a seemingly unrelated questionnaire. When their answers were compared, there was no significant difference between the porn and non-porn groups in most areas of their lives, but in the area of their sex lives, there were big differences. The subjects who had watched porn were less satisfied with their own sexual partner’s’ physical appearance, sexual curiosity, sexual performance, and shows of affection. [11] That might help explain why porn users tend to rate themselves as less sexually attracted to their partners and less in love with them compared to individuals who don’t use porn. [12]

All of those factors can gradually eat away at the love, trust, and mutual respect at the core of any relationship. But porn has other effects that are not nearly so subtle, like the humiliation, abandonment, and betrayal that someone feels when their spouse’s porn habit is discovered. [13] (See How Porn Can Hurt Your Partner) Even if they don’t consider it technically cheating, it’s hard not to feel some sense of betrayal at learning their spouse has been using someone else’s body to get aroused. [14]

Besides feeling less satisfaction and commitment with their partners [15], porn users are more likely to cheat in their relationships, take sexual risks, and visit prostitutes. [16] And, as T’s story reminds us, they are more likely to let their habits get in the way of what really matters.

“When we bring up bad experiences from our past,” T says, “he responds with ‘Well, I was a different person then.’” He really is sorry for what he did, and he wants to move on. The problem with addictive substances and addictive practices like porn is that often, by the time you’re ready to admit you have a problem, the damage is done. But, that is all the more reason to begin the process of change today. And change is possible. If you or your loved ones are finding your lives twisted in the spiralling effects of pornography, click here for more information about where to find help.

Citations
[1] Fight the New Drug. (2016, July 2). True Story: My Dad Chose Porn Over Our Family. Retrieved from http://fightthenewdrug.org/true-story-my-father-chose-porn-over-me/
[2] Hymowitz, K., Carroll, J. S., Wilcox, W. B., & Kaye, K. (2013). Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America. University of Virginia: The National Marriage Project, 14.
[3] Hymowitz, K., Carroll, J. S., Wilcox, W. B., & Kaye, K. (2013). Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America. University of Virginia: The National Marriage Project, 14.
[4] Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of cybersex addiction on the family: Results of a survey. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 31-58. doi:10.1080/10720160008400206
[5] Braithwaite, S. R., Coulson, G., Keddington, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2015). The influence of pornography on sexual scripts and hooking upp among emerging adults in college. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(1), 111-123. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0351-x; 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/s10508-009-9585-4; Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health 27(2), 41–44. doi:10.1016/S1054-139X(00)00137-3
[6] Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of cybersex addiction on the family: Results of a survey. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 31-58. doi:10.1080/10720160008400206
[7] Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The effects of sexually explicit material use on romantic relationship dynamics. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078; 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/s10508-009-9585-4
[8] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunction? A Review with Clinical Reports, Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Perry, S. (2016). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0770-y; Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The effects of sexually explicit material use on romantic relationship dynamics. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078; Morgan, E. M. (2011). Associations between Young Adults’ Use of Sexually Explicit Materials and Their Sexual Preferences, Behaviors, and Satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 48(6), 520-530. doi:10.1080/00224499.2010.543960; 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/s10508-009-9585-4; Yucel, D. & Gassanov, M. A. (2010). Exploring actor and partner correlates of sexual satisfaction among married couples. Social Science Research, 39(5), 725-738. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.20009.09,002; Zillman, D., & Bryant, J. (2006). Pornography’s Impact on Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18(5), 438-453. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb00027.x
[9] Zillman, D., & Bryant, J. (2000). Influence of unrestrained access to erotica on adolescents’ and young adults’ disposition toward sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27(2 Suppl), 41-44. doi:10.1016/s1054-139X(00)00137-3
[10] Weir, K. (2014, April). Is pornography addictive? Monitor on Psychology. 45(4) 46. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/pornography.aspx
[11] Zillman, D., & Bryant, J. (1988). Pornography’s Impact on Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18(5), 438–453. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb00027.x
[12] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In Stoner, J. & Hughes, D. (Eds.), The Social Cost of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Kendrick, D., Gutierres, S., & Goldberg, L. (1989). Influence of popular erotica on judgments of strangers and mates. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 159-167. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(89)90010-3
[13] Kalman, T. P., (2008). Clinical Encounters with Internet Pornography, Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(4), 593-618. doi:10.1521/jaap.2008.36.4.593; Bridges, A. J., Bergner, R. M., & Hesson-McInnis, M. (2003). Romantic Partners’ Use of Pornography: Its Significance for Women. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 29(1), 1-14. doi:10.1080/713847097; Bergner, R.M., & Bridges, A. J. (2002). The significance of heavy pornography involvement for romantic partners: Research and clinical implications. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 193-206. doi:10.1080/009262302760328235; Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of Cybersex Addiction on the Family: Results of a Survey. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7(1), 31-58. doi:10.1080/10720160008400206
[14] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold & Co., 163.
[15] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunction? A Review with Clinical Reports, Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Perry, S. (2016). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0770-y; Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The effects of sexually explicit material use on romantic relationship dynamics. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078; 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/s10508-009-9585-4
[16] 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/s10508-009-9585-4; Malarek, V. (2009) Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It. New York, NY: Arcade, (pp.193-196); Carroll, J. S., et al. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23(1), 6-30. doi:10.1177/0743558407306348; Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27(2), 41–44. doi:10.1016/S1054-139X(00)00137-3

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