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While this article discusses the effect of porn on women in heterosexual relationships, women can struggle with porn, too, and porn can affect relationships involving partners of any gender.
For women, discovering your significant other has been consuming porn can emphasize and reinforce negative thoughts you’ve already internalized, like:
“I’m not skinny or sexy enough.”
“I have to live up to what other performers look or act like in order for someone to want me.”
“My partner has been looking outside of our relationship for sexual gratification, and it must be my fault.”
This isn’t just the case for women, but for men who discover their partner’s porn habit, too.
Feelings of shame and self-degradation—whether from one’s own internal dialogue or imposed by someone else—can be a huge speed bump in the healing process for both porn consumers and their hurt partners.
Partners: Avoid shaming yourself
If you found out your partner consumes porn, you may have experienced feelings of intense anger, hopelessness, fear, isolation, or anxiety coupled with debilitating flashbacks, withdrawal from people or things you once loved, and even headaches or nausea. You may also lack feelings of safety or security. In short, you may be suffering from a version of PTSD called “betrayal trauma.”
These feelings do not mean you’re weak. There’s a reason it’s called trauma, and there’s actually a scientific explanation for what you’re going through.
Betrayal trauma is a real thing, and it looks different for each person. Most people feel they’ve been cheated on and go through a mourning process. The lies and broken trust are often what hurt the most.
For some, finding out about a partner’s porn habit can blindside them. Others may notice warning signs prior to disclosure that contributed to the trauma—like their partner withdrawing sexually or becoming increasingly critical of their appearance. Some experience a lack of intimacy, commitment, or some form of sexual dysfunction in their partner.
It’s normal to try to make sense of what has happened or question what you could or should have done differently. But whatever the circumstances of your unique story, remember that your partner’s porn habit is not your fault, and is not a reflection of your value as a partner.
While it’s normal to question yourself, your relationship, or wonder if you being “not enough” or “too much” in certain categories might have contributed to their porn habit, these factors are not why your partner turned to porn.
While you can be supportive throughout the healing process if you want to continue with the relationship, it’s also important to know that their recovery isn’t your responsibility, either. Those steps are really up to your partner—their choice, their effort, and their commitment when provided with access to helpful resources.
Avoid shaming your partner—whether or not you choose to stay
Just as there’s a scientific explanation for the trauma you’re experiencing, there’s also one for the impact porn has on your partner.
Even though this issue affects you directly and deeply, it’s likely a problem that started long before you were in the picture—possibly when your partner was a child. There are a lot of reasons people turn to porn, and they aren’t always sexual.
For example, an addiction or compulsion could have started forming in their younger years when their natural sexual curiosity was hijacked by unsolicited exposure to porn. These habits could have continued as a means to cope with their own past trauma, feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, boredom, or insecurity.
Instead of inflicting shame on your partner in exchange for the pain their habit has caused you, it can help to learn the science behind how porn has affected their brain and possibly their ability to bond with you emotionally or sexually in a healthy way.
Bitterness gets in the way of your recovery and theirs, and shame is counter-productive in the recovery process—whether you decide it’s best for you to stay in the relationship or not.
Healing in a healthy way—without shame
Your partner’s porn habit doesn’t define your worth as a human being or as a partner in a relationship—and it doesn’t have to define theirs, either.
Shaming those who watch pornography—and partners shaming themselves—only makes this complex issue worse and puts up barriers to loving connections that are necessary for recovery.
We continually encourage couples to make decisions about their relationship that are best for them.
Sometimes, that choice is to go their separate ways, and sometimes, that choice is to stay and support each other through the struggles porn brings. It all depends on the couple, and we respect the decisions people make for themselves. There’s no “correct” answer, seeing as every relationship is different.
Forgiveness doesn’t obligate you to excuse your partner’s behavior or stay in an unhealthy situation—but it can help both of you move forward and heal.
Get Help – For Partners
If your partner is struggling with porn, you are not alone—know that there is hope, and there is help. As you navigate this difficult situation, there are supportive communities and resources available to you. Below is a non-exhaustive list of several resources for those experiencing hurt because of their partner’s porn consumption. Note that this isn’t a complete resource list.
Disclaimer: For those who may find themselves involved in this sensitive situation, their responses can differ. This is why resources need to fit the specific needs of whoever is seeking them. Some of these resources are gender-specific, others are religiously affiliated, others use a variety of approaches. Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative awareness and education organization hoping to provide access to resources that are helpful to those who need support. Including this list of recommendations does not constitute an endorsement by Fight the New Drug.