You Found Out Your Partner is Using Pornorgraphy: Now What?

Q and A with sex therapist Mieke Rivka Sidorsky, LCSW-C

using pornographyWith the advent of the internet, pornography has become an increasingly common factor for many couples who are suffering marriage problems. One in seven Americans are regular visitors to porn sites and a quarter of search engine requests are pornographic.[1] The effects of one spouse’s involvement in pornography can have a devastating effect on your relationship for a variety of reasons. Without getting into the problem of pornography itself, the secrecy that usually accompanies it can destroy the trust in a relationship. Finding out about your spouse’s secret activities that involve others in this very private area of your marriage, can feel like a form of betrayal.

We asked sex therapist Mieke Rivka Sidorsky, LCSW-C how she would advise those who found out that their partner uses pornography and are feeling disgusted, hurt, and betrayed. Here is what she suggests:

  •  Take time to process. Take as much time as you need to think about this, calm down, and prepare for how you will talk to him/her before broaching this subject. According to Dr. Gottman’s research, a soft start-up is key as the beginning of a conversation usually determines the outcome.[2] Start your conversation softly and calmly instead of exploding in anger.
  • It’s not your fault. If your spouse is using pornography it does not mean that he/she finds you unattractive or that it is a result of less frequent intimacy in your relationship. Studies show that decreased interest in sex with one’s partner is actually a consequence of pornography use, not the other way around.[3]
  • Ask him/her questions about their use. Make the time to have a mature and calm discussion. While you may rather yell at your spouse, it is important for you to gather information and find out what he/she was actually doing and why, if possible. You may want to find out how long it has been going on, frequency of use, what kind of pornography he or she looked and whether it was interactive websites or passive videos. Allow him/her to explore his/her feelings about the use. Is he/she remorseful or did he/she attempt to justify it as “everyone does it.” How did he/she react to your discovery of this behavior? Don’t be confrontational. This will help him/her be transparent and help you feel like you know what really went on and remove the secrecy.
  • Tell your partner what pornography use means to you. Share with your partner your feelings of betrayal, jealousy, or shame. You may be feeling insecure about your body or afraid that this will lead into more betrayal, secrecy, or even full-blown infidelity. You may feel increased pressure to perform for your spouse as you may be concerned that he/she is comparing you to what he/she has watched. In fact, the feeling that women must behave like porn actors in the bedroom is one of the most common negative results of pornography.[1]
  • Come up with a plan. Discuss with your partner about where you go from here. Is he/she promising to stop? Is your partner defensive and refusing to quit? Can you agree on a plan of action? If not, you may want to seek a couples or marital therapist to help you process this. There are those who are so addicted or feel compelled to look at pornography that even though they say they are willing to stop, they are unable to. In such cases, I advise looking for a therapist who specializes in pornography addiction.

Pornography use can be a very sensitive topic because it involves the most intimate acts and parts of the body. It can stir up feelings of mistrust, anxiety, and depression. Although pornography use may be wide-spread, it does not make it right nor does it diminish the devastating effect it can have on your relationship. As this is a delicate topic we recommend using the Imago Dialogue to create a safe conversation that will help you control your reactivity. Remember, if you want to encourage your spouse’s transparency, do your best to be respectful and don’t lash out. The goal is for both of you not to be defensive so that you can best work through this issue together and become more connected as a result.

If you need help facilitating an Imago dialogue around this issue please contact us as we’ve successfully helped couples deal with this delicate and volatile issue.

Best wishes for your relationship success,

Shlomo and Rivka Slatkin

[1] Deni Kirkova, Vanilla Sex is OUT, Porn Addiction is IN: Disturbing Survey Reveals How Porn is Damaging Our Relationships, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2264419/Vanilla-sex-OUT-porn-addiction-IN-Disturbing-results-Cosmo-survey-reveal-porn-damaging-relationships.html#ixzz2OfMGpMJ6, Daily Mail Online (Jan 18, 2013).

[1] The Stats on Internet Pornography, http://thedinfographics.com/2011/12/23/internet-pornography-statistics/ (Dec 23.2011).

[2] https://www.gottman.com/wp-content/uploads/EmpiricalBasis-Update3.pdf

[3] The Stats on Internet Pornography, http://thedinfographics.com/2011/12/23/internet-pornography-statistics/ (Dec 23.2011).

[4] Deni Kirkova, Vanilla Sex is OUT, Porn Addiction is IN: Disturbing Survey Reveals How Porn is Damaging Our Relationships, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2264419/Vanilla-sex-OUT-porn-addiction-IN-Disturbing-results-Cosmo-survey-reveal-porn-damaging-relationships.html#ixzz2OfMGpMJ6, Daily Mail Online (Jan 18, 2013).

[5] This article originally appeared in a different format on Goodtherapy.com