How Pornography Impacts Marriage and Family Life

Relationship Design, Sex and Intimacy

Most everyone who lives in an industrialized nation has felt the impact of the Internet. There is seldom a day where I am not online at some point, in fact it’s rare that I go several waking hours without hopping online for some reason. Even my 4 year old enjoys some of the games and activities the Internet provides.

The Internet is transforming the experience of growing up in America. It is also transforming the job of being a parent in America. The Internet brings the world – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to the American family’s doorstep. It brings the ruins of ancient Athens to that doorstep, but it also brings the red light district of Bangkok. ~ The Third Way Culture Project

The Internet is the means through which we know each other. It’s also how I connect with my family and past college and childhood friends. But as many of you know, the Internet also brings with it access to other things in our world, namely pornography and sexually explicit material.
If there is one issue I receive regular emails about it’s pornography and its impact on a marriage. Specifically, I’ve received lots of emails asking what to do when one spouse discovers the others use of pornography.
So what’s the impact pornography has upon marriage and family life?
Thus far, the research on Internet pornography (which is a distinct genre due to it’s accessibility, affordability, and anonymity – called the “Triple A Engine”) is not yet reflected in the literature as there are no studies that look specifically at marital and family process and Internet pornography. Any conclusion from research can only be inferred – although the inference is not too much of a leap in my opinion. There are however, many studies involving general pornography and the impact on marriage and family life.
To put this discussion into perspective, let’s review the characteristics of strong, stable, and satisfying marriages. While it is understood that there is not one way to have a stable and satisfying marriage, there are some common factors worth highlighting. Research states these characteristics as: investment in the well-being of the beloved; respect; admiration; sexual desire; intimacy; commitment; exclusivity; and understanding.
Pornography began being researched in 1984 and 1988 by Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant, and their research continues to be referenced. They discovered that the effects of repeated exposure to standard, non-violent, commonly available pornography includes: increased callousness toward women; distorted perceptions about sexuality; devaluation of the importance of monogamy; decreased satisfaction with partner’s sexual performance, affection, and appearance; doubts about the value of marriage; and decreased desire to have children. Later research studies further confirm their findings.
It’s important to note that some couples and even clinicians claim pornography consumed in a mutual, consensual, and open manner, can be an enriching aspect of marital intimacy. Although the material consumed is more likely to involve erotic content as opposed to hard-core pornography. Moreover, pornography consumed in a mutual way is inherently different than solitary pornography viewing because it is used as a bridge to become more closer and present with one’s partner, as opposed to a wall that cuts one’s partner off, draws sexual energy away from the marriage, and heightens distance between partners.
Zillman and Bryant’s 1988 study explored the relationship between pornography and personal happiness. The study involved the participants (both male and female) being exposed to either pornographic or innocuous, non-pornographic content in hourly sessions over six consecutive weeks. During the seventh week, participants were asked to rate their personal happiness regarding various domains of their life and relationships.
Results of the study showed that exposure to pornography negatively impacted self-assessment of sexual experience while some other aspects of life remained constant – namely professional satisfaction. Participants reported less satisfaction with their intimate partner, specifically with their partner’s affection, physical appearance, sexual curiosity, and sexual performance.
Additionally, participants exposed to the pornographic material assigned an increased importance to sexual relations without emotional involvement. Furthermore, and the most telling aspect of the research, all these effects were uniform across male and female participants. Meaning this is not only a male issue.
Pornography leads to an objectification rather than a meaningful interaction with another person. One woman from a study stated:

I am no longer a sexual person or partner to him, but a sexual object. He is not really with me, not really making love to me… He seems to be thinking about something else – likely those porn women… He is just using me as a warm body. ~ Bergner & Bridges

The use of pornography directly correlates to a decrease in sexual intimacy. Research also finds that its usage is viewed as a form of infidelity that reduces the exclusivity of the relationship. Online sexual activity is perceived by both men and women as an act of betrayal that is as authentic and real as offline acts, namely emotional infidelity.
So what does all this mean?
Pornography has a negative impact on you as a person – and on your relationships. It hurts the ones you love and it likely creates a wall between you, driving you apart rather than closer together.

*Manning, J. C. (2006) The impact of Internet pornography on marriage and the family: A review of the research. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. 13, 131-165.