Whether the use of porn or the presence of sexual addiction influences the quality of an intimate relationship has been debated fiercely in the psychological community. It seems that the tide is turning in the debate and evidence is mounting that they are problematic, specifically when it comes to communicating well!
It is well established that the dynamics of denial, cognitive distortion, and social isolation accompany addictions. Introducing these dynamics into an intimate relationship inevitably results in strained communication and feelings of distress and confusion.
Gender Differences in Understandings Porn’s Impact
A fascinating study by Maddox et al, show that people in intimate relationships that didn’t watch porn displayed lower levels of negative communication acted with increased commitment to the relationship and had higher sexual satisfaction.
In case reducing those excruciating couple fights wasn’t an appealing enough reason to leave sexual addiction and porn behind, throw in the benefits of having better sex!
So why are so many of us unclear about the impact of porn (and other sexual behaviors outside our relationship)? Well, it starts with the denial we mentioned above, and Gunther demonstrated this, as a significant majority of American adults perceive others to be more adversely affected by porn than themselves.
Denial has convinced many people that others suffer worse than they do—and many people think that, which means it can’t be true!
Leaving the logical arguments behind, the point becomes clear as the evidence mounts: porn and sexual addiction are negatively impacting relational communication, satisfaction, and self-awareness.
That is a brutal combination that leads couples to therapists offices all over the country wondering why they just seem so hurt and confused; they just can’t communicate, especially about sex.
Sexual Addiction and The Communication Breakdowns
Very common communication breakdowns include:
- Not understanding how painful and offensive sexual betrayal can be.
- Neglecting to hear the other person’s’ point of view due to defensiveness.
These two coalesce into a painful destruction of intimacy.
When a sexual addiction or porn use is discovered and a partner is hurt by it, Steffens tells us that they are experiencing a betrayal. Symptoms of PTSD are common and confusing as the partner seeks the safety they have lost from the betrayal.
When a marine suffers PTSD from avoiding IEDs it makes simple sense—your brain is stuck trying to keep you safe. The same is true with sexual betrayal.
Sadly, when someone is suffering from PTSD symptoms due to sexual betrayal many of their partners don’t understand why the impact is so large! (Remember the study we just saw?)
Partners end up thinking and saying things like:
- “It was only porn—how could it hurt you?”
- “I never touched anyone.”
- “It was only once and didn’t mean anything.”
- “I gave it up ages ago!”
All of these responses fail to realize that the relationship has been strained, and the partner no longer feels safe. The pain is minimized and communication will break down.
Reestablishing Communication After Sexual Addiction
The critical difference between the aforementioned responses and effective ones is validation. The previous were invalidating—essentially saying “you are wrong to feel that way.”
More helpful responses respect how a hurt partner is feeling, even if you can’t fully understand it. You must hear your partner’s experience and do your best to validate their experience if you want to rebuild trust and intimacy.
This miscommunication feels like a defensive maneuver, and the original complaint and hurt is experienced as an attack. The result is a barrier of misunderstanding and often avoidance. The only pathway out of this is to begin truly listening to one another’s hurts, fears, feelings, and validate what you are hearing.
Once this begins, then changes to sexual behavior and porn use become relationship building and preserving. Intimacy and relationship satisfaction go far beyond the bedroom, or computer—it is built in the crucible of honest and attentive communication.
Here are some examples of how communication can go wrong, and more effective alternatives:
|Offending Partner Invalidating|
Offending Partner Validating
“I can’t believe you looked at porn—it is so humiliating to me”
|“It’s just online—it’s not real”|
“Humiliated—that doesn’t feel good”
“Where were you?”
“Ugh, this again”
“I can see your unsettled… I was out…”
“I’m just not enough (etc) for you”
“Sure you are, how can you not know that”
“You feel like I am replacing you, I could never do that. I see how that hurts you so much”
About the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of www.stopsexualaddiction.com where you can find his guide, or contact him.
: Maddox, Amanda, Galena K, Rhoades, and Howard J.Markman, (April 2011), Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone and Together: Associations with Relationship Quality, Archives of Sexual Behavior. 40, no. 2, 441-448.
: Gunther, Albert (1995). Overrating the X-Rating: The Third-Person Perception and Support for Censorship of Pornography. Journal of Communication. 45(1), 27-38.
: Steffens, B. A., & Means, M. (2009). Your sexually addicted spouse: how partners can cope and heal. Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press.
: Loosemore, Paul (2016) 21 Movements towards life.
: Adapted from: Loosemore, Paul (2016) 21 Movements towards life.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on May 24, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 7, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com