What to Do When Your Partner Is Addicted to Porn

Not much is known about addiction to pornography, not the numbers of people affected; even the definition is hazy. There just isn’t a body of research surrounding the issue.

"There is a real dearth of good, evidence-based therapeutic literature," says Dr. Valerie Voon, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Cambridge in this article.

The relatively recent advent of the Internet has revolutionized the world of porn, serving up  raw, unfiltered, hard-core, and nonstop stimulation. The result is a cohort of (mostly) men who have become addicted and desensitized to the dopamine rush of a constant barrage of online porn. Occasional porn consumption is common, but therapists and doctors are seeing more relationship and sexual performance difficulties among heavy porn users—behavior that looks a lot like addiction.

Discovering that your partner uses porn addictively is a crushing, confusing experience. Women compare it to the betrayal of discovering an affair, except that the “other woman” is a computer screen that is available 24/7 and that doesn’t look or act like a normal woman.

A partner’s initial response is often denial: Is it really so bad? Doesn’t everyone view porn sometimes? Is this normal?

The morality or “normalcy” of porn use is a different conversation, but when a partner becomes secretive and withdrawn, when he can’t stop the behavior even at work or, as one woman discovered, during a weekend visit to her parents; when porn use creates difficulty in real-life sexual performance; when it causes pain and conflict, then it’s an addiction and it isn’t normal.

Porn addiction is socially anathema—people don’t talk about it or easily admit to having a problem with it. Support groups for partners of porn addicts are rare. And research-driven treatment for porn users themselves is also rare. The most common treatment is called a “reboot” in which porn users are counseled to stop masturbating to online porn until their brain chemistry and ability to engage in real-life sex is regained, which may take months.

The behavior of porn addicts is similar to other addictions. They minimize their porn consumption or outright lie about it. They may accuse the partner of causing the problem. They withdraw and hide what they’re doing. They may gaslight—a newly vogue term that refers to undermining the partner’s grasp on reality by lying, evading, bullying, and blaming.

This dynamic is devastating and toxic. Partners of porn addicts are often recognized as having symptoms of PTSD-like trauma.

The non-porn-using partner may try to control “the addict’s access to porn through anger, snooping, crying, guilt tactics, threatening, shaming and blaming the addict. This destructive behavior was once considered co-dependent, but those of us who work with partners of porn addicts now view these actions as symptoms of trauma,” writes Mari A Lee, sex addiction therapist and co-author of Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts.

As with any addiction, the path to recovery is difficult and riddled with relapse. The harrowing challenge to a partner of a porn addict is to maintain her own integrity and emotional health while offering her partner forgiveness and the space and support to manage his recovery, if he so chooses.

Women who’ve been there say:

  • This isn’t about you. Your partner’s behavior has nothing to do with how you look, how much you weigh, or your performance in bed. Don’t take the blame. “[P]orn addiction is not about [the non-addicted partner’s] worth or value, it is not even about sex; instead, porn addiction is about soothing pain,” writes Lee.
  • “You did not cause it. You cannot change it, and you cannot control it.”
  • Try not to let your partner’s addiction take over your life or consume your thoughts. Set goals. Stay active. Stay healthy.
  • Try to find support—a therapist, a group, a trusted friend.
  • Respond to your partner with as much compassion and forgiveness as you can muster without becoming sucked into the addiction.

A partner’s addiction may be one of the most painful and difficult knuckle sandwiches that life can smack you with. It attacks the very foundation of trust, security, and intimacy that a relationship is built on.

However, there is hope, both for your own healing and the recovery of your partner. “When each person makes the choice to end the destructive dance of addiction, blame, shame and hurt, and instead chooses to move toward healing and recovery – miracles can happen and relationships can heal,” writes Lee. 


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