The Impact of Pornography on Marital Relationships

The solitary and secretive natures of internet pornography consumption do not isolate the impact from others; rather, the impact of viewing the sexually explicit material is often being felt by the entire family system, not to mention other systems (i.e. work) of the user. The marital relationship is the system where the impact should be most prominent because it is the foundational sexual union that can be easily affected by sexual pursuits outside the marital contract.

Based on the on-going research, the following topics seem to be the most prominent in regards to the internet pornography consumption and marital relationship: (1) online sexual pursuits as a predictor of marital distress, separation, and divorce; (2) decreased sexual satisfaction; (3) decreased sexual intimacy; (4) infidelity; (5) other issues such as overspending and debt, and decreased job security.

(1) Predictor of marital distress, separation, and divorce
A survey research conducted by Bridges, Bergner and Hesson-McInnis (2003) found that married women are significantly more distressed by the partner’s online pornography consumption than women in dating relationships, and that internet pornography consumption is viewed as a threat to the marital relationship. The distress reported by the women increased according to the perceived frequency of online sexual activities and, surprisingly, was not as strongly influenced by religious beliefs. In 2000, Schneider found that cybersex addiction was a major contributing factor to separation and divorce for affected couples. As discussed in another article, Level I (or mild) pornography consumption may seem to be culturally acceptable or tolerable, it has negative impact on marital relationships despite the belief of the culture. An informal survey data was collected at the November 2002 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in Chicago, Illinois regarding the impact of internet usage on marriages. This professional organization comprises the nation’s top 1600 divorce and matrimonial law attorneys who specialize in matrimonial law, including divorce and legal separation. At this meeting, 62% of the 350 attendees said that internet had been a significant factor in divorces they had handled during the year of 2000. Additionally, the following observations were made by the lawyers polled with regard to how the internet had played a role in divorces that year:

  • 68% of the divorce cases involved one party meeting a new love interest over the internet
  • 56% of the divorce cases involved one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites
  • 47% of the divorce cases involved one party spending excessive time on the computer
  • 33% of the divorce cases cited excessive time communicating in sexualized chat rooms or forums

(2) Decreased sexual satisfaction
Prior to internet pornography becoming readily available, Zillman and Bryant (1988) conducted a study that looked at the impact of consuming common, non-violent pornographic material on male and female participants. Results showed that exposure to pornography negatively impacted self-assessment of sexual experience, while other aspects of life (e.g., professional satisfaction) remained unchanged. There is less satisfaction with their intimate partner specifically with their partner’s affection, physical appearance, sexual curiosity, and sexual performance.

(3) Decreased sexual intimacy
Schneider’s 2000 study has concluded that when one partner has cybersex compulsivity and/or addiction, adverse effects on the sexual relationship within marriage are reported, including decreased sexual intimacy. Based on the results, more than half (52.1%) of the cybersex users had lost interest in relational sex, as had one-third (33.3%) of the partners. Schneider also points out that spouses of pornography users often report being repulsed by the partner’s sexual pursuits. For the cybersex users who have already substituted online sexual activity for relational sexual intimacy, their perception of their partner’s repulsion and loss of interest is not as problematic or distressing compared to average couples. Recurring themes are reported in Schneider’s study:

  • Cybersex user often makes excuses to avoid sexual intimacy with the partner
  • The partner feels hurt, angry, sexually rejected, inadequate, and unable to compete with computer images and sexy online women (or men) who are willing to do anything upon request
  • During relational sex, the cybersex user appears distant, emotionally detached, and interested only in his/her own pleasure
  • The partner ends up doing most or all of the initiating, either to get her/his own needs met or as an attempt to get the cybersex user to decrease the online activities
  • Cybersex user often blames the partner for their sexual problems
  • Cybersex user often wants the partner to participate in sexual activities that she/he finds objectionable

The recurring themes listed above are typical characteristics of people with any types of addictions. It is believed that people with addictions tend to blame others for the problem’s existence and take no responsibility for the situation.

(4) Infidelity
Infidelity is commonly understood as a violation of the marital agreement, a betrayal of one’s trust, and a threat to the marital bond. Although pornography consumption seems to be commonly accepted by the culture, it is nevertheless a violation of marital agreement because one seeks sexual fulfillment outside of the marriage and that sexual intimacy is no longer exclusive between the married couple. Stack, Wasserman, and Kern (2004) found individuals who have had an extramarital affair were 3.18 times more likely to have used internet pornography than individuals who had not had an affair. The same study also revealed that people who have engaged in paid sex (i.e. prostitution) were 3.7 times more apt to use internet pornography than those who had not used internet pornography. Unfortunately, the study failed to indicate a causal relationship between internet pornography consumption and unfaithful behaviour; the statistics indicate that internet pornography is associated with activities that undermine marital exclusivity and fidelity. Further research is needed to explore whether internet pornography influence unfaithful behaviours, or whether unfaithful behaviours coincide with pre-existing traits that predispose someone to engage in internet pornography. In conclusion, the study conducted by Stack et al. (2004) has validated a correlation between internet pornography consumption and infidelity and that online infidelity are perceived as an act of betrayal similar to any offline unfaithful behaviours.

(5) Other issues
Aside from the free online pornographic material, many websites require a pay-per-view charge in order to gain access to the hard-core pornographic material. According to the Family Safe Media (2006), pornography industry revenue in the United States was estimated at $13.33 billion dollars and internet pornography generating approximately $2.84 billion alone. Consequently, overspending and pornography-related debt are common symptoms of online sexual activity, especially if it has reached compulsive or addictive levels. Financial debt of any kind can become a marital and familial hardship depending on individual, couple, and familial circumstances.

Job security is also jeopardized when online sexual activity is occurring in the workplace. According to the statistics collected by Family Safe Media (2006), 20% of men admitted to accessing internet pornography at work. It is obvious that work productivity is drastically affected by one’s excessive computer usage, whether it occurs at home or at work. Approximately 70% of all adult content traffic on the internet occurs during the 9am to 5pm workday, it is apparent that cybersex user’s financial and employment status are at stake.


Bridges, A. J., Bergner, R. M., & Hesson-McInnis, M. (2003). Romantic partners’ use of pornography: its significance for women. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 29, 1-14.

Pornography statistics. (2006). Family safe media. Retrieved March 5, 2008 from

Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of cybersex addiction on the family: results of a survey. Sexual addiction & compulsivity, 7, 31-58.

Stack, S., Wasserman, I., & Kern, R. (2004). Adult social bonds and use of internet pronography. Social science quarterly, 85(1), 75-88.

Zillman, D., & Bryant, J. (1998). Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction. Journal of applied social psychology, 18, 438-453.