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How can couples manage issues caused by pornography?

By Jared Hawkins, Extension Assistant ProfessorHusband and Wife Sitting Together

Pornography use commonly causes issues in couple relationships, such as reduced trust, relationship quality, and long-term sexual quality (Leonhardt et al., 2019; Newstrom & Harris, 2016; Perry, 2016). If couples believe that pornography use is negatively affecting their relationship, what can they do to manage these issues?

  • Be honest. Individuals often feel ashamed about their pornography use or fear upsetting their partner. However, partners sometimes feel greater betrayal from dishonesty than the pornography use itself. Honesty about one’s pornography use can mitigate the partner’s loss of trust (Zitzman & Butler, 2009).
  • Communicate with understanding instead of blame. It can be easy to blame each other for issues associated with pornography. Communicating your emotional experiences, rather than pointing out your partner’s faults, can help you foster trust, identify core issues, and decrease your partner’s defensiveness. By communicating with greater understanding and compassion, you can make it easier for your partner to communicate openly about vulnerable topics.
  • Work as a team. Couples can become more united by viewing pornography use as something they can address together rather than seeing their partner as the problem (Spencer, 2019).
  • Seek support. Specialized couples therapy can help couples mitigate the negative effects of pornography use (Ford et al., 2012). Seek out therapists who have experience working with couples and pornography use.

Although each couple has unique experiences with pornography-related issues, strategies such as honesty, non-blaming communication, unity, and specialized therapy can help mitigate potential issues caused by pornography in almost any situation.


Ford, J. J., Durtschi, J. A., & Franklin, D. L. (2012). Structural therapy with a couple battling pornography addiction. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 40(4), 336-348.

Leonhardt, N. D., Spencer, T. J., Butler, M. H., & Theobald, A. C. (2019). An organizational framework for sexual media’s influence on short-term versus long-term sexual quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(8), 2233-2249.

Newstrom, N. P., & Harris, S. M. (2016). Pornography and couples: What does the research tell us?. Contemporary Family Therapy, 38(4), 412-423.

Spencer, T. J. (2019). Couple Recovery from Problematic Pornography Use: A Phenomenological Study of Change Moments and Common Factors (Doctoral dissertation, Utah State University).

Zitzman, S. T., & Butler, M. H. (2009). Wives’ experience of husbands’ pornography use and concomitant deception as an attachment threat in the adult pair-bond relationship. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, 16, 210–240.