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The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications



This article presents a paradigm case portrait of female romantic partners of heavy pornography users. Based on a sample of 100 personal letters, this portrait focuses on their often traumatic discovery of the pornography usage and the significance they attach to this usage for (a) their relationships, (b) their own worth and desirability, and (c) the character of their partners. Finally, we provide a number of therapeutic recommendations for helping these women to think and act more effectively in their very difficult circumstances.
RUNNING HEAD: Partner’s Use of Pornography
The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement
for Romantic Partners: Research and
Clinical Implications
Raymond M. Bergner
Ana J. Bridges
Department of Psychology
Illinois State University
Citation: Bergner R, & Bridges A. (2002). The significance of heavy pornography
involvement for romantic partners: Research and clinical implications.
Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 198-206.
This paper presents a paradigm case portrait of the female romantic partners of heavy
pornography users. Based on a sample of 100 personal letters, this portrait focuses on
their often traumatic discovery of the pornography usage, and the significance they attach
to this usage for (a) their relationships, (b) their own worth and desirability, and (c) the
character of their partners. Finally, a number of therapeutic recommendations are made
for helping these women to think and act more effectively in their very difficult
The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement
for Romantic Partners: Research and
Clinical Implications
“Pornography kills love.”
--Bumper sticker.
What does it mean to a woman to discover that her romantic partner is habitually
and heavily involved in viewing pornography? What does it mean to her, further, to live
continually in a relationship where this is the case? In this article, we will relate the
outcome of research designed to answer these questions, and delineate some clinical
implications of our findings for therapists working with couples and individuals on issues
of pornography usage.
The Research
The method employed in this research was to collect and to study 100 letters
posted to four different internet message boards by spouses, fiances, and girlfriends of
men perceived to be heavily involved in pornography, and to cull these letters for their
recurrent, outstanding themes. The message boards selected for this research were ones
frequented primarily by self-designated sexual and pornography “addicts,” and
secondarily by partners of these individuals who had discovered their behavior, were
distraught over it, and were writing in to seek solutions and emotional support from
others who shared their plight (see final note for listing of specific sites).
Criteria for selection. Beginning with the most recent letters on these web sites,
the second author worked backward until she had secured 100 that met the following
criteria. First, the writer had to be a woman discussing her male partner. Second, the
problem reported had to be confined to pornography use; letters indicating that the
partner had gone beyond such use to live, phone, or chat room contacts with other women
were not included. Third, the letter had to document the writer’s personal experience
with the pornographically involved partner and the meanings this had for her. Postings
devoted to such things as advice to other women, personal theories of pornography use,
or religious admonitions were not included.
The letters comprising the final sample were posted between November, 1999,
and September, 2000. They averaged approximately one half of a single spaced
typewritten page in length (the shortest letter was three long sentences, the longest one
and one half pages). Aside from gender, marital status, and sexual preference, it was not
possible to ascertain from these anonymous postings any further demographic
Perceived level of pornography usage. The authors of the letters reported a level
of pornography usage that on average consisted of daily viewing of several hours
duration; in some cases, it was somewhat less than this, in others, substantially greater.
They further reported that in most cases this usage interfered significantly with the user’s
relational and vocational functioning (e.g., that in the marital relationship the user had
become sexually disinterested and emotionally withdrawn). Finally, they related in every
case that the user had been either unable or unwilling to cease his use, except temporarily
in some instances. While a limitation of this study is that the investigators were not in a
position to assess these men directly, the perceived levels of involvement, if reasonably
accurate, suggested a relationship to pornography that would qualify in virtually all cases
as heavy and habitual, and in most as “compulsive” (Coleman, 1990) or “addictive”
(Carnes, 1983, 1991). Given this limitation, however, the present study should be viewed
as one of how, perceiving the pornographic involvement as described, our subjects
assigned meanings to this involvement.
Method of study. All letters were studied intensively by the two investigators,
who (a) independently identified major recurring themes, (b) met to identify common
themes noted and to negotiate any differences in what they observed, and (c) arrived at a
consensus regarding the primary themes expressed in the letters. While the sample
employed is not a random one drawn from the entire population, it did seem consonant
with the first author’s clinical experience of women who come to therapy with concerns
about their partners’ use of pornography.
Method of report. To report the results of this inquiry, we will employ a scientific
method involving the presentation of a paradigmatic or prototypical case (Rosch, 1973;
Rosch & Mervis, 1975). This will take the form of a composite portrait or profile of an
individual who exemplifies all of the outstanding themes emerging from the study of
these letters (cf. the method employed by DSM-IV in describing mental disorders).
Where there are significant departures from this paradigm case, these will be noted.
Discovery as a Traumatic Event
For the typical woman in our sample, the discovery of her partner’s extensive
pornography use, which might occur in a single incident or might increasingly dawn on
her over a period of time, alters her view of her world in a radical way. The discovery is
traumatic in the sense that it confronts her with a new world that she finds devastating,
confusing, and incomprehensible--and one that, as time passes, leaves her increasingly at
a loss regarding how she might act effectively to
correct the situation. This new world view encompasses alterations in her perceptions of
three related areas: her relationship with her partner, her view of her own worth and
desirability, and her view of the character of her partner. Let us examine each of these in
New View of the Relationship
The discovery of her partner’s involvement in pornography results in a substantial
reappraisal of their relationship. Often, it is connected to, and seems to explain, other
observations that she has been making. Most notable among these is that her partner
seems increasingly withdrawn and even secretive, and that the quality of their sexual
relationship has deteriorated.
In previous research by Roberts (1982), Davis and Todd (1982), Davis (1985),
and Bergner (2000), a conception of the nature of romantic love was developed. The
view emerging from this research was that romantic love is a relationship that
prototypically embodies the following characteristics: (a) investment in the wellbeing of
the beloved, (b) respect, (c) admiration, (d) sexual desire, (e) intimacy, (f) commitment,
(g) exclusivity, and (h) understanding. On this analysis, for persons to believe that they
are loved fully by others is to believe that these others care strongly about their personal
wellbeing, are committed to them, respect and admire them, find them sexually desirable,
include them intimately, understand them deeply, and give them a position of exclusivity
in their worlds. When events occur that do not fit this picture--e.g., the partner is
discovered to have a secret life from which they are excluded, or to be having an affair--
these are seen as violations of the love relationship. If such violations are of sufficient
magnitude, the conclusion drawn will often be that they are not loved--that they no longer
have a place in the world of the other as his or her beloved. Such is the conclusion drawn
by many women who learn of, and who experience over time, their partner’s intensive
involvement in pornography. Let us examine in more detail some of the specific
violations of love that they perceive.
Exclusivity. The vast majority of women in this study used words such as
“betrayal,” “cheating,” and “affair” to describe the significance that their partner’s
involvement in pornography had for them. Although their partners were not in actual
contact with other females, these women clearly viewed the pornographic activities as a
form of infidelity. The theme that runs through their letters is that “He has taken the
most intimate aspect of our relationship, sexuality, something that is supposed to express
the bond of love between us and to be confined exclusively to this relationship, and
shared it with countless fantasy women.”
Sexual desire. In this regard, two distinct portraits emerge from subjects. The
first is voiced by women in circumstances where their partners have ceased pursuing
sexual relations with them: “I am no longer sexually attractive or desirable to him. He’s
more attracted to the women depicted in his movies, magazines, and web sites than he is
to me, and I feel completely unable to compete with these women.” The second pattern
that emerges occurs in the frequent situation where the pornographically-involved partner
continues to pursue sexual relations with the letter writer, but his lovemaking conveys to
her the following painful impression: “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 when we have
intercourse. He seems to be off thinking about something or someone else--likely those
porn women--or he is just inserting me to play a role in some novel sexual scenario that
he saw somewhere. He is just using me as a warm body.”
Intimacy/inclusion. The dominant theme in this regard is this: “I have been
excluded, isolated, barred from intimacy with him. I have lost someone who I thought
was my best friend and most intimate companion in life. He now has a whole secret life
from which I am completely excluded, and about which he continually lies to me.”
Investment in wellbeing of beloved. The typical conclusion regarding this aspect
of love assumes the following form: “He no longer seems to care about me or my
wellbeing, and he shows this in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, it does not seem
to matter to him (or to matter enough that he is willing to do anything about it) that I am
devastated by his pornography use and am in great pain.”
Understanding: The predominant theme: “He doesn’t really know or understand
me. In particular, he doesn’t seem to understand, despite all that I have said, how his
actions affect me. He doesn’t seem to get it--to have a clue.”
Living a lie. The final emergent theme concerning the relationship does not
pertain to any specific aspect of love but to a general feeling voiced by many women:
“We are living a shameful lie--presenting a lie to the rest of the world--when we pretend
to have a loving relationship. What we really have is a very sick and unhealthy one. I
feel a deep sense of shame over this.”
New View of Self
The typical woman in our sample engages in a personal struggle regarding
the implications of what has happened for her worth and value. A part of her struggles to
believe that “This is not about me--this is not a valid indicator of my worth, value, and
desirability as a woman and a person.” Another part of her says: “Indeed it is about you.”
More often than not, the latter part prevails. She finds herself unable to believe that the
loss of her partner to his pornographic interests is not a valid indicator of her true worth
and desirability. In her eyes, his involvement implies that she must be...
Sexually undesirable. The overwhelming majority of women in this sample
reported that their partners’ preference for pornography left them feeling sexually
undesirable. Self-descriptors such as “fat,” “ugly,” “old,” and “repulsive” were
commonplace in their letters. Over and over again, the note sounded was that they could
not measure up physically to the impossible ideal of the women displayed in
pornographic movies, magazines, and web sites.
Worthless. What has happened must mean that she is worthless, that she is
unlovable, and that she must have failed as a wife and as a woman. After all, she reasons,
if she was good enough, she would have been able to hold her husband’s attentions and
affections and this never would have happened.
Weak and stupid. Finally, a common theme expressed in the letters was that
anyone who would let herself be treated in such degrading ways, and would not respond
either by leaving the relationship or by taking other powerful measures to respect herself
and her personal limits, must be a weak and stupid person (a further basis for shame).
New View of Partner
In many cases, the partner’s heavy involvement in pornography results in his mate
coming to a new view of his character and personal worth. The general conclusion drawn
is that “He is not the person I thought he was, but someone else, and someone for whom I
have a great deal less respect.” Thus the demotion or degradation described above
becomes a two way street. He has excluded and marginalized her in critical ways due to
his preoccupation with pornography. And now, learning of his predilections, she has
degraded him as a person and, often, as one whom she finds she can love as before. The
most frequent of her new characterizations of him are the following:
Sexually degraded. In her eyes, he has become a “pervert,” a “sex addict,” a
“sexual degenerate,” or in some other way a sexually questionable and degraded being.
In some number of cases, he is seen, not only as sexually degenerate, but as progressing
to further and deeper degeneration. The most common basis for this attribution is her
discovery that he is involving himself in increasingly “sicker” material (e.g., pictures of
children, of sadistic scenarios, or of bathroom activities). Finally in this regard, he is
often viewed as an objectifier of women; i.e., as someone who treats women, not as co-
entitled persons with desires, rights, and
feelings of their own, but as depersonalized commodities whose function is to sexually
gratify him.
Liar. The great majority of women in our sample reappraised their partners as
liars. They came to view them as untrustworthy, deceitful persons whose word could no
longer be trusted.
Unloving/selfish: Another common reappraisal of these men was that they were
individuals who were invested exclusively in their own pleasure at the expense of
everyone else’s wellbeing. In short, the view was that these men had either ceased loving
or had never loved in the first place.
Inadequate father and husband. Where children are involved, the user often
comes to be seen as a failure in his crucial role as a father. This view is based on her
perceptions that he has exposed his children to pornography, has damaged and deprived
them by his continual failures to be available to them, and has set a terrible example for
them. Further, he is seen as having failed to be a true husband and partner to her in the
Sick or bad?: A critical dichotomy. Many women in our sample developed a
view of their partners as sick. They described them variously as “addicted,” “not fully
responsible,” “not in control,” and beset with what they viewed as a mental illness. In
contrast, many others viewed their partners as fully responsible wrongdoers who were
making a free choice in putting pornography over them (“putting his dick before me”
was a recurrent expression). Finally, many expressed a tremendous amount of confusion
in this regard, stating either that they could not comprehend what was going on, or
describing their partners simultaneously as both sick and bad. Not surprisingly, in the
measure that these women viewed their partners as in the grips of an illness, they also
viewed them as less responsible for their actions, and stated a greater willingness to stay
in the relationship and try to help them.
Repentant or unrepentant: A second critical dichotomy. A second critical factor
affecting both the woman’s view of her partner and her willingness to stay in the
relationship was the degree to which she perceived him as repentant for his behavior. In
cases where the partner exhibited such actions as admitting that he had a serious problem,
expressing remorse for his behavior and its consequences, and making a commitment to
changing it, these served to greatly mitigate the devastating picture of him articulated
above and to lessen her desire to leave the relationship. In cases where evidence of such
repentance and desire to change were absent, the female partner’s loss of respect and
motivation to terminate the relationship were greatly elevated.
Some Implications for Psychotherapy
The view of reality held by the women in our sample is not unrealistic or illogical,
but it is maladaptive. It leads in many instances to helplessness, despair and inactivity;
and in others to all manner of ineffective action. Most common among these actions are
attempts to change the partner through angry attack, personal degradation, expression of
pain, threats to leave, removal of the offending materials, continual surveillance of his
activities, and strenuous attempts to get him out of denial to a realization of what he is
doing. In the great majority of cases, these actions have proven futile for the women
under discussion here.
This section is devoted to the presentation of a more adaptive alternative
formulation of the situation described above. This formulation is designed to help both
therapist and client better understand what is going on. It is further designed to enable
the female partner to become more of an observer and less a reactive responder, to realize
that what is going on is in critical ways “not about her,” and to generate more effective
courses of action should she wish to save her relationship, or even just save herself. The
centerpiece of this revised view is an understanding of what is going on in what is
variously referred to as “compulsive” (Coleman, 1990) or “addictive” (Carnes, 1983,
1991) pornography use. The following therapeutic recommendations are intended for
those clinical situations where careful assessment reveals that the female partner is
correct in her perception that her partner is pathologically involved in pornography usage,
as indicated by such dimensions as amount of time spent, inability to cease use, and
serious interference with relational and vocational functioning.
The Nature of Pornography Addiction
Pornography addiction, whether “normal” or paraphilic in its content, is a species
of the broader category of sexual addiction or compulsion. This being the case, we draw
here on a number of established researchers and clinicians who have come to a certain
conclusion about such addictions. In broad terms, this conclusion is that the sexually
compulsive person, whether he or she be involved with pornography, paraphilic acts,
relentless cruising, or other activities, is in the business of repair to his or her self-esteem.
Sexual acting out, which in many cases is more pronounced after a blow to the
individual’s self-esteem (Carnes, 1991; Coleman, 1991), is on various accounts an
attempt to restore one’s sense of personal worth following an insult to the masculine self-
image (Coleman, 1991), to recover from explicitly sexual childhood degradations
(Bergner, 1988), or to triumph over very damaging childhood sexual indoctrinations
(Money, 1984, 1986).
A clinically useful analogy for capturing in more illuminating detail what is going
on in sexual compulsivity, and for humanizing the addicted person by drawing parallels
to nonsexual problems, may be found in the following case illustration. The case
involves a young doctoral candidate in English literature whom we shall call “William.”
William had had a childhood marked by an unusually great amount of humiliating and
degrading treatment at the hands of others. This treatment had brought about in him a
resolve that one day he would “show them all” by achieving a vindictive triumph over his
old familial and peer detractors. As his talents and inclinations developed, the form that
this vindictive triumph assumed was a fantasied scenario in which he would write the
great American novel, would become heralded as the next Thomas Wolfe, and would be
universally praised both in bastions of literary excellence and in popular venues such as
Time and Newsweek. In this scenario, his old degraders would seek him out, flattering
him and seeking to be included in his inner circle of friends. However, when approached
by them, he would dismiss them with a statement such as, “Excuse me, but I’m afraid I
don’t remember you at all, and I’m really quite busy, so if you wouldn’t mind...”
William spent a great deal of time indulging in this most gratifying fantasy, doing so to
such a degree that it interfered with his life in important ways and became the focus of
significant therapeutic attention.
In this example, we note three things. First, William is obsessed with a preferred
scenario that has its origins in his early experiences of humiliation and degradation.
Second, this scenario represents an “accreditation ceremony” (Bergner, 1987; Ossorio,
1978); i.e., a scenario that, were it to occur in reality, would (or so he believes) lift him
from his degraded status among other persons to a new position of vindictive triumph
over them and of vast public acclamation. In the scenario, he has created a world
conveying ultimate salvation for him and recovery from his childhood humiliations.
Third, this accreditaton ceremony is unsuccessful--it does not in fact achieve recovery for
Transposing this to the domain of compulsive sexuality, the heavy and habitual
user of pornography, like every individual, has a preferred sexual scenario. This
scenario, famously termed a “lovemap” by John Money (1984, 1986), shows up in his or
her erotic dreams, sexual fantasies, and pornographic preferences. This scenario, like
William’s, is based on the individual’s experience and, in the case of pornographic or
other sexual addictions, represents a fantasied world in which the individual overcomes
childhood degradations and achieves a powerful personal accreditation: now he is
desired, adored, and even loved by a beautiful woman; or humiliates women as they once
humiliated him (cf. Stoller, 1975) ; or exposes himself to the amazement and wonder of a
desirable woman; and so forth. It is this element of personal validation or accreditation
that, when coupled with the already vast erotic satisfactions inherent in sexuality, make
for such an addictive “cocktail” for these persons. Finally, however, the ceremony must
fail. It has not occurred in reality--he has not actually achieved recovery and personal
validation. Even worse, it leaves him in most cases feeling more degraded and depressed
in its aftermath for a variety of reasons. For example, he recognizes that he has once
more lost control and spent hours in feverish pursuit of sex; and/or that his preferred
scenario is an unacceptable, “perverted” one; and/or that he is failing and hurting a
woman who loves him by excluding her in favor of these degrading images. Thus, once
the satisfactions of fantasied validation and orgasmic satiety have passed, he is left
degraded and depressed, and thus in ever greater need of a new “fix” to restore, however
temporarily, his diminished esteem (cf. Coleman, 1991; Gold & Heffner, 1998; Wolf,
Therapeutic Implications
This general view of compulsive pornography use has applications in clinical
work with couples, as well as with the users or their partners seen individually. Since our
focus in this report is on the female partners of male users, we will focus on its use with
them. When shared with these partners, the formulation has the following important
“It’s not about you.” First of all, if accepted, the formulation gives the individual
a view of her partner’s addiction that says, “This is not about you.” It informs her that it
essentially has to do with childhood degradations from which her mate is trying
strenuously to recover. It takes the compulsion out of the realm of being any sort of valid
indicator of her personal worth, value, or desirability; and into the realm of its being his
creation of a restitutional world for purposes of personal recovery. Finally, it says to her
that it is true that she can’t compete with it as such--but it is true only in the same sense
that she, like every other human being, can’t compete with highly idealized fantasies of a
world made precisely to the fantasizer’s order. Thus, the therapist may use the
reformulation as a way to attack the self-degradations described above that are so
characteristic of partners of heavy pornography users. Clearly, whether she decides
ultimately to leave the relationship or to try to salvage it, this is a vital therapeutic
Diminishing the degradation of the partner. Accepting this revised view of her
partner’s addiction is, in many cases, tantamount to degrading him less. On this view, he
is no longer cast as a “sicko” or a “pervert” who is beyond the pale of acceptable human
society. Rather, he is viewed as a man, in many cases a decent man, who is in a
pathological state--who has, in Wakefield’s (1992) apt expression, a mental disorder that
amounts to a “harmful dysfunction.” Viewing him thus serves to reduce her contempt,
anger, and dismissal of him as a decent human being. Finally, it can help her to view the
problem with more dispassion and objectivity, and thus to undertake any needed action
on this more rational basis.
Implications for revised behavior. The partner of the pornography addict, based
on her formulation of the problem, has characteristically engaged in certain behaviors.
Based on a maladaptive problem formulation, these behaviors have been largely
unsuccessful, and have often served to create a systemic situation where her attempted
solutions have become a part of the problem (Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 1974).
Typically, she has engaged in intensely emotionally- driven behaviors designed to get her
partner to “see” and to change. These have included attacking, degrading, imploring,
threatening, reasoning, expressing pain, continually checking on him to see if he is using,
removing or destroying the offending materials, and trying to be more sexy to win him
back. As a rule, rather than improving the situation, her coercion has elicited resistance,
her attacks have evoked hostility and increased shame, and her attempts to gain control
have been met with a determination not to be controlled.
Aside from eliciting the consequences just mentioned, the actions of the female
partner have been problematic in further ways. First, an ample body of experimental
(Goleman, 1995) and clinical (Bowen, 1978; Lerner, 1989) literature attests to the
destructive effects of letting one’s behavior be driven by emotion at the expense of
observation, thought, and personal principle. In the present instance, this is clearly the
case. The female partner is characteristically in an understandable, yet highly
problematic, state of emotional desperation, and her behavior tends to assume a quality of
high emotional reactivity. When given a more adequate understanding of the nature of
her partner’s problem, she is also given a central basis for (a) understanding the situation
better and thus how to deal more effectively with it, (b) being more objective and rational
in her responding, and (c) being less devastated by it, all of which run counter to
emotional responding. Beyond this, explicit assistance by the therapist in stressing
observation, careful planning, and personal principle over letting oneself be emotionally
triggered is all to the good (Bowen, 1978; Lerner, 1989).
Finally in this connection, the female partner’s behavior routinely violates the
therapeutic truism that one is best served to remove one’s energy from changing the other
and to place that energy into changing oneself (Bowen, 1978; Lerner, 1989). Under this
heading, she is well advised to reconsider her efforts to change him, and if necessary to
review how her past attempts to do so have failed. More positively, an excellent
therapeutic focus is on a course of action entailing (a) carefully defining her own personal
limits regarding what she can and cannot live with, (b) communicating these to her
partner in a spirit, not of ultimatum or of bending him to her will, but of preserving her
own dignity and integrity, and (c) taking actions up to and including separation to back
up such statements (Lerner, 1989). Beyond this, a careful and dispassionate review of
what she herself might be contributing to the marital dysfunction, and actions to change
any problematic behaviors and omissions on her part, are worthwhile emphases.
Conclusion: Limitations and Clarifications
Sample Characteristics
The present sample, as noted at the outset, was selected from internet message
boards dedicated to discussions of pornography and other sexual “addictions.” It was
comprised entirely of women who perceived that their partners were heavily involved in
viewing pornography, felt distraught and helpless over this, and were writing in to seek
solutions from others. The sample was drawn neither from the population at large, nor
from some other, broader and more diverse, population. Thus, we cannot answer many
important and interesting questions that might be addressed by employment of such
samples. Are there many women who would be relatively undisturbed by their partners’
similar involvement in pornography? How do women feel about more limited use of
pornography by their partners? How frequently do men, in the face of their partners’
discovery of and objections to their use, abandon it? Are there women who are
problematically involved with pornography, and, if so, what significance do male
partners ascribe to this? Finally, however, it might be noted that the present sample does
possess important features that are highly characteristic of women who seek therapeutic
assistance. All of our subjects were emotionally upset by the problem; their problem
formulations and attempted solutions had thus far been unsuccessful in bringing about
change; and they had come to other persons in the hope that these persons could provide
effective solutions for their problems (Watzlawick et al., 1974).
On Sexual Addiction
With respect to sexual addiction, two final things need be said. First, as noted
previously, a limitation of the present study is that we were unable to assess the
pornography use of the male partners directly. Thus, strictly speaking, the study is one of
the reactions of women who perceive that their partners are heavily, habitually, and most
often addictively involved in pornography. Second, the concept of “sexual addiction” is
itself a controversial one (Gold & Heffner, 1998). However, despite this controversy,
there is broad agreement that a substantial number of persons develop involvements with
sexuality wherein they spend inordinate amounts of time in its pursuit, this pursuit
seriously interferes with their relational and vocational functioning, and they are unable
to cease this pursuit when they attempt to do so (Goodman, 1992). In employing the
terms “addiction” and “compulsion” in this article, we wish only to designate such
relations to pornography, and not to take any position in the ongoing debate regarding
whether this is best considered an addiction, a compulsion, or an impulse disorder (cf.
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1. The web sites employed for this research were
(a) “Breaking Pornography Addiction” (
(b) “Internet Addiction Discussion Group” (
(c) “Online Sexual Addiction (OSA) Bulletin Board” (http://
(d) Relationship Web (
2. The authors wish to thank Dr. Laurie Bergner for her very helpful critique of an earlier
draft of this paper. Correspondence may be directed to Raymond M. Bergner, Ph.D.,
Department of Psychology, Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790-4620
... They found that women described significant attachment injury, infidelity, loss of trust, betrayal, self-doubt, plummeting self-esteem, a negatively impacted body image, a decreased sense of sexual desirability, and reduced sexual desire (Bergner & Bridges, 2002;Schneider, 2002;Zitzman & Butler, 2009). Many of them described a breech in trust upon discovering their partners' PU years into their relationship rather than having him voluntarily disclose it in the early stages of the relationship (Bergner & Bridges, 2002). ...
... They found that women described significant attachment injury, infidelity, loss of trust, betrayal, self-doubt, plummeting self-esteem, a negatively impacted body image, a decreased sense of sexual desirability, and reduced sexual desire (Bergner & Bridges, 2002;Schneider, 2002;Zitzman & Butler, 2009). Many of them described a breech in trust upon discovering their partners' PU years into their relationship rather than having him voluntarily disclose it in the early stages of the relationship (Bergner & Bridges, 2002). ...
... One study found that couples with a greater difference between partners' PU are characterized by "a man with arousal problems and a female partner without arousal problems who frequently thinks negatively about herself" (n = 398 couples; p. 750, Daneback, et al., 2009). Some factors, including longer relationship length and being married rather than dating, have been shown to be related to greater distress or lower sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction for women whose male partners use pornography (Bergner & Bridges, 2002;Bridges et al., 2003;Pyle & Bridges, 2012;Resch & Alderson, 2014;Stewart & Szymanski, 2012). Research to this point has at times relied on undergraduate samples of young women in dating relationships to understand their experience (Pyle & Bridges, 2012;Resch & Alderson, 2014;Stewart & Szymanski, 2012;Tylka & Kroon Van Diest, 2015), but the experience of women in longer-term committed relationships may present unique dynamics. ...
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Approximately 40% of U.S. women in married or cohabitating heterosexual relationships have a partner who uses pornography more than once a month. Some studies demonstrate a negative association between the frequency of male partners’ pornography use (PU) and women’s sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction, while others find no association. These mixed findings may be due to moderating influences of women’s religiosity, attitudes, and diverse meanings given to PU (e.g. addiction, gendered norm, inspiration), which have not been adequately studied. The current study included a sample of 625 women (mean age=44, diverse SES, 86% White), recruited through a Qualtrics research panel, who were married or cohabitating with a man who had used pornography in the prior 3 months. Study aims were to investigate (1) pornography-related distress, attitudes and meanings given to a partner’s PU, (2) the relationship between perceived frequency of partners’ solitary PU (PFREQ) and women’s pornography-related distress, relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction, (3) contributions of attitude and religiosity (commitment and conservatism) to distress and satisfaction, and (4) associations among attitudes, religiosity and meanings, and among meanings, distress and satisfaction. Self-report measures included the Partner’s Pornography Use Scale, Pornography Distress Scale, Couples Satisfaction Index, Global Measure of Sexual Satisfaction, Multidimensional Religious Ideology Scale, Religious Commitment Inventory, Biblical Literalism Measure, Pornography Meaning Scales, and an item measuring attitudes towards pornography. Participants endorsed a range of PFREQ (median frequency=1-2 times/week) and attitudes (28% negative, 34% neutral, 38% positive). Partial correlations and multiple regressions, controlling for demographic variables and COVID-19-related stress, indicated that higher PFREQ was significantly associated with women’s higher pornography-related distress, lower relationship satisfaction, and lower sexual satisfaction. Attitude and PFREQ made independent contributions to distress and satisfaction. Negative attitude amplified the negative association between PFREQ and relationship satisfaction, and religious conservatism amplified the positive association between PFREQ and pornography-related distress. Findings support and extend previous research regarding the associations of higher PFREQ and negative attitude with greater distress and lower relationship and sexual satisfaction, the contribution of religiosity to greater distress, and the role of meanings of infidelity, sin, addiction and inadequacy in predicting greater distress and lower satisfaction.
... The mixed evidence about the role of women's attitudes may be attributable to dynamics captured in some in-depth qualitative studies (Ashton et al., 2020;Benjamin & Tlusten, 2010), namely (1) a disconnect between abstract, more general attitudes and how women feel about their own partners' PU and, or (2) challenges in measuring abstract attitudes when scales often incorporate only a few meanings that only a subset of disapproving women may give to their partners' PU (such as infidelity or addiction; Bergner & Bridges, 2002;Negy et al., 2018). The present study sought to address some of these challenges by examining women's attitudes to their own partners' pornography use in a sample of women who reported that their partners used pornography, without relying on abstract attitudes or the limited number of meanings specified on pornography attitude scales. ...
... Hypothesis 1. Consistent with prior research (Bergner & Bridges, 2002;Stewart & Szymanski, 2012;Yucel & Gassanov, 2010), perceived frequency of partners' solitary pornography use (PFREQ) will be significantly positively associated with pornography-related distress and significantly negatively associated with relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction among women who perceive that their partners use pornography. ...
... For women with a negative attitude (and, of note, even for those who reported neutral or mixed attitudes) toward their partners' PU, a greater frequency of use may have the farreaching relational consequences found in qualitative studies, such as a widening attachment rift, sense of emotional unsafety and shame within the relationship, increased conflict, and a breakdown of communication (Bergner & Bridges, 2002;Perry, 2019;Schneider, 2000;Zitzman & Butler, 2009). For those with a positive attitude, more frequent PU may have very little or no impact on relationship satisfaction, as consistent with qualitative studies in which individuals report that there are "no negative impacts" of PU (Kohut et al., 2017). ...
Qualitative studies suggest that women's attitudes and religiosity have an important role in their experience of their male partners' pornography use, but these factors have not been adequately studied. The present study examined the contributions of perceived frequency of male partners' solitary pornography use (PFREQ), women's attitudes toward their partners' pornography use, conservative religiosity, and religious commitment to women's pornography-related distress, relationship satisfaction, and sexual satisfaction in women who reported they were married to or cohabitating with men who had used pornography in the prior 3 months (median frequency = 1-2 times/week). Participants were online research panel participants (n = 625), age mean = 44[SD = 13], diverse SES, 86% White. Partial correlations and multiple regressions, controlling for demographic variables and COVID-19-related stress, indicated that higher PFREQ and negative attitudes toward pornography were significantly associated with women's higher pornography-related distress, lower relationship satisfaction, and lower sexual satisfaction. Moderation analyses found that negative attitude amplified the negative association between PFREQ and relationship satisfaction, and conservative religiosity amplified the positive association between PFREQ and pornography-related distress. Neither attitude nor religious factors moderated the negative association between PFREQ and sexual satisfaction. Findings suggest that attitude, religious factors, and PFREQ are each important to consider in research and clinical contexts.
... Lastly, we did not assess the influence of context on attitudes toward IP. This is important because some evidence suggests that, while women appear to be accepting of IP in general, when it comes to pornography use within romantic relationships, their attitudes may be more complex and associated with sexual satisfaction, partner self-esteem, and perceptions of infidelity (e.g., Bergner & Bridges, 2002;Bridges, Bergner, & Hesson-McInnis, 2003;Maltz & Maltz, 2008;Schneider, 2000;Stewart & Szymanski, 2012;Zitzman & Butler, 2009). As such, future work should examine links between the context of IP consumption, attitudes toward IP and emerging adult individual and relational wellbeing. ...
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Research suggests that Internet pornography (IP) plays an important role in the lives of emerging adults, particularly when it comes to their attitudes and beliefs about sex. However, surprisingly little work has explicitly examined attitudes toward IP among this population. Even fewer studies have assessed the relationship between such attitudes and other aspects of emerging adults' beliefs about sex, especially those that contribute to the persistence of sexual violence. To fill this gap, we investigated the relationship between emerging adults’ attitudes toward IP and rape myth acceptance using the Internet Pornography Questionnaire (IPQ), a new self-report measure designed to evaluate IP consumption patterns, attitudes toward IP, and knowledge about IP in adults. Descriptive analyses indicate emerging adults in this study endorsed diverse and sometimes contradictory patterns of attitudes toward IP. Specifically, participants reported high agreement with both negative and positive statements about IP. After controlling for gender, we found that both positive and neutral attitudes about IP (and not frequency of pornography masturbation) predicted rape myth acceptance, such that more positive or more neutral attitudes were associated with higher rape myth acceptance. Moreover, participants who demonstrated more accurate knowledge about IP endorsed rape myths at significantly lower levels. Study limitation and directions for future research and sexual violence prevention are discussed.
Pornography has long been a subject of interest to researchers, policy makers, and the general public. This chapter provides an overview of recent findings in pornography research with an emphasis on male sexuality. First, we present a brief summary focused on the definition of pornography. Then we outline the results of studies on pornography use along with details about how often men and women consume pornography, what type of pornography they prefer, and other aspects of pornography use. Finally, we address the results of some of the most significant research on the effects of pornography use on male sexuality, such as risky sexual behavior, sexual self-esteem and well-being, sexual dysfunction, sexuality in couples, and pornography addiction. The findings of current research on pornography are limited by methodological and theoretical shortcomings which compromise their generalizability. We provide a short overview of some limitations in the measurement of pornography use. All in all, many findings on pornography, its use, impact, and long-term effects are preliminary and should be interpreted with caution.
Within a context of increasingly ubiquitous pornography consumption among men, little is known about men who reject pornography, their motivations to stop consuming it, and their concerns about the treatment of women. In this article, we explore the stated motivations of 124 men who have decided to stop consuming pornography, in order to understand what role—if any—concerns about violence against women and gender equality played in their decision. Specifically, we focus on the implications of these findings for future research on the role of men in preventing or addressing harmful attitudes about women through their everyday practices.
Infidelity has been operationalized inconsistently across studies, and measurement approaches have been employed that are not ideally suited for addressing the stigmatized and subjective nature of infidelity, thereby limiting the conclusions that can be drawn from this body of literature. In 2016, Thompson and O'Sullivan took a step toward addressing these shortcomings by implementing an indirect measurement approach. We extend their findings using a sample of 465 married and divorced individuals via MTurk. Substantially more participants reported having engaged in infidelity via the indirect approach than the direct approach, and results suggest that-in contrast to findings from direct questioning-similar percentages of men and women engage in self-defined infidelity. Implications for research and clinical practice are provided.
There has been a surge of research articles in the last two decades about sexual addiction (SA) and compulsive sexual behavior (CSB). In the literature, SA/CSB is mostly presented as being comparable to other behavioral addictions and similarly involves a problematic consumption model: loss of control, psycho-social impairments, and risky sexual activities. Despite a recent rise in research interest in this area, only a small number of studies have focused on the partners’ lived experiences and wellbeing following the discovery or disclosure of compulsive sexual activities. This literature review addresses this knowledge gap by examining existing research on the female partners of those who have engaged in CSBs. The focus of this study is intentionally heteronormative, meaning that it expressly analyses the literature in relation to females who find themselves in a relationship with a male partner who experiences SA/CSBs. This research paper converges around the synthesis that female partners may endure a range of emotional, relational, physical, sexual, and/or spiritual effects following the discovery or disclosure of SA/CSB. In consequence, this review points to opportunities for future research whereby prospective studies may examine partner wellbeing through in-depth qualitative empirical research. This article charts pertinent perspectives and prospects. Supplemental data for this article is available online at . HighlightsThe last two decades have seen a surge in research interest in sexual addiction (SA) and compulsive sexual behavior (CSB).Despite growing interest in this area, only a small number of studies have focused on the partners’ lived experiences and wellbeing following the discovery or disclosure of compulsive sexual activities.Applying a heteronormative analytical lens, this literary study addresses this knowledge gap by examining existing research on female partners of males experiencing SA/CSBs.The findings converge around the synthesis that female partners may endure a range of negative emotional, relational, physical, sexual, and/or spiritual effects following the discovery or disclosure of SA/CSB.The analysis points to opportunities for future studies to examine partner wellbeing through in-depth qualitative empirical research.
Contemporary sexually explicit Internet materials (SEIM) are commonly unrealistic. Following from self-discrepancy theory, we proposed that discrepancies between ideal and actual sexual experiences depicted in SEIM (ideal-actual sexual discrepancy; IASD) may be important in understanding the association between SEIM consumption, sexual satisfaction, and general well-being for heterosexual men. Participants from a general online community ( n = 195) were assessed via an online survey. Path analysis showed that the relationships between SEIM consumption and outcomes were not homogenous across age cohorts. While SEIM consumption and IASD contributed to sexual dissatisfaction for men in their 20s, only IASD had a direct relationship for men in their 30s. Higher IASD accounted for lower sexual satisfaction for men across age cohorts, suggesting that IASD may be a more stable factor as compared to quantity of consumption alone for explaining the negative association between SEIM consumption, sexual satisfaction, and all measured aspects of well-being.
Background and objectives Recent years have seen a surge of articles related to compulsive pornography consumption or pornography addiction, with experts warning of potentially detrimental consequences. Whereas much research has focused on the male consumers of pornography, fewer studies have examined the impacts of pornography-linked compulsive sexual behaviors (CSBs) on the wellbeing and experiences of female intimate partners. This paper addresses this gap in the literature. Methods A review of peer-reviewed journal publications was carried out examining pertinent quantitative and qualitative studies. Results and discussion This narrative review concludes that compulsive pornography consumption is commonly identified in the literature as a stimulus for risky and uncontrolled sexual behaviors, which have the potential to spawn addictive behaviors, relationship challenges and cascading adverse societal repercussions. In synthesis, this review points to opportunities for in-depth qualitative empirical research on intimate female partner wellbeing.
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Describes the concept of "degradation ceremony," sets forth the nature of degrading treatment, and outlines therapeutic strategies for undoing the degradations that psychotherapy clients have undergone. Six elements of the process of undoing degradation are illustrated by case vignettes of victims of incestuous involvement. It is argued that the therapist's task is to accredit the client; that is, to bring about an enhancement of status and thus eligibility for community participation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
'Why in this enlightened day would one choose to entitle a work Perversion, a term that is becoming passe? The great research published in the last decade or two has taught us that aberrant sexual behavior is found in other species, is ubiquitous in man, and is the product of brain and hormonal factors that can function independently of anything we might call psyche. Then too, their findings make researchers regret society's moral stance that sexual aberration is unnatural-sinful-and the repressive social action that follows. Thus, in ridding ourselves of the concept of perversion, we have the tempting combination of good research serving a humane cause. Yet it is the author's contention, explored in the body of this book, that perversion exists. The connotations of the word are unpleasant and have a flavor of morality and therefore of free will that is antiquated in these days of science and determinism. It is to avoid such connotations that the softer terms "variant", "deviation," or "aberration" are used.
New developments in understanding the nature, etiology and treatment of compulsive sexual behavior offer new hope for people suffering from these sexual disorders. There is considerable debate about terminology and these newer approaches to treatment. This paper reviews these new developments and the controversy which surround them. Compulsive sexual behavior can be divided into two types: paraphilic and nonparaphilic. While John Money (1986) has described the paraphilias at length, a specific attempt is made here to describe and classify nonparaphilic compulsive sexual behaviors. An obsessive-compulsive model for understanding paraphilic and nonparaphilic compulsive sexual behaviors is preferred by the author.