Desecration of Relationships: Uncovering Myths About Pornography, Part 1
Pornography destroys marriages on a variety levels and in many dehumanizing ways. It’s impossible to cover all the evils of pornography in one article, so I’ll mention just a few here. In a follow-up article, I’ll write about further myths. In the final article in this series, the expensive toll betrayal trauma plays on the victim will be discussed.
Since most individuals who use harm to control their intimate relationships are also unfaithful and have sexual addictions—and since many of my readers have requested a follow-up to my article, “The Gateway to Abuse: How Pornography Destroys Relationships”—debunking a few pornography myths is in order.
It’s no secret that marriage has been on the decline for decades, and divorce has been on the incline for just as long. What isn’t discussed enough is the role pornography plays in the high divorce rate, and the immense damage caused by betrayal trauma. The victimized spouse feels shattered, betrayed, confused, and she often blames herself for her husband’s deviant behaviour. The sexually-addicted spouse feels a deep and pervasive sense of shame—a toxic shame that, if not treated and healed, actually keeps the cycle of pornography use going.
Although women can also be abusers of pornography (and increasingly so), most often it’s men who are involved. Many boys are now exposed to porn at a very early age, far earlier than in past generations. With the easy availability of internet porn and the fact that most kids have at least one electronic device (usually several), the crisis of pornography has now reached epidemic proportions.
These innocent boys are often exposed to porn by less-innocent (and usually older) neighbors, peers, or even family members—and, as research shows, on average as early as age 10 or 11. Once it becomes a part of their lives, these children begin using porn as a self-soothing mechanism to counteract the confusion of adolescence or feelings of neglect, abuse, or other issues in their family life.1 By the time they’re adults, the sexual addiction has become so ingrained that they often fail at relationships with real, authentic partners. They simply don’t know how to relate to a woman who has her own thoughts, opinions, feelings, and needs.
And they don’t know how to act in healthy, loving, intimate ways.
This can tragically result in sexually deviant behaviour in the bedroom, including marital rape and sexual coercion.
It’s a horrendous cycle. There are so many victims involved in a single pornography addiction. The entire situation is terrible—and evil. And when I use the word evil, I don’t use it lightly. I mean it. Never forget that Satan is intent on ruining marriage and family life, and his primary tactic is to create division and distrust.
Pornography immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
Pornography and sexual addiction shakes the core of a marriage and causes immense trauma, heartbreak, and often irreparable damage. This is particularly true for a sacramental marriage, a union that’s supposed to reflect God’s love, mutual self-giving, and respect of the other—three things missing when pornography desecrates the relationship.
Here are some common myths about pornography use, and why these myths are so detrimental to true intimacy.
Watching pornography as a couple is a good way to spice up a stale marriage.
Actually, the opposite is true. Introducing pornography into a relationship won’t revitalize intimacy—it’ll delete it. Intimacy isn’t all about the sex act: it’s about mutual self-giving, the gift of vulnerability and openness, deep abiding friendship, and the desire to share one’s body with one’s spouse out of authentic, life-giving love—not lust.
St. John Paul II, in his classic Theology of the Body, is very clear about the dangers of married partners objectifying each other by lust, and how it reflects humanity’s sinfulness. Lust changes the very existence of a partner into a mere object, rather than a loving spouse sharing a life with the other in a “communion of persons.” This is not only devastating to a marriage, but it can destroy the relationship at its very foundation. “Such a reduction has the effect that the person becomes for the other person above all an object for the possible satisfaction of his own sexual ‘urge’” (TOB 43:3). This is a clear deformation of the naturally loving give-and-take nature of the marital bond.
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Using pornography on my own won’t hurt anyone.
Secrets, deceit, and lies always damage a relationship—and always get discovered in one way or another, often in ways very traumatizing to the victimized partner. Multiply the trauma 70x7 if domestic abuse is present in the relationship—and most abusers are sex addicts as well.
When secrecy is present, intimacy is absent. Abusing pornography in “private” also makes a person more centered on self rather than mutuality as a couple, thereby crippling the intimate connection and causing the relationship to be strained, even if the underlying reason for the tension is unknown to the innocent spouse.
As I mentioned earlier, pornography causes the user to feel shame, isolation, and an inability to relate to a real person or a real relationship—which obviously are intimacy killers. It inhibits emotional, social and moral development, and creates a dangerous addiction, changing the chemicals and structure of the brain.
According to extensive research done by Dr. Kevin Skinner, an expert on sexually compulsive behaviour, 47% of men distance themselves from their spouse after viewing pornography. A woman can sense and feel this withdrawal; she knows something is wrong, even if she doesn’t yet know about the porn, and by its very nature this creates a separation and rift in the relationship. Those who engage with pornography are making the choice of pulling away from their spouses, whether consciously or not. This withdrawal may be caused by shame, out of an addictive desire for a type of dangerous or exciting sexual stimulation she can’t provide, out of a need to keep the dark secret hidden, or for various other destructive reasons.
Research also shows that when a person views pornography it increases the testosterone and dopamine in their system, and the consequence of that is that they have less desire for social bonding.
(Dr. Kevin Skinner)2
If I suspect my husband is using porn and I confront him with it, I’ll know whether or not he’s lying. After all, there’s no way he’d be able to look me in the eye and deny what he’s doing.
It’s devastating when a victim realizes that this, too, is a pure myth. If someone is abusing porn and has a sexual addiction, that person is capable of deception—and therefore is likely a good liar, especially if he’s been holding onto his secret for years or even decades. These individuals can—and quite often do—keep their gaze even and centered, staring their partners in the eyes while saying with feigned innocence, “I swear to God, porn disgusts me! I’d never do that!”
As former CIA officers and deception experts Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero point out,
When a person brings God into the equation, he’s engaging in an extreme form of what psychologists call “dressing up the lie,” and it can be very effective. You need to recognize responses that include such phrases as I swear to God” or “As God is my witness” for what they may well be: an attempt to dress up a lie in its Sunday best before presenting it to you.
Dr. Kevin Skinner has done extensive research and conducted multiple surveys on the effects of pornography use has on the victimized spouse. He discovered that 84% of the 1,219 women who responded to his survey said that their partner “would look me straight in the face and deny he was viewing pornography or sexually acting out.” Dr. Skinner has also noted, “I personally believe this single behaviour is one of the more damaging behaviors to happen in a relationship.”3
Why? The reason is actually quite simple and natural. We connect with others on the deepest level when looking them in the eyes, and when openly giving them our full attention with our reciprocal eye gaze. When people are upset with each other, they have a difficult time looking at each other; when they’re deeply in love or otherwise engaged on an intimate level (romantic or not), they gaze into each other’s eyes. Dr. Skinner continues:
When your partner looked you in the eyes and lied to you, your reality became confusing to you. You trusted those eyes and those words while simultaneously receiving the conflicting message (from your own instinct and/or external evidence) that those eyes and words are deceiving. You used to be able to trust those eyes you looked into, now you can’t.
Pornography destroys trust in a relationship. And trust is the foundation of all true and solid relationships. Without trust, there is nothing left but a crumbling, decrepit building that was once a home.
There are many other pornography myths I could cover, but for the sake of space, I’ll save these topics for future articles. And as always, feel free contact me if you have any questions or would like to suggest a particular pornography myth that you’ve encountered and would like to see addressed.
For female partners suffering from betrayal trauma, I highly recommend Bloom for Women.
(1) Dr. Kevin Skinner, “Why Marriage and Porn Don’t Mix,” https://bloomforwomen.com/module/why-marriage-porn-dont-mix/
(1) Dr. Kevin Skinner, Treating Trauma from Sexual Betrayal, 48.
Special announcement: Looking for stories of Catholics abused by spouse
If you're a Catholic who has been impacted by intimate partner violence (IPV) in any way – as a victim or survivor, or if you have a friend or family member who’s been abused – we want to hear your story! We’d also love to hear from clergy, lay Catholic ministers, and those who have used harm in their relationship but have come to full repentance and have gone through the work to achieve authentic change. Jenny duBay of Create Soul Space, in conjunction with Catholics For Family Peace, is compiling a book for Catholics to help increase awareness of and healing from IPV. To hear one another’s stories – and to know we’re not alone – is one of the most powerful ways to heal. Pseudonyms will be used in this book to ensure discretion and your privacy.
If you’re willing to share your story, please contact Jenny duBay of Create Soul Space. Please share this announcement with any Catholic you think may be interested. The deadline for initial contact is October 15, 2022.