When Debbie finally learned that her husband, Roger, had been secretly masturbating to porn for the twenty years of their troubled relationship, she completely lost her trust in him and in their relationship. “All those years I doubted my own sanity, because at times when I questioned him, Roger told me nothing was going on,” she said. “I had asked questions, trusted he was telling me the truth, when he was really lying to me. I couldn’t trust him anymore. So I think, Well, am I being lied to this time too? Was I being lied to that time? I don’t know when to trust. It’s like trying to tell the difference between one snowflake and another when you are in the middle of a blizzard and everything around you is whirling—it’s blackout, it’s whiteout. I just don’t know.”

Like many intimate partners, Debbie had assumed she and Roger both valued and aspired to being emotionally open and honest with each other. Honesty provides a basis for constructing a life together, and when she discovered he’d been lying to her for years, the assumption of hon­esty was destroyed, making it difficult for her to trust him anymore.

Many women interpret their partner’s involvement in porn as a viola­tion of another implied agreement: the understanding of mutual sexual fidelity. The fact that a partner has been or is still in an ongoing sexual relationship with porn destroys the assumption a woman has that she and her partner are committed to directing their sexual interest and energy toward each other. As a result, women lose their ability to trust their partner to be sexually faithful. “I doubt Roger ever to this day had a physical relationship with anyone outside our marriage, but it feels the same,” Debbie said. “His sexual attention, energy, and connection—that was mine, it belonged to me and not anyone else. I felt robbed. How can I trust him not to cheat on me again in this way?”

Fran also struggles to be able to trust her boyfriend, David, again since finding his hidden online porn. Previously, she had assumed that he was telling her the whole truth about his sexual life and activities. “Now I’m finding it difficult to believe him and feel safe with him,” she says. “He lied to me for most of our relationship, so what else does he lie about?”