When thirty-five-year-old Chuck was single, he estimates he spent one to two hours a day looking at pornography in magazines and on the Internet. His favorite sites were the amateur porn sites that featured pic­tures of normal-looking naked women. Chuck says, “I wanted women a little bit older, a little bit heavier—more real—like ones on the street or in a grocery store.” After Chuck got involved with his girlfriend, he cut back on his porn use for a while. But he soon took it up again, secretly, because masturbating to porn had become “a long-standing habit.”

Like many long-term porn users who enter relationships, Chuck didn’t see his porn use as anything to be concerned about. To him, his involvement with porn was normal for a man. What he hadn’t considered was how likely it was to upset his girlfriend if she found out. On the day she stumbled upon the porn files on his computer, “she was pissed” and threatened to leave him if he didn’t stop. This reaction put Chuck in a bind. He was concerned about his girlfriend’s reactions and unhappi­ness, and yet, he also didn’t want to give up his involvement with porn. Like many porn users who find themselves in similar situations, Chuck sought a solution that would make both of them happy. He promised her he would stop using porn to put her at ease, and then took measures to better hide his future porn use from her.

But still, even though Chuck had temporarily “solved” the problem of his porn use, he couldn’t help but notice that something had changed in their relationship. His girlfriend acted distrustful and suspicious of his behavior. He worried that she was checking up on him behind his back—going into his computer when he wasn’t home or digging through his closets in search of magazines.

Partners may not be able to put a finger on the real problem, but they invariably sense something is wrong with the level of honesty and emo­tional closeness in their intimate relationships. One man told us, “My wife sensed that something had changed in our relationship. She confronted me and asked whether I was having an affair. I told her no, of course, because I wasn’t. Then she caught me looking at porn on the computer late one night and asked if I was into it. I made up some story about read­ing the news and the porn just having popped up on the screen as she entered the room. She bought it for the moment, but pulled back from me emotionally and physically after that night. I felt a lot of confusion about whether I should lie or be honest with her about my need for porn. I think probably the biggest fear for most men, if they are married, is that their wife will find out how weak they are. It was for me.”

Sexual intimacy almost always suffers when one partner has a long­standing porn habit. Porn is, after all, a competitor for sexual energy and attention. Partners of porn users frequently complain of being sexually neglected. Fighting can erupt over the lack of sexual intimacy in the re­lationship. Dr. Jennifer Schneider, an expert on sexual addiction, found that 70 percent of couples in which cyber sex addiction is a problem report that one or both partners lose interest in relational sex. Contrary to popular belief, it is most often the porn user, not the partner of the porn user, who is not interested in having sexual relations.

And even when the porn user and his or her partner do have sex, there are often problems. The lack of skills for tuning into a partner’s needs and integrating loving feelings with sex can result in a porn user being sexually demanding, distant, and insensitive during sex. Justin told us his inability to be close to his lover upset her greatly. “I approached sex as a very mechanical thing. I had no conception of sex as making love or being intimate in a sacred way. My wife felt hurt when I’d leave her alone, but then when I’d approach her for sex she felt I was trying to force her. Sex with my wife became fairly nonexistent and a major bone of contention.”