Although not all intimate partners react exactly like Debbie, Lucy, and Paula, feelings of shock, anger, betrayal, and sexual inadequacy are very common responses when a partner’s porn use is confirmed. The experi­ence can feel overwhelming. It can be similar to finding out that a part­ner has been having an affair or has a major drug or gambling addiction. Reality suddenly shifts. Everything—the way they think about their part­ner, themselves, and the relationship—can change in an instant. And, the shock of the discovery can have a sudden, powerful effect on her emo­tions and physical reactions.

Visceral reactions, like Debbie’s feeling “stabbed to the core” are not uncommon. Some women say they felt a jolt of fear and adrena­line shooting through them. Others said they couldn’t breathe and their hearts began to beat rapidly. A number said they felt sick to their stom­achs. Some broke down in tears, others screamed and shook. They felt like running away, or destroying the porn. And it’s not unusual for many intimate partners to be so upset they have difficulty eating and sleeping for some time afterward. The power of the experience should not be underestimated.

Discovering porn can spin a woman off on an emotional roller-coaster ride that lasts for days, weeks, or months. One moment she’s seething with rage and anger, and the next, she’s experiencing a numbing sense of despair. Many intimate partners feel helpless and unsure what to do. Some women tell us they were so stunned and overwhelmed by what they learned that they felt completely shut down and out of touch with their feelings for a long time.

The intensity of a woman’s reactions can vary depending on her at­titudes about porn, the nature and extent of the porn use, and how emo­tionally attached and committed she is to the porn user. The longer and more involved the intimate relationship, usually the more intense her emotional reactions.

Women like Debbie, Lucy, and Paula, who are in long-term com­mitted relationships, where their lives and dreams are deeply connected to their relationships, are more impacted than women who are casually dating a porn user. Given the time, energy, and emotional investment women in committed relationships make, it’s no wonder that when the porn use is discovered, it’s a huge blow. But it’s not just the fact that her partner is involved in porn that causes the distress—the lies and secrecy that have been rampant in the relationship in order to hide the porn problem are also devastating. Realizing the extent of the decep­tion and dishonesty can destroy any sense of trust she may have felt toward her partner.