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wenty-two-year-old Megan woke up in the middle of the night and smiled. Memories of her recent honeymoon with her new husband Jesse—five days and nights of passionate lovemaking in a tropical paradise—flooded her senses. She instinctively moved across the sheets to find Jesse’s warm body. But he wasn’t there. Thinking maybe Jesse had gone to the kitchen, Megan hurried out of bed to find him. Walking by the spare bedroom she noticed a faint light glowing beneath the door. Thinking he might have fallen asleep, Megan turned the handle quietly and walked in. There was Jesse with his back to her, huddled over his laptop computer, clicking away, staring intently at the screen.

Megan moved closer, looking over his shoulder to see what he was so mesmerized by. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Jesse was sitting there looking at pictures of naked women with their legs spread open. It was a complete shock. I didn’t even know he liked porn. All of a sudden the sex we had on our honeymoon felt cheap. When Jesse noticed me, he looked almost angry that I had disturbed him. I asked him why he was looking at porn. He told me it didn’t mean anything. He said I should get used to it and not let it bother me. I felt punched in the gut, like throwing up.” When Megan discovered that Jesse was interested in porn she was devastated. Even though from Jesse’s perspective his porn use shouldn’t be a problem for her, it was a huge problem. Like Jesse, many porn users

think they can keep their porn use separate from their relationship, and if it does come to the surface, they want their intimate partner to accept it or at least tolerate it and not make an issue out of it. It’s easy for a porn user to get caught up in rationalizing his own behavior and fail to consider how differently his partner might feel. While Jesse knew that a lot of women don’t like porn, he was genuinely perplexed by how hurt Megan seemed. Jesse said, “I was stunned the next day when Megan packed her bags and said she was ready to leave me—get a divorce and everything—unless I could honor her feelings and give it up.”

Understanding what intimate partners go through and how they feel is important for anyone who wants to be in a healthy, meaningful, in­timate relationship. Porn use and a truly happy partner rarely coexist. This is because a relationship with porn undermines the critical values that are the foundation of a healthy intimate relationship—values such as honesty, fidelity, affection, intimacy, respect, support, trust, and love. Women enter relationships expecting these values to be supported and honored. A relationship with porn signals to a woman that something else has her partner’s sexual interest and emotional attention, not her. And the lying and deception porn users often rely on to cover up their porn habit make honesty, trust, and respect impossible.

Even though Jesse didn’t intend to make his new wife unhappy, she was hurt at a very personal level that undermined her faith and trust in her new husband. Contrary to what many porn users believe, it’s highly unlikely that a porn user can maintain an active sexual relationship with porn without it eventually having serious negative repercussions for the intimate partner and the relationship.

In this chapter we will focus on answering the following questions: How does a porn user’s habit typically affect his intimate partner? What feelings do women experience as they move from being unaware of a porn problem (or at least how deep the problem is) to being unable to deny the problem exists? And why do intimate partners of porn users feel and react the way they do? Since they do make up the majority of partners of porn users, we focus on women in heterosexual relationships in this chapter. But we know from our counseling work that the feelings and dynamics that occur are similar to what most intimate partners of porn users experience.

We have identified four primary stages intimate partners go through when in a relationship with a porn user. These stages may overlap and a woman may cycle through them over and over depending on what is happening in her relationship and how honest the porn user is with her. The stages are:

Stage 1: Being in the dark Stage 2: The shock of discovery Stage 3: Emotional wounds Stage 4: Trying to cope

Let’s look at each of these stages and find out what intimate partners experience.