Imagine feeling ill and not knowing what is causing it. Consider what it’s like to want a promotion at work, and then not get it and not be told why you were rejected. These are the kinds of feelings that women experience when porn is causing problems but they can’t make the connection to it as the cause. They sense that something is wrong in their relationship, but are not able to identify exactly what the problem is.

When a woman is unaware of her partner’s porn use, problems with the sexual part of the relationship are often the first to surface and trou­ble her. Some partners may begin to feel pressured to engage in sexual activities that are emotionally or physically uncomfortable to them, or they may start to feel sexually neglected and rejected. When Debbie, a fifty-three-year-old homemaker, was a newlywed she couldn’t figure out why her healthy and attractive husband, Roger, wasn’t into sex. “Before we were married,” Debbie says, “he seemed to enjoy making love. But soon after the wedding, sex became erratic, and when we did make love, I had to do the initiating.”While their sexual contact felt physically good, Debbie was often left feeling unsatisfied. Their sex lacked emotional closeness. She thought maybe their sexual problems stemmed from the fact they were both tired from working their way through school. Or, she worried that perhaps Roger no longer found her attractive and had lost sexual interest in her. “I couldn’t figure it out,” she said. “I thought guys wanted sex all the time. I wondered what was wrong with him and what was wrong with me that he didn’t want to make love.”

Some women who are in the dark about porn use first notice changes in their partner’s moods and interests. Karen, a twenty-eight-year-old beautician, experienced this in the early years of her marriage to Johnny. While their sex life seemed fine, he suddenly stopped wanting to do many of the things they used to enjoy doing together, such as attending church. “Our belief in God and the importance of faith had been a strong reason why we were attracted to each other in the first place,” Karen said. “His sudden refusal to go to church seemed really strange. He said he wasn’t sure about his faith. He also started acting angrier and angrier. Up until then, he had always had a pretty gentle spirit and treated me really well. I had no idea what was going on with him.” Lacking a clear understanding of what was going on with Johnny’s porn use, Karen wondered whether his mental health was okay, and she began to feel frustrated and angry with him.

Debbie and Karen had no idea their husbands’ changed behaviors were due to secret sexual relationships with porn. Neither wife saw any porn in the house or heard her partner talk about wanting to be involved with it. It wasn’t until later in their marriages that they discovered the truth. In the interim, their lives were filled with stress and unresolved marital problems that intensified for years. Their marriages didn’t grow stronger and more intimate and satisfying, as they had hoped and ex­pected. They felt confused and stuck in a bad situation without having any clue that porn use was at the root of their distress.