Sex & Relationships

How to help if your partner has a problem with pornography

Addiction to pornography is hard to treat, but it is possible – Dr. Teesha Morgan explains the symptoms of addiction and the options for recovery

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Pornography has always been a part of human culture, but as sex becomes a more visible part of mass media, the discussions around porn have changed. In the past, a therapist might see women complaining about that fact that their husbands looked at sexually explicit material. But today, the more common complaint is not that their partner is watching pornography, but rather that they are now consumed by it.

I’ve seen many couples in my practice who are dealing with this very issue. Often it’s the woman in the relationship who has reached her breaking point, “dragging” her partner in to see me because his use of online pornography has become so frequent that he’s let everything else fall to the wayside. At this point he is often in risk of losing his job and/or his marriage; however, he is unable — or unwilling — to stop.

So how do you know if you, your partner, or someone you love has an addiction to pornography? And what can you do to help?

Symptoms of pornography addiction
If someone has lost the ability to freely choose whether or not they continue a behaviour – such as watching porn – they may be addicted, particularly if their preoccupation or obsession continues despite negative consequences like job loss or marriage trouble. Pornographic addiction behaviours often continue, despite these factors, because – just as with any addictive drug – they produce not only gratification, but also an escape from internal discomfort and/or unpleasant realities.

How is porn addiction treated?
Treatment involves therapy, in which an individual is often instructed to abstain from all pornographic materials and sexual activity (depending on the degree of addiction) for a period of 30-90 days to prove that they can live without sex of any kind. During this time, many will go through withdrawal that can be similar to what’s experience by people recovering from chemical addictions. Involvement of one’s partner during the treatment can be extremely important, as the most crucial predictor of relapse after treatment is failure of a “spouse” to be involved in the recovery. 

Individual therapy addresses factors like shame, depression and issues regarding healthy sexuality and relationships. However, couples therapy is also important, as the therapist can help facilitate forgiveness and the rebuilding of trust, as well as deal with relationship issues surrounding anger, resentment and miscommunication. Many 12-step programs, similar to the ones used in Alcoholics Anonymous, exist, and group therapy is another option. For couples willing to work on their individual recovery and on their relationship, the prognosis for recovery for the person affected – and the relationship itself – is quite good. 

As technology advances, pornography is more and more easily available, so it’s important for those affected by this addiction to know that it cannot be “cured” and relapse is always possible. Preventing this by avoiding particular people and situations, or by having blockers installed on specific websites, can be crucial to avoiding a relapse. Some people are also helped by prescription drugs like Prozac and Anafranil.

What’s important to remember overall is that too much of anything is a bad thing. Whether that be booze or boobs, the difference is negligible.

Dr. Teesha Morgan is a sex therapist based in Vancouver, BC.