How does pornography affect wives?

Mark Laing is an individual and family therapist at the
Bayridge Family Centre in Burlington Ontario, Canada.
905-319-1488 ext. 227

She caught him

When most men are “caught” viewing pornography, it is often their wife who catches them in the act. The husband enters my office with their proverbial tail between their legs. He is quiet and remorseful and she sits dejectedly and angrily. Not much has been said about how pornography affects the wife. Most of the literature deals with history and treatment of men. To ignore the wife’s experience is to ignore an extremely important part of the overall experience and resolution.

It’s like an affair

A woman whose husband has been viewing pornography experiences no different  feelings than if he had had a physical affair. It is just as painful, demoralizing and real. Men often do not understand this. They think that it isn’t like an affair at all. They believe that in order for anything to be an affair, it must be sexual. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

In truth, most affairs are not particularly sexual at all. They are non-sexual trysts where the husband tells another woman what he should be sharing with his wife. Most people caught up in an affair claim that they never thought that the relationship was going to end up sexual. In other words, the husband’s betrayal of intimate information was supposedly sufficient.

They feel betrayed

Yet in a pornographic experience, the wife feels that same betrayal. Wives do not like sharing their husbands (even if the marriage is going through a rough period) with anyone. Wives often tell me that a pornographic affair is worse because there is no tangible “other woman” to confront or fight. They add to this the feeling that the images are so “perfect.” How can they compete with such a fantasy? At a loss for anything tangible, they feel extremely rejected and helpless.

At another level, pornography is also an insult to womanhood. The philosophical message of pornography sees women as merely a sexual object. Such objectification leaves women feeling less than human and disrespected. The notion that pornographic images are at the beck and call of a male’s need for sexual gratification adds further insult to womanhood. The message that such sexual objectification brings is that of sexual slavery. Again an insult to the sexual gift a wife brings to her husband… the sexual gift of herself. A non-sharable treasure.


Most wives at the beginning of the experience are a mixture of hurt and anger outwardly but what I find they “feel” is “fear” the most. Afraid that their marriage is over. Afraid that they will never be able to trust their husband again. Afraid that they will never be able to feel for the husband the way they use to.

These are very normal fears. The outward anger is at their husband who over turned the marital apple cart. “Why did he have to go and spoil what we had going?” But wives are quite right in thinking that the marriage is over! At least the type of marriage that they had before is over. In order for this couple to go on, they must give up the old ways of dealing with each other. Their marriage must evolve in order to resolve.

Work together

Couples who work together have a much better rate of success in over-coming the husband’s infidelity. This can include some very explosive exchanges at times from the wives towards the husbands. Husbands can get angry usually from their wives constant probing questions. Why? How long? What did you view? Are you a pedophile? How often did you view it? Have you done anything else that I should know about?   Husbands tend to feel that once they have admitted to the pornography viewing and apologized, that all is over and done with. They are frustrated by their wives asking so many questions about something they would rather just forget about.

A wife can be both an incredible source of strength and place of frailty and gentleness. It is what we refer to as her womanliness or femaleness. When a husband views pornography this bruises and abuses this quality and she is left like Humpty Dumpty feeling as though no one could ever put her back together again.

She wonders

When she is in bed with her husband making love, she wonders if he is making love to her or to some image. When a scantily clad woman comes on television, she wonders what he is thinking and if he gets frisky later, is that because of what he saw on television? She watches him when they are out in public to see if his eyes are roaming.

Her sense of intimate sexuality is fractured by his betrayal. Her feelings are like a pendulum where on the one hand she can’t get close enough to him and on the other hand he is repulsive.

We live in a hyper-sexual world where the notion of privacy in sex is no longer a value. Billboards, magazines, television, movies, radio, art, advertisements etc., constantly deluge us with sexual images. We already feel so in adequate. Yet when pornography assaults a marriage, the cost can be tremendous.

The blunt facts

If you are a male reading this you must know the following things if you are viewing pornography;
1) pornography is not harmless,
2) it is incredibly damaging to your marriage and your wife’s sense of self,
3) the process of resolution is not over once you have admitted to it. Indeed it has only just begun,
4) your marriage does not need to be over but it will need to be re-created and
5) it will take time for your wife to be able to trust again. Her trust in you and herself as capable of supplying all your sexual and intimate needs has been fractured.

Mark Laing is an individual and family therapist at the
Bayridge Family Centre in Burlington Ontario, Canada.
905-319-1488 ext. 227


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