Pornography’s harmful effects on users have been well established, including loneliness, sexual dysfunction, mood disorders, increased likelihood of divorce, compulsion, and even addiction. It has also been demonstrated that some additional symptoms are experienced by the significant other or spouse of a pornography user.
It is important to acknowledge the impact of pornography on these romantic partners in order to work toward healing this damage, and possibly the relationship. Self-image is one of these areas deeply impacted by pornography use by one of the partners.
The indirect effect of pornography here results in what is termed “self-objectification.” This phenomenon particularly affects women, causing them to view themselves from an observer perspective. A woman imagines herself in interactions with how she believes others would see her, in a sexualized way. She thus experiences herself as an object, and struggles to be aware of her own experience as a person.
This phenomenon has been shown to promote shame, appearance anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorder symptoms. (Read this meta-analysis for example.)
Self-objectification often occurs through a woman’s contact with media portraying female bodies in a sexualized manner. It has also been shown to occur when a woman’s partner is engaged with pornographic content. Self-objectification even happens when a woman states that her partner’s pornography usage does not bother her!
She intuits that her body is perceived differently, and she starts to share in that vision of herself as an “object.” She is then more likely to experience the cluster of symptoms that have been found to occur with self-objectification.
Clearly, healing a relationship affected by pornography also means helping women recover a sense of themselves as persons, not just bodies. What can be done? Besides therapy or spiritual direction, there are some practical ways that a woman can interrupt the thought patterns of self-objectification and develop a healthy sense of herself as a person deserving of love.
If your significant other or spouse struggles with pornography, here are some actions you can take to find healing and peace within your body:
1. Find a safe figure who can reflect your value back to you.
This person can react to you in a way that shows acceptance and care, highlighting your unconditional worth. This could be your partner or someone else in your life, but it needs to be someone with whom you can be vulnerable. You might need to ask this individual to be present to you in specific ways to meet your needs or to help you process the difficulties of being in a relationship with someone using pornography.
2. Learn to enjoy some silent time.
Whether journaling, praying, or walking through the woods, spending time in this way helps you be fully present and grounded. It can lead to valuing your internal world, and thus your inherent dignity.
3. Write down your subjective experience.
What brings you life? What annoys you? What did you feel today? By answering questions like these, you are focusing on your internal experience, thus forming the habit of experiencing the world as a person versus as an observer.
4. Temporarily avoid mirrors, social media, and selfies.
This is a great strategy because it removes the visual cues that promote hyper-focus on your body.
5. If you are not married, discern whether your boyfriend is a person who can overcome his struggle with pornography and make you feel valued.
Depending on the man’s commitment to address the pornography issue, marriage might be possible. It will take work on his part to build trust and to demonstrate he is able to make strides in breaking free. However, if you are experiencing self-objectification or other negative feelings about yourself, it is also a good idea to take a step back and evaluate whether your relationship is one that is healthy for you.
6. If you are married, try to communicate your needs to your spouse, including the need to trust him again, and to what extent you can be involved in his healing process.
You can place boundaries on what you can stand to know, talk about, or handle at this particular time. You may find it helpful to have conversations of this kind with a counselor present.
It is important to keep in mind that what you are going through is expected and normal for someone dealing with a partner’s pornography usage. The good news is that healing is possible, both for the person using pornography, and those affected by it.
Bloom For Catholic Women
Bloom For Catholic Women offers therapeutic and Catholic-based online courses for women healing from the trauma of discovering their husband's sexual and/or pornography addiction.
Resource Type: Online courses
Cost: Monthly subscription - $10. Individuals courses - $50.