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Porn is a threat to your relationship, no buts about it

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Two women tell all about how porn ruined their marriages

This past week the state of Utah made a bold move: They declared pornography to be a "public health hazard," saying it harms individuals and society as a whole. In fact, they're so serious they've deemed porn an epidemic and made a legal resolution to stem the (filthy) tide.

Porn? A public health menace? But perhaps it's not as silly as it first sounds. "The state is worried about 82 percent of sex offenders who started off by viewing pornography," explained Pamela Atkinson, the chair of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography board, on Utah Public Radio. "They acknowledged they got involved with simple — or soft-core porn — years ago. It's not so satisfying anymore, and that's when they move on to the hard-core porn. When that is not satisfying any more, they act out on real human beings. They objectify children and young women."

Utah isn't the only one sounding the alarm, and it's not just about rapists and pedophiles; therapists are saying they're seeing an increase in porn addictions in their practices, and it's having devastating effects on relationships. This is something that Ashley* knows firsthand.

"Porn is absolutely the reason for my divorce," she says. "It got to the point where we had no sex life, nothing at all, because my husband could only get aroused to online images and videos. And it wasn't that he didn't want to have sex with me — he did — but he just couldn't perform with a real, live woman."

More: Porn addiction is real — how to handle it with your sig-o

Ashley explains that over the course of their 10-year marriage she tried everything, from getting fully waxed down there to acting out popular porn scenarios to even getting breast implants — all so she'd look more like the porn stars he watched so much. But it didn't help. Nothing she did gave him the experience he'd become accustomed to; she notes that he'd even get disgusted with the natural and normal ways her body reacted during sex.

The couple tried counseling, but it was too little, too late. Her husband admitted he had a porn addiction but didn't think he could break it, even for her. Ashley says her self-esteem was shattered and she still suffers depression and anxiety from the trauma she endured. "Imagine having someone tell you every day for 10 years that every single part of your body is wrong and then tie it to your personal sexual experience," she says. "It's beyond devastating. There aren't even words for this kind of hurt."

Ashley's husband isn't a rare case, though. A 2014 study found that one of the hallmarks of porn addiction is struggling to perform sexually in real life. "It's the true paradox of the addiction," writes Sue Johnson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and researcher. "It seems that their sexual response has become conditioned to function only in the context of stereotypical porn images. So they struggle to get hard, stay hard and reach orgasm with actual people. Sometimes they can only manage to perform face-to-face when they replay in their minds the videos and images they’ve seen online. Over time, they often come to desire porn sex more than partner sex."

But porn doesn't just cause problems inside the marital bedroom, as Nora* found out. She is currently in the process of divorcing her husband and, like Ashley, says porn is the root of their issues.

"It all started with online pictures and stuff when he was younger. I knew about the porn on his computer when we got married, but I figured it was just something all guys did and wasn't a big deal," Nora says, adding that at first she tried to be the "cool girl" and watch it with him. But he wasn't interested in having it be a joint hobby, and soon it turned into a very big deal when he started spending more and more time online and less time with her and the children they eventually had. "Every night it was straight to the computer and he'd be there until... I don't know. After I went to bed."

More: Porn addiction almost ruined this woman's life

Nora's husband took his online fantasies a step further and met a woman online, sexting each other around the clock. Eventually, he told Nora that their marriage was over and he was leaving her for the other woman. She was blindsided by the news and says she went into a deep depression. Even though their sex life had been mediocre at best and nearly non-existent recently, she still thought that they'd work it out, that things would get better when the kids got older.

But then it was Nora's husband's turn to be surprised; his online mistress hit him with a restraining order when he tried to meet her in real life, repeatedly showing up uninvited at her job and apartment. "He was so in love with his fantasy girl that he couldn't see that the real-life girl wanted nothing to do with him," Nora says with some satisfaction.

Even then she might have taken him back, if he'd agreed to get help, she says, until she discovered he'd been cheating on her for several years with women he'd met online — and she has the STD to prove it. She also found thousands of dollars of credit card debt he'd racked up on porn sites along with hundreds of e-mails he'd sent to porn stars and webcam girls.

"He'd had this whole secret life that ended up wrecking both our lives, not to mention what it did to our kids," Nora says. "And yes, it was the cheating that finally ended our marriage, but it was the porn that started it all."

None of this is to say that every man who looks at a Victoria's Secret ad a little too long will eventually leave his family for the cold, electronic embrace of porn. Nor is this to say it's only a problem that affects men, or that Ashley and Nora didn't play a part too in the dissolution of their marriages. But it does say we need to stop ignoring stories like Ashley's and Nora's and recognize that porn may be a bigger problem than we thought — and that the consequences can be lifelong.

Ashley, whose divorce has been final for three years, says that recently her ex-husband broke down crying during an exchange of their kids. "He told me he wished he could take it all back, that he knew it was his fault, and that he should have thrown the computer out the window, if that's what it took," she says. But, she adds, while that was nice to hear, it doesn't change the fact that her love life is still a wreck because of what happened. "I have trust issues," she says, "Serious trust issues."

*Names have been changed

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