The impact of a partner's problematic pornography use on a religious woman: A constructivist grounded theory exploration


August 2023

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Empirical research suggests that pornography use often becomes problematic for men, and their partners may experience feelings of betrayal that result in physiological and psychological manifestations of severe distress. A significant number of cisgender heterosexual married couples are negatively impacted by and seek therapeutic treatment for problematic pornography use (PPU: Ayers & Haddock, 2009). Religion has been linked to increased distress in male pornography users (Grubbs et al., 2017; Grubbs et al., 2018); however, their female partners have been largely overlooked in the existing body of pornography research. The purpose of this study is to understand the unique experiences of religious women and pornography use by a partner. The research question, “How do religious women navigate the experience of a husband’s problematic pornography use?” was analyzed using constructivist grounded theory (CGT). Identity development theories and feminist hermeneutics were used as launching points.

Through an iterative analysis and comparison process, a theory illuminating the process before, during, and after the discovery of a husband’s PPU has emerged from the data, suggesting a developmental aspect to her experience. The Religious Woman’s Betrayal and Self-Development model emerged, highlighting five stages and themes within the woman’s process, including Innocence, Crisis, Aftermath, Healing, and Transformation. Multiple subthemes were identified within each stage. Religious women’s experiences reflect the impact of this phenomenon on their identity, which in part includes aspects of sexuality and religiosity. Some risk factors were identified that made women more vulnerable to trauma and abuse within the marriage. Moreover, shame and silencing were found to keep women in a state of crisis for longer periods of time. However, the interviews reflected that perceptions of self, womanhood, religion, sex, and God evolved over time, influencing how a woman healed and transformed following the discovery of her husband’s PPU. The need for educating clinicians and clergy to be sensitive to the experience of distressed women is discussed.



Data was collected through semi-structured qualitative interviews with thirty-one religious or spiritual women from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and spiritual faiths, and their experiences with PPU were examined.