Domestic Violence in the Lives of PSAs: Part 1

As some of you will already be aware I recently completed my Masters of Counselling thesis on the topic of domestic violence in the lives of PSAs (partners of sex addicts). Part of the study looks at the academic literature related to my topic. Before I share what the results of the study were, I thought I'd take a couple of posts to share what I covered in the literature review portion of the study. Though there has never been a study on "domestic violence in the lives of partners of sex addicts" before, there have been studies on related issues.  

I'm aware that this is not going to be an easy topic for some of our readers. Please remember your grounding tools and other supports if this post (or any in this series) feels triggering. Also, keep in mind that while we are focusing on the "bad news" for awhile... this information is meant ultimately to help women and men get the best possible support.

Early porn/violence studies

In the 1980’s a number of feminist researchers set up laboratory-based studies to see if men's porn use resulted in agression, particularly sexual agression against women. Many of these studies, which would now be considered unethical due to their harmful effects on the participants (e.g., creation of aggressive behaviours), did in fact show that exposure to both softcore and hardcore pornography resulted in more participant aggressiveness and a “trivialization of rape”. Some of these studies also linked porn use to increases in non-sexual physical aggression.

Next, feminist academics moved to real-world, studies looking at society at large. One of them, Diana Russell, created studies to see whether women, counter to their own preference, were being asked by a partner to engage in sexual acts associated with pornography. She found that women who were experiencing violence in their lives were also highly likely to have been asked to imitate porn by their partner/spouse. Other scholars used Russell's study in different areas of the US and Canada and they got similar results.

Studies with women seeking support for violence

While the aforementioned feminist studies were being conducted, other academics were conducting studies with women seeking help for issues of sexual violence  or domestic violence.

One of the earliest studies showed that battered women’s partners were much more likely to regularly consume pornographic magazines (56%) and movies (37%) versus a control group of mature university students. In terms of sexual coercion, 39% of the test group answered in the affirmative the question “Has your partner ever upset you by trying to get you to do what he'd seen in pornographic pictures, movies or books?”, compared to 3% in the control group.

A later study went beyond finding an association between sexual violence and an abuser’s porn use, to also finding an association between the violence and an abuser’s sex industry use—another behaviour associated with sex addiction. The researchers designed the study to test if the abusive partner’s sex industry use was associated with his enacting controlling behaviours and forms of abuse other than sexual. The study found this was indeed the case.

Predicting sexual violence

Starting in the late 1970's a Canadian academic, Neil Malamuth, launched a series of studies to test whether it would be possible to predict which male university students would later become sexual aggressors. This long-term study, and others he designed would go on for decades and would consistently show an association between "impersonal sexuality" (e.g., casual sex, use of sex industry) or porn use and sexual aggression, as well as poor relationship outcomes (e.g., relational distress).

Malamuth's model for predicting sexual aggression (the "confluence model") has also been used by other academics to explore the connection between sexual violence and sex addiction behaviours beyond pornography use. One such study demonstrated that compared to men who do not buy sex, male sex buyers exhibited more attitudes and behaviours predictive of sexual aggression.

Problematic porn use studies

Recently, the first-ever studies focusing on problematic porn use (PPU) and violence against women, or anti-woman attitudes, have been published. One of these studies looked at pornography use in male DV offenders. The researchers hypothesised that problematic pornography use would be associated with physical and sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration among men in batterer intervention programmes. Of these, 32.2% had perpetrated at least one act of sexual IPV and 72.5% had perpetrated at least one act of physical IPV. Moreover, the study demonstrated that higher ratings of PPU were associated with higher levels of IPV.

Two other PPU studies of recent days, though less directly related to the issue of violence, have nevertheless shed light on the issue of male porn users’ attitudes towards women. The first found that “greater dominance and avoidance of femininity ideology were predictive of men’s excessive use of pornography” and the  second study showed an association between "toxic masculinity" (including a desire to control women) and porn use.


Next week I'll finish summarizing what other studies have shown. In the meantime, if you don't mind academic-style literature, and you'd like to read the introduction and literature review portions of this study, you can do so here.


This article was written by:
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Lisa Taylor

Lisa is a PSA trauma survivor, counselor and award-winning author living with her kids & recovering husband in New Zealand. She runs groups and sees international clients via Naked Truth Recovery.
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