When men seek help in addressing the issues with their porn use, many times their wives do not seek their own help. While there are a myriad of questions that come up regarding porn use, I often hear wives ask questions like: “Do we need to have more sex?”, “Why am I not enough for him?” or “Why can’t he stop?” Here are the 4 things women need to know about their husbands porn use:
1. It’s not about you.
Porn is almost always something that is brought into marriage. I can only think of a few instances over the past 15 years of working with couples when porn use first started after marriage. This is not about the wife “being good enough” and more about the man’s inability to have an intimate and close relationships with a women (or it’s an outright addiction). Porn is easy because it requires nothing from a man beyond what his body is naturally designed to do.
It is difficult for a man to develop a healthy view of women that is apart from the notion that women are sex objects. Over and over again the modern culture tells us that women are sex objects. It’s why so many men are unable to have close relationships with their daughters as they go through puberty — it’s difficult to see a woman as anything other than an object. They don’t want to view their daughters sexually, so they distance themselves emotionally. Porn perverts and distorts the reality of a woman’s value and thus he cannot have a true understanding of your value either. Perhaps his distance from you emotionally or sexually is actually a good thing so that you too do not become just an object in his life.
2. Porn use is about shame.
The bottom line is this: Shame is at the core of porn use. Shame says “I’m not enough” which can easily be felt sexually and non-sexually alike. Porn use causes shame, but the real challenge is that it promises an escape from shame. Men can use porn and fantasy as a way to “be enough” for the fantasy on the screen. The porn stars never reject the men. They always tell the viewer, “yes, yes, yes, whatever you want.” The cycle starts over when a man needs to be enough, and can’t get that in the real world, so he resorts back to the fantasy world. Porn can become the only place where he feels potent, and in that there is tremendous shame because he probably feels so impotent in the real world.
Shame doesn’t last very long in an environment with grace and empathy. But here’s the problem: Wives often can’t give the gift of grace and empathy to their husbands because of their own stories. These young women have been sexually abused (to varying degrees) and they have their own wounded sexuality. Without doing her own work of recovery and healing, she will not be able to offer empathy and acceptance because the husbands use of porn will always make him like “all the others who have harmed me.” This is why it is so important for the wife to tend to her own work so that she can know how to be in relationship with her husband without enabling or shaming him.
3. Having more sex can cause more harm.
This is a delicate topic as withholding sex can be harmful just as the use of porn is. Some errant advice given to wives of porn addicts is that they need to make themselves more available sexually and this will keep the husband from acting-out. This is awful advice because it invites the fantasy life of porn into the marriage bed, and says that the wife’s lack of sexual availability is reason for the man’s acting out with porn. If someone gives you this advice, run away.
Women do not need to be more sexual for their husband to keep him from fulfilling his needs elsewhere. This is enabling behavior. Most would not want an affair partner in their marriage bed with them, but this is exactly what the advice to “become more sexual for him” is doing. It’s bringing a fractured sense of intimacy into a sacred space meant to be shared only between husband and wife.
There needs to be hard work and conversations about the harm that porn has caused in a relationship before sex can be trusted as an expression of love and commitment. This does not mean that couples need to stop having sex altogether if porn is present, rather that the purposes of sex be talked about, perhaps with professional help, to establish healthy boundaries. Do not limit sex as a form of punishment or control, and do not give in to having more sex just to make things better.
4. Porn use is cheating.
Though men are resistant in accepting this, porn use is an affair. It is taking the most trusted and vulnerable act that a couple can share together, and giving it away to someone else. Yes, it’s kind of a “one-way” relationship as the images provide no relational feedback, but it is still taking the sexual embrace outside of the marriage bed.
All affairs are a result of a breakdown of trust and intimacy. All affairs are a passive “screw you” stance towards the spouse that says “you won’t give me what I want, so I am going to go get that from somewhere else.” Instead of working out the issues of the relationship in the context of the relationship, fulfillment of sexual needs are being done outside the marriage. That is the very definition of cheating.
Don’t go at this alone. Get help even if your husband won’t. It’s not an easy topic to address, but it’s not impossible to heal from. Be patient, take your time, and work hard to find a path forward towards wholeness, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
(For some sobering statistics about porn, check out http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/)