Q&A: His Past Porn Habit Makes It Hard to Know What’s Okay

We’re back to another Summer of Q&A with J question. I guarantee this one affects more wives than the one woman who sent it in:

My husband is working very hard by the Lord’s grace to overcome a pornography and masturbation addiction. He has come so far, but we are not out of the woods yet. I struggle with what sexual things I should or shouldn’t do in order to encourage his healing. As an example, is my giving him a hand job triggering the wrong kind of desires in his mind, or is it okay because it comes from me?

Fist bump for you two working through that struggle. With God’s grace indeed, this couple is on its way to experiencing more intimate and God-honoring sexual intimacy.

The question remains: What’s okay and what’s not for a husband who’s had a porn and masturbation habit? Are certain activities best omitted because they remind or tempt hubby toward sin?

Q&A: His Past Porn Habit Makes It Hard to Know What's Okay

I had some immediate thoughts, but spent more time in the Word of God to clarify my approach.

The past is past, but it can still rear its ugly head. 1 John 1:6-7 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with [God] and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Pornography is a dark sin, and the answer to dealing with this addiction or problem is light. Your husband has brought this sin into the light, and Jesus can purify him, meaning that sin — while remembered — essentially goes poof! and it’s gone. This verse also addresses that fellowship with one another is affected; many marriages know how porn negatively impacted their relationship and sexual intimacy and how healing brought a positive impact.

But the past is past, a done deal. Those sins, once confessed, brought into the light, and washed by Jesus’ blood…are forgiven. Does this mean a switch is flipped, and everything’s a-okay? No one who’s walked such a path would argue that. Nor does the Bible. One chapter later, John says: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” John’s talking to Christians, and he basically admits they’re going to mess up.

Yet sinning is not living in sin. We know the difference. Let me first assure you that if you do something in your marriage bed that unintentionally causes porn memories to rear their ugly head, that does not mean a return to pornography permeating your marriage. You and your husband still have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who is working in your lives to lead you further and further into the light.

Your sexual intimacy can provide protection against his temptation. That’s what 1 Corinthians 7:5 says: “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Also, in Proverbs 5, a chapter devoted to warning against adultery, the husband is advised to “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.” That means have sex with your own wife! It’s one way of protecting against the pull of adultery.

For wives whose husbands have engaged in pornography, the emotional pain for these women is deep. I understand why they would not feel safe in the marriage bed and worry that sexual activities could stir up past imagery. However, while the initial reaction for many wives is to retreat from the marriage bed, God’s prescription is the opposite. You may need a short break to grieve, but in the long run fostering sexual intimacy protects your marriage and wards against outside temptation.

This includes activities that your husband might have seen in porn, but that also occur regularly enough without that example. For example, oral sex might be shown in porn, but plenty of couples have oral sex without the inspiration of porn. Likewise, hand jobs could be associated with a man self-stimulating while watching porn, but it’s also fairly common in the marriage bed.

As you engage in various sexual activities together, you’re rewriting the script. Instead of your husband associating manual arousal with pornographic imagery, it can become something special and intimate between husband and wife. Will this happen after one time? I shoot straight on my blog, so I’m going to say probably not. It’s more like a balance of scales, and over time you add more and more weight to the side of godly sexuality and marital intimacy, so that the scales tip. Eventually, the other side means nothing, and godly sexual intimacy is the way you both view sex.

An activity may be too close to a porn memory and should be left out. Sexual activities should not automatically thrown out because they also occur in porn; however, some activities could truly be triggers for your husband. How can you distinguish?

Since porn addicts struggle with attaching sexuality to imagery, I advise staying away from similar imagery for a while, even if it’s of you. Your husband needs to retrain his body to react to physical interaction with his wife as an all-five-senses and 3-D experience. While a wife giving her hubby a naked or suggestive photo of herself doesn’t strike me as sin, it could be unwise for someone on the road to recovery from a porn addiction. Because it’s still in line with attaching sexuality to imagery.

James 1:14-15 says: “…each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Apparently, there’s a space before sin that involves desire, and to avoid birthing sin, we should aim for aligning our desires with God’s. A porn addict needs intentional time to get back on track with sexuality being linked to physical interaction, intimacy with a covenant wife, and the layered experience of sex as God designed it. Things that smack of two-dimensional arousal would be off my list for a while.

Other activities, including that hand job, might or might not be triggers. The only way to know is to ask. While building your trust in other areas, build your repertoire of conversation and honesty.  Before you engage in an activity, ask your husband outright what effect it will have on his mind. If your husband’s heart is in the right place — and it sounds like it is — he’ll admit if something is too close to a porn memory and should be avoided.

A few things might need to come off the table (or the bed, if you will), at least for a while. Don’t concentrate, though, on what you can’t do. “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

Ask your Heavenly Father to help you forge a new reality. How about praying before your lovemaking? Or memorizing scriptures about God being on your side and creating something fresh and beautiful?

Here’s a personal testimony. I had some bad memories from my premarital promiscuous past, and a particular one made me feel very ashamed. Years ago, I began to pray to God to help me renew my mind, even asking him to remove the memories. That memory went away, just gone. I can’t tell you what it was. And I have no other explanation than God erasing it from my memory bank. Had He not removed it, He would have had a reason for leaving it there. But in my specific case, God relieved me of this shameful memory, which allowed me to focus more on godly marital intimacy.

Pray for the healing of your husband’s mind and your own. Here’s an example from Isaiah 65: 18-19:

“Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the one true God; –– In the name of our one true God, we invoke Your blessing in our land of marriage.
whoever takes an oath in the land will swear by the one true God. — We take an oath to honor our marriage bed.
For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes. — You have forgotten the sins of pornography and hidden them from Your eyes, and we praise You.
See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. — Create a new intimacy in our marriage that honors You.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. — As we make love, help us to not remember the former things, and keep any sinful thoughts from coming to mind.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Or more simply: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, KJV).

For those who’ve been down this road, what advice would you give to this reader and others trying to recover from porn addiction in their marriage?

18 thoughts on “Q&A: His Past Porn Habit Makes It Hard to Know What’s Okay

  1. Kay

    I agree; ask him what’s okay and what’s not! Or you could possibly come up with a code word or the like that communicates “I am having a hard time staying present/focused; let’s try something else.” If you are comfortable with that, that is. That might take time, especially if he is really struggling at first. I also suggest talking through what will HELP him the most even more than what not to do. Perhaps you can remind him to keep his eyes open so his mind doesn’t wander or to keep touching you so he stays present, etc. My husband says that a hand job is not at all comparable to masturbation because of the unpredictability of it, not to mention the completely different movements and sensations, so that may not be a problem for this husband.

    Also, as discussed, try not to blame all of his desires on the porn. I remember reading a while back that this writer thought that shaving/trimming pubic hair was the result of porn and trying to look like a child instead of embracing womanhood, so she argued you should never shave it off or trim it. When my husband started hinting at that, I was indignant and started to scold him because of it (he had looked at porn in high school), but he explained he was just interested in learning how to perform oral sex, which is something we had never done because I still had hang up about how gross that must be. Well, hair up the nostrils and in the mouth *is* gross, so his request made sense and actually had nothing to do with porn at all. (I am proud to announce that–though it has taken a while for me to accept the fact that he actually wants to be down there–he finally was able to bring me to orgasm this way just yesterday. He feels like the king of the world today. 😉 )

    1. J Post author

      Did I say “fist pump” instead of “fist bump”? Good heavens! Correcting that now. :p

  2. Ham

    Husbands looking at pornography and masturbating are the two greatest impediments to marital intimacy. Why do we do them? Simply because they’re there. They are virtually instantly available at any time and are very convenient for us in this age of immediate gratification. I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of husbands in Christian marriages masturbate regularly, pornography or not, and while we delude ourselves into thinking this is a victim-less practice, the truth is that we are robbing our wives of intimacy. We need to learn to be satisfied by our wives, and our wives need to realize that it is up to them to see to our sexual satisfaction just as much as it is up to us to see to theirs. This requires active participation on the wives’ part, not just making themselves passively available to us. We guys need to learn that we won’t die if we don’t have sex every time we think we need it, and we also need to learn that God’s plan is that if we don’t get it from our wives, we need to wait.

    As far as breaking the bondage of pornography is concerned, a man should find spirit-filled elders to whom he can confess his sin, and they should pray for him with the laying on of hands and the anointing of oil and ask the Holy Spirit to remove the images ingrained in his brain. Sounds rather fundamental, but it worked for me!

    1. libl

      So true. My own husband will masturbate rather than pursue me. And I am not talking about jumping through hoops. I have never refused him and I love having sex and told him if he wants it just say so. Doesn’t even have to ask, just come get me or call me from the bedroom. And yet, if I am not right there he will masturbate.

      I did confront him once that he is stealing from me by doing so. He basically says that sometimes he just wants to “get off” without the “work” of sex. And yes, he can have quickies any time he wants, too. :-/

  3. W

    One thing I’ve heard suggested is prayer. When ever those images creep into your head pray God takes them away. It sounds simple but God says all you have to do is ask. When you find your mind wandering, lust entering in about a lady at work, images from previous porn use, etc, just ask God to take those images away. We may not be able to control our own thinking but God can if he is allowed that control. Let him have it.

  4. Sophie

    This is a bit of a half-formed thought about masturbation, so it may be flawed, but isn’t it possible that masturbation (without porn) can actually be a respectful thing to do? My husband and I have talked once or twice about the fact that sometimes your primary desire is simply for the physical release of orgasm, because you’re stressed or angry or whatever and you just want the endorphins (yes I realise you can also get those at the gym, but there’s not always time for that). In that situation I feel like approaching your spouse for sex is just using their body to satisfy your needs – even if you do it nicely and/or end up feeling very intimate. To me, that degrades the sanctity of marital sex far more than masturbation does.

    1. AC

      Sophie, I understand the reasoning behind your comment, and there may be room for that in some situations. But this post was about situations with past porn use. When a man is into porn, sex with a real woman can become just too much trouble even when she is very much available, so even when he isn’t actually watching porn he is taking care of himself in secret and she is being neglected. Sooo unhealthy! Unfortunately I am speaking from experience on this.

      Sex needs to become about love, not only a physical release. It’s an uphill battle, but we are working on this.

    2. da

      Very good answer to a big problem. My wife wants legislative sex. (planed sex on regular days) She wants no orgasm sex on other days but will help me get my thrills on the off days. Kind of like machinery. She has a very low almost non existant sex drive.

  5. Bonnie Eberly

    My husband used porn to meet his needs because he believed i was not interested in sex as much as he was. Since i confronted him and we’ve asked each others forgiveness, i have initiated intimacy alot and find the challenge stimulating for me. The more i communicate that i am a sexual woman, i have needs, and ask him to meet my needs (very hard for me to do), he is changing and growing in his sexual confidence. We talk frequently about how we got to that place where we beame so isolated from one another. I am healing from the past, i also take responsibility for being sexually shut down. Its never just one persons problem. Hope this is helpful,

  6. K

    I think clinically the most common issues relating to pornography, is the inability to have a normal intimate sexual relationship. Certainly as God intended, for that to be between husband and wife. If you have a husband who is self stimulating himself to the point where he can no longer achieve an orgasm with his wife during intercourse, oral, or even a hand job….these cases are more common and pervasive than a husband who has masturbated to porn and where the situation is more of a spiritual and relationship healing issue than it is a complete rebuilding of the ability to reach a climax from being stimulated by his wife, often the issue is of the husband not being able to be intimate at all with his wife.

    Quite often that is one of the therapies we employ is engaging all of his senses on you, especially having him feel your naked body pressed against him, very frequently, usually nightly at first, to feel the various sensations of your touch, usually a hand might be a first step and gradually working up to whatever would be normal for your relationship which for most Christian couples is the hope of eventually having intercourse again. This is effective because the stimulation you provide, no matter how you stimulate your husband will feel different than the stimulation he provides or has provided to himself, the sensory modes are also quite different than the problem which is his own self stimulation……

    The short answer is that oral sex or a hand job can be a good way to working back towards normal, husband and wife intercourse. As can various therapies where he again is stimulated depending on the severity with the goal of returning to the vagina. It is getting him to respond to you and your touch we typically are concerned about in these situations so, typically use all the tools you have available to you, but you may need to be patient. Certainly he has to stop the masturbation completely and only after a period of prolonged abstinence from the pornography and masturbation with your focus on his arousal will be a big step in the right direction towards normal intimacy again. On some occasions a period of complete abstinence for 1-3 weeks which, may not sound like much, but for a man who has been masturbating several times a day will be very effective, the goal is to force a break of the learned preference in stimulation, so it may take longer, some therapists may advocate as long as 6 to 8 weeks in extreme cases, but I do not, because your husband is accustomed to much more frequent and I believe the opportunity to relapse is usually too great. I believe the quicker he begins to feel you and embrace you the better. Non sexual or non-sensual touch is also a great activity, for marriage in general and certainly here.

    Your question does not indicate the severity of the problem or specifics that a clinician would need to recommend a course of action. But based on the question, I am inclined to believe the problem is fairly mild and whatever works is what you continue to build upon, just do not stay with one thing as that is the problem single source type stimulation – which is not from his wife. A hand job is fine but again you should avoid anything like what he can do himself. If he showed you how to do the handjob in the first place, you do not want to do that, at least not the way he showed you, if you can’t figure out another way try something else. but you need to get him focused on feeling you, smelling you, tasting, experiencing you, and seeing you again, something real, his wife.

    God Bless.

    1. J Post author

      Are you a counselor or a clinical psychologist? Or something else? I’m curious what your background is.

  7. Doug

    It is an issue that I am currently coping with, so I don’t know how that alters my perception. I was a longtime porn abuser(i won’t justify it by calling it an addiction). I have recently turned away from it, and confessed it to my Wife. She knew about it because I was not even thoughtful enough to do a very good job of concealing it. I travel as much as 8-9 months of the year in my job, and have been traveling for extended periods of time for our entire 30+ years of marriage. I suppose I found it an innocent source of release. It is far from innocent, tho, and I know it damaged her, and me in numerous ways that are all to familiar. I must say, that my faith has been lost to me for many years, and therefore my battle has been fought almost entirely alone. This blog and other sites, where wounded spouses share the deep hurt it causes has really changed my heart about it, and I just stopped one day, and wrote a long letter to my wife confessing this failure and what seemed to me to be an endless list of other ways I have failed her. I was unsure how she would react, but based on previous failings, I was afraid that I was in for a long stretch of anger and silence. I am sure that she has her moments of anger, and I understand why now, but all she has shown me to my face is forgiveness and love. The time away from home is troubling, and is a separate but significant source of discord, but I now have an ally in my battle to keep my mind clean. The last weekend home was a wonderful time, and I came to view her as I hadn’t in years. Aside from trying to catch up with a weeks worth of chores in an afternoon, it seems that every other moment was spent with her at my side. Even the time I was working outside, she was caring and nurturing, bringing me what seemed to be a constant supply of ice tea, etc. The time inside was spent tending to my needs as well, including in the bedroom.

    I guess I should get onto how my story relates to the title of this blog. All I can say is that I am susceptible to recalling the failure at the worst possible time. In my particular case, no particular trigger was needed, but on the other hand, it wasn’t a question of being drawn back in, but rather a revulsion of what had been, and what had been lost. There were a few occasions of an image flashing in my mind, but without knowing how she was affecting that, my wife made sure that she was the center of my attention, and that image would pass as quickly as it arrived. I don’t believe that any act led to my micro lapses, and I don’t feel that I was in any way tempted back into porn. If anything,, the way she treated me has given me the strength to go one week, then two, and so on, without feeling the need to replace her love with something so base as porn. We all have our own individual weaknesses, and our own sources of strength.

    If you can, try to be a source of strength for him. I’m not saying that you should act like it never happened, but if you are going to love him, when you show that love in the bedroom, then let your heart be your guide. If it needs to be discussed, do so before you enter the bedroom, but be aware that he may not know himself what might be a trigger, and it is quite possible that anything might be. A trigger does not mean a return to porn.

    1. J Post author

      This comment is so excellent. I know many husbands worry about confessing their porn abuse/addiction/use to their wives. But your statement that “I now have an ally in my battle to keep my mind clean” means so much. Yes, most wives will be angry — because underneath that, they are terribly wounded — but they can also help fight against the real enemy.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Doug. You are a brave man, and your wife sounds like an incredible woman.

  8. Rosângela

    We need to learn to be satisfied by our wives, and our wives need to realize that it is up to them to see to our sexual satisfaction just as much as it is up to us to see to theirs.

Comments are closed.