Q&A with J: His Porn Past Is Affecting Our Relationship

Today’s question came in a while ago. I pray that things have improved in this woman’s relationship, but she wrote a very long email about the situation with her long-time boyfriend. I’ll summarize some issues first:

  1. He was molested as a child. He didn’t say anything at first, but when he reported the incident, adults took charge and action was taken. In the meantime, another child had been sexually assaulted, and he felt somewhat responsible.
  2. Following his molestation, he began looking at pornography. This may have been his way of trying to understand what had happened, to feel more in control of his sexuality. But the fact that he was able to access porn at such a young age is heartbreaking.
  3. This began a ten-year-long, daily porn habit. Finally wanting to break free, he began fighting the porn addiction through counseling.
  4. The relationship between this man and the girl who wrote me is serious, and in almost every way, this man is seeking God, the good of his girlfriend, and goodness.

But when it comes to sex . . .

We both agree that we have gone WAY [too] far physically, so much further than I ever wanted too before marriage. We haven’t had sex, but we’ve done just about everything else. It is extremely hard to stop once you’ve started, and that’s [where] we’re having trouble. We don’t seem to be in-sync. I’ll be the one saying we need to stop while he wants to continue one night, than the next night he’ll be the one saying we need to stop. You can imagine how this can pose problems. Whenever he is turned on, it is very very hard, almost impossible, for him to [accept] that we need to stop. He is never mean or abusive towards me (I would have headed straight for the door at the first sign), but he gets extremely grumpy, and is in a very very bad mood for the rest of the evening. It’s almost like he is mad at me. It’s like he’s in this haze, and he’s an entirely different person. I’ve asked him about it many times before and he says that at the time he’s slightly angry with me, but more frustrated at the situation. Once he snaps out of it, he is extremely remorseful for wanting to continue and is in total agreement with me that we need to stop. However, the haze thing scares me a lot. What if I’m not in the mood one night when we’re married and he’s angry with me over it?

I’ve also noticed that he can be rough when we make out and when we cross the line. This also scares me for his sake. (He has never hurt me, let me just point that out). I know that it can be ok to have rough sex. Heck, the prospect of having rough sex sounds like a lot of fun to me! However, there’s a good part of the time [where] he seems like he’s in that haze again. It makes me feel like I am being used as a way to release sexual tension when this happens, no love involved. Sometimes I don’t even have to do anything. I tested this out once. I decided to see how long it took for him to noticed that I wasn’t doing anything back (no touching, kissing, just sitting there) and it lasted till I had to tell him to stop because he was going to go too far.

The only issue that makes me hesitant about getting married is this: I am  concerned that his past has greatly affected his ability to separate sex from aggression and he will never be able to connect sex and love. . . . How can I help him overcome his past and help him to be able to show love physical? What can I do to help him get over his porn addiction?

Q&A with J: His Porn Past Is Affecting Our Relationship

That’s a really long opening, so please forgive me for a longer post today. But I wanted readers to have enough information to understand that this man is not an evil person seeking his own kicks, but someone who’s also faced a fair number of challenges in his own life.

Yet when people tell me that viewing pornography does not alter how you view the sex act, this is the kind of story they should read. It’s delusional to think that you can fill your mind with sexual garbage and it have no effect on how you view your spouse and your sexuality.

It's delusional to think you can fill your mind w/garbage and it have no effect on how you view sex. Click To Tweet

Let me take on these issues in turn.

We’ve gone way too far. She says, “It is extremely hard to stop once you’ve started, and that’s where we’re having trouble.” I’d like to add to that statement… #truth. It is extremely hard to stop when you have no strategy for stopping. You talk about “when we make out,” which tells me that you’re setting aside times to make out and hoping (against hope) that it won’t go as far this time as it has previous times.

Having been there before myself, let me assert that: (1) Technical virginity doesn’t get bonus points with God. Manual sex, oral sex, etc. are other forms of sex — just ask us married couples. (2) God is not mad at you, and He wants you to succeed. He believes in repentance and redemption — even if you need to repeat that cycle more than once. So don’t give up, and ask for God’s help. (3) You two will go too far if you don’t have a specific plan for not getting there in the first place. Because emotions and hormones are so strong in that moment, and few people successfully combat those urges again and again.

I have tips on staying sexually pure before marriage. But essentially, you need to stop being alone, on a couch or a bed, entangled in each other’s arms and lips, and use your dating time instead to get to know each other more. You can get to know each other’s bodies later. If you get married, there will be plenty of time to explore and enjoy.

He’s angry when we stop. He should not be angry at you, of course. But I do understand the frustration. It’s like presenting the most delicious dessert on a silver plate — letting you see it, sniff, touch it. But then it gets whisked away, and you don’t get to eat what your body now craves. Even if you knew you shouldn’t be eating that uber-rich dessert, you might feel annoyed. Perhaps grumpy.

Added to that, he likely has a strain of guilt for having pushed too far. For wanting more than he should have. For putting you in a terrible position. When we feel that guilt, I think it’s the Holy Spirit helping us in our weakness — trying to get our attention and encourage us to seek God’s way instead. (See Romans 8.)

This is one of the reasons why sex should be in marriage. There are very few times when my husband and I have to stop mid-stream, so to speak. Once one or both of you have reached that point of craving for a sexual release, you can get it. Neither one of us gets flagged down at the edge of climax and told to turn back. Which means I’m less concerned about this happening within marriage, even though it’s a problem for you now.

However, I think you should set some boundaries. It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s not okay to mistreat you. You can speak up and say exactly that: “I understand you being frustrated, but the way you pull away and then appear gruff afterward scares me. I need to know that you’ve got control of your anger.” Maybe you could open your Bibles and look up the verses about anger in Proverbs (anger / angry). Memorizing a couple of those verses has helped me.

He can be rough. This line really concerned me: “I decided to see how long it took for him to noticed that I wasn’t doing anything back (no touching, kissing, just sitting there) and it lasted till I had to tell him to stop because he was going to go too far.” He didn’t notice? That’s a major red flag that he has not resolved the issues of his past!

It might seem that overcoming porn simply involves not looking at porn anymore. I applaud your boyfriend’s efforts to smother the porn addiction into oblivion, and he has clearly made great strides. But that viewpoint of sex based on porn must be replaced by an understanding of what God designed sex to be. It’s not merely about the act, but the person with whom you engage.

This isn’t about gentle sex or rough sex. (Although I could take on that issue another day, because I don’t know what you mean by “rough sex,” and that could be no big deal or a problem depending on your meaning.) This is about respectful sex. Nothing — absolutely nothing — in the Bible says that your partner’s body is your sexual tool to use as you wish.

Nothing in the Bible says that your partner's body is your sexual tool to use as you wish. Click To Tweet

Before anyone says “I do” here, I highly encourage you both to seek out better truth about sexual intimacy in marriage. Starting with relational intimacy in marriage. For instance, reading Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage might help with understanding the purpose of this relationship to begin with.

His long porn habit has clearly affected how he views you and sex when he gets highly aroused. It’s probably not a conscious thing, simply an instinct at this point. But it needs to be addressed and changed. And you need to be willing to set boundaries here as well: “I need to feel safe and valued, and if you start treating me like a sex toy rather than the woman you love, I’m going to have to get up and walk away.” You can say this while dating or married, because God does not intend for you to be disregarded.

Be there for your boyfriend, but remember that this is his journey. Until you two are bound as one flesh in marriage, it’s a he problem, not a we problem. You can support him, but he needs to show that he’s willing to do the hard work of overcoming his porn past. If you’re always the one pushing for improvement, his gains probably won’t stick.

Yes, I feel enormous sympathy for him, but it’s not in his best interest either to enter marriage without meeting this challenge, getting God’s guidance, and becoming a victor in the area of sexual intimacy.

Throughout your issues, pray. Pray fervently that you will have the wisdom, courage, and peace to do what’s right. May God bless you both.

For dating and engaged couples, I’m also a big fan of the website, Preengaged.com. Check out their blog posts and resources.

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16 thoughts on “Q&A with J: His Porn Past Is Affecting Our Relationship

  1. Keelie Reason

    What a very difficult situation to be in. All physical relationships are progressive. If her physical relationship is concerning her now, and they aren’t married yet, it would be very hard to think of where it will go. If they are pushing things now and not establishing boundaries, there will be little hope of having good boundaries in the marriage bed. If you don’t show restraint in your dating life, how will you show restraint in your married life. Discipline is just that, discipline, and it has to be built from the start in relationships, or you will have a long road of undoing things.

    Reply
  2. nylse

    If this were my daughter, I would tell her to leave him. It might not be permanent, but this is something that he needs to resolve on his own without the distraction of a girlfriend. In the time apart, he may realize, and she might also, that they might not be right for each other.

    The anger and haze was a huge red flag for me – and is something HE needs to resolve before going into marriage. Quite plainly, he is using her and she is recognizing that she doesn’t like being used. Because they are not married she can speak up and separate herself from this behavior.

    I feel this burden is too huge for the girlfriend to bear; she’s not ready or equipped to deal with this and probably needs to work on herself and her relationship with the Lord also when she takes a break for him.

    Reply
  3. Re' Schlitt

    My name is Re’ and for over 30 years of my life, I was addicted to porn. Currently I’m a Christian life coach with a passion for working with men trying to break free from the grips of porn addiction.

    The roughness you speak of worries me because of the state he seems to be in while sexually aroused. I’m worried that over time it will escalate and he might end up hurting you, especially if you turn him down or ask him to stop. I would guess that this is probably related to his abide and it needs to be dealt with.

    Also, because of how upset he gets when you try to stop things sexuality, I believe he is not as over the porn as he would like to believe. Here’s my reasoning for thinking this.

    When we look at porn or get sexually aroused the brain releases chemicals that make us feel good and also bond is to our mate. If we get too much of these chemicals we become addicted to them and start to have withdrawal symptoms when we don’t get them for a period of time. I believe he had simply substituted getting his arousal, and thus the chemical release, from getting it from the porn, to getting it from sexual arousal with you. In short, he’s still addicted.

    The only way to stop this is to cut him off from the chemicals his body is craving and let the withdrawal run its course. You can only accomplish this by ceasing any activity that could cause him to become sexually aroused for a period of 60-90 days to purge the chemicals from him and give his body time to be reprogrammed to live without them. This will be a hard time for him to say the least.

    This is just my opinion based on what I’ve read here, my experience with my own addiction, and what I’ve learned working with porn addicted men.

    Reply
    1. Eric Wiggin

      I’m not going to disagree with anything that Re or others have said about compulsive porn use being an “addiction,” since I do realize that for many men’s problems this approach can work, if it’s tied to genuine repentance and calling on the Lord for deliverance. However, I do believe that the concern that a man who uses porn can become “rough” and may “escalate” to “hurting” his wife or girlfriend is only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever sin has a hold on a man (or woman) causes them to mistreat others in relation to that sin, though this mistreatment is not usually in the form of violence.

      For instance Jacob (Israel) had four wives, and David had, I think, eight. Both of these men neglected their daughters (Dinah & Tamar) to the extent that Dinah rebelled and then got raped and Tamar had so little understanding of male character that she became vulnerable to rape by her half-brother.

      So a porn user (or an adulterer, for that matter) does not usually become a wife beater or a pedophile who molests his own children. But he does usually become a boor, an insensitive dolt stuck in mid-puberty, incapable of being tender, caring and truly romantic with his wife; and neglectful of his daughters, who, if they do come to him for advice re dating or sexual behavior, will find him either distant (“ask your mom”), or overprotective until the girl rebels.

      Too many women wait until they marry such a guy, have several children with him–then run to a divorce lawyer.
      Eric

      Reply
  4. Eric Wiggin

    First, Elisabeth Elliott, who in her day was probably the best-known Christian writer on dating and marriage, writes in PASSION & PURITY, that if you can’t keep your hands off each other, it’s time to either break up or marry. That’s to the point and decently put.

    Re porn: the ungodly crowd (and many Christians) don’t consider viewing photos of a naked woman to be porn unless she is posed in a sexually provocative way. Eg, a photo of a sunbathing nude girl would not be porn by the usual definition. Personally, I don’t see the difference. Men quickly tire of gynecological photos, but they never tire of seeing unclothed young women, and such photos are, for obvious reasons, 1. ) a threat to the beloved, whether one is dating her or married; 2.) tend to cause men to wish initiate aggressive encounters, rather than being tenderly romantic.

    But there’s a third issue that’s generally overlooked. The Bible seems to have no direct reference to its being sinful to view a photo or a painting or a statue. The passages generally cited (2 Sam. 11 re David and Bathsheba and Matt. 5:27-28 re lusting (or coveting; same word in Greek) for a woman have living women or girls in view. So, what’s the issue–is it wrong? Plenty wrong. But I don’t believe treating this as “sexual addiction” is broadly effective. The real issue, I believe, is the First Commandment (see Exodus 20) re “graven/carved” images. The pagans of Moses day worshiped idols (of wood, bronze or stone) of nude goddesses of fertility, Not unlike viewing a photo of a naked nympho today.

    But there’s more. Behind every pagan idol is a demon. The gods that the heathen worship are demons (devils). Paul lays this out plainly in 1 Cor. 10. See verses 20-21. And in verses 13-14 the solution is given. There can be no deliverance from the trap of porn other than facing this for what it is–idolatry. This is followed by repentance, and casting ones self on the Lord in prayer for deliverance. If we give the temptation to Jesus, He who said “Get thee behind me, Satan” will take it and break our bondage. If the young man this girl is dating isn’t ready to acknowledge his use of fertility goddesses as sin, she needs to RUN.
    Eric

    Reply
  5. R

    This situation sounds a bit familiar to me. I was sexually abused by someone close to me when i was younger, and for a while i blamed myself, despite what i knew to be true. Despite my parents teaching us (my sisters and i) that sex is beautiful if in marriage, and that God designed it, and that people scewered sex to suit them, i tried to get my head around what had happened to me. I got angry at God, i blamed Him, ( i have since realised my error and repented) but during that time i got involved in watching porn. I quickly realised the error of my ways, but the damage was already done. I struggled for a few years, but thanks to God i am mostly over that. I didnt tell anyone because i was ashamed, and still am, but i know that i am forgiven, and even though i have slipped up a couple of times since, i dont let it define me. When i catch my thoughts going where they shouldnt i stop myself, i pray. I’m now engaged, and i refuse to let my past have a negative impact on my relationship with my fiance, i pray for our relationship daily, that God will lead us. I pray daily that God will help me keep my thoughts pure, and even when temptation comes i know God is with me

    Reply
  6. Amy

    I have real concerns when reading how this woman’s fiance gets in these hazy states becoming disconnected for a while and then becoming so very angry at her for saying stop.

    My ex got like this often and as far as I’m concerned, porn addiction does not cause someone to become angry and so disconnected, that is a separate issue which needs to be dealt with before marriage should even be considered.

    When there are red flags in a relationship prior to marriage it’s so important to pay attention and realize that those warnings need to be listened to and not just shrugged off. Most often a person is not going to change once married.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    I wonder if the boyfriend is rough more from a lack of understanding of how very GENTLE woman typically are compared to men. It made me think of how I teach my children to pet animals… by pretend petting the child to show how gentle she needs to be to the animal. There is no real room for that kind of teaching in the scenario this woman gave.

    All of this post sounds very familiar to my dating history with my now-husband (who, by the way, is awesome!). Most of the “red flags” disappeared as soon as sex became legitimate and as soon as he started learning how to do things right. When you’re in the middle of doing something you know is wrong, you try to turn off your brain and just get through it. There isn’t a lot of attention paid to technique, for lack of a better word.

    Reply
    1. Eric Wiggin

      To Anonymous and anyone else with a similar concern:

      As I’ve stated on this loop many times, I’ve been married 52 years–and I say this, not to brag, but so that the reader knows where I’m coming from. For some couples, the “misunderstandings” will continue for a life time, for several reasons. You and your spouse were reared by different sets of parents, and the things you learned as “gospel” about the other sex (gender) will be a part of you as long as you live. Too, I think it was Kipling who said, “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” There’s an application in that for understanding the opposite sex. Don’t expect to fully understand your spouse until that day we all meet before the throne of Jesus and are fully in His likeness. Christ, who had no male parent, was the only man with a perfectly balanced temperament, since God took Eve from Adam’s side and split mankind into two opposite persons.

      Someone wrote that the guy must be “clean” from porn for two years to be safe. I’m not so sure there’s a time limit on it. I don’t “use” porn, but I recently opened a website and discovered the image of a provocatively posed naked woman. I moved quickly on, but the sight gave me a powerful urge to take another look. The message of 1 Corinthians 10:13 must be repeated in one’s heart in such situations–ALWAYS, whether the man is 18 or 88. God made your man that way, ladies, and no matter how much your husband loves you, he WILL be tempted.

      Many, perhaps most, wives never figure out what really tempts their husband. For instance, only yesterday a very pretty young woman (about the age of my granddaughters) popped up in a TV show my wife was watching. She said something about me being tempted. But I was not in the least interested. The girl was pretty, true. But nothing in me stirred to desire her. Many wives don’t get this; perhaps because they can’t. “But she’s pretty,” they may say. When your man passes it off with, “So what?” believe him.

      Finally, it may take your husband years to figure out why the moves that turned you on so readily when you were dating no longer work. Men are much more direct in their ability to become sexually aroused, and after you’ve got several crying kids at home, and you’re tired–he comes home and wants “it.” Doesn’t he understand? Possibly not, especially if he’s tired and had a rough day, too.

      Most divorces occur during the first seven years of marriage. That’s because, for most couples, it can take that long for you to even figure yourself out re how to treat each other sexually. For instance, right now my wife and I plan to end the day with a movie and dinner out. Not that I wish to do either (I don’t!), but I do love her, and I eventually came to realize that true romantic love requires me to practice some of the things I did when we first started seeing each other 54 years ago. If I had the extra cash right now, we’d end our date at a resort near here, where they have a heart-shaped hot tub in the room with a king-sized bed–something we could not have done when we were dating, even if I’d had the money!
      Eric

      Reply
  8. AC

    One thing I would be interested to know is how long it’s been since he’s last used porn. She shouldn’t commit to him until he’s at least a year or 2 “clean.”

    She needs to remember we are talking about 10 years worth of brainwashing straight from the pits of hell she is dealing with here. God does redeem and forgive, but there is no way this guy has a healthy view of sexuality. The roughness proves that. And the “haze” does too. This probably isn’t the case in other areas of their relationship, but it sounds like sexually she’s just an object to him.

    I discovered my husband’s porn use a couple years into our marriage. We have gotten help, and things are getting better. But I will never forget the deep grief and betrayal I felt when I saw what he had been doing. And I may never feel truly beautiful to him, knowing what he was choosing to watch. So if I could spare a woman who hasn’t made the commitment yet, I’d say run now. You have no idea how much heartache could be ahead.

    Reply
  9. libl

    Don’t ignore red flags. I did and it has been an uphill battle ever since. Yeah, it is getting better, but I would beg every young person to NOT go into marriage with red flags still waving strong. She has the opportunity to deal with this NOW.

    I agree they should separate. Not break-up per se, but separates for 1-3 months with counseling and accountability for both. They go “too far” sexually and need to stop and address why. She is in essense teaching him to not respect her and cherish her because sex before marriage is NOT protected and cherished because it is outside God’s will.

    Secondly, he needs help. He needs to dig deep and address the porn and abuse at its very core because the haze, anger, and aggression are VERY troubling. Self control is so important and you do NOT want to make a man a father who does not exercise self control when people have needs or become troublesome for him. What if he’s all geared up for sex and the baby starts an all night wailing? He may think now that he’d never hurt his child, but if he is willing to express that towards you, he will towards a child. So many of the children who died or are injured at the hands of daddy are because he has self control issues allowed to snap. It actually feels good in the moment to snap. It doesn’t feel good in the moment to address the pain and sadness, instead.

    His remorse is good, but not good enough if the behaviors continue unheeded.

    Now is not the time for rose petals and satin. Now is the time to put on the armour of God and fight this battle.

    Reply
  10. MS

    My advice to this young lady: run like the wind to get away from this man and this situation! I married a godly, young, Christian man who had been sexually abused as a child, and had struggled with porn as a result. Despite the fact that he had admitted all these things to me and had been through counseling, this has had a SEVERE impact on our marriage, and there are things that indicate that this young man, as others have said above, is nowhere near walking in the freedom Christ offers. Even though I have stuck it out in this marriage, we have seriously struggled, and I have suffered from more loneliness than I could ever describe to you as a result of my husband not knowing the first thing about how to have true intimacy. I trust God for what He’s doing in my life, and what I’m learning through all this, but my advice to my daughters is going to be NEVER to marry a man who was sexually abused. This might sound too harsh to some, lacking grace & forgiveness, but believe me when I say it’s you, the wife, who will suffer the consequences, indirectly, of what he’s been through, even if his heart is in the right place. I’m sorry to be such a downer, but this is one choice in life you can’t undo, and you can’t go back after it’s decided. Lastly, as others have said, this lady needs to separate for her own sake, and re-establish healthy boundaries of any relationship outside of marriage before she’s ready to be faithful in marriage. You’re hurting yourself by allowing things to go too far before it’s sanctioned and blessed by God. I hope this advice can be useful to some of you. I love my husband. Yet, I would have never chosen this path I’ve had to walk if I had known more about these things in great detail at the beginning. God bless!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      This is tough. Because I know people who were sexually abused and went on to have healthy sexual intimacy in their marriage. I definitely advise getting this worked out before marriage and not bringing these issues into matrimony.

      I’m so sorry for what your husband and you have both been through. I pray God can work mightily in your situation.

      Reply

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