Q&A with J: “What Should We Call Persistent Porn Use?”

Usually on Thursdays, I answer a reader’s question. Today, I want y’all to answer my question. Here it is:

What should we call ongoing and persistent porn use? If you read various marriage blogs, you might have seen some recent discussion about porn “habit” vs. “addiction.” (You can see my post here.) Some say it’s a habit and calling it an addiction makes it harder to fight because that connotes that it’s outside their control. For others, it feels well beyond habit and calling it an addiction prods them to getting the help they need to overcome. 

While I understand that “addiction” isn’t quite the right word, “habit” doesn’t seem enough. At this point, I’m thinking maybe we need a better label. What alternative words could we use to refer to a porn addiction/habit?

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I’ve honestly believed this argument over semantics isn’t nearly as important as just fighting off this evil. But after reading various comments on the subject, I’ve decided it matters to some to use the right words.

Calling it a habit gives some porn users the empowerment they need to gain victory, because then they feel like it’s a behavior they control. For others who have tried to quit, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, labeling it an addiction encourages them to seek the outside help they need to break free.

Honestly, I don’t want to cause problems for either group. I’d hate to think that my word choice inadvertently hindered anyone’s ultimate victory over this terrible temptation.

But what is persistent use of pornography?

Is porn use an addiction?

Substance addictions and persistent porn use have these similarities:

  • Someone else often offers you the first “hit”
  • You try it out of curiosity or intrigue
  • Your body delivers a natural chemical reward
  • You might seek out stronger forms of the substance to receive the same or a more intense effect
  • You experience a mix of good feelings and bad consequences
  • If you try to quit, you may experience resistance or a sense of loss

Chris Taylor of The Forgiven Wife wrote an excellent post on Is Porn Use an Addiction (and Does It Even Matter)? In that article, she also points out:

For a person who is trying to medicate emotional pain, the “high” they feel after using a substance is a respite from their pain. When the effects go away, they often feel worse emotionally—but they don’t know how else to address the pain, so they continue using, again and again.

I also believe many porn producers are like drug dealers, in the way they entice users, offer increasingly intense experiences, and ignore the damage they do users and those around them.

However, recent research studies have shown that persistent porn use doesn’t behave physiologically like an addiction. For instance, in one much-touted study, “subjects who reported experiencing problems as a result of their pornography use did not display characteristically addictive brain activity when viewing sexual images” (The Daily Beast: “Your Porn Addiction Isn’t Real”; Journal of Biological Psychology: “Modulation of late positive potentials by sexual images in problem users and controls inconsistent with ‘porn addiction'”). Rather, some experts propose it’s more analogous to a compulsion (see American Psychological Association: “Is Pornography Addictive?”).

Moreover, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — the manual used by psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors to diagnose and treat clients — does not recognize a hypersexual disorder or porn addiction. The experts determined there was insufficient evidence to support these labels and the treatments that would follow.

Is porn use a habit?

Habits and persistent porn use share these similarities:

  • You form them through a system of cue/trigger, routine, and reward (see ABC News: “Science of habits: Understanding why we do what we do”)
  • You reinforce the habit through repetition
  • In anticipating the reward, you create a craving to engage in the routine
  • You link the habit to other environmental triggers (e.g., a certain room in your house or time of the day)
  • Even when the habit is clearly hurting you (or people you love), it’s an entrenched routine you tend to fall back on

According to researcher Dr. Wendy Wood, as you repeat behaviors in the same context, thus forming a habit, your brain shifts from processing in the decision-making center to a sensory motor loop that no longer retains information on the goal or outcome. The result, according to Wood, is “our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible. Even when you know the right answer, you can’t make yourself change the habitual behavior” (Science Daily: “How we form habits, change existing ones”).

For example, in one interesting study on habits, 98 people watched movie trailers and were given popcorn to munch on, some of it fresh and some of it one week old. Those used to eating popcorn at movies ate the same amount of stale popcorn as fresh, because — even though stale popcorn is yuck — they had an entrenched habit triggered by the environment (LA Times: “People eat out of habit, a study finds, even when food is stale”). That sounds like the persistent porn user who — regardless of how yuck the porn is — feels compelled to watch, because it’s a triggered routine.

The habit argument is laid out well in “Does Your Spouse Have a Porn Addiction or Just a Bad Habit? The Difference Matters!” on Sheila Gregoire’s To Love Honor and Vacuum blog.

Yet, habits run the gamut in whether they’re good, neutral, or bad. Thus, when some hear the word “habit,” they’re more likely to think about how their kid puts his dirty shoes on the couch or their husband leaves the Worcestershire sauce on the wrong refrigerator shelf than someone taking up smoking or losing himself in hours and hours of porn. And calling it merely a habit sounds to some like you’re putting what is adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28) on the same level as consuming more coffee than you know you should.

Moreover, the suggested way to kick a habit is to change the trigger. But what if the craving is the trigger? Or what if the trigger is something you can’t control, like having a computer (that you need for work, home tasks, etc.) or being sexually refused by your spouse? (This is not blaming the spouse for porn use! That spouse is not responsible, but that action could be something the porn user has in his habit loop.)

Is porn use something else?

I asked on my Facebook page for alternative words, and here are some of the answers:

  • struggle
  • affair
  • sin
  • betrayal
  • self-control problem
  • virtual adultery
  • compulsion
  • bondage
  • trap
  • spiritual stronghold

Let me clarify one more thing. I’m not a licensed counselor, but I went through a graduate program that prepared me to become a counselor, including making diagnoses. I do not contend that porn use can be classified for medical treatment or insurance reimbursement as an addiction, because that is a specific definition in that context.

However, if someone writes me a question or a comment that refers to the person or spouse being “addicted to porn,” I’m not going to argue with them. When your co-worker says, “I’m addicted to coffee,” or your best friend says, “I’m addicted to superhero movies,” or Robert Palmer says, “You might as well face it, you’re addicted to love,” we understand that they’re using “addicted” colloquially. I hope to use more precise language from now on, but quibbling over their terminology still seems far less important to me than providing insight, encouragement, answers, and hope.

Now I hope you’ll chime in! What alternative words could we use to refer to a porn addiction/habit?

51 thoughts on “Q&A with J: “What Should We Call Persistent Porn Use?”

  1. Art

    I’ll go with “struggle” – like a wrestling match – sometimes you’re on top (or winning) and sometimes you’re on bottom (or losing).

    I pray daily for the Holy Spirit to not let me say, or do, or think anything stupid, anywhere (at work or home).

    Like Jesus said “we must take up our cross daily.”

    Reply
  2. Michael

    As someone who has dealt with this since I was a young boy and finally was able to gain control over it, I prefer to call it a bad addictive habit.

    Reply
  3. Tiffany

    I think it depends on how entrenched the person is in the use of porn. For some it may be a habit and with persistent, disciplined work can kick that habit. But for another person it is an addiction and that person will need professional help to get to the root of the problem, why is there such a strong need or desire? Some people quit smoking cold turkey, others need support groups, nicotine patches, etc. We would all consider smoking addictive but the ways people quit are so wide in variety. Why would we see porn any differently? And in the end does the label really matter as long as the issue is addressed in a manner that helps the person with a porn “problem”.

    Reply
  4. Mike

    J,
    I see that all these terms place a person in a different power struggle with what they are experiencing.
    If we put these terms on a continuum, then I would suggest that each person is somewhere on that line.

    0. No temptation —— 1. struggle —–2. no control ——– 3. compulsion ———– 4. trap ———– 5. stronghold ———– 6. sin ———— 7. bondage ———- 8. betrayal ———— 9. virtual adultery ————- 10. bad habit/addiction.
    (Your bloggers suggestions: struggle, affair, sin, betrayal, self-control problem, virtual adultery, compulsion, bondage, trap, spiritual stronghold)

    I would say that everyone would put these terms in a different order, and each would move from one to the other either up or down the scale. If someone did nothing about this area, they would probably move up the scale. If a person worked on their life and tried to get it under control, then they would probably move down the scale.

    A professional doctor or therapist who is doing research and runs into nudes or “how to videos” would be in a different place than a teen who is trying to “get off.”

    I am glad so many of you in Christian blogging are tackling this area. It is so different than the secular world who say, “just go for it, no harm done.”

    Thanks for listening,
    Mike

    Reply
  5. Libl

    Compulsion?

    My husband has triggers for his tobacco use. He can also go without, though it can bother him and make him irritable. You know, the famous, “I can quit when I want to, but I just don’t want to.” Be has quit many times, sometimes for a couple of years, but always goes back. People say it is addiction, but is it? Habit? Dependency? Compulsion? Choice? All of the above in some form or another?

    Reply
  6. K

    I agree with Tiffany. It depends on the individual and their unique situation. There isn’t one term that can used to describe all porn use. I also see a difference in the words habit and compulsion. Someone can have a habit without it being a compulsion. And a compulsion would be different than a full blown addition. For some reason, we try to use blanket terms to describe situations that are inherently different. This is understandable when you are talking to a large audience, but it can also be “dangerous” when advice is given because the situations can be so different.

    The one term I feel is accurate for most situations where porn is being consumed but is left out of the discussion by some is betrayal. If one spouse is using porn and hiding it, it is betrayal.

    It’s impossible to choose one word to blanket this issue, but you are correct about what is most important in the discussion; bringing insight, encouragement, answers, compassion and hope to those impacted by porn use. I added compassion to your list because it’s important and an area in which I feel you excel. Thanks for all you do to spread light and encouragement regarding difficult issues!

    Reply
  7. Kelly

    I would have to say that I definitely fall more on the side of it being an addiction. I understand that everyone will struggle differently, but the substance is the same. My view on this has been shaped a good deal through the organization Fight The New Drug that cultivates an understanding of the effects of porn use. This absolutely does not absolve the user of responsibility for his or her actions, but should direct them towards getting the help they need. I only defeated this addiction by turning to Christ to fill me with his power and not looking to my own abilities.

    Reply
  8. E

    I find this whole topic very interesting. I have just given up my sugar ‘habit’. I would have said I was addicted to sugar (I would die without chocolate!!!) but, once I actually did some research into how bad over consumption of sugar is, and decided to quit, I actually found it a lot easier than I thought it was going to be! I have to say that after not having any sugar (other than in whole pieces of fruit), I ate some birthday cake at a relatives party. And that was ok, it didn’t plunge me back into the habit of daily sugar overdose. Plus, I had decided in advance that I was going to have some of that cake, so it wasn’t a ‘slip up’, it was a choice. A couple of weeks later, I did get a real craving for sugar, I think it might’ve been trigger by my monthly cycle, and, unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared with my alternatives (nuts, cheese, coconut oil, berries etc), I had relatively bare shelves,and because I didn’t have my alternatives to turn to, I did turn to sugary sweets. But, within a day, I was back on track, and am making sure that I have my ‘replacements’ handy.

    Ok, so that was sugar. Now on to some heavier stuff. I have had affairs. Emotional and physical. Before I starting following Jesus. I have spent a lot of time analysing why I did this, and here’s what I have come up with.
    I used male attention as a coping mechanism to make myself feel better. If you look up ‘daddy issues’ in the dictionary, there was a picture of me! Well, in all seriousness, I had a father who abandoned me, and I used male attention (of the sexual kind) to fill this void. It started with enjoying being ‘appreciated’ by wolf whistling tradesmen and the like, and became baggage I brought into my marriage. If I felt unappreciated or not good enough by/for my husband, I would flirt with others, until I got that feeling of validation that I needed. This escalated to the said emotional and even physical affairs. I really was out of control!
    This all changed when I started reading the bible, and accepted God and Jesus. All of a sudden, I had the Father I had been searching for. I had the validation and acceptance, no matter what anyone said about me. And with that Fatherly Love, came a new habit. Instead of turning to other men when I was upset, I turned to God. I prayed, I read the Word, I clung to His promises and His view of me. And even though ‘old habits die hard’, and I suffered plenty of temptation and cravings, I had an alternative, the very best alternative, and I really have become a new creation in Christ!

    I think this is a biblical way to look at any addiction/habit/whatever you want to call it. In His Word He tells us that
    No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

    When you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it!

    So, whether you want to call it an addiction, habit, temptation, struggle, stronghold, bondage, etc, I think the steps to changing/fixing it are essentially the same – work out your triggers, and work out your alternatives. And lean heavily on Him!

    And if you do ‘slip up’, you need to remember Gods grace and forgiveness, and press forward, doing the Next Right Thing.

    Thanks for such a thought provoking post!

    Reply
  9. Jolie

    Porn, one more example of technology out pacing morality and our biological capacities.

    Another opportunity to mess with the natural order of things.
    Porn is a relatively new avenue to a ‘feel good’ indulgence, which we know not the long term ramifications of it’s use.

    Probably, like with alcohol, some people never develop a taste for it, some people use it periodically, some people abuse it, and some people become dependent upon it. Put simply, if a person has trouble stopping when they want to, it has become, what Tiffany calls, a “Problem”.

    I like the word “Problem”. It states a fact, it’s nonjudgmental, and by definition requires a solution.

    I read something yesterday that made me step back and think:

    “The reason they start using and the reason they can’t stop are not the same.”

    Reply
  10. E

    Oh – I just thought of one more thing! Like the sugar habit/addiction/overconsumption – ‘everybody does it’ and I honestly did not know how bad it really was until I started researching it, and I think porn is in the same kind of boat, especially in secular society – it is seen as something ‘everybody does’ and ‘harmless’, even ‘fun’. In some circles it is even considered ‘healthy’, because at least they aren’t ‘actually cheating’. So I think it is really really important that we keep this conversation going, that porn is not healthy, not harmless and not something that ‘everybody’ does.

    Hey, that message has certainly worked for smoking, so there is certainly hope for other bad habits/addictions!

    Thank you for your part in keeping the conversation going, J!

    Reply
  11. David

    Dear J

    I think your attitude is exactly right: resolving the particular case at hand is more important than language choice — so terminology should be chosen to help the sufferer overcome their own problem. Personally I don’t like the medical approach (addiction, neural pathways, etc.) and I don’t think it’s as “scientific” as it pretends to be. I prefer a more psychological approach (habits, associations, etc.).

    It’s interesting to read about the betrayal angle (in some of the comments too). I’m sure my wife would have that response. One girlfriend who found out (or I think I more or less confessed) was very upset and I think felt betrayed or rejected.

    What about an “acceptable” level of use/indulgence? If you think of porn use as habit or addiction there is presumably a level of use for most people that is ok or even of benefit (e.g. moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits over complete abstenance). But if you think of using porn as betrayal or virtual adultery there can surely be no acceptable use. What do you think?

    Thank you for a very thought-provoking post.

    David

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      That’s a good point — that our terminology of either habit or addiction could imply that there is a acceptable level of use. Perhaps this is why Christians as a whole have been so keen to immediately label porn an addiction, because that clearly connotes how bad of a problem it is. However, some porn use just doesn’t fit into the addiction category.

      Yet any use of porn is unacceptable, for a number of reasons, the most compelling being that it’s sin. I think it is a betrayal, and Jesus called it adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28). But I’m also a little hesitant about those words; unless used carefully, these words could drive a deeper wedge between husband and wife, even when a porn user deeply desires to quit and needs spousal support. But believe me, I’m mulling over all of these options, and I appreciate the feedback.

      Reply
      1. K

        @J You bring up a good point about the word betrayal possibly driving a deeper wedge between spouses. I do believe in some instances this may be true, but overall I don’t agree with this thinking. Here’s why from my perspective.

        By definition, hidden porn use is betrayal. There have been multiple secrets and lies often going on for years. Even worse, it is a betrayal of a sexual nature, which most people would believe is worse than some other types of betrayal that can occur within marriages. Hidden porn use is not on the same level as me betraying my husband’s confidence by telling someone something he would rather me not disclose. It may be closer in nature to some financial types of betrayal you hear about in marriages, but even then the sacredness of your sexual relationship has not been tampered with. The fact that porn use has a sexual component sets this type of betrayal apart from all others.

        Here are some reasons this matters, from the perspective of a spouse who has been betrayed by porn use.
        1. It is very hurtful when people refuse to use the term betrayal. It minimizes the pain and communicates that our feelings are irrelevant.
        2. Healing is negatively impacted by the reluctance to recognize that betrayal has taken place. Part of the healing process for me was my husband recognizing how badly he had hurt me. Once he was able to see and admit what he had done was a betrayal, it allowed things to settle down for me. By default, this ultimately allowed things to settle down for him.
        3. Calling it betrayal is recognition that significant damage has been done to the spouse and the marriage. This goes along with #2, but is slightly different. This speaks to the fact that trust has been broken and will need significant work to be repaired. Not calling it betrayal lets the offender “off the hook” for the work they need to do to help repair the relationship.
        4. So much talk is devoted to what the husband needs from the wife in order to help him break free. Very little talk is devoted to what the wife needs from the husband to help with her healing. Not calling it betrayal feeds into the thinking that the wife is responsible for the husband’s recovery and her pain and feelings don’t matter. The only thing that matters is she not do anything to interfere with “his battle”. Again, this lets the betrayer off the hook for helping to rebuild the relationship.
        5. Refusing to use the term betrayal makes it “all about him” and implies the wife hasn’t been impacted and doesn’t need help. This is big, because many wives need help understanding what they are experiencing and help to heal themselves BEFORE they can help their husband in his struggle.
        6. When betrayal occurs, there are psychological effects to the person who was betrayed. Understanding this makes sense of some of the thoughts and actions of the wife. Understanding her thoughts and actions also gives the husband actionable things he can do to help her feel safe and to rebuild trust. Refusing to call it betrayal ignores these psychological effects, which can ultimately lead to bigger problems in the relationship.
        7. Many men do not view porn use as betrayal until confronted with issue because their wife has found out and feels betrayed. But, what would happen if that shifted and we did talk this as betrayal in all contexts? What if most men viewed hidden porn use as betrayal before they started using it? (I realize this is virtually impossible in today’s world.) My point is some men would not start to consume porn if they viewed it as betrayal and recognized the impact it has on their wife and their relationship. And some who are already involved with porn might find it easier to stop if they recognized it as betrayal.

        The terms we use to label porn use have as much impact on the wife as they do on the husband. I’ve stuck to the term betrayal here, but other labels also impact wives who learn of their husband’s porn use.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          I think Point #4 is particularly salient. I agree you with entirely there. A husband who’s been using porn shouldn’t expect his wife to not feel hurt, betrayed, angry, etc. He has indeed broken trust, and she will need certain things to heal. In terms of the healing process, I think he needs to be willing to do all kinds of things to assure her that he will not return to that same destructive path.

          Guess I’m not not sure what terminology works best here. Because while I agree with you generally, I really can fathom a situation where the word “betrayal” could drive a further wedge between a couple. Maybe that’s only a small percentage, but with all of the couples I’ve heard from over the years, it’s not a stretch for me to imagine.

          And on another note, I’m so sorry this all happened to you. I’m sure you went through deep heartache. Porn just sucks, on all sides.

          Reply
          1. K

            Thanks, J. If you could offer an example or some elaboration of how you think this can cause a deeper rift, I’d appreciate it. Here’s a little more elaboration of my thoughts.

            I wonder a few things when people are reluctant to call porn use betrayal.

            —What is their definition of betrayal?
            –What is their motivation for not using the term?
            –Do they realize the possible ramifications of not calling it betrayal?

            Just as we discussed levels of “addiction” to porn use, wives will have different reactions to learning of her husband’s porn use. Some will feel deeply betrayed, some will feel mildly betrayed and some (I’d guess a few) may not feel betrayed at all.

            If a wife feels betrayed, is one helping or hurting the situation to call it betrayal? I can see it driving a bigger wedge if a wife doesn’t feel betrayed, but is being told she should and given advice about how she should react. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the scenario I see when this topic comes up. Usually, it’s the opposite. A wife feels betrayed and is told all the reasons she shouldn’t feel that way and all the reasons her feelings of betrayal are hurting her husband’s recovery.

            So, what is a wife to do with these unresolved feelings and advice that she basically needs to get over it and support her husband? Would she be better able to cope and heal if her feelings of betrayal were validated and advice was given to help her understand and overcome her pain?

            One thing I hear a lot is how calling it betrayal will cause more shame for the husband and shame is a trigger for his porn use. This rationale now puts the onus on the wife for his recovery, absolves him of responsibility for repairing the damage and negates her feelings of betrayal. I don’t argue the point that shaming the husband is not helpful. I do argue the point that refusing to call all the lies, deception and manipulation that have taken place betrayal doesn’t serve to help heal the relationship in the long run. Part of the healing process is taking responsibility for your actions and working towards reconciliation. It’s hard to reconcile something you won’t admit to doing.

            Whenever I think of this topic, I keep going back to the definition of betrayal. In my mind, anyone who refuses to call hidden porn use betrayal is denying the fact that deception has occurred – usually over a long period a time. How can denying this really be helpful to a wife who feels she has been betrayed? And, how is it ultimately helping the husband to shield him from the damage his actions have caused?

            To be clear, I’m not referring to you in the least. You have called it betrayal and acknowledged it is adultry of the heart.

          2. J Post author

            Thanks for that at the end, because I was thinking, “If a wife told me she felt betrayed, I’d say yeah.” I’m just not wanting to shove that word into the mind of a wife who might be looking for a reason to head out the door. See what I mean? I definitely think there is an aspect of betrayal here, but I also know that some husbands feel enormous shame, want to confess to their wives and get help, yet fear that she will feel betrayed to the point of leaving.

            OF COURSE the wife is not to blame for his porn use. Spouses can support one another in beating temptation, but we shouldn’t blame others for our own sin.

      2. David

        I agree there is no acceptable level of use.

        I’ve been reading a few Christian blogs on this theme lately. IIRC yours is the only one that recognises the important scientific/philosophical point that categorisation is a means to an end. i.e., how you categorise an event depends on what you want to do with it.

        David

        Reply
    2. K

      @David, Thank you for giving language to my thoughts. “Acceptable level of usage” is exactly my concern and one of the reasons I feel the term betrayal should be used when discussing porn use.

      Reply
      1. David

        Dear K, thank you. I don’t want to aim for an “acceptable level of use” either: I think that would breed resentment all round. I want to stop completely. Reading here about the adultery/betrayal/rejection angle has been important for me. The point is not to beat myself up, but to turn away from porn and turn towards my wife.

        Reply
    3. Amanda

      To David and J:

      I also think a psychological (rather than medical) approach makes more sense. I also think that equating porn use with adultery is likely to get you further down a bad path. It’s well-known that shame and guilt contribute to the development of, and increase, compulsive/addictive behaviours. Even if in some theological sense it’s the same as adultery, it’s really not at all in terms of actions. (However, equating them theologically still relies on an equivalence being drawn between sexual desire and lust. This gets too much into thought-crime territory for me).

      Reply
      1. David

        Dear Amanda, thank you. Perhaps if we keep in mind the aim of reconciling husband and wife, then we can aim to use different approaches where most useful. David

        Reply
  12. Me

    What is porn use? Sinfulness.

    How do we deal with it? Repentence.

    It really is that simply put, but we humans complicate things because we really don’t want to take responsibility.

    Reply
  13. Al

    Wow – this is an area where it really common to victimize the wife and villainize the husband.

    Addiction? My opinion – No way – at least not in most cases. It’s a choice and it’s a struggle. But the truth is it is a real struggle with many husbands who really don’t want it to be a struggle, but don’t know where to turn or how to deal with it, and who don’t know how to talk about it with their spouse, especially in a struggling marriage, or a marriage based on a weak foundation. It is embarrassing. We know it is hurtful. We know it can’t be justified any way, but our society has become so hyper-sensitized to porn that if anyone even glances sideways it becomes either an addiction that’s “not my fault”, or a sin that cannot be forgiven. This is a real issue within Christian communities and yet we deal with it with righteous indignation rather than trying to understand the cause and work toward bringing marriages back together. We figure out how to deal with gay marriage, and drug addiction, and adultery, and so many issues that world struggles with, but porn….for some reason, we can’t seem to handle that one. If a husband looks at porn it is so easy to jump to the position that he does not love tis wife, or that he doesn’t care, or is so selfish that it doesn’t matter to him that he is causing pain. (No, I am not saying that a wife should accept a husband who looks at porn – but I am saying that most wives should understand that their husband has (is) probably looked at porn – and that does not mean that he does not love and cherish you.)

    Sure – we all get it when porn equates with words like selfishness, and sinfulness, and betrayal, but how about words like – marginalized, lonely, rejected, disconnected, isolated, confused, misunderstood? I wonder how many times the following statements have come up in counseling sessions – “I want to talk to my wife about sex, but I don’t know how”, or “She won’t understand”, or “She’ll be pissed.” “I’m ashamed of porn, but if I tell her, she’ll blow up, or she’ll leave me.”

    Before I get hammered, I know there are lots of responses that will suggest these feelings stem from weakness, or self-pity, or selfishness, but the truth is – this is how a lot of guys feel with this struggle.

    Reply
    1. Four Under Four

      I don’t think how guys feel about the struggle has any bearing on the truth of God’s word, which quite clearly says that looking on a woman to lust after her is committing adultery with her. It’s pretty simple. Misunderstood? Lonely? Rejected? Isolated? Yeah, those are all words for feeling sorry for myself because I’m sinning and it doesn’t feel good. I feel all of those things when I blow up at my kids or gossip behind someone’s back. That does nothing to change the fact that I sinned and I’ve got to fix it. You are suggesting that somehow the husband is the victim of his own sin, and to an extent that is true, as we are all afflicted with a sin nature that we hate. But viewing pornography is a choice. It doesn’t happen on accident (barring the situation of a young child exposed thru other’s actions). And it is a choice to betray his wife and to not love her. And you cannot show me a man who dabbles in pornography and truly loves his wife. It is an act of loving himself at the expense of his wife, and while he may care about her, he does not love her according to a biblical definition of love. If a guy actually believed this before viewing, it would certainly give him pause. It is all too easy to believe that “what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her”, and that’s simply not true. The one thing we expect in marriage is sexual exclusivity and pornography clearly breaks that covenant. It should be treated seriously. A man should be scared to confess it to his wife. His wife should be angry. She is, in fact, the victim (well, one of them). Sin that hurts others so deeply is terrifying to confess, and that same terror is what drives us to either not commit those sins in the first place, or to never repeat them. It is not the wife’s job to make her husband feel ok telling her about his sexual betrayal of her. Just like it would not be the husband’s job in a reverse situation. The pleasures of sin are for season, but the end of it is bitterness and death. Now, thank God that there is forgiveness, that there is hope, that there is victory in Christ Jesus, or else we would all be doomed! For none of us are free from sin, although not all of us have committed ones that cause the same level of damage. ( And to be clear, I know men are tempted to look at women. I’m not saying the temptation is a sin. But yielding to it is.)

      Personally, I think pornography use should be called adultery, as Jesus called it. This term helps a man realize the level of seriousness, helps a wife grieve appropriately, helps a counselor realize and help fix the brokenness. I also think erotica, and sexually explicit romantic fiction are pretty close to this definition.

      Reply
      1. Paul H Byerly

        @Four Under Four “Personally, I think pornography use should be called adultery, as Jesus called it.”
        I’m inclined to agree with you, but He didn’t call it adultery, He said the men had committed adultery in their hearts. We can argue about what that means, but given the different verbiage, I assume it’s not exactly like having sex with another woman. I am in no way trying to make porn less horrible, I just want to understand what Jesus meant.

        Reply
        1. Four Under Four

          I would agree, it is not the same as physical adultery. I would say perhaps that it is the same sin, but a different degree? Kind of like swiping groceries is stealing, but planning a bank robbery is a different level. An interesting difference that I’ve heard when talking to women from both sides (husbands in pornography and husbands in an affair) is that, with an affair there is one woman. One competitor for your husbands heart. With pornography, there are thousands, and they are all air-brushed too!

          Either way, it’s a horrible thing for a husband and wife to get caught in, and I’m sure it makes Satan pretty happy to see marriages destroyed by whatever means he can muster.

          Reply
          1. Paul H Byerly

            @Four Under Four – I understand what you mean by porn being thousands of competitors for a husband’s heart. But very few men would see it that way. For men, porn is just sex, no emotions, no attachment. I don’t think most women can do this on any level, so they can’t understand it either.
            I’m not suggesting porn is okay, but the difference in how men and women view it is part of the problem. She makes accusations that don’t feel valid to him, so he ignores her.
            I wonder how a husband would react if his wife addressed his porn use more in line with how he sees porn. How he sees it, just about physical sex, is still wrong, and maybe he would have less cover if it was addressed on that level.
            Or not, I don’t know. My struggle with porn predates my marriage by a great deal, so I don’t have a normal view and understanding on this.

      2. Al

        So, If we say “You cannot show me a man who dabbles in pornography and truly loves his wife”, what are we saying? Let’s accept that a significant percentage of men in our churches (70%, 80%, 90%….more?) have “dabbled in porn”, what does it mean that they don’t “truly” love their wife? (and what does “dabbled” mean?) Does it mean that they don’t love their wives the way Jesus loves? Are their marriages invalid? Is their love meaningless? Who will live up to that standard?

        My opinion, this is why we can’t have honest conversations about this issue. I mean, it’s simple right? Just don’t do it. Stop sinning. If you don’t, you obviously don’t love your spouse, and if you don’t love your spouse, you surely must not love God.

        In the New Testament, Paul confessed explicitly that he was frustrated that he continued to sin, even when he did not want to. I guess nobody told him he should have stopped. For one, I am thankful that he didn’t stop sharing his struggle and leading people to God.

        Reply
        1. Mike

          If I discovered my wife viewing porn, I would NOT call her a sinner, and committing adultery with other men. I would NOT want a divorce or separation until she got help and conquered her addiction/compulsion. I would NOT stop making love to her. I lover her too much, and would miss here terribly.

          I would come along side her and find out a little of why she is viewing porn? I can think of a 100 reasons that she might want to do that. She may be wanting to increase her oral skills, she may want to compare her body to other women of the same age, she may want to know how to shave down under, she may want to find a way to increase her libido, maybe how to do senior sex, maybe she wants to see and compare other guys penises to her husband’s, maybe she wants to learn to climax better, learn about stimulating her clit, maybe know what noise to make during sex, how to do a better hand job, how to use a toy, what kinds of toys do what, etc. Wives (and husbands) are not very well educated as far as the Joy of Sexual pleasures. Unless she finds and reads a Christian blog, where would she go to find answers to her questions? I would love it if she were increasing her lovemaking skills.

          Reply
          1. J Post author

            I was with you in that first paragraph. Now I believe different people would react emotionally in different ways, but I thought it was great that you wanted to come alongside her. That is what marriage should look like! At least when both spouses want to overcome sin.

            However, “Unless she finds and reads a Christian blog, where would she go to find answers to her questions?” A LOT of places that aren’t porn. I know that some people turn to porn as a way to educate themselves, but that’s like wanting to learn about medicine by asking a serial killer how they take the body apart. (Okay, perhaps hyperbole, but you get it…) I don’t agree with some of the perspectives of secular sources on these issues, which is why I encourage Christian resources, but there are marriage books, science magazines, research articles, conversations with friends, etc. where people can get information that doesn’t involve sin. I just wholly reject this idea that porn is an educator. It doesn’t inform its viewers about sex; rather, it skews their perception of sex.

            And honestly, most people watching porn aren’t doing for the education. They’re doing it for the titillation. I just think we should be clear about that.

            Thanks for your comment.

          2. Four Under Four

            I’m glad you would respond so positively to the hypothetical situation of your wife viewing pornography (I just realized that sounds snarky, but I sincerely don’t mean it that way!) Not everyone would have the ability to immediately respond with such nice thoughts. I would humbly suggest that whatever her “reasons”, it is still sin in the eyes of God. Whether you choose to call it a sin, whether you choose to see it as a betrayal or not, it is still adultery in the eyes of God. And honestly, if you saw it that way, and realized at the same time your wife’s human weakness as common with your own, recognizing that you are not without that same temptation, you would be driven so much more to help her with compassion and perhaps a little bit of that “zeal and righteous indignation” the Corinthian church displayed when they repented of their sin. Minimizing sin to make either ourselves or a loved one feel better is dangerous, as it can often prevent true repentance, which is the only cure.

        2. Four Under Four

          Yes,I would say that 70-90% of men don’t truly love their wife according to a biblical definition of love (1Cor. 13) And I would say the same of 70-90% if women. Viewing pornography is an act of hatred toward your wife, as it is choosing to put your desires before your commitment to her. It is in no way loving, honoring or cherishing her (and when I said dabbling,I I meant any quantity of pornography use). Now,I earnestly believe most Christian men caught in pornography do care about their wife very much, and do want to love her more! ( And in saying such “hard” things about pornography,I am not suggesting that other sins are not as bad. Each sin is filthy in the eyes of God, and required the death of His righteous Son, making each sin serious! However, not every sin is a betrayal of the marriage covenant, and I think we can all agree that some sins have more serious, immediate consequences (murder, for instance). )

          So when Paul talked about his struggle with sin, he was not living in a sin. He details in other books just how outwardly “righteous” he was, but also describes his need for humility, his need for God, and his struggle with the sinful desires of the flesh. So, for instance, a man may walk thru WalMart, see a hot girl in a skimpy outfit, and battle with thoughts about her. That is our human lot, to constantly want to think and desire good, and yet to be confronted with our sinful desires at every turn. That is a struggle that does not fully end until Heaven, and there is no shame in the fact that we struggle, so long as we are, in fact, struggling. Viewing pornography is different, because it is a choice to pursue those images and thoughts. You don’t accidentally open a computer and view pornography – even if there is a pop up ad waiting for you. Clicking and viewing is a choice. Choosing to view is a sin, specifically against God who designed you and has a better plan for your life, and against your wife, who is trusting your spoken vows to belong only to her.

          If this sounds hard, it’s because it is. I am fully convinced that one of the reasons we, as Christians, struggle so much with these “big sins” is because we either do not take them seriously enough, and cradle the sinner, or we take them so seriously and leave the sinner in the dust while we wash our self-righteous hands. Jesus condemned sin, but He also died for it. We should have the same attitude, condemning sin as offensive to our Holy God, and recognizing the burden of it and seeking to free people from it. Certainly, it is not a good feeling to be drowning helpless and alone in a sin we cannot seem to conquer. But Jesus doesn’t just pat us on the back and tell us how bad He feels for our suffering, He calls us to repentance and freedom.

          Reply
          1. Paul H Byerly

            @Four Under Four “Viewing pornography is an act of hatred toward your wife, as it is choosing to put your desires before your commitment to her.”

            Very few men will agree with that. Even men who don’t look at porn are likely to disagree with you. Once again I think this is because men and women see sex very differently. Most men find it very easy to divorce images and arousal from the rest of their life. To these men, looking at porn has nothing to do with his wife or their sex life. And while it may be wrong and might justifiably hurt her, it is in now way an act of hatred against her.

            I’m not trying to tell you what they think is correct, but I bet it’s closer to how most men think about it than what you said. As long as we have this big a difference, how can we ever come to terms with it?

            How can a woman help her husband understand how porn hurts her? I’m not talking about convincing him of anything beyond how it makes her feel. Tell him how it makes her feel as a woman, as his wife, and as his lover.

            Part of why I’m going on about this here is I have a post about that this week, and I’m trying to understand the difference in how men and women see the issue.

          2. Four Under Four

            @Paul H Byerly, I do see what you mean. And “hatred” might be a strong word, but isn’t the opposite of love hate? And no one could say they view porn out of a love for their wife. I know men don’t see it in this light, which is exactly why I commented on the first place, because I strongly believe it needs to be seen in this light for good progress to be made in how the church as a whole verbalizes and deals with this serious issue. If you honestly believe porn use displayed hatred to your wife, would you not hesitate to yield to that temptation? If a Christian man took sin so seriously, it would change his behavior and his repentance (and to be clear, a Christian woman should take sin that seriously, too!)

            The very reason Christian men even view porn is because they have adopted the view that it’s not about their wife, or love, it’s just sex, and after all didn’t God give them a string sex drive, etc?? The only reason any of us step into sin is because we conveniently disconnect that sin from reality and have all kind of reasons why it’s not so bad as it sounds.

            When my dad struggled with porn, it was only when he took it seriously that he was able to quit. And, like you describe, he didn’t see it as connected to his love for his wife at all, until God got a hold of his heart. It was horribly humbling to admit how little he was loving her, and God, but it was that realization that changed him. ( Porn is not the only sin that speaks hatred to our loved ones, in my opinion. Anything we do that places ourselves before God’s commands, or before the needs of those we love is an action of not loving – and thereby hating – God and the affected loved ones. )

            Anyway…. Maybe I’m wrong to see it this way? I understand the frustration of a lot of men who see porn users sweepingly condemned and yet not offered true help. I believe the sin should be condemned, and very strongly, as it is so destructive! – but, there is mercy and forgiveness and help for the porn viewer as there is for the gossip, the liar, the lazy and the angry. That is what my Dad found, and what I hope all Christian men who struggle with this demon can find.

            As to how a wife would communicate to her husband how porn makes her feel? I have no idea. I’ve never been there, and while I think my mom definitely communicated that, it wasn’t in a healthy way at first.

          3. K

            @Paul @FourUnderFour
            A man’s ability to compartmentalize is a huge factor in his porn use. It is his ability to divorce his behavior from his wife and marriage that makes it easier to continue the behavior. Compartmentalization can be productive in certain situations, but is damaging when it comes to porn use or other sexual integrity issues.

            My personal belief is part of the recovery process fo men is to learn to compartmentalization in this area is destructive to their wife and their marriage. Paul, your approach seems to be that you want the wife to learn how to approach her husband in a way that he understands, by not personalizing the porn use. While I think this understanding is important for women, I firmly believe your approach is backwards. More effort should be focused on getting the husband to understand it as his wife sees it, not the other way around.

            This is a prime example of why I feel the word Betrayal should be used to describe porn use. No one should think it’s ok because they have the ability to compartmentalize the behaviors. Again, this type of thinking puts the onus on the wife. That just isn’t good for either spouse.

          4. Paul H Byerly

            @K – Actually, I think it should be made very, very personal. I think a wife needs to be brutally honest about how her husband’s porn use makes her feel.

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  15. Paul H Byerly

    My concern is how what we call it affects people doing or not doing it, getting free from it or not getting free from it.
    For some addiction is a way of hiding or excusing something. But various words mean different things to different people.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Based on all that I’ve read (including articles and quite a bit of research), and some wonderful comments from readers, I’m coming to think that there’s a continuum of use. That is, Christian sources have perhaps been too quick to label any porn use an addiction. But I also think we can fall on the other side of ignoring that some users really do function with this substance like an addict. The whole continuum of use falls in the Sin category, of course, but how we address the specific problem might well depend on how we label, and thus view, it.

      For instance, adultery is adultery. But a one-night stand and a years-long affair aren’t the same thing in terms of how to address them with a couple seeking help. Maybe we need to be looking at porn use in a similar way.

      Reply
      1. Tiffany

        I totally agree that there is a difference in how the betrayed spouse reacts to different specifics of porn or adultry. I’m the betrayed spouse. I will call my husband’s porn use an addiction. He keeps getting drawn back to it, tries to stop but can’t. He feels shame about it but doesn’t think it’s as big of a problem for our marriage and each of us as an individual as I do. I want his to help but he keeps putting it off. I want the help for him, weather our marriage survives or not. It hurts deeply that this has such a strong hold on him. He has also committed adultry. First I found out there was a long term affair. Three years. Then through counseling I found out before that ther were several one night stands. I have to say that the long term affair hurt so much more than the one night ones. There was a relationship there, not just sex. He cared for another woman on a level beyond just wanting sexual release. Compare that to his porn use and it makes the porn use seem so much less of a heartbreak. Not downing any spouse put in any of these situations but there is a difference in the level of pain. I’ve unfortunately experienced them all. I pray for my husband, I pray he overcomes all of this and our marriage can thrive. I pray for his emotional and spiritual state and that he comes closer to Christ through all this. Looking at the outside it seems his heart is pure (to others) but from my perspective (maybe because of my hurt) I see a heart that isn’t searching earnestly for Christ word and love. So as J said there are different levels of hurt and they vary from person to person and sin to sin. Forgiveness is hard, holding back on saying hurting words is hard, getting past the sin that makes you feel betrayed is hard. Nothing about this is easy. If you are the one caught in porn reach out for help in what ever form works for you. If you are the one who has been betrayed reach out for help too. Share you hurt in as loving a way as you can with your spouse. And pray everyday. You aren’t alone.

        Reply
      2. Paul H Byerly

        @J – Agreed. Following a link is not the same as going looking, and looking for 30 seconds before being convicted is nothing like spending half an hour.

        And yes, it’s all sin, and it should all be treated as such. We (the church) make a lot of noise about porn, but we really give folks a pass. It’s the sin that’s okay as long as you are “struggling with it” – even if that struggle has been going on for more than a decade and you still view porn weekly.

        I think we need to move from making noise to actually dealing with it. Thanks for being a part of making that happen!

        Reply
  16. E

    I just had a thought on the issue of ‘lust is adultery of the heart’. Yes, it definitely is, and there is no excuse for it, we need to stop this sin. But what about this (less talked about than the porn/lust/adultery issue):

    21You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to the fire of hell.
    Matthew 5:21-22

    Please correct me if I’m wrong (I’m still kind of a baby Christian, only been a Christ follower for about 18mths), but to me this sounds very similar to the ‘lust is adultery of the heart’, as in ‘anger is murder in the heart’. So, if this is true, why should the betrayed spouse be ‘justified’ in their anger, any more than the spouse using porn is ‘justified’ in their lust (for instance, if a wife is withholding sex).

    Please don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that the betrayed spouse should just ‘get over it’, or just forgive and forget, I am just putting forward the idea that anger is neither beneficial, nor justified, and is not a Christlike response. I think that these issues are incredibly difficult to walk through for both spouses, and that while the betrayed spouse is indeed in a really difficult position, it is important not to wallow (and therefore sin) in their anger, and instead look for positive ways to move forward. If your spouse is repentant and is truly working on their issues, then I think as Christians the betrayed spouse has a responsibility to give forgiveness, Grace, and also be repenting and working on their sin issues too.
    Because every single one of us is a sinner, and it is so easy to fall into the comparison trap of ‘well, they did this and this and this, and that is so much worse than anything I have done’, and then just focus on the others sin issues, and not be working on our own issues at all.

    I hope all that rambling makes sense! A great book on the subject of anger is Unoffendable by Brant Hansen, I found it a really convicting read (and I didn’t even think of myself as a particularly angry or easily offended person, but wow! I certainly had my eyes opened to some ways that I had been getting angry and acting in a very unChristlike manner!)

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      You make some great points. And I love how thoroughly you’re thinking this through. I agree that such anger could harm the marriage.

      However, I think there’s good anger and bad anger; for example, Jesus’ righteous anger with the money changers at the temple (Matthew 21:12–13) vs. murderous anger from the scripture you referenced. All too often what we’re angry about is things not going our way, rather than about things not going God’s way. I’m certainly angry at drug dealers, sex traffickers, and terrorists, but to use that same level of anger against someone who slights me would be ridiculous. And yet, that’s what we do all too often.

      So then the question becomes, “Where does porn use fall?” Since it is a sin against God and the spouse, I think a fair amount of righteous anger (and deep hurt) are expected and warranted. Anger can also be part of the grieving process. But Ephesians 4:26-27 says, ““In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” I think we get too time-specific with “do not let the sun go down” part, but the overall message is that you can’t allow your anger to become an excuse for sin or to become entrenched in your heart.

      From my viewpoint, a betrayed spouse has every right to feel angry and process through that anger. But they don’t have a right to spend the next seven months berating their spouse in anger. They need to move past the anger into beneficial action.

      Reply
    2. Four Under Four

      Personally, I am not arguing for any type of comparison of our sins, just trying to make the point that our sin is serious. Jesus certainly took lust very seriously, as He did anger. This is one of the reasons a wife should forgive her husband, because she herself needs forgiveness. But some anger is correct. Harboring bitterness is sinful and destructive, but one can be angry at a sin and it’s awful consequences and still have compassion for the sinner. Obviously, that is not so easy to do, just as resisting the pull of pornography isn’t easy, but the answer is not to minimize the sin, but to realize we have a Savior who conquered it and we no longer have to live in it.

      Reply
  17. Four Under Four

    One more thought and then I’m done…. I think we need to move away from the “how men view it” versus “how women view it” and focus on “how does God view it?” And then see what we need to do to bring our varying perspectives in line with that. So what words should we use to describe porn use and help the sinner? It seems wise to start with God’s Words . And to utilize His method in Matthew.

    However, I am open to being wrong 😊 I am no Bible scholar and could certainly be misunderstanding God’s meaning. Thanks, J, for allowing this discussion, and I hope some good comes of it! I know it has definitely sparked some meaningful talk between my husband and I!

    Reply
  18. Al

    I am sitting here smiling, because for this string of posts, I’ve been assuming that you (Four under Four) are a husband. I don’t know why I thought that. Doesn’t matter. But, I think this wonderfully illustrates the difficulty we have as sinners, and chromosomally challenged individuals, in understanding our spouses – in both directions.

    Reply
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