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?

Title with text over black hole graphic background

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?

Want to Work All Your Muscles? Try Sex.

I was listening to Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz game show, and they mentioned an odd study about sex. Of course, I had to go look it up.

Title with drawn couple exercising

So here’s what happened: Upbeat Active (a fitness company) commissioned research tracking how many muscles are used for various activities. They learned that texting uses 38 muscles, dancing uses 99 muscles, and cycling to work uses 155 muscles. But the only activity that uses all your muscles, all 657 of them, is sex.

Well, sex if you’re “doing it right.”

How can that be? you ask.

It turns out you use your facial muscles for kissing; abs, chest, diaphragm, and neck to make sound; eye muscles as you look around or at your beloved; lower limbs, pelvis and core, legs, etc. Basically, if you’re really into sex, you’re tightening and exerting all of your muscles.

And the muscle that gives sex its unique status as the All-Muscle Activity is the bulbospongiosus, which — get this — is also known as the “sex hero muscle.” Both men and women have one, and it receives training during male erection and ejaculation, female clitoral erection, and orgasms for both of you.

Did you know you had a “sex hero muscle”? Well, now you do! Drag out your superhero cape and wear it with pride.

But are you currently using all of those muscles with the way you’re having sex? What should that total-body workout look like? Lead researcher Mike Aunger said, “Ideally it should last more than 30 minutes…. But I’ve got no stats on how long sex lasts for [the] average British couple. To be fair, 45 minutes would probably be better.”

Okay, so they’re British, and you’re whatever. However, I bet most married couples don’t go a whole 45 minutes. *sigh* And nice as they can be, quickies apparently don’t give you the full exercise experience.

Regardless, let’s look at a breakdown of the muscles and what actions you can take to use as many as possible:

Pucker up! Kissing exerts your facial muscles. And you don’t just have to kiss his lips. You’ve can come up with other smooch targets on his body.

Make noise. They say moaning uses your diaphragm, chest, and other muscles. It makes me wonder what yelling, “You’re my Superman!” does for a gal. (Asking for a friend.)

Leave the lights on. Your eye muscles get a work out, as you check out the view and your eyes dart around — that is, if you leave the lights on and can actually see. If you don’t like full light, try low lights or candlelight.

Move your neck. You’ll do it anyway, but it’s on the list of muscles that get worked out as you rotate or flex your head, look down and up, raise your shoulders … and so on. Maybe it’s a good thing when your kid knocks on your door, making you jerk your head up and respond, “Um, we’ll be out in a minute” — uses those neck muscles at least.

Try different positions. Your lower limbs get a better workout with interesting positioning. Your quads, biceps femoris (backsides of your thighs), and calves will thank you. For ideas, check out our Sex Chat for Christian Wives podcast on sex positions.

Thrust. Okay, ladies, you don’t really thrust like your hubby does. But your pelvic and core muscles will be exerted if you engage your hips more in sexual activity. Tilt, swivel, and shift down there, and try woman-on-top from time to time, where you can take a lead role.

Use your arms. Your arm and shoulder muscles get more use in certain positions. That’s what the article I read mentioned, but it didn’t give specifics. But we can imagine that some positions require you to hold yourself in place. I also suggest stroking and caressing your hubby, maybe even massaging him where he likes.

Grip something. Your hand muscles get a workout when you grab something, like your husband’s shoulders or hips … or even something lower.

Let your heart pound. You don’t have to think about this one, because your heart muscle will do its own thing, getting a good workout during sex. But maybe you can at least appreciate how hard it’s pounding and that it’s a good thing for your health.

Go for the orgasm. That sex hero muscle (aka bulbospongiosus) does its thing when you’re in the throes of passion, with a clitoral erection and waves of pleasure we know as orgasm. So go for it! It’s good for you.

Now go forth and get healthy, y’all! See how many muscles you can use. If you’re “doing it right,” whatever that means, you’ll be giving all 657 muscles a healthy bit of exertion. And even if a muscle or two gets missed, you’ll be enjoying yourself. You’re welcome.

Sources: NPR: ‘Wait Wait’ For March 4 2017: With Not My Job Guest Jordan PeeleThe Telegraph-UK: Sexercise: 657 reasons why the ultimate workout happens between the sheets; Daily Mail.com: From texting to having sex: The ultimate full-body workout to flex your muscles WITHOUT hitting the gym

Readers, We’re Praying for Your Marriage

This year, I’ve been focused on Praying More, especially for our marriage beds. It recently occurred to me that I often say to someone, “Praying for you…”

I’ve said it many times in the comments section of my blog, in email replies to readers who contact me, to those who mention on my Facebook page a struggle they’re going through. What does that look like? How do marriage bloggers pray for their readers?

I know what I do, but I decided to ask other marriage bloggers with whom I’m in contact. Their responses were wonderful. Let me share some of what they said.

Whenever the Holy Spirit brings somebody to mind, I pause and I pray in that moment and make a note on my phone. When I get the opportunity, I like to send people a simple message just to encourage them if they’ve been prayed for.

I pray over my audience and writing in general asking that I write for the one woman God has purposed the message of that post [for] and [that] my words are pleasing to Him.

If I tell someone I will pray for them, I do it right then. If at a later time the situation comes back to me, I will generally pray about it again.

Most consistently is when I am emailing them back or commenting back. Then there are times I just pray for readers in general!

[My husband and I] pray for husbands and wives (in general and for those who read our posts) in our together prayers.

I have a monthly cyber prayer meeting on my blog, share prayer prompts daily, and pray as I type (writing or emailing).

When I get an email from someone who’s hurting, I pray immediately upon reading and then again when I reply.

I wavered on whether to tell you who specifically said what, then decided to leave it at their words. Because while this is a small sample, it reflects a wide variety of Christian marriage bloggers. And I want my readers to know that whether you’re here or on another blog, your marriage — and sometimes your marriage bed specifically — are the topic of prayer.

Anyone who’s ever been sick or known the loss of a loved one understands how comforting it can be to have someone say they’re praying for you. Honestly, that response is so much better than people who want to tell you exactly how to handle your illness or your grief.

While we marriage bloggers are in the business of telling you how to handle your marriage — or rather, to provide insight for how to handle aspects of your marriage — as Christians, we understand that we are way out of our league in actually making anything happen. If comfort, persistence, and/or change are going to happen, that’s up to the married couple and God acting in their lives.

It’s what saved my flailing marriage. (Plus, some really awesome sex. 😉 ) I genuinely believe that without God prodding me into better perspectives and habits, I’d be divorced right now. Instead, after I finish this post, I’m making plans for a date day with my husband (kids are gone), which both of us are really looking forward to. Because we’re in a happy marriage now. Thank God for His supernatural intervention!

So today, I just want you to know that while you’re praying for your own marriage, we’re praying for you too.

While you're praying for your own #marriage, we're praying for you too. Click To Tweet

My own practice is that when I say I’m praying for someone or their situation, I do it right at that moment. As I’m writing the response to their email, comment, or post, I stop and say a quick prayer about that particular person and their struggle. I have also prayed for my readers generally. And when I’m tackling a difficult subject, I definitely pray for God’s guidance.

I always appreciate when someone shares a difficult situation in the comments section and another commenter responds with a commitment to pray for that person. So thank you, readers, for also praying for others’ marriages and marriage beds.

Let’s continue bringing our marriages and sexual intimacy in those marriages before the throne of God.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

A quick thank you to these members of the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association who shared their prayer practices: David, Bonny, Tim, Kate, Lori, Laura, and Chris.

Q&A with J: “What Are the 7 Erogenous Zones?”

This was such an intriguing reader question, I just had to answer it.

Hey there 🙂 I have a question and thought since you’re so knowledgeable you could help. There’s a friends episode where Monica teaches chandler about the 7 basic erogenous zones. If you haven’t seen it just google. My question is….what are those 7 zones?!

Title with man and woman head silhouettes

When Friends aired, I was a fan. Unfortunately, the series got more PG-13-ish the longer it ran, so I fell off watching after a while. But I definitely remember the characters. Here’s the clip this reader refers to (and this is not a video you want your kids to watch with you):

Monica’s statement that “everybody knows the basic erogenous zones” is obviously overstated. Even the two other people in the scene didn’t know exactly what Monica was talking about.

But what are these seven erogenous zones? Wouldn’t it be nice to know?

And so the internet has pondered this question. Not only can you Google for this video, you can run a search for “Monica’s 7 erogenous zones” and several articles and chats will appear with people conjecturing which areas of the female body are the most erotic.

Ultimately, we don’t know what Monica was talking about. Because this was just a bit — a comedy bit. Maybe the writers in the room had seven places in mind, but I doubt it. Having written a few stories myself, I know that sometimes hints are more effective than complete explanations. This is an example, because this scene got people wondering what Monica sketched on that pad and talking about this episode with others. More buzz about the episode = more people watching = higher ratings.

But from all the research I’ve done about sexual arousal, and reading through some of the interesting posts on these erogenous zones, I’m willing to take my own stab at where most wives like to be touched and stimulated.

1. Hands. Do you remember the spark you felt the first time you and your husband held hands? That cozy feeling of your softer hand in his rougher one, the way his fingers intertwined with yours, and how your palms seemed extra-sensitive to his touch? So what if a bunch of years have passed — touching hands is still sexy. I’m putting them in the erogenous zone category.

Because in addition to holding hands, he can gently stroke your palms, give you a hand massage, suck on your fingers. Those are all very sensual activities, and you might want to point out that your hands are one way to your heart. Or, to get his attention, you could always say they’re a great pit stop on the way to “seven.”

2. Lips. Our lips are quite sensitive. The skin of our lips have fewer cellular layers (3-5) than face skin (up to 16 layers), and many sensory receptors are concentrated there. Moreover, when you get close enough to kiss, you also get a whiff of your beloved’s pheromones, which can kick your desire into gear.

I’ve written about the importance of kissing several times, but here’s one post to get you thinking about this erogenous zone: You’re Not Kissing Enough

3. Neck. I’d like to provide scientific data on why touching and kissing the neck is so sexy. But honestly, this one is based on hearing from so many women that they like it. And frankly, it’s part of many book and movie romance scenes, and if this practice didn’t appeal to women, it wouldn’t be.

One theory is that the neck is both sensitive to touch, but also a rather private area. After all, whom do you let touch your neck? So exposing it to your beloved feels both vulnerable and arousing. Now some wives are too ticklish there, but plenty of gals enjoy a husband working his way up or down her neck with his lips.

4. Breasts. How you like them handled depends on you, but most wives enjoy being aroused through their breasts. You might enjoy your whole breast being held, massaged, or squeezed, or you might prefer total concentration on your nipples. Wives vary in sensitivity, so let your husband know what you enjoy.

It might change as stimulation increases, meaning you want him to start gently but desire greater pressure as you get more and more turned on. But very few women don’t enjoy something in this area. (Breastfeeding moms, you get a pass on this one if it bothers you right now.) Our breasts are pretty erogenous.

5. Vulva. Vulva is a catch-all term for the external female genitalia. It includes your vaginal lips (labia), clitoris, vaginal opening, and more. I’m going to remove clitoris from this list, because it deserves its own section. But the other parts are sensitive to varying degrees and can be aroused with manual or oral contact. In particular, the labia and vaginal opening are sensitive.

Your husband probably doesn’t understand that you’d like him to spend a little more time here, getting your engine revving and your juices flowing. It’s all so close to the part he really wants to be in that the vulva can get short shrift at times. Ask him to massage or lick your labia, tease your vaginal opening, and generally explore down there for what feels good.

6. Vagina. I suspect most husbands think this is Erogenous Zone #1. And it’s certainly in the running. When you’re highly aroused, having your husband penetrate your vagina is an incredibly satisfying feeling. Even before then, many wives enjoy digital penetration (his finger inside) to get them going.

God uniquely created vagina to receive your husband’s penis, and you can experience many amazing sensations there, using various positions and angles. He might even make contact with your Skene’s glands or G-spot. It’s a wonderfully erogenous area, and nothing feels quite like intercourse.

7. Clitoris. After some consideration, however, I decided this was “seven.” Because if you want to have an orgasm, you need direct or indirect stimulation of your clitoris. You can get indirect stimulation through intercourse, but intercourse isn’t guaranteed to produce that orgasm. Direct contact is an easier way to achieve climax.

But it has to be the right kind of stimulation. As Monica said, some guys hit the early zones, then “go to seven and set up camp.” Yet it’s unlikely to feel good if your husband kisses you a couple of times, then starts in on your clitoris. Stimulation there is going to feel much better when your lubrication is sufficient and your clitoris begins to swell. Guide your husband to give this erogenous zone the attention it desires and enjoys.

Are those really the seven erogenous zones?

No. They’re my suggestions. My online research proposed several other possibilities: scalp and hair, ears and ear lobes, stomach, buttocks, behind the knees, feet and toes.

Which should remind us that God created us differently. I give a lot of how-to tips here on my blog, but you have to try things out and see what gets you — and your husband — going. Your seven erogenous zones may not be the same seven erogenous zones as other women.

And, to confuse things even more, your seven erogenous zones could change! Because our bodies change throughout life. What felt good before you had kids might not feel as good after, or what felt good when your body was 25 years old might not feel the same when you’re 52 years old.

So here’s my advice: Treat your whole body as a potential erogenous zone. Yes, you’ll immediately be able to knock certain locations out of the running (“You want to kiss my armpit? I don’t think so!”), but you might be surprised to discover what turns you on.

Also, what turns your husband on. Maybe licking the skin behind his ear drives him utterly wild. Or he adores you squeezing his bum.

That’s the beauty of sex in marriage — you have time and a safe space to explore. Take your time and enjoy the discovery of all the erogenous zones you can find!

Should You Track the Frequency of Sex in Your Marriage?

How often do you have sex? It’s a question some spouses can easily answer, and some not so easily.

If you read my short story, “After the Baby,” in Behind Closed Doors: Five Marriage Stories, the main character is a husband who knows exactly how long it’s been since he and his wife made love. Because it’s been too long. And I get that in comments and emails from time to time — a spouse who can state with absolute accuracy how many times they’ve had sex with their mate in the last month or year.

Yet maybe we think we know, and don’t. Spouses are not always on the same page about how often sex is happening in their marriage.

I found it interesting that Jimmy Kimmel Live has grabbed couples off the street and asked how many times they’d had sex in the last month. Check out one clip from the show:

One couple matched each other’s answers, but the other didn’t. Why the discrepancy?

It made me think about the suggestion I’ve heard that a spouse track how often they make love in their marriage. Is this a good idea?

Calendar being marked with a pencil

I used to think probably not. Because this practice is often suggested by someone who thinks they’re not getting enough, and they’re basically looking for evidence (translation: ammunition) to make the case that they’re being cheated.

But I then I decided to test it out myself. Unbeknownst to my husband (Hi, love! Are you reading this?), I marked on my calendar the days we made love for about a month. And you know what? It was more often than I thought it would be.

As the higher-drive spouse right now in our marriage, maybe I was a little more focused on when it wasn’t happening than when it was. And isn’t that really a bit short-sighted? Perhaps even selfish?

Now that I have a better sense of our routine, I can relax a little more. Yes, I sometimes want a higher frequency of sexual intimacy, but we’re doing pretty well. And putting those instances on the calendar, I could connect what might have gotten in the way of us making love or, better yet, what made it a good time to make love.

My general conclusion was that loaded calendar days kept us from connecting in many ways, including physically, while quality time together often ended with lovemaking. Hardly a stunning revelation, but it was helpful to see in my own life.

If you can approach tracking the frequency as an interesting experiment, perhaps it would be worthwhile to see how often you’re making love. I suspect what would happen is what occurred in the video. Some couples would find that they’re having sex about as often as they thought, and then they can decide whether that’s enough for their marriage or if they need to make some calendar changes.

Other spouses will discover a discrepancy — probably because lower-drive spouses think they’re doing it more often than they are, and higher-drive spouses think they’re doing it less often than they are. For this second couple, it could be eye-opening to discover the truth of what’s happening in your relationship. And it might pinpoint an attitudinal or behavioral change you need to make for the wellbeing of your marriage.

Having actual data could help you avoid making unfounded accusations about what’s happening in your sex life. After all, one of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). And let’s face it: Some spouses have falsely accused their spouse of pursuing more or giving less sex than they actually are. If you’re tracking to uncover the truth, maybe this idea would work for you.

Have you ever tracked the frequency of sex in your marriage? Were you surprised by the results? Do you consider this a good or a bad idea?

Related Post: How Often Should You Have Sex?