Category Archives: Current Issues in Sexuality

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?

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?

A Prayer about Sexual Temptation

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the struggles people have with sexual temptation. Whether it’s a porn habit/addiction, reading or watching erotica, emotional affairs or adultery, or lusting after others, too many marriages face troubling situations and the appeal of temptation that has damaged, or will damage, their marriage bed.

In keeping with my Praying More goal for 2017, I’m posting a prayer for the sexual intimacy in our marriages at the end of each month. This time, I invite you to pray with me about the sexual temptation we and our husbands face.

A Prayer about Sexual Temptation with woman's hands holding heart

Dear Lord,

We know you are listening. You have invited us to cast our anxiety on you, because you care for us (1 Peter 5:7). We are weary and burdened and need the rest that only Your Son can provide (Matthew 11:28). Because we are under attack, our husbands are under attack, our marriages are under attack.

We are under attack, our husbands are under attack, our marriages are under attack. Click To Tweet

Sexual temptation is constant in our world. We cannot turn on a television, walk through a mall, or visit the grocery store without being exposed to lies Satan wants us to believe about sex. The world promises that sex is about our own selfish pleasure, that flesh is a commodity, that consent is all that matters, and that Christian ideals about sex in marriage are antiquated, irrelevant, even prude.

But You created sex to be a beautiful gift in marriage. Please prick our hearts when we stray from Your superior design for intimacy. We invite the Holy Spirit to convict us when we have lost our way, whether through our actions, our words, or our thoughts. Help us to take every thought captive, Lord, and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Strengthen our husbands as they struggle with visual temptations and the false messages of the world. You said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). I don’t want my husband to be alone in this battle; rather, I want to be his helper.

Mold my heart so that I can be a safe place for him to admit his struggles. Give me courage to fight alongside him. Help me to be a constant support so that he can gain true victory. Give me your eyes to see him as you do — a sinner in a battle for his heart, soul, and effectiveness in the world. May his problems become our problems, as we live into your one flesh design for our marriage.

But wives are also prone to sexual temptation. You know my struggles and how Satan wants me to wander from my marriage and Your plan. Lord, help me to be in this world, but never of this world. Protect me from the evil one (John 17:14-16). Help me to avert my eyes, to guard my heart (Proverbs 4:23), and to flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18).

Where I have been blind to my faults, show me where they are. Expose the lies I have bought into. Help me to align my desires with Yours. Prod me to take action to rid myself of temptations in my own home, to confess my sin to someone who can help me (James 5:16), and to seek professional assistance if I need it.

Put in place the resources and mentors my husband and I need to deal with the struggles we face. Lead us in Your righteousness (Psalm 5:8).

Oh Father, my heart also aches that many — far too many — spouses were mere children when the “father of lies” (John 8:44) spread his poison. They were exposed to porn and other sexual temptations at a tender age. We know how deeply You care for our little ones and the harsh fate You’ve declared for those who cause them to stumble (see Matthew 18:1-6).

Help me to see those exposed so young, who yet struggle as adults, as victims as well as sinners. But You alone can give us victory and trample our enemies (Psalm 60:11-12). Activate me and other Christians to oppose this preying on our children whenever we see it. Use us for Your purposes, to save not only this generation but the next. 

Above all, help us to seek the best in our marriages and our marriage beds. Let my own marriage bed set the standard for what sexual intimacy is and should be. Bless our sexual union so richly that we lose our taste for anything but Your perfect plan. Infuse our hearts with sexual longing only for one another.

All this I pray in Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Q&A with J: “My Husband Is Addicted to Porn”

Today’s question is an important one. And it’s very straightforward. Here’s what the wife asks:

My husband is addicted to porn. I have no one to talk to — where do I go?

Q&A with J- My Husband Is Addicted to Porn - sad woman with hands over face

Even in this short question, I can sense the pain, urgency, and despair. When it comes to pornography, let’s be clear about two things:

  1. Too many men battle this temptation and feel trapped by a horrible habit that they don’t want to continue, yet feel insufficient to overcome.
  2. It’s cheating on your marriage. What was supposed to remain entirely within marriage — sexual pleasure and satisfaction — is being met elsewhere.

As much as I feel for the addicted porn viewer and their struggle, it’s no wonder that wives who discover their husband’s porn use feel betrayed. According to Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

...it's no wonder that wives who discover their husband's porn use feel betrayed. Click To Tweet

Porn isn’t the stray glance or public temptation of scantily dressed women; it’s the intentional consumption of sexually charged materials for the purpose of lusting and receiving sexual pleasure.

Yet for some, many perhaps, it is also like an addiction. As I said, they know it’s bad, often they want to quit, but the temptation is so strong. If you’ve ever been addicted to anything — drugs, smoking, coffee, soda, etc. — you understand how the head knowledge and the heart desire to quit something are constantly battling with the baser need you have to feed the hungry beast. You’ve experienced the longing, followed by the dopamine and adrenaline rush, and your body tells you to keep that loop going.

The point is that when one spouse is habitually using porn, both of you are suffering. Your marriage is suffering. It’s easy to feel like you’re on opposite sides. So one major goal you need to have is to get on the same sideIt will take both of you working together on this issue and your marriage. He needs to do his part, and you need to support him.

To the question: I have no one to talk to — where do I go? The best response I think I can give is to point you to resources. Following are a few great posts addressing the issue of a husband’s use of porn.

First Steps in Battling Pornography from OysterBed7

Discovering Your Husband’s Porn Use from To Love Honor and Vacuum (guest post from Hopeful Wife Today)

What Should You Do If Your Husband Looks at Porn? from Authentic Intimacy

Pornography Destroys These Things In A Wife from Unveiled Wife

Unveiled Wife also has a list of Resources to Educate Yourself on Pornography

Q&A with J: When Your Husband Falls Off the Porn Wagon here on my blog

You should also look into filtering software, such as Covenant Eyes. By the way, Covenant Eyes has a blog with helpful articles as well.

As far as talking to someone and getting real help as the wife of a porn-addicted husband, XXXchurch provides many resources for overcoming porn addiction and walking through that experience with your spouse. They have small groups you can participate in online, as well as an entire program for wives called Recover. (If someone has been through this program, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.)

Some of the churches in your area might also offer programs for porn recovery, including outreach to spouses. Check around and see what’s available; you might be surprised to discover useful resources in your own neck-of-the-woods.

I don’t know whether your husband confessed the porn addiction or you simply discovered it, whether he is remorseful or recalcitrant, and whether he wants to seek help or you feel alone in this matter. Of course, this will all be easier if he is repentant and willing to reach out for help.

If he is not cooperative, you need to be willing to bring it up to someone in your church congregation. Of course this is difficult, and scary, but you cannot allow your marriage to disintegrate. Nor is it any favor to your husband to allow him to continue in sin. Likely he recognizes that his porn habit is taking a toll on himself and his marriage, even if he doesn’t admit it right away.

Many Christians steeped in pornography have a hard time getting help because they feel such shame even admitting their problem. It’s hard to bring out in the open the worst parts of ourselves and ask for help and healing.

But Luke 8:17 says: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

God already sees and knows. As long as you hide, however, you cannot be healed. Consider it like this: Would you want a life-saving operation to be conducted by your surgeon in the dark? We have to step into the light so that all our struggles can be seen and our Healer can make us, and our marriage, whole again.

Be wise about whom you bring into your confidence. But consider that this may be a step you need to take.

I pray that the resources I provided will point you in the right direction. And may God bring you strength, comfort, and hope.

Q&A with J: Should I Skype Sex with My Husband?

When I first read the following question, I thought surely I’d answered it before. But while I could find a post about sexting your spouse, I couldn’t find one specifically about having “Skype sex.” So I’m tackling it today.

My husband works away from home (over seas) for up to six months at a time. Obviously, this means that we are unable to be intimate during the time that he is away (fireworks when he’s home). We have started to use skype for “skype sex”. I’m not terribly comfortable with it because I’ve been told so many times that masturbation is wrong. However, I also know that it is time spent with my husband, keeping our marriage strong. It doesnt involve anyone else and were doing it together.

I guess what I am asking is, should there be shame here? I’m so torn.

Q&A with J- Should I Skype Sex with My Husband- woman on bed with tablet

I’ve written about masturbation before, and I won’t be able to do as thorough a treatment of that topic here. So let me first point out those posts that deal specifically with masturbation:

Two Wives & Candid Conversation about Masturbation

More Candid Conversation about Masturbation

Masturbation: Hands On or Hands Off?

Q&A with J: “Is It Okay for Him to Please Himself While Thinking of Me?”

Summarizing what I’ve said before, masturbation is not biblically wrong, it’s fine in the marriage when mutual engagement is part of the sex act, and masturbation should not take sexual energy away from your spouse.

Of course, excessive masturbation or touching yourself while looking at or picturing others are problems. If that’s happening in a marriage, it needs to stop.

It is indeed quicker and easier for most people to reach orgasm using their own hands, because we have a feedback loop for what feels good and can immediately adjust. If you get overly used to that form of sexual satisfaction, it can be difficult to be patient and adaptable in the presence of your beloved to make things happen. Because it takes more communication and connection to have your husband bring you to climax, or vice versa. However, it’s ultimately more fulfilling.

What you’re describing, though, isn’t solo masturbation. It’s mutual. You’re engaging together as much as possible, while at different ends of the Earth. If you were in the same room, you’d be jumping each other’s bones and setting off those fireworks. But time and distance are preventing that from happening.

To my mind, here are the choices:

  • You shut down sexually for six months. Now, I’ve actually heard of military husbands who prefer not to stoke their sexuality at all while away from their wives, because they feel it’s even harder to be reminded of what they are missing. But that’s not most spouses I hear from. And it requires a great deal of willpower.
  • You feel all those sexual urges and do zip about them. This is difficult, but it can be done. For those in this scenario, my post for singles about what to do with sexual desire that can’t be satisfied might be helpful.
  • You take of your own business. This is the solo masturbation option, where you let your sexual desires build and build until you finally release the tension. You might flirt, sext, imagine, and express your sexual love, but you don’t act on it together. You take care of that buildup separately.
  • You engage in mutual masturbation. Which is the course your husband clearly wants to take, and that you’ve agreed to at times. It’s a way to be as sexual with one another as you can, while still many miles away from one another.

I don’t believe any of these choices is expressly wrong. Rather, they each could cause you to grow closer or to grow further apart, depending on who you each are and your relationship. And that’s the measure.

You state yourself: “However, I also know that it is time spent with my husband, keeping our marriage strong. It doesnt involve anyone else and were doing it together.

It sounds like you know the answer then. Engaging in this activity, as awkward as it might seem at first or to some, seems to be strengthening your marriage.

So why do you feel shame?

  • Because there is a prevalent view that masturbation is always wrong. Which I address in the above posts. I think you can relax on that one and make your test for this activity the principles of Galatians 5:22-23 (the Fruit of the Spirit) and 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (the Love Chapter).
  • Because it’s awkward to touch yourself. If touching yourself hasn’t been a part of your sexual encounters while together, it can feel really odd to do it here. It’s a bit self-indulgent, and your hand certainly feels different from his. The truth is the only way to get over this is to get through it. That is, do almost anything more times and you’ll get more comfortable with it. It won’t ever feel like his hand, but if he feels a part of the experience, you’re not just selfishly getting yourself off.
  • Because you’re in front of a camera. I’m well-aware that some women get paid to do this on the internet, and that’s clearly wrong. So you might feel this weird sense that maybe you’re like those gals, feeding a voyeuristic turn-on for the guy on the other end of the phone call. But this is your husband, and you’re engaging in sexual activity entirely within the confines of marriage. Would it be wrong if that camera was a window? It’s the same principle, so maybe think of it that way.
  • Because it’s going over the phone lines. Or internet lines. Or however all that technology works. And this is where I get the most concerned. Probably because I still don’t entirely understand how my light bulb turns on, much less all the ins and outs of Skyping. Is there any possibility that someone else could tap in or that any of that imagery gets saved somewhere in the vast world of internet data? I felt like I should research this, but then I decided that instead of spending hours running down rabbit trails to figure all that out … I’d ask my tech-savvy readers. I know you’re out there. Will you please either warn us or explain why there is no cause for worry? I expect to see you in the comments. Thank you.

One final thought: If you don’t want to have Skype sex with your husband, you don’t have to. While everything I’ve said (with the exception of the technology question, which someone else will answer) show that I don’t consider this a problem, it still isn’t something a spouse should demand in a long-distance season of marriage.

It’s legitimately okay to say you feel so extremely uncomfortable that you need to find another way to deal with your sexual desires. Because it isn’t straight-out sex, so I don’t think you’re depriving your husband if you don’t engage (see 1 Corinthians 7:3-5). It’s the physical separation itself that’s causing the absence of sex.

But given your situation — six months apart! — you might want to give long-distance sexting or Skype sex a shot. It might help you both hang on until you can be back in one another’s arms and in your literal marriage bed.