Tag Archives: overcoming porn habit

The First Time I Saw Porn

I originally sat down to write about what all I’ve learned about pornography from research and then how the Bible looks at porn and what it does to marriage. I still want to write that post, but as I thought about the topic, my mind wandered back to the first time I saw porn.

Blog post title + XXX-adults only wordsOne little research tidbit I’ll include here is that the average age a person is exposed to pornography is around 13. And that’s how old I was when I was at a friend’s house and she reported that her older brother kept Playboy magazines in his closet. He wasn’t home, and she offered to show me one.

Curiosity impelled me to say yes.

I’d seen adult magazines in convenience stores behind sealed packages that blocked out the private areas of women sprawled on their covers, and I’d heard stories of the sordid features of porn magazines. I wanted to find out for myself what was going on inside those slick covers.

My friend pulled down one of the magazines, and we flipped through. I couldn’t tell you what all was in there, because only two pieces have stayed with me all these years. I’m going to describe them in as clinical a way as I can. One was a sexual fantasy story about a woman on an airplane who engages in various activities with several passengers. The other was an image of a woman wearing barely-there lingerie (not covering breasts or genitalia), positioned in a way that focused on her private parts.

I can’t conjure up the specifics of either the story or the image. However, I absolutely remember how I felt. And that’s what I want to share.

I admit that I was fascinated. My curiosity was assuaged, and I was amazed that this whole world existed. Who were the people who put out a magazine like this? Who wrote sex fantasy stories? Who posed for nudie photographs to be shared with anyone willing to pay a few bucks to ogle the page?

But mostly, I felt violated. My stomach muscles tensed, and bile rose to the my throat. I felt creepy and wrong and just off-kilter. Something inside me revolted against the idea of treating women and sex this way. It almost felt like a personal attack as well: Was this what men thought women were good for? Was this what they really wanted women to be? Were we just a collection of body parts? I certainly hoped not.

But then I had another moment of curiosity. Not just about what men wanted, but what my own body was doing. Was I only feeling tension and disgust? Or did something else in me, some strange trigger reaction, want to know more about this whole world of sexuality and what it all meant? Yes, I was repulsed, but also intrigued.

A wave of guilt followed. Not only did I think I’d get in trouble if my friend and I were caught looking at a girly magazine, but I felt it was wrong — both what this magazine was doing and my choice to look. I also knew what I’d seen wouldn’t soon disappear from my mind, and I’d be wrestling with these thoughts a while longer.

Yet another part of me just felt sad. I felt sorry for women who allowed themselves to be treated this way, as merely a tool for sexual arousal and fantasy. The photographed woman especially made me wonder about who she really is, and did anyone looking at the picture care? Or was she only valuable for the size of her breasts and her willingness to strike an erotic pose?

Now when I saw this magazine, I knew very little about sex. At that point, I might have held a boy’s hand. But in a way, my lack of sexual education and personal experience allowed me to look at the magazine with fresh eyes. And my personality is to mull and reflect thoroughly about my experiences. Had I reacted with such aversion purely because of my religious background, or was something else going on — some more deeper and instinctive response?

Of course I didn’t answer all those questions at the tender age of 13.

Throughout the years since, I’ve actually grown less concerned about the rules and more concerned about hearts, relationships, and honoring the Lord. And from that place, I’ve lost all that curiosity and fascination I had when I first saw porn. Yet, I’m left with the same disgust and sadness.

Whoever that poor woman was that appeared in the Playboy issue I saw, she was someone’s daughter and deserved better than to be consumed by greedy eyeballs wanting a cheap thrill. Honestly, even I can’t remember anything about her face, and that’s a shame. Wasn’t she a person? And yet how did I treat her? Like the object she was displayed as being.

That is nothing like how God tells us to treat others.

Some husbands (and some wives) say that looking at porn isn’t a big deal — they just like looking at naked women; it has nothing to do with how they feel about their wives; and it doesn’t affect their intimacy in the marriage bed. Some men suggest we ladies have just made up all this brouhaha about porn being bad and we get our panties in a twist over nothing.

Men still looking at porn: Do you know what your choice says about your view of women? Your view of sexuality?  Do you understand why it upsets so many wives? If you think it’s okay to treat women that way, what might your wife conclude about how you view her in the marriage bed?

Yes, you say it’s different, and I believe you to some extent, but your actions don’t send the right message. They’re making your wife feel emotionally unsafe.

Okay, someone out there is saying: “But my wife is different — she understands / watches porn with me.” You might even argue that it’s helping your sex life. But tell me what you’re doing to that person posing for you: Can you imagine Jesus ever treating someone the way you’re treating that porn star, as a collection of arousing body parts?

Do you recall how you felt the first time you saw porn? Because I suspect you had a mix of emotions too. Some of curiosity, fascination, and perhaps even arousal; but also something sinister in the back of your mind, the pit of your stomach, the core of your heart.

Maybe that sinister feeling was a warning, a nudge from our conscience.

Ultimately, porn is sin. Pure and simple. And it’s time to seek something better.

Q&A with J: “I Want to Find a Wife Who Can Fulfill My Sexual Needs”

Today’s question is from a young, single man who is wondering about the sexual intimacy he’ll one day have in marriage. His query is filled with issues I want to address, so let’s get started.

I struggle with guilt about wanting regular sex in my future marriage. My sex drive is unfortunately very high to the point where I crave intimacy on a daily basis. I am hoping that if I get married one day, that I will end up married to a wonderful Christian lady who has a higher sex drive like mine and would want it on a daily basis, or at least something close to that like 1-4 days a week (ideally everyday, I REALLY want it everyday). I know there are women out there who would want it on a daily basis, but they seem to be unfortunately very rare as men generally crave sex more than women. I could ask God for someone who would want sex on a daily basis, and I often do, but I kind of feel like why should I expect to get that lucky, considering that most guys don’t? I really want someone who can adequately fulfill my needs. I don’t want to spend a vast majority of my marriage masturbating, I want to be having sex with her. I already masturbate everyday just to get my arousal out, but I still want sex with a real woman and feel that it would be much more fulfilling. Again, when and if I’m married, I want to end up having sex with my wife more often than I masturbate, but I’m afraid that cannot happen. Sometimes I get in really bad moods at the thought of not getting enough sex in my future marriage. I feel that maybe it is due to a porn addiction that I have been (unsuccessfully) trying to quit on and off for two years. I was hoping that marital sex could help me to stop looking at porn. I could use help in that area too. I need help. I’m desperate. Any counsel you could give, regarding what I have written here, would be greatly appreciated. I just ask that you be gentle and understanding about it. Thank you for your time and God bless!

Blog post title + with smiling couple in bed (illustration)

I will certainly aim for “gentle and understanding,” which I try to do on most Q&A days, but sometimes I “tell it like it is.” And as I read your question, I couldn’t help but think that you’ve been sold some malarkey. Believe me, you’re not the only one. But I’d like to correct a few beliefs here, which should give you more hope.

“I struggle with guilt about wanting regular sex in my future marriage.” Of course you should want regular sex in your future marriage. It’s sad to me that there are Christians who feel guilty about having what God wants them to experience in marriage; yet I know it happens.

Unfortunately, sex is sometimes mentioned in the Church, if it’s spoken of at all, only when it involves remaining abstinent outside of marriage and not sexually sinning (like adultery or porn). We leave the impression that sex itself is a problem, rather than Satan’s attempts to twist sex into something God didn’t intend it to be.

Let me be clear: God wants you to have regular sex in your marriage.

Let me be clear: God wants you to have regular sex in your marriage. Click To Tweet

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 says:

The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (NLT)

And He made sure that there’s an entire book in the Bible devoted to marital, sexual love. It’s called Song of Solomon. God is sex-positive! So please don’t feel guilty for wanting to experience the gift He desires you and your wife to someday have. Of course, what He wants right now is that wait for marriage.

I know there are women out there who would want it on a daily basis, but they seem to be unfortunately very rare as men generally crave sex more than women.” Actually, high-drive wives are more common than you think. I don’t know exactly what the numbers are (though I’m researching), but I’ve heard estimates that in 15% to 30% of marriages it’s the wife who has the higher libido. Given my email inbox and comments on this blog, I tend to believe that’s about right. And that doesn’t account for marriages in which the husband has the greater sex drive, but the wife is highly responsive.

I’m not saying that couples don’t have sexual frequency conflicts; plenty do. However, we’re primed by our culture to believe that husbands always want sex and women rarely do. And it’s just not true. So let’s replace the phrase “very rare” with the reality that a majority of husbands desire more frequent sexual intimacy than their wives, but a fair percentage of wives desire more sex and many other wives are certainly willing.

“I really want someone who can adequately fulfill my needs.” Are you equally concerned about meeting her needs? What’s good for the gander is good for the goose, eh? Marriages thrive when you are both concerned about meeting each other’s perceived needs — whether that’s sex, affection, respect, conversation, emotional security, etc. If you want to find Mrs. Right, your focus should be on becoming Mr. Right.

If you want to find Mrs. Right, your focus should be on becoming Mr. Right. Click To Tweet

Also, it’s really hard right now not to view your sex drive as physical tension that demands release. But if you say to your wife, “I want you to meet my sexual needs,” you’re honestly treating her like a means to an end. As I say all the time, your spouse is not your sex toy. She isn’t there to just satisfy your sexual craving. What God wants instead is for you both to pursue intimacy through sexual connection. When you’re both focused on meeting one another’s needs and becoming closer through the exchange of pleasure, that‘s when the sex gets really good.

I already masturbate everyday just to get my arousal out…” I hear ya, but you’re probably making things worse. I don’t believe masturbation is inherently wrong, but it’s unwise to stoke your sexual desire day after day with self-satisfaction. For one thing, the average refractory period for men (time they can easily go between orgasms) is about 72 hours. But if you’re ejaculating daily, your body adapts to anticipating daily release. So you’re basically making your body even more sex-needy.

Also, masturbation involves a feedback loop that you cannot get in marital lovemaking. You are both pleasuring yourself and feeling the pleasure, so you can quickly make adjustments that bring you to climax quickly. Some frequent masturbators then find that having sex with a woman is frustrating, because it takes longer to reach orgasm. Men who masturbate with porn can find that they actually cannot orgasm with intercourse, because their body has been so primed to the hand job.

You really should decrease your self-satisfaction, so you can keep your body’s sexual energy aimed at the ultimate goal — beautiful lovemaking with your someday wife. I have talked about options for when you cannot have sex with Sexual Release Without Sinfulness and What To Do with Sexual Desire Before Marriage.

“I feel that maybe it is due to a porn addiction that I have been (unsuccessfully) trying to quit on and off for two years.” That surely contributes. And to be fair, why should a woman enter marriage with a man who cannot beat this habit? Look, my heart is filled with compassion for men who struggle with this terrible temptation. It’s everywhere, and Satan knows exactly how to target men. (He’s got other ways of targeting us women too.) I’m thrilled you want to quit porn. Thank God you see that it’s both a sin and a terrible habit that can affect your marriage. That’s a terrific first step!

But I wonder what “trying to quit” means to you. Have you taken concrete steps? Installed porn-blocking software? Told a mentor or your pastor about your struggle? Found an accountability partner? Visited the XXXChurch or Fight the New Drug websites for resources on how to successfully quit? Many men have tried to quit on their own and haven’t. Those who succeed set goals, enlist help, and follow through. Believe me, God is on your side on this one — 100%.

“I was hoping that marital sex could help me to stop looking at porn.” While it may help, plenty of married men having regular sex still look at porn. Being happily married is indeed one factor that helps men stay away from porn. According to the General Social Survey of 2000, conducted by the University of Chicago, happily married men were 61% less likely to look at porn. However, in a 2014 survey by The Barna Group, 55% of married men reported watching porn at least once a month, compared to 70% of single men. (See Covenant Eyes Porn Data.) You need to make the decision ahead of time to quit porn. Because while being married can help, it’s no guarantee.

And as gently as I can say this: If a woman contacted me and said she was thinking about marrying a man who’d had a porn addiction for two years and couldn’t seem to quit, I’d tell her to hold off. Neither of you needs that baggage in your marriage. Because porn really can hurt your sex life. But take heart: You can gain victory. Others have done it, and you can too.

What I really want you to walk away with is an understanding that:

  • God wants you to experience amazing lovemaking in your marriage. Sex was His idea, and He knows its best context is marriage. But it is His generous gift to you and your future wife.
  • Great sex awaits you. And it’s not about sexually compatible sex drives, but rather both of you understanding that it sex is a priority and it is worth the effort in your marriage.
  • The best way to make sure you attract a godly, sexy wife is to work on yourself. So focus on sex as a future intimacy-builder and a way to give something beautiful to your wife, not just to meet your needs. And take specific steps to rid your life of porn, so that it won’t damage your future marriage.

What other tips do my readers have? What would you tell singles desiring to have wonderful sexual intimacy in their future marriage?

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?

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: How Can I View Sex as “Hot and Holy”?

If you’re like me, today’s question will make your heart crack a little and/or bring moisture to your eyes:

I am a trauma counselor who works with children who have been sexually abused. I hear so many awful stories about abuse and the images are so vivid, I carry them with me and can’t seem to get them out of my head… especially when I am being intimate with my husband. I can’t get excited about sex and I have a hard time viewing sex as “hot and holy.” Never mind the fact that I am already very self conscious about my body, and I know my husband struggles with pornography. I can’t seem to shake my thoughts when trying to “get in the mood” for sex. I have discussed my concerns with my husband, but I’m not sure what he can do, if anything, to help. What do you suggest?

Q&A with J: How Can I View Sex as "Hot and Holy"?

Just that phrase — children who have been sexually abused — presses down on my chest and makes me weep for these precious, innocent victims. It also makes me want to rail against the evil in this world that would do such a thing to those among us who most need our protection.

And this wife hears these stories, in detail, day-in and day-out. That must take its toll. Yet, I’m grateful for trauma counselors who help these children come out of the shadows and find healing on the other side. May God bless their efforts over and over again.

Let me walk through the three issues here: the trauma she hears, the self-consciousness she feels, and the pornography struggle her husband experiences. Each is an obstacle to sexual intimacy in marriage.

Sexual trauma stories. As clearly as I can possibly say it: What those children experienced was not the sex God created. We almost need another word that indicates how it’s sexual in nature, but not at all the same thing as sex itself. It’s abuse, plain and simple. And in the most heinous way — preying upon the vulnerable in the most vulnerable parts of their body.

That “sex” is absolutely not hot or holy. It’s opposed to anything and everything sexual intimacy in marriage was intended to be. I pray that all victims, and those who work with them, hear what I’m saying — that sexual abuse wasn’t in any way the victim’s fault and it doesn’t resemble in any way what God created sex to be.

This may be something that you have to rehearse your head again and again: that is not sex, that is not sex, that is not sex. It could be that the wording makes a huge difference to you for distinguishing the two. So that you even get rid of the word sex when referring to what happens in the marriage bed, and call it marital or physical intimacy. Because that’s what God intends for marriage — a deep relational connection that is voluntarily expressed in a physical way.

Right now, I think the scales are so tipped toward sex being attached to the abuse stories that it’s hard to tease that out. Besides making a clear-cut, black-and-white distinction between sexual abuse and marital intimacy, you also need some experiences that reflect the better side of sexual touch and activity. That’s one of the reasons I believe healthy marital intimacy can combat some of the bad messaging kicking around in our heads: It readjusts the balance so that we identify with a new script that involves God’s design for sex in marriage.

Self-consciousness. I don’t know any woman who isn’t at some time self-conscious about her body. Maybe those women exist, but I don’t know them. We may be more confident or less confident, but body image continues to be a struggle for many wives. It’s why I launched my Feel Beautiful goal last year with the hope and prayer that we ladies would learn to embrace our inner and outer beauty.

I highly suggest you read the myriad of posts from myself and other Christian wives about how to feel beautiful. But ultimately, my confidence in the marital bedroom to bare my body is simply about courage. And, being a Texan, I like this definition of courage from western actor John Wayne: “Courage is being scared…but saddling up anyway.” Funny thing is, once you “saddle up” and go for it with your husband, you often end up feeling better about your body. Because your body is a truly remarkable masterpiece.

Your softness and curves, your sensitive places and pleasure spots, your ability to affect his body — it’s all rather amazing. And none of that is changed by sporting a few extra pounds or not having the breast size you want or wondering if your thunder thighs should be registered as a lethal weapon. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and if your husband wants to see you naked, it’s because he likes to see you naked. He recognizes that your feminine form is exciting. Talk yourself into owning that, with a dose of courage that you can reveal the beauty that is you.

Pornography struggle. That said, having your hubby looking at porn is not helping your body image. And it’s certainly hurting his view of sex and your marriage as a whole. He’s unlikely to white-knuckle his way out of this habit, so take steps to fight against the temptation of pornography. Be his supporter and his advocate, but yes, be his boundary too, if needed.

You should make clear that you don’t want pornography coloring your marital intimacy. It needs to stop. Rather, you two need to foster the kind of physical intimacy God wants you to exclusively have in the proper bounds of covenant marriage.

The sex displayed in pornography is at the least unrealistic and quite often abusive of women on the screen. So it’s no wonder wives often object to that representation of sexual contact. I recently read a well-researched description of the adult video industry (in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by journalist Chris Hedges), and the amount of physical abuse displayed and perpetrated against porn actresses is staggering. It utterly breaks my heart.

But regardless of how tame some porn might be in comparison to the hardest core stuff, it all objectifies people and focuses purely on the physical. Yet again, this is so far from the gift that God bestowed on marriages when He created sexual intimacy. It’s incredibly important that your husband move away from this depiction of sex, and that you both embrace the far better version of sexuality God described in His Word.

When someone asks what that looks like, I often refer them to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Of course we don’t perfectly measure up to this ideal, but if the intimacy in your marriage doesn’t look like that description at all, it’s not what God wants you to have.

It will take intentionality and time on your part to adjust how you’ve seen sex up to now. I encourage you to read up on God’s plan for physical intimacy. My own book, Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design covers both attitudes and tips for creating that “hot and holy” experience in your marriage bed. I also encourage you both to read Pursuit of Passion: Discovering True Intimacy in Your Marriage by Julie Sibert and Jeffrey Murphy, which is a great overall treatment of physical intimacy for husbands and wives.

Read quality marriage blogs. Study what God’s Word has to say about sex; for example, the Song of Songs. Communicate with your husband about your concerns and your hopes. Pray for your heart to heal and your mind to focus on what God wants for your marriage. But you can get there. And I pray that God blesses your marriage with intimacy that truly is hot and holy.

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