We’re back to another Summer of Q&A with J question. I guarantee this one affects more wives than the one woman who sent it in:
My husband is working very hard by the Lord’s grace to overcome a pornography and masturbation addiction. He has come so far, but we are not out of the woods yet. I struggle with what sexual things I should or shouldn’t do in order to encourage his healing. As an example, is my giving him a hand job triggering the wrong kind of desires in his mind, or is it okay because it comes from me?
Fist bump for you two working through that struggle. With God’s grace indeed, this couple is on its way to experiencing more intimate and God-honoring sexual intimacy.
The question remains: What’s okay and what’s not for a husband who’s had a porn and masturbation habit? Are certain activities best omitted because they remind or tempt hubby toward sin?
I had some immediate thoughts, but spent more time in the Word of God to clarify my approach.
The past is past, but it can still rear its ugly head. 1 John 1:6-7 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with [God] and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Pornography is a dark sin, and the answer to dealing with this addiction or problem is light. Your husband has brought this sin into the light, and Jesus can purify him, meaning that sin — while remembered — essentially goes poof! and it’s gone. This verse also addresses that fellowship with one another is affected; many marriages know how porn negatively impacted their relationship and sexual intimacy and how healing brought a positive impact.
But the past is past, a done deal. Those sins, once confessed, brought into the light, and washed by Jesus’ blood…are forgiven. Does this mean a switch is flipped, and everything’s a-okay? No one who’s walked such a path would argue that. Nor does the Bible. One chapter later, John says: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” John’s talking to Christians, and he basically admits they’re going to mess up.
Yet sinning is not living in sin. We know the difference. Let me first assure you that if you do something in your marriage bed that unintentionally causes porn memories to rear their ugly head, that does not mean a return to pornography permeating your marriage. You and your husband still have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who is working in your lives to lead you further and further into the light.
Your sexual intimacy can provide protection against his temptation. That’s what 1 Corinthians 7:5 says: “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Also, in Proverbs 5, a chapter devoted to warning against adultery, the husband is advised to “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.” That means have sex with your own wife! It’s one way of protecting against the pull of adultery.
For wives whose husbands have engaged in pornography, the emotional pain for these women is deep. I understand why they would not feel safe in the marriage bed and worry that sexual activities could stir up past imagery. However, while the initial reaction for many wives is to retreat from the marriage bed, God’s prescription is the opposite. You may need a short break to grieve, but in the long run fostering sexual intimacy protects your marriage and wards against outside temptation.
This includes activities that your husband might have seen in porn, but that also occur regularly enough without that example. For example, oral sex might be shown in porn, but plenty of couples have oral sex without the inspiration of porn. Likewise, hand jobs could be associated with a man self-stimulating while watching porn, but it’s also fairly common in the marriage bed.
As you engage in various sexual activities together, you’re rewriting the script. Instead of your husband associating manual arousal with pornographic imagery, it can become something special and intimate between husband and wife. Will this happen after one time? I shoot straight on my blog, so I’m going to say probably not. It’s more like a balance of scales, and over time you add more and more weight to the side of godly sexuality and marital intimacy, so that the scales tip. Eventually, the other side means nothing, and godly sexual intimacy is the way you both view sex.
An activity may be too close to a porn memory and should be left out. Sexual activities should not automatically thrown out because they also occur in porn; however, some activities could truly be triggers for your husband. How can you distinguish?
Since porn addicts struggle with attaching sexuality to imagery, I advise staying away from similar imagery for a while, even if it’s of you. Your husband needs to retrain his body to react to physical interaction with his wife as an all-five-senses and 3-D experience. While a wife giving her hubby a naked or suggestive photo of herself doesn’t strike me as sin, it could be unwise for someone on the road to recovery from a porn addiction. Because it’s still in line with attaching sexuality to imagery.
James 1:14-15 says: “…each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Apparently, there’s a space before sin that involves desire, and to avoid birthing sin, we should aim for aligning our desires with God’s. A porn addict needs intentional time to get back on track with sexuality being linked to physical interaction, intimacy with a covenant wife, and the layered experience of sex as God designed it. Things that smack of two-dimensional arousal would be off my list for a while.
Other activities, including that hand job, might or might not be triggers. The only way to know is to ask. While building your trust in other areas, build your repertoire of conversation and honesty. Before you engage in an activity, ask your husband outright what effect it will have on his mind. If your husband’s heart is in the right place — and it sounds like it is — he’ll admit if something is too close to a porn memory and should be avoided.
A few things might need to come off the table (or the bed, if you will), at least for a while. Don’t concentrate, though, on what you can’t do. “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
Ask your Heavenly Father to help you forge a new reality. How about praying before your lovemaking? Or memorizing scriptures about God being on your side and creating something fresh and beautiful?
Here’s a personal testimony. I had some bad memories from my premarital promiscuous past, and a particular one made me feel very ashamed. Years ago, I began to pray to God to help me renew my mind, even asking him to remove the memories. That memory went away, just gone. I can’t tell you what it was. And I have no other explanation than God erasing it from my memory bank. Had He not removed it, He would have had a reason for leaving it there. But in my specific case, God relieved me of this shameful memory, which allowed me to focus more on godly marital intimacy.
Pray for the healing of your husband’s mind and your own. Here’s an example from Isaiah 65: 18-19:
“Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the one true God; –– In the name of our one true God, we invoke Your blessing in our land of marriage.
whoever takes an oath in the land will swear by the one true God. — We take an oath to honor our marriage bed.
For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes. — You have forgotten the sins of pornography and hidden them from Your eyes, and we praise You.
See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. — Create a new intimacy in our marriage that honors You.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. — As we make love, help us to not remember the former things, and keep any sinful thoughts from coming to mind.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Or more simply: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, KJV).
For those who’ve been down this road, what advice would you give to this reader and others trying to recover from porn addiction in their marriage?