Is Porn the Same as Adultery?

“You cried with her?!”

My wife appeared wounded, even a little threatened, when I described my conversation with a female employee. The young woman’s performance had been slipping the past few weeks and the perpetual look of distress on her face suggested problems at home were to blame. The simple question, “How are you?” opened a floodgate of tears as she described feelings of betrayal and despair because of her husband’s behavior. As she wept, I empathized with her pain and shed a few tears of my own. While I maintained strict physical boundaries with my coworker—I didn’t so much as pat her hand—my emotional response to another woman’s anguish triggered a protective instinct within my mate.

Is Porn the Same as Adultery

Charissa is neither insecure nor suspicious by nature. In fact, she quickly caught herself and recognized that I had simply empathized with the suffering of another person. Nevertheless, her visceral reaction gave me a fleeting glimpse into the mystery of womanhood. And the resulting conversation with my wife became the first step on a journey of discovery in which I learned just how differently men and women experience marital intimacy. Along the way, I also discovered a profound truth that explains why wives consider a man’s viewing pornography nothing short of adultery . . . and why men think they’re overreacting.

For Her, It’s Mind over Matter

Men and women in lasting relationships share four fundamental connections: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. However, men and women establish these connections in different order and give them different priority.

Men build monogamy upon a foundation of physical connection. By that, I don’t mean touching, necessarily. Physical connection involves much more. Men need to be physically present with a woman in order to bond with her emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. He wants to be near her, to share time and experiences with her, to see her face and hear her voice, even before touching her for the first time. Physical connection is both primal and primary, which explains why men commonly dismiss long-distance relationships as futile, like having no relationship at all. This is not to suggest that men are fundamentally shallow; they simply experience the deeper aspects of intimacy by means of their physical senses.

Because physical connection comes first, physical connection remains foundational to intimacy. According to Willard Harley, author of the now-classic His Needs Her Needs, the top three relationship necessities for men are sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, and a pleasing appearance—all sensory in nature.

Women, on the other hand, build monogamy on a foundation of mental connection, which is no less primal or primary than a man’s need to experience his mate through the five senses. In the beginning, when a woman is drawn to a man she finds interesting, she wants to know all about him, his character, his ideas, his interests, his goals. Being in his presence merely serves this need, but letters and long discussions by phone will do just as well. Generally speaking, a woman can tolerate a long-distance romance much better than a man, as long as she continues to experience a rich mental connection with her lover.

It should come as no surprise then, that this mental connection remains foundational to a woman’s experience of intimacy. According to Harley, she needs affection, conversation, and honesty/openness more than anything. While men automatically assume that affection means touching, women think of affection in terms of its mental and emotional significance. A tender note or an unexpected call “just because” are no less meaningful than a hug or a peck on the cheek.

In addition to affection, a wife needs conversation and honesty/openness from her husband. This mental connection to her husband is crucial to her sense of well-being.

To feel secure, a wife must trust her husband to give her accurate information about his past, the present, and the future. What has he done? What is he thinking or doing right now? What plans does he have? If she cannot trust the signals he sends . . . she has no foundation on which to build a solid relationship.

A woman experiences intimacy at its deepest levels when she enjoys complete access to her man’s mind. She feels closest and most secure when she can trust that he holds no secrets from her and when he freely shares his unfiltered, unedited thoughts with her. Even better when she enjoys exclusive access to his innermost self. So, when this connection is broken or violated, the fracture affects the entire foundation of her world.

Making the Connection

Put simply, a direct correlation can be made between physical connection for a man and mental connection for a woman. The truth of this really hit home when I read Shaunti Feldhahn’s For Women Only. In her attempt to explain to women the significance of sex for men, she wrote,

For your husband, sex is more than just a physical need. Lack of sex is as emotionally serious to him as, say, his sudden silence would be to you, were he simply to stop communicating with you. It is just as wounding to him, just as much a legitimate grievance—and just as dangerous to your marriage.

This explains a lot! What the body is to a man, the mind is to a woman. Women treasure mental intimacy like men prize physical intimacy. And just like men expect women to keep their bodies exclusively for them, women expect their men to do the same with their minds.

I am just now beginning to understand what women mean when they say the brain is a sex organ. And I am just now recognizing why a wife feels so betrayed when her husband allows pornography to fondle his mind. She is deeply wounded on at least two levels.

First, pornography violates a wife’s exclusive domain.

Please bear with me as I illustrate the significance of this truth. My purpose is to help men appreciate the anguish women often experience, not to be offensive.

If you are a man, imagine your wife walking through a room full of men. They turn to notice her. Many leer. One reaches out and begins fondling intimate parts of her body. What do you hope she will do?

Every man hopes his wife will consider her body the exclusive domain of her husband, reserved for him alone—his eyes, his hands, his enjoyment—granting access to no other person. He hopes she will be offended, utterly outraged when touched by someone other than her husband. He hopes she will slap the violator’s hand away and then move quickly toward the exit. Every man expects his wife to guard her body from interloping hands, whether he’s present or not.

Now imagine the unthinkable. In response to the man touching her body, she pauses and smiles at him as he continues to grope. Another man sees an opportunity and touches another part of her. She doesn’t respond in kind, but she doesn’t rush for the door, either. In fact, she appears to enjoy the attention.

How do you feel right now?

This is how a woman feels when her husband allows sensual images to grope his mind, her exclusive domain.

Now imagine the additional pain you would experience if, after confronting your wife’s behavior, she justified or rationalized or minimized the incident. Oh, honey, it was harmless. I didn’t do anything in return. Besides, God made me an attractive woman; I can’t help what men try to do. The world is full of men who will try to touch me, should I lock myself away and avoid the whole world? You’re the only one for me, really. That incident didn’t mean anything!

There’s a lot of truth in what she says. She can’t help what a world full of men think or even try to do. Locking herself away isn’t a realistic answer. Perhaps to her it did mean nothing. But none of that is important. The facts are these: It meant something to you; she should care about that. She can’t control the actions of others; however, she can guard her response. She can’t stop men from leering, but she can avoid risky environments. Someday a man might try to touch her inappropriately, but she can slap his hand away and remove herself from the situation.

Sensual images seem less significant, less threatening to men. But not to women. A wife needs to know—not merely by her husband’s words, but by his behavior—that his mind is completely devoted to her. She understands that the world will continue to assault men with sensual images; nevertheless, she wants—no, she needs her man to protect and preserve what belongs to her.

Second, pornography destroys the foundation upon which a wife builds security.

Based on more than twenty years of research and innumerable hours in couples’ therapy, Willard Harley reduced the needs of women to a single word: security.

“A sense of security is the bright golden thread woven through all of a woman’s five basic needs. If a husband does not keep up honest and open communication with his wife, he undermines her trust and eventually destroys her security.”

Pornography is almost always a secret sin, the core element of a hidden other life. When a woman discovers that her husband has been devoting portions of his mind to sexually gratifying images and then closing off those areas to her, the revelation shakes her world to its very foundation. She naturally begins to wonder what other terrible secrets occupy the mind she thought she knew so well. And if she had been so mistaken about knowing her man’s mind, how can she be certain of anything else? Furthermore, his dishonesty destroys her trust, the essential basis of any relationship.

Ironically, when men discover they are victims of adultery, they frequently describe similar thoughts.

Raising the Stakes

While men struggle to understand why women place pornography in the same category with adultery, we must try; or, at the very least, accept the testimony of women at face value. For women, whose intimacy rests upon a foundation of mental connection, the effect of pornography on marriage is very much the same as outright adultery. It destroys intimacy. It betrays trust. And, even when undiscovered, viewing pornography creates emotional distance. In the end, women suffer the same physical, psychological, and spiritual anguish men experience as a result of adultery.

Men, let us always remember that the mind we protect is not ours alone. When we allow an enemy to enter, our mate suffers greater injury than we realize. Therefore, guard your heart with all diligence. Your heart is more than the wellspring of your own life; it is also her fortress.

Photo credit: eivindw