Hope After Porn

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Porn use (and even adultery) doesn't always mean that a marriage is over. Get this free e-book to read how four betrayed wives found healing for themselves and for their marriages.

27 thoughts on “How to Approach Sex After Betrayal

  1. The tricky part is when the husband has has looked at porn for 20+ years, living in a cycle of using, getting caught/confessing, being forgiven, in and out of counseling and accountability, then repeating it all over again. How does the wife continue to be vulnerable sexually, all the while expecting it to happen yet again because it always has for 20+ years?

    • I would say that you only make yourself sexually vulnerable in a trust-filled relationship. If he’s not trustworthy, don’t have sex with him.

      Make sure you’re getting help JUST FOR YOU. Find a counselor who can help you process your emotions and create healthy boundaries. Sometimes the best boundary is a final boundary, sadly enough.

      Whatever he chooses, make sure you’re choosing to be healthy and whole.

      Peace to you, Kay

    • There is so much about this blog post I agree with and SO much I don’t.

      Actually, sometimes, we ARE sleeping with the enemy. And that is not ok.
      Especially when porn has led to many physical encounters over years.

      Please read The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly

      This may not be as much of a God issue as it is an addiction issue and I’d like to talk about that.

    • I’m sick and tired of hearing sex being a necessity from the man’s perspective. Adam and Eve were Both naked and unashamed.
      The Church acts like sex is something a woman does for her husband.
      Wrong. The couple are not to deprive one another.
      I have sex for me not my husband. If I’m just expected to please him instead of Us pleasing each other– I pass.
      We both should enjoy making love. There are times when one person may feel more armorous than the other, and I get that, and the other partner can be accommodating. But, as a normal practice..no way.

  2. How can I want sexual intimacy with my husband who has yet to look at me when he wants to be intimate? He has been in recovery for four years (with a week or so long slip back into porn, but not prostitution), but as far as learning to affirm me, sharing and listening to me, he has not grown very much. My body has not allowed me to enjoy sex with him as he is still do “not present” in most aspects of our lives. I have contracted HPV from him and have to have colonoscopies and even LEEP procedures done because of letting him do sex to me (it is not love making). He says he can’t enjoy it if he has to wear a conform to prevent me from getting another HPV flare up. This article scares me to death and angers me in the deepest part of myself. If I am supposed to force my body and my self to do something which endangers my health and alienates me even further from him, I guess there’s no hope.

    • I am so sorry about the HPV due to your husband’s choice to engage in prostitution and his selfishness to not wear a condom to protect you from further flare ups. My heart just hurts for you.

      You always have a choice to engage in sex, as I noted in the article. Sex is designed to be between two consenting adults. Both people have a responsibility to love and care for each other’s body. God calls men to love their wives as they love their own bodies and to put you in continual risk is not loving. This article is definitely not advocating the forcing of anyone to have sex with anyone.

    • Dear MM, Your pain is real both physically, emotionally and mentally. Your marriage needs help. Find someone who can talk to you and your husband about this situation. Obviously if you are in a church, hopefully there is someone you can be open with about these issues. My wife and I have counselled people just as your situation and there is need for the man engaged in porn to come to realize that he is viewing sex through a wrong lens and unbiblically. There is need for repentance and at the same time the wife is to understand her role toward her husband. As you realize there are so many variables and differences in specific cases it is impossible to make plain what must be done in your case. I pray you will find someone to reach out to, and I pray the Lord will raise up many in the church who have been able to deal with these issues in a godly way who will in turn reach out to help others. If i many ask him to also seek out and attend a PROVEN men group if there is one in your area.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this Jen. It was well written and helpful. I have contacted you before (I am Gail’s friend) and my husband and I have read your book together. At one point you said that you prayed Scripture over your husband. I have used Beth Moore’s book, Praying God’s Word as you suggested, particularly the chapter on sexual sin. I am beginning to see small signs of healing in this area. I keep thinking of the verse where God says that He will fight for us, and that we only need to be still. This is a spiritual battle. It certainly needs to be fought with consistent prayer. God needs to speak to my husband and lead Him to victory. Thank you again for your transparency.

  4. Although the article gives some good points on the issues we face as betrayed spouses, I still find it lacking. Just when I think that adultery will be addressed, I read only porn addiction. In addition to porn addiction, my spouse has admitted to several affairs. I do understand that pornography use is like betrayal. It really does feel like it. But since I have experienced actual betrayal; I find that now, for me, the comparison just isn’t the same. I was hoping for more substance in the article how to approach sex after betrayal. After infidelity reeks havoc and chaos on your life and hay of your children. I have been honest with my spouse and finally after 20 years together, he is being honest and owning his stuff. For that I am grateful. He admits and owns his issues and all of the things that happened and didn’t in his family of origin. All of the choices he blamed on me, he now understands we’re actually his issues and choices. I would have liked to see more information on feeling used, and healthy sex. Or what to do when I feel like my spouse just wants to touch me so he can have sex. When I discuss this, and similar topics, with my spouse, he is understanding and honest. I want to have healthy sex with my spouse but I’m not even sure what that looks like anymore. After all of the lies, porn use, and betrayals I would like some straight answers about sex addiction and how both spouses can have healthy marital sex. How much time do I need to heal? Since hysterical bonding occurred in our relationship after discovery, I am often left wondering should I even be having sex? What do j need to feel safe? The healing does seem to be cyclical. Several weeks, even months, can go by and healing seems certain. Then a trigger, or just some negative feelings, really make me wonder… if it is really worth all the work. Thanks for reading my rant.

    • I’m sorry for what’s happened to you. I too have experienced both porn use and an affair. Multiple affairs if you count the ones while we were still dating.
      But I have to completely disagree with you on one thing; I can feel no difference between the hurt and betrayal I feel about porn and the hurt and betrayal I feel about his physical unfaithfulness. I’m not trying to say you’re wrong in how you feel, obviously it’s two different things for you but I just want other women who may read these comments to know that if they feel that porn is as much a betrayal as physical affairs and hurt the same, that’s a valid thing to feel too.

    • You have definitely touched on many topics that I think are so important for recovery from any kind of sexual betrayal. Thank you so much for being open and honest with the information that would be beneficial for you as you and your spouse continue to walk in recovery.

  5. His affirmation comes from God. Healing flows from that foundation . Catholic priests are celebate and they use self control despite their temptations for the kingdom of God. Married men with porn problems might want to take a look at them for mentors. No excuse for them. There is grace and a will involved. This is not about women rejecting them by denying sex. We. Are NOT responsible for their actions in any way whatsoever – sex or no sex.

  6. I have read over and over how it’s not about sex. It’s about fear of rejection, real life intimacy is scary and risky, he needs affirmation, etc.
    I have also read about not denying sex to him. But I am not at a place that I believe any of that. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. I’ve been trying for about two months now to reconcile these ideas because I really want to believe that it’s not about me.
    I can’t come to that place.
    First, I have not and do not use sex as a weapon, nor do I withhold sex without a good reason. I have always done most anything we could come up with in the bedroom. I never had to force myself; I’ve been a willing and very enthusiastic participant. Even after finding out about the porn use. So he got it most anytime he wanted and in most any way he wanted.
    Also, we’ve always had what I thought was a very close relationship. We leaned on each other and I was always, always there for him. He always knew he could come to me and I would never reject him or hurt him. I affirmed him with my words, I encouraged him and loved him despite finding out about his porn use over and over again. I forgave him after an affair! If I didn’t reject him after that, then what on earth could he have possibly thought I’d reject him for?
    So I affirmed him sexually and I affirmed him emotionally. How could it possibly been because he had a fear of rejection or intimacy?
    Also, I’ve learned that he turns to porn whether he’s feeling depressed, happy, indifferent… none of that matters.
    So I just can’t wrap my head around it being because of some deep fear of intimacy or rejection or because he’s depressed. If none of those apply, then, how can it not be about me?
    We’re going through recovery now and I’ve learned things that seem to point directly at me as the reason. How can it not be when he chooses to look at porn before I get home from work knowing that later when I try to initiate sex he’s going to say no because he’s tired, he’s sleepy, he’s not in the mood, or whatever lame excuse he’s going to have to use? How can it not be about me when I’ve learned that on several occasions when I wanted to have sex he had to go look at more porn to even be able to perform with me? How on earth is that not about me??
    Also, I don’t get the whole “feel better” argument. Like, he does this because he’s depressed and he wants to feel happy. Really? Does he laugh with joy while he’s looking?
    I guess that this comment comes across as angry and bitter and I’ll readily own that. But being angry doesn’t automatically make me wrong in my opinion of something.
    No one has been able to explain these things to me in a way that makes sense. I just think of it this way: if I notice that another man is handsome, that doesn’t say anything about my relationship with my husband. Obviously there are attractive people out there. If I choose to have sex with another man, that speaks volumes about my relationship with my husband and it shows very clearly that I prefer to be with someone other than my husband. In the same way when my husband chooses to masturbate while watching porn it speaks volumes about how he sees me and his level of desire for me. And I just don’t know if I can bear that.

    • Okay. Let’s see if I can help at all.

      First of all, I think our culture socializes men to avoid emotion (big boys don’t cry) while at the same time expecting men to act out sexually (boys will be boys). This creates a dynamic where unacceptable emotions are channeled straight into sexual acting-out. He may not recognize feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety because he’s been socialized not to be aware of them. However, those feelings exist inside of him and need an outlet: voila, the magic of porn.

      So while you may have been pouring all you can into affirming and encouraging him, he may not truly have been able to receive that BECAUSE he’d have to recognize that need to begin with, and he’s been socialized not to have emotional needs.

      Does that make sense at all?

      Hopefully, part of his healing journey will be to reject the cultural nightmare around masculinity, and be able to connect to his own emotions and needs, and then be open to receiving the love you’ve been trying to give him. (Life tip: If you happen to go to a church that preaches heavily about male vs female gender roles, this would be the time to head for the door because it’s going to make recovery even more difficult if church is also preaching that malignant message about how he has to ‘be a man.’)

      Secondly, I think it’s really important to understand just a bit about brain chemisty and why porn works. No, he’s not laughing with joy while he’s looking. But he is getting a huge hit of feel-good chemicals. Anybody who’s ever had an orgasm KNOWS how that feels: amazing. It’s the perfect fix when you’re feeling bad. (Even if you don’t cognitively recognize those feelings–your body knows!)

      Of course, once you come down from that temporary high, you feel ashamed of yourself for doing what you did–but wait! You’ve got the solution: another orgasm. And then you’ve entered into the shame cycle. You don’t need an outside event to keep it going. You just move from using to shame and back to using again.

      So, in that way, it is totally NOT about the spouse. You can, in fact, be doing everything perfectly well and your husband is over there endlessly spinning in his shame cycle.

      Now. If you are fairly confident that he’s doing his part in recovery (even if you don’t perfectly understand it all!), then I would suggest that you turn your attention to two things.

      First, make sure you that you are getting the help you need to process your emotions in this, and to maintain healthy boundaries so that you DON’T join the mayhem. Find a counselor JUST FOR YOU. Check into the online resources at Bloom, which are trauma-informed for women and attachment-informed for marriages.

      Secondly, work on the emotional trust in the relationship. Get John Gottman’s excellent book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. It’s the very best marriage research out there, and the book is extremely practical and easy to read with lots of quizzes and things to talk through together. You can actually build your marriage stronger WHILE in recovery; you don’t have to wait for perfection! And if you’re able to do that, you’ll be better able to bear the bumps in the road along the way.

      Thanks for your great questions, and feel free to keep asking!

      Peace to you, Kay

    • Yes. I find myself agreeing with every single word. I have been married to a porn addict for 25 years. I have known about his addiction for 23 of those years. He is a Christian, and elder in our church, the brother of my pastor. He has his secret life, does the whole “I’m sorry” bit, no accountability with anyone. It’s our little secret. No consequences for him. He has me, his loving, sexually-available wife trying to respect him biblically and maintain the public illusion, and he has his secret life that no one knows about. But my self-esteem and trust in people is gone. I love him, but I don’t trust him. I have asked pastors for help, including his own brother who is the pastor of our church and the one who confirmed my husband as an elder. But the blame is always upon me and I bear all the consequences for his addiction, including the body image issues and feeling inadequate at all levels. I know he has deep hurt that he cannot name. But at the end of it all, I can’t stop thinking that if he really needs an orgasm to temporarily stop the pain, he can do that with me. I have never turned him away, even to the point of doing the things he likes to see in his porn images. Yet, that is not enough and he always goes back to the fantasy because the reality, me, is not good enough. Lately, it takes more and more for him to even be aroused enough to perform with me. Even acting out his fantasies isn’t enough anymore. I know that I, too, sound angry and bitter. I have no hope if he can be an elder in the church and still engage in this behavior without signs of repentance. He thinks if he makes it a month or two without engaging in porn on his willpower alone that that’s somehow “recovery” and I should pat him on the back for that. In truth, he’s been unfaithful thousands of times over the course of our marriage if you include the years he was a daily consumer of porn. His brother the pastor says he can’t do anything about it if my husband does not invite him into that area of his life and ask for accountability.

    • Well, of course you are angry! Anger is an appropriate emotion to have when your marriage is in jeopardy, your husband carries on as if nothing is wrong, and none of the people you turn to for help are willing to intervene.

      Here’s what I think this means: YOU are the only person you can be responsible for. Your husband makes his choices. The church has made their choices. But what will you do, when it comes to healthy boundaries and recovery for YOU?

      I would suggest that you find a counselor just for YOU, someone who can help you process the terrible grief you’re suffering. Find a group that’s just for YOU. You might also join the online community at Bloom, where there are discussion forums, classes, self-care ideas and numerous other resources.

      Whatever these other people choose, YOU can choose to be healthy and whole. I hope you will.

      Peace to you, Kay

    • Hi-
      I can totally relate to your situation. Have been married for 25 years. Husband has been addicted to porn for about 30+ years. We have been to numerous marriage counselors, along with individual counseling. He has lied to every single one of those counselors at various times. I have reached the end of my patience and understanding. Our finances are now separate and I am just waiting for the chance to leave.
      I am so sorry for what you are going through as I know of the pain, mistrust, fear, rejection, self-doubt, disappearance of confidence, and loathing all too well. There have been so many lies, betrayal, $$ spent on websites, tapes, magazines, and I suspect “live action” websites..too much to list here.
      Again, so sorry. I have come to believe that my husband is too selfish for us to have any type of relationship. Maybe if you looked at it that way? He is just selfish and does not want to stop the porn. I will never have sex with my husband just to help with creating intimacy if all the while he is lying to me and “cheating ” on me with porn. Sorry, but there is some seriously misguided advice being given here along with some misogyny.
      Good luck to you.

  7. Whether you have sex with your husband or not please get tested for STD’s. I don’t care what he says (denies he went from Porn to “real” women) you must protect yourself & get tested regardless! Remember how easily he lied to you? Well now its time to protect yourself. And please set boundaries that make you feel safe again.

    If the wife decides not to have sex because of her husband’s Adultery then the husband has “Reaped what HE has Sown”. And her refusing is NOT Biblical grounds for him to divorce her.

  8. After getting tested please consider talking with an attorney even if you DONT want a divorce. Why? Because often your finances are going to be affected or have already been. Especially if you have stayed at home for whatever reasons for the majority of the marriage. You can do this discreetly if you prefer your husband not know.

    Perhaps you did not have a pre-nup or you didn’t even consider it, but now that you know the Truth about your marriage/husband and you have decided to stay in the marriage an attorney can prepare a “post-nup” that will protect you & children. If your husband is serious about his sexual sin / sobriety then he would be more than willing to sign such an agreement. I would encourage you to pray about this & if you feel its best for you, then it can be part of the process of you setting boundaries that will protect you & create safety/security for you & children. Sadly many women either don’t or will not take these steps & find out too late their finances have been destroyed along with so many other things their husband’s Adultery has brought into their lives.

  9. Kay,
    Thank you so much for your response. We’re not in a church that strongly preaches male and female roles, and in fact they embrace female leadership and emphasize partnership in marriage. So we’re involved in a good church, I believe.
    We’re in Celebrate Recovery which isn’t ideal for my situation, in my opinion but I believe it’s good for my husband who has found real accountability for the first time in our lives and I’m not the only one trying to hold him to accountability which is a great relief to me. I’m refusing to introduce myself in group as Co-dependent, though. My group mates are probably pretty sure I’m in denial. I love them anyway. :)
    I’ve calmed down a bit since I wrote that comment. My emotions are all over the place and I’m just struggling to understand it all. Everything I read says it’s not about me but it feels like it’s definitely about me. I just don’t know how to find peace right now. I’m trying to get in with a psychiatrist here but apparently it’s pretty difficult to get an appointment with her, so I am seeking counseling for myself.
    The raw pain has dulled a bit and now as I look at the future it’s mostly fear that I feel. I’m terrified to let go of the pain and start the healing process, to be frank. So many times in the past I’ve “moved on” and become comfortable again just to get clobbered again and I’m so afraid to be vulnerable to that once more. I’m afraid that completely forgiving and trusting again is tantamount to giving him permission to just carry on as he’s always done and begin the lying, deceit and porn use all over again. Maybe that is completely irrational but there it is.
    So once again, thank you for taking the time to respond. I will get the book you’ve suggested and keep reading and learning. I appreciate what you all are trying to do here.

  10. I have just found out that my husband of 24 years is a sex addict – porn use that escalated to a one-night stand and affairs. His has intimacy issues, though I am sure there are other issues present, mainly due to his sexual abuse as a preteen. It is partly self-medication for the lack of emotional connection and sense of emptiness, though porn use led to other sins. It seems childhood trauma, esp. sexual abuse, is present in the life histories of most addicts. However, I have not seen a single mention of it in all the articles I have read so far on this blog.

    • Hey there.

      Certainly sexual abuse would cause great pain, and if untreated, the victim is vulnerable to self-medication through all sorts of dysfunctional choices. These days, the prevalence of internet porn and early exposure is often, in and of itself, traumatic to children. In a lot of cases, porn both creates the trauma and provides the self-medication.

      I think you don’t see a lot of articles about a trauma basis for porn treatment here at CE because the position of the conservative church has been that porn is a sin problem, so most of the articles approach it from that standpoint. I don’t know that we’re making a lot of headway from that standpoint myself, given the number of comments that we get here from those who are trying and trying to change, and struggle so much.

      I myself tend to see heavy porn use as a trauma issue for everyone involved. I think treating it as trauma and assisting both partners toward healing is a more hopeful and useful model. You’d probably appreciate reading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. If you could get your husband to a good trauma therapist who’s EMDR certified, and a restorative yoga class, you’d probably be doing him a world of good, and Dr. Van Der Kolk clearly outlines why.

      Peace to you,

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