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Christian Marriage Advice: Why is porn so bad for marriages?

Last Updated: March 21, 2014

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

There are many ethical arguments about why porn is bad, but these arguments often make no sense unless we first express why sex is so good. What about sex makes it good? What about porn exploits the goodness of sex?

What is our sex drive for?

The earliest biblical terms for sex is “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). God created the male body and female body in such a way that only make sense together. The peculiar features of male and female anatomy are a sign to us that we are not meant to be alone. Becoming “one flesh” is more than just a description of physical union, it is description of the purpose of sexuality: loving oneness.

In a message to the young men a Boyce College, Dr. Albert Mohler tells them what their male sex drive is for:

A biblical worldview understands that God has demonstrated His glory in both the sameness and the differences that mark men and women, male and female. Alike made in the image of God, men and women are literally made for each other. The physicality of the male and female bodies cries out for fulfillment in the other. The sex drive calls both men and women out of themselves and toward a covenantal relationship which is consummated in a one-flesh union.

What is “godly sex”?

A man’s sex drive is designed to compel him toward marriage. But what is sex meant to look like when he arrives there? Mohler continues:

Consider the fact that a woman has every right to expect that her husband will earn access to the marriage bed. As the Apostle Paul states, the husband and wife no longer own their own bodies, but each now belongs to the other. At the same time, Paul instructed men to love their wives even as Christ has loved the church. Even as wives are commanded to submit to the authority of their husbands, the husband is called to a far higher standard of Christ-like love and devotion toward the wife.

Therefore, when I say that a husband must regularly “earn” privileged access to the marital bed, I mean that a husband owes his wife the confidence, affection, and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of sex.

God’s gift of sexuality is inherently designed to pull us out of ourselves and toward our spouse. For men, this means that marriage calls us out of our self-focused concern for genital pleasure and toward the totality of the sex act within the marital relationship.

In other words, healthy marital sexuality is meant to be the crescendo of a husband’s Christ-like cherishing and a wife’s affectionate submission.

The poor sexual training of porn

Dr. Mohler then offers two caricatures that give husbands and would-be husbands a picture of why porn is so damaging.

Consider these two pictures. The first picture is of a man who has set himself toward a  commitment to sexual purity, and is living in sexual integrity with his wife. In order to fulfill his wife’s rightful expectations and to maximize their mutual pleasure in the marriage bed, he is careful to live, to talk, to lead, and to love in such a way that his wife finds her fulfillment in giving herself to him in love. The sex act then becomes a fulfillment of their entire relationship, not an isolated physical act that is merely incidental to their love for each other. Neither uses sex as means of manipulation, neither is inordinately focused merely on self-centered personal pleasure, and both give themselves to each other in unapologetic and unhindered sexual passion. In this picture, there is no shame. Before God, this man can be confident that he is fulfilling his responsibilities both as a male and as a man. He is directing his sexuality, his sex drive, and his physical embodiment toward the one-flesh relationship that is the perfect paradigm of God’s intention in creation.

By contrast, consider another man. This man lives alone, or at least in a context other than holy marriage. Directed inwardly rather than outwardly, his sex drive has become an engine for lust and self-gratification. Pornography is the essence of his sexual interest and arousal. Rather than taking satisfaction in his wife, he looks at dirty pictures in order to be rewarded with sexual arousal that comes without responsibility, expectation, or demand. Arrayed before him are a seemingly endless variety of naked women, sexual images of explicit carnality, and a cornucopia of perversions intended to seduce the imagination and corrupt the soul.

This man need not be concerned with his physical appearance, his personal hygiene, or his moral character in the eyes of a wife. Without this structure and accountability, he is free to take his sexual pleasure without regard for his unshaved face, his slothfulness, his halitosis, his body odor, and his physical appearance. He faces no requirement of personal respect, and no eyes gaze upon him in order to evaluate the seriousness and worthiness of his sexual desire. Instead, his eyes roam across the images of unblinking faces, leering at women who make no demands upon him, who never speak back, and who can never say no. There is no exchange of respect, no exchange of love, and nothing more than the using of women as sex objects for his individual and inverted sexual pleasure.

By logical consequence, he achieves sexual gratification at the expense of women who have been used and abused as commodified sex objects. He may imagine a sex act as he fulfills his physical pleasure, but he almost certainly does not imagine what it would mean to be responsible for this woman as husband and accountable to her as mate. He can sit in his soiled underwear, belching the remnants of last night’s pizza, and engage in a pattern of one-handed sexual satisfaction while he “surfs the net” and forfeits his soul.

These two pictures of male sexuality are deliberately intended to drive home the point that every man must decide who he will be, whom he will serve, and how he will love. In the end, a man’s decision about pornography is a decision about his soul, a decision about his marriage, a decision about his wife, and a decision about God.

While these caricatures are deliberately overdrawn, they picture for us the real problem with pornography. Porn trains men to be inward about their sexuality, not giving. It trains men to think about sex as something they take, not something they give.

  • Comments on: Christian Marriage Advice: Why is porn so bad for marriages?
    1. Kat D. on

      But what if your spouse doesn’t necessarily view PORN porn, but rather watches movies and TV shows with R-rated sex/nudity scenes, and enjoys clothed, but scantily so, pin-ups? It bothers me that he looks at ANY nude woman or woman that fulfills a fantastical idea.

      What do you say to men who say that viewing other women has nothing to do with their love for their wife or their sex life with her? What do you say to men who say they don’t compare their wife to other women, they just enjoy the beauty of other women and/or just view it as entertainment? What do you say to men who say we women are the ones who need help, need to relax, chill out, and stop taking it so personally?

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Kat – Great questions. Hard questions. The first thing I would say is it is very common for women to feel, even slightly, a sense of jealousy about their man drinking in the images of other women. My friend Mark Gaither has a really good article explaining why this is. He writes an analogy for men he thinks they will understand:

        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.

        As a man, I feel that my wife’s body is my exclusive domain. No one else should have a right to it. As a woman, my wife feels (rightly) that my mind should be her exclusive domain. When your husband disregards your desires in this way, he is trampling on the foundation of your intimacy with him. He needs to understand how you are wired as a woman and respect that.

        Second, I would challenge your husband with this: He doesn’t know the intimacy with you he is missing out on if he would reserve his thoughts for you. If he chose to not let any other images of women compete for his definition of beauty, he could be channeling all of his focus into you: a real flesh-and-blood woman who has committed her life to him.

    2. Spencer c on

      Thank u very much for this…

      What do u say about masterbation?

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        This book review gives a pretty good overview of my thoughts.

    3. Chandler Nelson on

      What about teens that are too young for marriage? We now live in a time where we wait longer than before to get married (20-30yo) whereas before people were married at 15-16yo. It seems as though we have the same sex drive. Why would God make kids horny at the age of 13-16 and then the would have to learn to control or surpress it, usually by themselves, for 7-8 years?

      Reply
    4. Anne on

      I’m not married but live with my boyfriend and he chooses to still lie to me about watching porn I just caught him today what and how do I deal with this and the fact he says he does it cause he’s just bord and its not like he’s touching them or going out to other women and getting a disese that’s his resoning what do I say now help…

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        You might get a lot out of this book. It’s free and you can download it right now. It addresses what you may need to do next.

    5. Lynn on

      My husband can no longer have sex due to his ed. He watches porn almost daily and does not see it as wrong or a sin. I have fibromyalgia and am physically
      unable to be touched most of the time. My husband is very upset at his problem and says the porn is the only thing he has left of his being a man. I see the sin, it hurts me, he says it has nothing to do with me, he is not cheating on me. His job has suffered for 2 years, we are financially a mess and I see it as a reflection of his sin, his disobedience where God cannot bless him. Am I wrong, what do I do?

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Your assessment sounds correct, at least from what you’ve told me.

        I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. Many men suffer from ED because of porn use, and unfortunately, your husband likely believes there’s no point of changing his ways if he can’t make love to you.

        There’s much that can be said right now, but it would take a long time to type it out. Instead, this book might be a big help to you. After you read it over, please come back and comment. We’d love to help you however we can.

    6. Mia on

      I’m dating a guy who I never really felt in my heart that I should be with. I left the church bc I was tired of waiting on God for love and tangible affection from a man and I stumbled upon this guy. He doesn’t believe that watching porn is wrong and he never listens to mewhen I say I otherwise. I’m pregnant now but I do desperately want to abort the baby so that I can get out of this relationship forever. He doesn’t try to earn me at all. I understand we’re not married And I regret giving myselfaway. He barely shaved, he’s very lazy, he didn’t iron his clothes sometimes abd he even ask me fur sexual favors just because. How do I get him to see my point and ultimately get out of this?

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hey there. I’m so sorry for the pain you’re experiencing. First of all, I want to remind you that God loves you, and He is a redeemer. When all we can see is a big mess and no way out, God is never, ever out of options. Of course redemption is sometimes scary! Takes us way out of our comfort zones. But later on, you get to look back and see what God’s done and it’s amazing.

        I know you can look back and see how you got tired of waiting and made choices that have had really serious consequences. I saw this quote someplace the other day: “The kind of thinking that got you here will not get you THERE.” In other words, be very careful right now as you think about the decision about abortion. Wait with God, listen, and follow the still small voice of Love. I think for people of faith, the life of another person created in the image of God is so precious. As a counselor, I see lots of women who suffer a great deal of pain in post-abortion loss, so I tend not to see abortion as a solution, just a choice that brings other painful consequences. I also see healing from that loss. God truly is a redeemer.

        As far as getting him to see your point, I’m not sure that you can. I think it would be good at this point just to remember that God loves you, while you decide what healthy choices you can make here.

        What kinds of things do you WANT in your life? What do you NOT want in your life? Those are the kinds of questions we ask when we’re considering healthy boundaries for ourselves. Sometimes we have to make choices that are difficult, even though they are the best option.

        You might appreciate some of these resources while you think through those issues: our free download, Hope After Porn; this listing of articles for women; and this one on boundaries.

        I would also recommend finding a safe place of support for yourself, either through personal counseling or a group like Celebrate Recovery. Since you are in a difficult pregnancy decision, there is probably a crisis pregnancy center in your area that could provide you with support as well.

        Have a look at those things and let me know what you think. Blessings, Kay

    7. KN on

      I have enjoyed reading your article. I stumbled upon it while I was seeking information for my problem…..I just found out that my 11 yr old son has been accessing porn. I don’t want just tell him it is wrong but want to explain why it is so wrong. Any resources you could point me to?

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hey there.

        I think the very best thing we can talk about with our kids when it comes to porn is RESPECT FOR OTHERS, and never, ever using another person as an object to satisfy ourselves. I really, truly believe that objectification of sex and shame about sex is the root of the problem with porn in Christian circles.

        We do NOT want to shame our children about sex and porn. Shame is, I believe, one of the major drivers of porn use within Christian circles. Shame leads to silence and secrecy and more shame, which creates a greater and greater emotional burden which porn can temporarily relieve. So, ironically, many of our “Christian” ways of talking about sexual purity and pornography (especially if we talk about God being disappointed or offended about it) actually end up fueling the engine that drives porn use.

        I think we would be far, far better off as Christian parents if we would stop over-spiritualizing sex in general and porn in particular, and instead talk in terms of healthy boundaries and respect for others. (If you need a verse for this, I’d go with “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”)

        The conversation might go something like this:

        “We need to talk about porn, and what it means when you look at it. The core problem with pornography is that it doesn’t treat people with respect or love. For example, you don’t hit other people because that’s not treating them with respect. Even if we’re angry and it makes us feel better for a minute to hit, we don’t hit that other person out of respect. We don’t use that person as an object for our anger. In the same way, we don’t objectify other people sexually. Even if it makes us feel better for a minute, we don’t objectify that other person out of respect. We don’t use that other person as an object of our sexual drive.

        “Sex is an act of intimacy and connection, but porn turns it into an act of separation and objectification. That is not a healthy way for relationships to be built. Also, much of the porn being made and viewed today is violent and degrading to women. We especially don’t want to be a part of that kind of violence against other people.

        “I know porn is difficult to avoid, and I know it’s interesting, because sex is a very interesting thing! Of course you are curious about sex. I’d rather you learn about sex in healthy ways, though, so let’s find some good resources for you that don’t objectify and demean people.”

        Then I’d say go to Amazon and read through the offerings on having healthy converstations about sex with your child, and see what fits your particular parenting style.

        I hope that helps! Kay

    8. J on

      PIve been married for just over 4 years and my husband is becoming adamant about wanting to watch porn and says that it is no worse than watching movies with violence in them. His argument is that if he doesn’t feel guilty about seeing violent movies, he won’t feel guilty about watching porn to get aroused. I’m uncomfortable with this, but have watched porn with him a couple times in the past. What can I do or say to change his mind on this?

      Reply
      • Chris McKenna on

        Hi, please tell your husband that this isn’t a matter of feeling guilty. This is a matter of him teaching his mind that what he sees on the screen is what he is to expect in real life. The brain is a jealous and efficient organ. It will drive itself toward those things that provide the fastest and most efficient results. We love rewards, and if the brain determines that porn provides a dopamine reward faster than the pursuit of his wife, then over time, his brain will want porn more than you. It’s neurology. Not guilt. Although, the fact that it makes you feel uncomfortable should also be enough for him to man-up and respect your desires. Marriage is a mutual submission. I fully support your desire to push back.

        Challenge him on the “I won’t feel guilty about watching porn to get aroused.” That is such a selfish statement. If arousal is our only goal in life, then why have a spouse at all? Just get a sex robot and make it easy? I’m being overly dramatic to make a point, but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. Again, he’s teaching his mind to see arousal and sex as ultimate, when in the end, they cannot fully satisfy.

        Chris

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