2 minute read

Is Porn a Reason for Divorce?

Last Updated: May 30, 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

This is a hot-button issue we’ve addressed before, and we continue to get questions about it.

Obviously, opinions about divorce are manifold across the Christian spectrum. While recognizing that civil divorces do occur, Roman Catholics and many Protestants don’t believe that Christian marriage is ever truly dissolvable (except by death). For those who do believe there are legitimate grounds for divorce, there are a variety of opinions.

Below, pastor Doug Wilson gives his take on the matter of whether porn use is ever grounds for divorce.

Here are some of Mr. Wilson’s important points:

1. Porneia is grounds for divorce.

Porneia, Wilson says, is a Greek term referring to sexual uncleanness, which potentially includes many things. Matthew 19:9 states, “I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality [porneia], and marries another, commits adultery.”

Wilson believes that repeated, unrepentant porn can “rise to the level” of porneia.

In this video, Wilson isn’t clear on when such unrepentant porn use would rise to that level, but that it would be based on the depth of the compulsion and the heart attitude of the man in question.

(It should noted that the meaning of this verse and the term porneia are highly contested and disputed, but it does form the basis of the argument for some that divorce is allowable in some cases of pornography use.)

2. Regardless of whether there is grounds for divorce, no Christian wife should put up with porn.

We hear from Christian women all the time who are pressured to do their Christian duty and accept their husband with open arms, as long as he turns on the water works and shows some sorrow for his sin. Wilson is clear here: No woman should be made to stand for this kind of behavior. Wives in this situation need support from the church to confront her husband.

3. Divorce should never be pursued without guidance.

Wilson follows in the steps of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states that the divorcing parties should not be “left to their own wills and discretion in their own case.” When a Christian man is using porn continually, his sin is not merely a matter for his marriage; it is a matter for the church to address. This may involve church discipline, counseling, discipleship—all with a goal to push to a resolution.

Too often we notice that women in these situations are left out to dry because her church refuses to step in. She is left to make some of the most difficult decisions she will ever face alone. This should never be.

What do you think? Is porn use ever grounds for divorce? If so, when?

  • Comments on: Is Porn a Reason for Divorce?
    1. Barbara on

      Thank you Mr. Wilson. I would say my husband was actually mortified the first time I found out about his porn habit a months into our marriage. He wanted and got some counseling, about 6 months worth, from a Christian therapist. This therapist told me that I had obligations to satisfy him, however, regardless of my feelings. He also said that porn use was not grounds for divorce. We got through this, uncomfortably at times. Then some years later I noticed that my husband was always on the computer, neglecting his work and essentially neglecting me. It took 2 or 3 years for me to find proof of the reason for this. Porn use had been going again on for 3 years, he told me when I found out. Mr. Wilson does not refer the effect this kind of lying and cover-up had. The husband said he would “try to quit again.” He did not seem repentant. He did find an accountability group, but I learned later that the 3 members told each other it was all right, they couldn’t help it, the women in their lives were to blame, etc. This didn’t last long. I caught my husband two or 3 more times over the next two years. Each time, he would say he was trying something different. He stayed clean for 6 months with a 12 step group. My last finding was while he was “working the steps” and was on step 4 with a sponsor. He hadn’t been honest with the sponsor or the group about his resumed porn use. After careful thought and prayer, I asked him to agree to and follow through with 3 conditions. He was to give up all computer use. He was to find a job outside the home, instead of attempting to stay self employed which involved internet use. I also asked him to leave the home for 2 or 3 weeks to give me some time to think. He refused to do any of these things. He had already said that he wouldn’t do counseling again because it was too expensive and didn’t work anyway. I made a decision then for divorce, due to the porn use and the accompanied lying and covering up. I had lost any hope that he would ever be sexually clean again when a filter program I installed on the computer (which he knew about) caught not just porn but an attempt to hide it by using an anonymous search engine. I appreciate Mr. Wilson’s comment about a Christian who can’t conquer sin being more like a non-Christian. My church wasn’t much help. I could pray, I could recognize that I sin, too, if in other ways, and I needed to be a supportive wife. Most of this, unfortunately, came from other women who had been wronged in the same wayThere was a recommendation for couple’s counseling. The pastor specifically told me that I had to provide “sacrificial love.” I learned that my husband’s porn use had begun in childhood (before the internet) there were other sexual perversions in his history, he never told me about porn use because he knew it would be unacceptable to me and it wasn’t after all, like it involved more than pictures and movies, so he could say that he really hadn’t committed adultery. He had never told me the extent of it, though I asked. He would say that it had accelerated, particularly with internet use and time–about 50 years. None of this helped. He had spent so much time on porn that he lost his job–not from porn use on the job, but from staying up late to view it at home, thus not being very sharp at work, and a poor attitude at work besides. It is very refreshing to hear from a male pastor that women should not have to put up with porn. I begged for guidance from the church with poor results, and did have to make the decision of divorce totally on my own.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Barbara. Thanks for sharing some of your story here. It is heartbreaking when churches are incapable of giving good guidance in messy situations like this.

      • S on

        I’m sorry for you. The lying & covering up is familiar to me. I just accepted it & feel like a fool. It started at the beginning of our marriage. It continues off & on. It’s wrong, but he told me he was sorry & wouldn’t do it anymore. 22 years….. He’s a Christian. :(. I’m happy to know I’m not alone in this.

    2. Kay Bruner on

      Thank you for such a compassionate response to a difficult question. I have had women ask me this same thing, and while my answer was similar to yours, I didn’t have the Greek to back me up. It’s great to have this insight. Also, thank you for your passion to support women through this heart-breaking circumstance. I will say that most of us do feel abandoned by the church. Hardly any churches will talk about it, much less provide anything to help. Most of us are having to find our way alone. Keep talking to your pastor friends for us, please.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Kay. Thanks for the reply.

        Please, keep in mind there are many pastors and theologians who would disagree with Wilson’s take on this passage and the meaning of porneia. I would commit to really studying this definition and context before you come to the conclusion that this is the meaning behind Jesus’ words.

        Here’s a paper written by Christian counselor Brad Hambrick about the same subject where he comes to a different conclusion, but also deals with the nuances of the issue very compassionately.

        In the end, I think that no matter where you come down on the “grounds for divorce” question, the need for the church to step up its game in this area is huge. Far too many churches don’t know how to talk knowledgeably about the issue, even within their own theological tradition.

    3. Becky on

      Brad Hambrik’s article is very interesting. I don’t agree with his conclusion. To say that porn is not biblical grounds for divorce is to say that it is not sexually immoral. So why then does he go into detail about correcting this non-sin? Comparing adultery to murder is a stretch. The Bible DOES say sexual immorality is grounds for divorce (not just “adultery” — intercourse).

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Becky,

        So, if I understand you correctly, all sexual immorality is grounds for divorce? Does this mean each fleeting lustful thought, if the spouse is aware of it, give that person grounds for divorce? I’m not trying to be coy. I’m just trying to understand what you mean (or what you think the Bible means) by sexual immorality and its relation to divorce.

    4. ICG on

      Comparing adultery to murder isn’t a “stretch.” Jesus mentioned both in Matt. 5, one right after another, as parallel examples. If porn use always = adultery = “Now I can get out of this marriage!” loophole, then hateful thoughts always = murder = life in prison/lethal injection.

      That’s not to say that unrepentant, habitual porn use can’t be grounds for divorce. However, if all lust is equivalent to adultery, then hardly any of us could get married. Very, very few men have never lusted with some form of porn (even an SI Swimsuit Issue or lingerie ad), and very few women haven’t done the same with female porn (romance novels, chick flicks, etc.).

      What I’d like to see addressed is when a wife refuses to have sex after porn use…even when a man has repented and been “clean” from porn for a year or more. It certainly doesn’t help in the ongoing battle against lust.

      Reply
    5. Jason Whittington on

      We have to remember that many people who are addicted to pornography addicted to pornography, and many of us guys have been in chains since before we were married and we don’t know how to be free of the shackles. With that said, a man’s (or woman’s) refusal to repent and turn to God WHOLE-HEARTEDLY once the true Gospel is revealed to them is what keeps them in bondage, and that repentance is a gift from God. If that gift of repentance is rejected, they are not saved. Without repentance there can be no salvation. You cannot go in two different directions at once. Is being in bondage reason for divorce? I don’t believe so. However, a refusal to break free from bondage through deep repentance (and this is much, much more that repenting of the sin itself, it’s repenting of the roots of pornography addiction, which is usually pride), meaning a rejection of Jesus Christ is.

      Reply
      • francis on

        Jason, what is deep repentance? It is the work of Christ to free men from their chains and make them His free men.

    6. Missy on

      I experienced this with my husband shortly after we married, we lived with his grandma whose also the pastor and did not get involved in that problem, she allowed it in her home starting with magazines he was bringing in and then watching it, I told him I would not tolerate it on our marriage he told me it was my fault that he looks at it. His grandma has him in two different ministry positions at the church and is quick to judge me on my past but sweeps her own grandsons sin under the rug like it’s not a big deal.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Missy,

        Are there other leaders at the church, or just his grandma? I’m asking because since he’s in a position of leadership, he is should be accountable to the leaders of his church for his character. If you have confronted him about it and he has refused to do something, it is time to bring another person along with you to confront him—preferably someone who is responsible for his ministry. In the absence of another leader, I would choose someone he respects who has the ability to be lovingly confrontive.

        I’m so sorry you are in this position, Missy. No wife should ever have to deal with this. For the record: It is NOT your fault that your husband looks at porn. Read this article about that, and be sure to download the e-book at the bottom of the article: Porn and Your Husband (it’s completely free and will answer some of your pressing questions).

    7. Bridget on

      You ask at what point luster would be equavalant to adultery and there was a statement of repeated, unrepentant porn use rising to the level of porneia. I agree with all Pastor Doug Wilson said except the “rising to the level”. That’s like saying that the typically agreed upon “intercourse” adultery would only “rise to the level” after having been repeatedly unrepentant. Ludicrous. Of course, any and all lustful thoughts would not be considered so. But, when the luster turns into extramarital sexual gratification; it has transformed from simply “lust” into something completely different and, after all the previous information, I shouldn’t even have to state what it has become. But, please, let that sink in with another word picture- the use of another person other than one’s spouse to reach sexual fulfillment.

      Reply
    8. Bridget on

      Ugg. Auto-correct. Of course, where my comment says “luster”, it was meant to be “lust”.

      Reply
      • Kaye white on

        What do you do or what do you think about your husband that is involved with gay porn and has kept it a secret for 28 years? Lost a job because of it . Was confronted 5 years before that due to his internet history . Forgave him twice and then found out he was going to gay sites and being involved with 8 men online, Had a relationship online with one man for a year and they had talked about getting together. Took him back but live in fear of this happening again . It gets worse each time he goes back to it . He doesn’t confess until he is caught. No one knows about it in my family . I feel like I’m protecting everyone but dying inside. No one talks about this type of porn ! Is he gay ? She I stay?

      • Kay Bruner on

        Well, it sounds like regardless of the gender or sexual orientation involved in his behavior, your husband hasn’t been able to deal with his own choices in a healthy way. Whether he’s gay or straight, you have to think about what boundaries are healthy for you in this situation. I would suggest finding a counselor just for you, someone who can help you process your emotions and think about healthy boundaries. A group might be helpful to you, and there’s also a wonderful set of resources and connections online at Bloom for Women.

        I don’t know if he’s gay or not. The possibility of being part of the LGBTQ community is a really hard burden to bear in our Christian context today, and it may not be something he’s able to deal with.

        However, that doesn’t mean that you need to be yet another victim in a sad situation. You can still make healthy choices for yourself, no matter how he decides to deal with his sexuality.

        Peace to you,
        Kay

    9. patricia on

      Oh boy do I ever think that continued porn use is grounds for divorce! Porn is vile filth from hell. A man who is bringing that into his home is subjecting his family to destructive evil.

      I want to hasten to say that I don’t condemn such a man as I have also had experience with the pull towards porn and I grew up in a home full of it and watched it slowly turn my father into a sex addict and outright perv. So yes, continued unrepentant porn use is grounds for divorce in my opinion as is any continued and unrepentant sin or treachery. Does it make sense that the wrong male member in the wrong female parts is grounds for divorce, but engaging in bullying and abusing your wife isn’t? Or dealing with your wife in such a way as to utterly deny the vows made to love honor and cherish?

      I realize that many hold the view that marriage is indissoluble except by death but that makes no sense. I don’t believe God would have permitted Moses to permit divorce if one was still bound to the first spouse no matter what. Is God stuck with us for all eternity no matter what we do? Was the church stuck with a sinning and unrepentant professing believer no matter what he did? It makes no sense that someone is bound to a person who is choosing evil with no intention of ever leaving it, when evil destroys.

      As for churches being able to help women in confronting their husbands, most churches these days seem to react by blaming the wife for not being submissive enough, not providing sex on demand and pressure her to continue to show “grace” by remaining in the marriage and tolerating it no matter how long it goes on. Look at how churches react when men abuse their wives in other ways. The woman becomes the focus as if she has caused the abuse, the man successfully recruits the support of the leaders by acting Christian and showing remorse and then the woman is pressured now to forgive and remain married even though she’s been through this whole process usually many times already.

      Most pastors/christians are utterly clueless about such things and about what scripture would actually say about it and they foolishly value marriage over the persons in it. They misapply teaching on grace so that it actually provides cover for evil and silences the wife behind a heavy duty guilt trip that she is displeasing God by not staying and putting up with it forever.

      No, I am afraid that I would be very dubious about recommending a woman let the church decide for her when enough is enough. That has to be her decision. Perhaps way back when, when churches weren’t full of the world and compromise and weren’t more like the Christian entertainment centers and social clubs they are today, that would be wise advise to seek help. But really, most Christians and churches are far more concerned with saving a marriage at all costs so how on earth can they help with such an intense and almost idolatrous bias?

      Reply

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