3 minute read

So Does That Make Me an Adulterer?

Last Updated: June 29, 2015

Joe Dallas
Joe Dallas

Joe Dallas is the Program Director of Genesis Counseling. He is also the author of several books, including, The Game Plan: The Men's 30-Day Strategy for Attaining Sexual Integrity. He is a pastoral counselor and a popular conference speaker. For more than three years Joe taught and conducted the nationally recognized Every Man’s Battle conference as the originating Program Director, and from 1991 to 1993, he served as the President of Exodus International. Joe and his wife Renee reside in Orange County, California, with their two sons.

“But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28

For over 28 years I’ve heard the question from married men who’ve used porn: “Did I commit adultery? Can my wife divorce me now? Is she right when she says porn use is the same as cheating?”

Does porn equal adultery

Not to duck the question, but let me first point out that sometimes, questions like this can be an evasion. In an attempt to minimize the seriousness of their sin, lots of men compare their wrongdoing to other, more serious ones. So the guy who’s rude and bossy with his wife might say, “Well, at least I don’t knock you around like some wife-beaters do!” Or the guy who drinks too much will say, “Hey, at least I don’t use heroin!” True, perhaps, but comparing the severity of one wrong to another usually means a guy wants to justify his sin by minimizing it.

Still, it’s a legitimate question. Because some wives, in the throes of shock and pain when they discover their husband’s porn use, quote the Matthew 5 verse cited above as justification for a divorce. “You looked and you lusted,” they declare, “and that’s the same as adultery! And since Matthew 19:9 says adultery is Biblical grounds for divorce, we’re finished.”

Which prompts the husband to protest: “Yes, I used porn. But does that really make me an adulterer?”

Technically, no. But technically, yes. And, as Sir Thomas Moore famously said, “I trust I make myself sufficiently vague.” Let’s unpack this.

There is the literal act of adultery—the unlawful sexual knowledge of someone other than your wife—and there is behavior which does not technically qualify as adultery but is adulterous in nature. And the difference between adultery and adulterous is specific, and huge.

By way of analogy, let’s look at murder. All of us would agree that for something to qualify as a murder, it has to involve the unjust taking of another person’s life. That seems pretty clear cut.

Only it isn’t. Because John had this to say on the topic:

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (I John 3:15)

Clearly he’s referring to hatred as something murderous, a terrible sin of the heart. But would any of us really advocate the death penalty for everyone who hates? Sinful as that may be, surely the police won’t knock on my door if they heard I’m guilty of hating someone, because the literal act of murder is a far cry from the sin of murderous, internal hatred.

For that matter, in our church relations, we expect our pastors and elders to live exemplary lives. But consider the difference between these two scenarios: A pastor confessing to his board that he’s been harboring hatred in his heart towards a difficult church member, versus a pastor confessing to his board that he just shot and buried that pesky parishioner.

Doubtless the board’s response, much less their official actions, wouldn’t be the same in both cases. If the pastor murdered the parishioner in his heart by hating him, they’d pray with that pastor, encouraging him to seek healing and reconciliation. Perhaps they’d even determine that the pastor’s hatred has reached a point at which he needs to take a few weeks off. But so long as his sin remains internal, it’s doubtful they’d ask for his resignation.

So it is with lust and adultery. Adultery of the heart is, per Jesus Himself, a sin, and a serious one at that. The married man who commits it through porn use has betrayed his wife brutally, forsaking her fountain for images thrown at him from a stranger. This is no minor infraction, like coming home late for dinner or forgetting to pay the gas bill. It’s a deliberate, heinous violation, and no wife should be expected to tolerate it.

But to classify it as grounds for divorce is, to my thinking, as wrong as classifying murder of the heart as grounds for execution. So to the man whose wife is threatening divorce over his porn use, I would suggest making a few points clear to her, in hopes of reconciliation and healing.

1. First, you recognize the severity of what you’ve done, and see it as nothing short of violation which is adulterous in nature, but not the same as literal adultery.

2. Second, you will not only renounce this unclean habit, but you’ll take concrete, practical steps to help insure that you won’t return to it. You’ll make full use of the Covenant Eyes resources, and will establish accountability and deeper investments of prayer and scripture reading to build yourself up spiritually and emotionally.

3. Finally, you fully understand why she feels you’ve cheated, because, in fact, you did. You didn’t literally engage with another person, but you cheated your wife of that essence of yourself which is, by rights, hers and hers only (I Corinthians 7:4) Your sexuality, including your organs and your energy, is no toy you’re entitled to indulge for your private pleasures. It’s hers, meant to be shared and invested in a union the two of you created and sustain. Your behavior disrupted that union, and that alone warrants swift and serious remedial action.

So act now. Because if your sin does not technically qualify as adultery, that hardly minimizes its severity. Your wife’s anguish testifies against you, and the interruption of your home, not to mention your integrity, should be enough to motivate you to do whatever it takes to make this right.

By God’s grace, may you do just that.

  • Comments on: So Does That Make Me an Adulterer?
    1. LMAO

      The bible contradicts itself everywhere and if you think that looking at a nude woman is adultery then every man in the world is an adulterer. Furthermore, why not hold women accountable because I don’t give a dang what the statistics say — ALL women look at porn.

      I am tired of all this nonsense that all men are evil and women are these little saints sitting at home pining away because their man virtually cheated on them. It is nonsense and people live in a dream world if they think women are saints.

      There is a reason Christianity is going by the wayside in this world. Articles like this is why and don’t say the bible said people would attack Christianity. No — Christianity made it a self-fulfilling prophecy by making everything evil.

      • Hey there LMAO,

        You mention a few things in your comment. Let me see if I can reply one by one.

        1. “Bible contradicts itself everywhere.” Like where? I know there are probably a lot of perceived contradictions, just as there are perceived contradictions in every large piece of literature, but can you give me any examples?

        2. “If you think that looking at a nude woman is adultery then every man in the world is an adulterer.” Correct. It’s a good thing this article doesn’t even come close to saying that.

        3. “Why not hold women accountable because I don’t give a dang what the statistics say — ALL women look at porn.” Possibly. A lot do, that’s for sure. Covenant Eyes is available for both men and women. Here are some great resources we’ve compiled for women who struggle with porn. I guess I’m not following you. Are you assuming that because we write articles targeted to men who watch porn we think women don’t watch porn?

        4. “People live in a dream world if they think women are saints.” Agreed. It’s a good thing this article isn’t living in a dream world.

        5. “Christianity is going by the wayside in this world.” Here is where we disagree greatly. Christianity is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. You’re really making an unfounded statement here.

      • Gail

        No all women do not look at porn. I never had until I accidentally saw what my spouse was looking at. What I saw was perverse and immoral at the very least. I was shocked. It was not just about looking at women’s bodys or of two people having sex, perhaps I could have come to terms with that. But rather it was of women being abused and objectified and the thing he was reading was of incest and worse …NO I do not look at porn and I wish I could unsee and unread the things I discovered.

      • David

        Here is where we disagree greatly. Christianity is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. You’re really making an unfounded statement here.

        Well, LMAO is half right. Christianity is declining worldwide except in third-world countries (see links below). The only religion outpacing Christianity is Islam and from a Christian’s perspective, that is a worrying trend.

        Millennials leaving church in droves, study finds

        Islam Double in Number, While Christianity Decline Worldwide Except in Asia, Africa: Report

      • I might phrase it a slightly different way, David. To say Christianity is declining worldwide except in third world countries is like saying porn use is declining except in places where the Internet is accessible. :) I suppose I might phrase it slightly more positively: Christianity is experiencing tremendous growth over the last several decades except in its more traditional strongholds.

        Thanks for the links. Very informative.

      • Norbert Jones


        Indeed. The sad irony to come in the not so distant future: feminists in Europe (who chose not to have children) will live under Sharia law because of the demographic shift that they brought about.

      • Robert carr

        The greater sin is withholding sex that leads to masturbation. If a woman can not fully satisfy her spouses sexual needs, he must masturbate or cheat. Denying him masturbatory aids like erotic images adds cruelty to to the cold hearted sin of marital neglect.

        If you think cold showers and pure thoughts are the way to salvation you are delusional. To just stifle your sexual needs is not healthy physically or emotionally. If you are not finding sexual fulfillment, you should be masturbating enough to keep you free from sexual want. Erotica helps make this activity quicker and sometimes more pleasant.

        If you wish people to not use pornography, find other ways to make masturbation more appealing. God did not give us the need for sexual release only to proscribe its fulfillment.

      • Wow. Really? This is what man is reduced to: he’s just a slave to his sexual impulses?

    2. kim

      If his pornography REMAINS unrepented, it IS grounds for divorce. The betrayal of heart and lack of repentance has severed the relationship, unless he truly is repentant then ALL efforts for restoration should be made. Porn is breaking a covenant and MUSt be turned away from or should rightly end in divorce before God.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hey Kim, I agree with you that porn breaks the covenant of marriage and without repentance, divorce is certainly an option. Thanks for sharing. Kay

      • Lupe

        Robert Carr

        Withholding sex is not the only reason someone turns to porn. If that’s the case, then how much sex is required or enough? I speak from experience when I say you can have sex three to five times a week and if that person is addicted, it’s still not enough! I was not made (by God) to be a sexual slave to his addiction, twisted fetishes or desires. My body was not put here on earth to be used, we should be making love for loves sake and to procreate. Not to satisfy a kink. Child molesters are know to use this excuse, “I couldn’t help myself, the wife wasn’t giving me what I needed!” I speak from personal experience on that too!

      • Kay Bruner

        Thanks for speaking up on this, Lupe. Whenever I find people blaming others–as in this example, a man blames his porn use on a woman withholding sex–I tend to feel there is unresolved shame in that person’s life. They know they’re not being healthy, but they can’t face that reality, so they blame others.

        The way forward is not to blame others, but to take responsibility for ourselves, as you say here.

        Thanks again for speaking up! Kay

      • Koko

        Nonsense. Saying porn, masturbation and adultery are the same will neutralize the effect and push people into the main adultery itself

    3. Another great and truthful article by Joe. I have been following his blog for years. It is always a pleasure reading his thoughts.

      LMAO. Sorry you feel the way you do friend. Yes, at one time or another every man and woman has committed adultery in their heart. Which means nothing more than we are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s holiness and are indeed in need of a Savior.

    4. Juli

      I disagree one hundred percent. Porn use is adultery. Multiple studies show that when a person is watching poem, their brain literally registers it as having sex, their body literally thinks they’ve participated in the act. That’s why it’s so addicting. They can watch multiple images and videos a night. They can have sex essentially over and over again, creating that chemical release and that endorphin rush over and over again.
      If a person were to hate another person that would not make them a murderer. However, if said hater were to do something that tricked their brain into thinking they were murdering that other being, that would be different. If they were able to trick their brain into thinking they were muedering lots of people regularly, that would be different.
      My husband is an adulterer. He let his brain think he was having sex with multiple women nightly for years. When he finally tried to quit his body went through crazy withdrawals. He hadn’t been just looking at women and thinking they’re hot and he wouldn’t mind seeing more of them. That would be lusting. He’d been watching people have Alex. He had been letting his brain think he was participating. He had been masturbating while watching other women get naked.
      He had been committing adultery.

      • Kit

        I agree with you wholeheartedly! If I hadn’t seen the author’s name I would have guessed it was a man…My husband went undetected for 30 years of our marriage obsessing over porn with compulsive masturbation. Waiting until I was not at home, when I went to sleep and even ignoring our children when he was supposed to be caring for them! All the while he was distant and not engaging in our relationship. I was led to believe that I was at fault! But when he finally disclosed to me I realized that I had wasted my time trying to improve a relationship he had no use for. Unless of course as a maid, cook, caregiver, and supplier of additional income; which by the way supported his strip club habit unbeknownst to me!
        Adultery? Cheating? YES!

      • Sean

        And there are studies out there that masturbation with or without the use of porn (fantasies) is actually normal. I applaud the lady in here who “had never looked at porn until she had to”. Did she ask her husband how she can be of assistance, or just jump in and condemn? Masturbation and fantasy is actually pretty normal and I would argue, God given. There is a balance between what is normal and what is excessive and addictive, and everyone has different thresholds.


        And one lady in here said sex was just for procreation. What bunk!!! Read the songs of Solomon if your bible actually printed those chapters.

        The problem here is that making someone wrong in their actions or desires based on your own values creates shame and the misguided requirement of repentance. Just in that, your own values are skewed. It also places control in one person over the other, which the Bible also disputes. There are two sides to much of this. Why does one lady in here say “she is not an outlet for his desires” when in Soloman it says just that, and also that both sides should do their best to satisfy and pleasure their partners?

        My wife has a sexual dysfunction where she does not want to make love to me. It’s mainly a mental issue brought on by childhood issues. And she is highly intelligent, which further Compounds this issue with by logical and illogical arguments she backs up with biblical verses, as we have seen in this tread. Yet prior to marriage she was willing 3-4 times a week. That in itself is a conflict as premarital sex is not the Christian way. 3-4 times a year these days is not sufficient in my opinion. And these days the narrative that porn is adultery backed up by bible verses is counter productive and only adds shame and better-than attitudes. Instead wouldn’t it be better to teach women the importance this physical pleasure is to their man and have her focus his desires on her? And to teach men that his wife might feel disheartened and hurt if he has desires elsewhere?

        His desire should be focused on her beauty and her flower (using a Solomon reference) and she could keep that focus by understanding the beauty in her flower and attending to his desires. It’s not something to lord over one another, it is to share.

        Use of porn in a lot of cases is a symptom of other issues. Yes it’s a character flaw, but it is not the end-all. Rather than judge, as most Christians do, why not lean in, come along side, and approach it with how can I help? Wives, how can you help? I would appreciate it very much if my wife cared and loved me enough to do this for me.

        Kit, I’m sorry to hear of your pain. And, what other story can you create that builds your husband up and draws him near? What about him caused that use for 30 years? Where did it come from? As his partner, where can you help? Based on your response, I wonder why he disclosed it at all. Easy to condemn, not so easy to come along side, as Jesus leads us to do.

    5. Pete

      After reading this article and all the comments and replies, I have but one thing to say to all. STOP WHATEVER IT IS YOU’RE DOING AND TURN TO GOD! I lost my wife, my respect, friends, family members and so much more because of my porn use. It IS an addiction and it IS harmful to your brain. Because of my actions and selfishness I served time and am a REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER. My addiction and use of porn started waaaaaay back when the internet wasn’t even a thought. Over 20+ years of magazines,videos,mail order subscriptions and stealing women and young girls panties……I GOT CAUGHT! At first I thought my life was over, but soon i would find that it was quite the opposite, IT WAS JUST BEGINNING! I wound up in the VA psch ward because I was suicidal and God sent an angel to SAVE me! I still struggle with my addiction especially the way society deems TV shows and commercials to be ok. But with God in control of my life now, that road is a lot less bumpy. YOU STILL HAVE A VERY DIFFICULT JOB TO MAINTAIN, BUT GOD IS IN CONTROL NOW……I JUST FOLLOW!!! As I said earlier that I lost so much, I am thankful today for losing my porn desire. I truly hope this helps at least ONE of you, and you can make the right choice (STOP AND TURN IT OVER TO GOD) before it’s too late. God bless I love you all!!!! CHRISTIANITY IS DEAD…..ONLY IF CHRISTIANS LET IT BE!!!!!

    6. Vickie

      By God’s grace, indeed, it’s the only way. Well said. I have found out recently about my husband’s porn use and God has been merciful in healing for both of us. The analogy of lust/adultery and hate/murder is puzzling to me. It’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges, but in a problematic way if one doesn’t think about the rest of the effects caused by porn. In the scenario of the hate “as the terrible sin of the heart”, the “sin remains internal”. The use of porn never remains internal and is not just lust. Porn affects the spouse of the individual using it in so many ways. Watching porn changes the desire to be one with their spouse in a loving selfless way to just using them as a body while fantasizing about abusive, degrading humiliating scenes they have seen in porn. Porn changes the way the watcher treats their spouse by making them an angry, selfish, disrespectful person that doesn’t want intimacy or cherish their spouse. A covenant is broken when porn is used in marriage. I urge you to read An Open Letter to Wives of Porn Addicts on Covenant Eyes to see how much porn is not kept internal, is not just lust but SO much more, and shouldn’t be compared to another sin of the heart that is kept internal.

    7. Love one another

      Hello to everyone. First I would like to bring you to the scripture that was used earlier, 1 Cor 7:4. The Lord is warning us that withholding sex from our spouse could lead to adultery. Now, this does not make it right to cheat but this is telling us that marriage was not just for procreation. Paul said that he wished all were unmarried like him, so if this truly happened there would be no more child births because reproduction come from sex and if every christian were unmarried there would be no children. I know he was talking about the times they were living in but it seems like we’re living in a similar time. That’s another subject for another time. Anyway, He said but because of fornication and people burning with the need for sex, it’s better to get married. Both parties should understand this before they get married and of course, marriage is not to abuse anyone sexually as a sex slaves but sexual needs should be fulfilled. I’m not talking to the men and women who truly are trying to fulfill each others needs but to the ones who have gone after worldly desires that have caused them to neglect their spouses physical needs. God gave us something so special that is more fulfilling than anything on earth but because it has been defiled by fornication and evil uses, it has been viewed as just something to do. The bible calls it a mystery. God knew what we needed to keep our marriages strong and healthy and if he says in His word to not neglect one another we are not to do it. Porn is wrong and it is definitely a sin but if the person who is watching it is doing so because their spouse is neglecting them I can I understand why they are doing it. That’s why communication is important. The question is do you get divorced, try cheating, masturbate praying that you are doing it to images of your spouse or accept the situation and do nothing, which is tremendously hard to do, but with Christ we can do all things. Oh and just to mention, I’m going through my wife telling me that she doesn’t want to have sex anymore because we disagree on child rearing. Sometime procreation could lead to no sex, which is wrong. God bless

    8. Chris

      I use to watch porn as a means to masturbate but since realising how serious it was I have stopped its Adultery pure and simple been married 7 years and my wife hate sex lovemaking kissing or any sort of intimacy so I am left high and dry literally i go through phases where I felt like cheating on her i felt that our marriage was a sham and even contemplated leaving her and staying single again..none of that has happened because I do love her and I have to work very hard on that and commit it to God its difficult being in a loveless marriage

      • Moriah Bowman


        Praise God that you have given up porn, but I am sorry to hear that your marriage is struggling. Have you and your wife considered counseling? Perhaps she is struggling with intimacy due to the previous porn usage. Of course, there may be other reasons, but counseling would be a great place to start at digging into the root of the issue. I want to commend you for staying married and working hard on being porn-free. Please don’t give up. God walks us through trials so that we will come out stronger on the other side. Keep clinging to Him as your source of hope and joy.


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