6 minute read

Will a Better Sex Life Keep Porn at Bay?

Last Updated: July 29, 2021

Brad Hambrick
Brad Hambrick

Brad Hambrick serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, NC. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, has authored several books including God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles, and served as general editor for the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused (churchcares.com) project.

Whose side am I going to take?

  • The defeated husband who feels like his unresponsive wife is hanging him out to dry with his temptation or the betrayed wife who feels like she’s being blamed for her husband’s sinful choices?
  • The single person who “knows” sexual temptation will be less intense when there is legitimate sexual outlet or the married person who thought that would be true but feels more isolated by their sin because it is now against someone they love (not just God)?
  • The biblical literalist who believes 1 Corinthians 7:5 is a promise for how God intends to extinguish sexual burning or the pragmatist who says real sex will never satiate a fantasy sex appetite?

Before going further, begin by acknowledging where you are and where you have been for each of those questions. Chances are you’ve been on both sides of at least one of them—probably more than one if you’re married.

  • Feeling defeated and abandoned vs. Feeling betrayed and blamed
  • Single hoping for the marriage fix vs. Married and frustrated marriage didn’t “fix it”
  • Claiming Biblical advice as a promise from God vs. Being a “realist” and thinking we’re talking about apples and oranges

What do we gain from this reflection? We realize neither side is satisfying. One side may better capture what is true, but doesn’t really tell us what to do.

  • Pout in self-defeat until your wife wants to have more sex.
  • Force yourself to passionately engage sex as a form of relational self-protection.
  • Keep telling yourself this will all go away when I get married.
  • Live in disbelief that marriage doesn’t eliminate lust and the desire self-centered pleasure.
  • Expect just one approach to resolve something as multi-faceted as arousal.
  • Refuse to do what you can do until a holistic approach is understand, agreed upon, and engaged.

Do any of those options sound appealing? No, and that’s the problem.

The title of this article is a truth-question (what to believe), but we ask it to get a procedural answer (what to do). When the former doesn’t lead to the latter, we feel stuck, betrayed, or abandoned. It’s not that the former isn’t important. What we believe is vitally important. But it’s often not what we’re after. There is no need to throw away your fork just because you need a spoon at the moment.

So the better question becomes, “What should we do when we are tempted by pornography (or any other form of lust)?” We immediately recognize that this question is larger and not as neat. That is good, because it fits the life challenge in front of us better than a question that can have a yes-no answer.

The suggestions that I make below are not meant to be exhaustive; instead they are representative of healthier way to think about the relationship between a healthy sex life and temptation towards pornography.

For married couples and singles:

  • Realize real sex will never compete with fantasy sex. If you have an appetite for read-your-mind, on-demand, narratively-diverse sex with a sound track, marriage will not provide that. Your spouse is not an actor and you do not get to be the script-writer for their desires and response to you.
  • Realize a real spouse can’t compete with a professional sex athlete; that is what a porn star is. You can’t introduce a camera, which implies an audience, and a sliding compensation scale based on the demand for your work and sex remain intimacy. At that point sex is a performance (a.k.a. collective prostitution). That’s not what marriage provides.
  • Pornography is relational debt; all short-term fun with no relational equity. The more you engage, the more you want until you realize you’re bankrupt.
  • We must also accept that pornography is not a thing to be deserved; meaning a sentence beginning with “I just need” cannot legitimately end with “pornography.” Porn is a liability not an asset. Until we make this fundamental perspective change about pornography, our logic regarding pornography will be incoherent. Our ability to have a productive conversation will be non-existent; whether we are married or single.

For married couples:

  • Begin with a distinction between marriage enrichment (practices to make a good marriage better) and marriage restoration (actions taken to fix something broken in a marriage). Most often the “will better sex fix porn” question confuses enrichment with restoration. If we do what we should have been doing all along, then we don’t have to address what we shouldn’t have been doing, right? Wrong.
  • The spouse engaging in pornography needs to take full responsibility for his-her actions. Anything that “shares” responsibility for personal sin is blame-shifting (if asked for) and codependency (if accepted). A relationship is only “safe” if this is understood. Being a co-sinner does not mean be co-responsible for a particular sin.
  • The spouse engaging in pornography has two primary goals: (a) purity of self and (b) protection of spouse. If personal satisfaction usurps either of these goals, then the mindset that made pornography seem acceptable is gaining a foothold again. This means obtaining the level of accountability and guidance necessary to provide your spouse with peace of mind, even if it is costly to your personal reputation.
  • In response, the battle of the other spouse is to resist defining your spouse by his-her sin. When “what you’ve done” becomes “who you are,” then romantic interest is stifled. This is one important aspect of what it means to forgive. This is a vital part of seeing your spouse as the “person” you fell in love with instead of the “action” you detest.
  • The interim period between restoration and enrichment is a time for sex to be restored to its more accurate level of importance. When we are willing to sin in order to get something, it has become too important. When something is too important it cannot satisfy. In order for sex to be satisfying in a way that offsets temptation, it must become less important so it can be more satisfying. Until we recalibrate the value we place on sex increasing the frequency of sex will not have the temptation-alleviating effect we desire.

For singles:

  • Resist the lie that marriage fixes lust. Look at the number of sexually-broken marriages and realize this is only a plausible lie. It makes sense why we believe it. It’s just not true.
  • Don’t beat yourself up for feeling sexually frustrated. That only makes temptation more difficult. The increasing gap of time between puberty and marriage makes for more sexual frustration.
  • Remember a bad marriage is not better than good singleness. Talk to anyone who’s been in a bad marriage and they’ll bring this to life for you. The moral freedom to have sex didn’t revolutionize their life.
  • Remember that over-valuing physical intimacy will make courtship more difficult. When sex becomes the reward for non-singleness, then we rush physicality and wind up creating more emotional connection-commitment to someone than our knowledge of their character would merit.
  • Accept the sexual frustration. This is different from feeding it or admitting defeat. God doesn’t think, “You shouldn’t feel this way.” God is honored when you trust him in the storm. At the time of Jesus’ death, he was a middle-aged single man. He gets it.
  • Distinguish “burning” (objectifying and visually violating someone’s body) from “yearning” (desiring companionship and closeness). Fight burning lust; it will never serve you well or honor your future spouse. Be patient with yearning; it will lead you to folly if unrestrained, but can serve friendships and marriage well.
  • Commit to choosing the paths that lead to life in the midst of your frustration. The ability to make wise choices in hard times is what builds character and makes you a trustworthy person. This struggle will not be wasted; while the alternative to struggling wisely will undermine the development of the kind of relationships that could actually fulfill your desire.
  • Spend more time pursing God-honoring things that you enjoy than fighting temptation. Put in wise safeguards and have quality accountability-friendships. But, after that, have a lot of fun doing the things God gave you’re a passion for with people who are also passionately pursuing God.

What now?

Does this article answer all your questions? No. Then, what is its value? Its value is the next conversations you have.

If you don’t talk about this article with anyone who knows you well, it will have little value; likely it will further sour your attitude that there is hope because good counsel “didn’t work for you” again.

If, however, you begin a conversation with your spouse (if married), a solid Christian friend, a pastor, mentor, or counselor, then there is great opportunity for growth. One of the lynchpins of pornography’s power is privacy. When we break through privacy with meaningful relationships, we begin to fight pornography on God’s home turf—Christian community.

You need someone to help you think through how to best apply these concepts to your context, to help you when you get lost in your own questions, to encourage you on your journey, to implore you when you want to quit, and to laugh with you so life doesn’t feel so weighty all the time. These are the things that real relationships provide that are more effective at quelling the temptation of pornography than even a “better marital sex.”

  • Comments on: Will a Better Sex Life Keep Porn at Bay?
    1. Greg on

      One more truth that needs to be added: Something I’m becoming highly aware of the more articles I read, and testimonies I hear is that sex in general isn’t just borked, but also overrated. Not just in the secular world, but also for the believer–for many of the reasons you mentioned, plus a whole lot more.

      The Christian community likes to pretend that the biblical model of sexual intimacy has no problems; but it does. Yes, it’s designed for our good, and before-after obedience/purity from husband and wife keeps it from being plagued by issues of sexual sin, but it has numerous other issues that can be equally as challenging.

      Reply
    2. Dann Aungst on

      Well said Brad;
      As a recovering addict and one that has done much damage to my divine partner, I now finally understand what you have outlined in this article. Sex is the final culmination of intimacy, not the end all goal. True authentic intimacy – as designed by God is the only true fulfilling experience. The intimacy of emotional, intellectual levels is as critical as physical (if not even more so), for the authentic experience.
      Thanks for your words
      Dann – http://www.roadtopurity.com

      Reply
    3. Joanna on

      When you are living with an unrepentent (over 30 yrs.) porn addict who refuses any counsel, help, or accountability, no amount of counseling “really” helps the spouse.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        It’s true that no amount of counseling can change the porn addict’s behavior. However, the spouse can learn to take responsibility for themselves, have good boundaries, and make healthy choices, regardless of the addict’s choices. In that regard, I think counseling can be helpful. But then, I’m a counselor, so I’m prejudiced! I think group work can be enormously helpful as well, and in the case of a 30+ year habit, I’d say S Anon would be the best choice. Al Anon might also be helpful, if that’s all you can find in your area. Blessings, Kay

    4. Joe on

      Great article. But to offer an–I hope–constructive criticism, you really need someone to edit this for grammar and typos. The content is too important to let easy-to-fix mistakes distract from and muddle the good advice Brad is giving.

      Reply
    5. David J. on

      Man, we really bend over backwards to avoid saying in public what is self-evidently true: Generally speaking, a better sex life will help keep porn at bay. And because we’re so skittish about acknowledging this, I now have to qualify the statement several ways: No, I’m not saying a wife’s sexual refusal excuses the use of porn or makes the porn use her fault instead of his. No, I’m not saying that the wife has to be sexually available even when she’s genuinely sick or otherwise indisposed. No, I’m not saying that every single man out there who uses porn will be helped by his wife’s willingness to have sex. Etc. Etc. But none of that changes the simple fact: the temptation to porn is easier to resist for the man who wants to resist it if he knows his wife is ready and willing to have sex with him than it would be for the same man when he knows his wife will refuse to have sex with him or will only condescend to endure sex with him, especially if the refusal or duty sex is a long-term situation. There — I’ve said it. You can begin preparing the tar and feathers.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        I’m not exactly sure who here is “bending over backwards” not to say something. What I read in Brad’s article seems pretty plain. He directly states sex is meant to be “satisfying in a way that offsets temptation.” The point of the article, however, is to address the extreme mentalities people have: the person who thinks sex has nothing do with porn temptation (obviously wrong) and the person who thinks it has everything to do with it (also wrong). I don’t see any disagreement between yourself and the author.

        To the person who thinks sex with a spouse is the key component, Brad challenges this by saying that when sex is an idol to us—something all-important—it ceases to actually satisfy us in a way that actually makes it a blessing, in a way that actually keeps porn temptations at bay.

      • Shellie K on

        Though many times women marry assuming that sex will be a safe place, and then later find out how their husband struggles with lust for fantasy women, and it kills any desire she ever had for him dead. But he wants what David wants, a wife who has as much desire for him as a porn star, or at least a similar level to the women in his favorite sitcom, without understanding that women don’t around the same way as the media portrays, that it’s up to him make her feel completely safe and wanted for her own *real* sexuality, instead of believing the way pop culture taught him that wives are supposed to want men without realizing that’s what he’s doing. What wife will want more sex when she’s required to act like the women in her husband’s fantasies to be seen as a desirable enough sex partner? If you were told that your natural penis size wasn’t enough to keep your wife from temptation how often would you let loose with her? Or would you feel self conscious about your sexuality?

    6. Lisa Watkins on

      To the answer to if sex will help over come the porn. I have had just recently found out my husband is a prom addict! The sex between us has become more than usual! I have wondered about this question myself because there is no struggle with him ! I’m the one struggling. Sometimes I feel like he has transferred his addiction towards me. I’ve had covenant eyes but he refuses to carry a phone so what good is it. He just denies anything that comes up but I have to say it’s from past entrees! The intimacy is not very good and I for one have found this to kill my own sexual desires! I look at this as a form of adultery! Which I have tried to forgive and to help him but I haven’t forgot! I do think it has opened his eyes to a lot of things he could has lost and swears he will never go down that road again! I think he’s in denial! I don’t think you can cure yourself from this In a month! Talking about it just get repetitive and angers me! I really could use some good answers and I think Brad was trying to answer this guestion as well as he could using biblical and sex with marriage what it should be!

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Lisa, you’re right–there’s no quick and easy cure for this. I’ve read authors who say you can expect recovery to take up to 5 years. The early experience of what’s been lost, of feeling sorry and wanting to quit, are all a good start, but they are just a start. That start has to be followed up with lots of hard work by both partners. He has to take responsibility for his choices, and you’ll need to take responsibility for processing through your emotions. I always recommend that spouses attend counseling and groups (Celebrate Recovery, S Anon, xxxchurch) for their own health, regardless of what their husbands choose to do. You be healthy, no matter what he chooses. Our free download, Hope After Porn, is the stories of several women in recovery–you might appreciate that. Blessings, Kay

    7. Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg on

      A marriage must strive for spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity. Like a three legged stool, one short leg and the marriage is unstable (some couples have great sex without relationalship, without spiritual maturity). Only with spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity can a couple apply 1 Cor. 7:2-5, and obey the exhortation: “Do not deprive one another.” Therefore, like all scripture, this passage must be read in the context of other scriptures. For example, without applying Eph. 5:22-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7, you have one or two short legs, even if the sex is great!

      Reply

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