If you had 30- 40 minutes in front of an audience of pastors and counselors, what would you say? What about if the topic was limited to sex and porn addiction?
This was the situation that I, as an author and wife of a recovering pornography addict, found myself in a couple weeks ago in Auckland, New Zealand. The event was a New Zealand first—a four-day training in sexual addiction for counselors and church leaders by IACSAS: The International Association of Certified Sex Addiction Specialists.
Pornography addiction has reached epidemic proportions all over the world, and New Zealand is no exception. According to a study conducted by Family Safe Media, New Zealand has the third highest rate per capita in the world of pornography consumption. A 2009 government study shows that New Zealand teens (15-17) are the largest group of consumers of child pornography in the country. Sex offending rates here are so high that only a few years ago it was the number one reason a person was likely to be incarcerated.
These are important facts for counselors and clergy to be aware of. However, what I decided to talk to the IACSAS trainees about was, not so much the porn industry’s direct victims (sex workers and porn addicts), but its collateral damage. I was there to talk about the suffering of those in relationship with the porn consumer – particularly the wives of sex addicts.
Last year, as part of the research for my book Beyond Betrayal: How God is Healing Women (and Couples) from Infidelity – I conducted the largest worldwide survey of wives of sex addicts. In that survey, and the two that followed, hundreds of women shared their stories: stories of traumatic stress reactions, harmful therapeutic treatment models, and spiritual crisis.
Over the next several weeks I’ll summarize what I shared with the IACSAS attendees about these various issues. These points are also captured in the video presentation, Compassion, which I aired at the event.
Betrayal Causes Trauma
The first point I made is that marital betrayal, in any form, can traumatize. This understanding of betrayal’s effects was first put forward by therapists Dr. Barbara Steffens and Dr. Omar Minwalla. Over the past decade women around the world have said they find that this “trauma model” resonates with them in their experience of their husband’s betrayal. This is equally true whether the betrayal was a physical affair with intercourse, or infidelity in a non-physical form such as porn use.
In fact 98% of the nearly 700 respondents to my first survey said they suffered symptoms of trauma on discovery of their husband’s infidelity. Said one respondent, “I have had three severe anxiety attacks. After the first one was witnessed by my children, I began to keep a paper bag in my nightstand drawer.”
Another respondent stated: “[I experienced] terror and an inability to gain control of my life especially as a parent. [I] couldn’t leave the house except very short excursions. [I had] feelings of being trapped.”
Moreover, many women recounted experiencing bouts of anger or rage (87%) and struggles with depression (93%).
Partner Trauma and Health
Survey respondents also noted the shock and trauma of discovering their husband’s porn use, and other forms of sexual addiction, affected their physical health.
Health effects were sometimes immediate and violent such as with the following respondents:
- “I went catatonic on the floor for about two hours.”
- “I lost my menstrual cycle for nine months.”
- “I suffered a mild heart attack.”
- “I suffered a miscarriage.”
In other cases, the effects of betrayal trauma on a woman’s health were more gradual. Thus, survey responses included such accounts as:
- “I developed IBS.”
- “My startle reflex was out of control, I’d know he was in the room and after a long silence just him speaking would cause me to jump through the roof.”
- “I lost significant weight, then regained even more weight.”
Other health effects reported were disrupted sleep (82%), mental confusion (75%), and disruption to normal eating habits (69%).
Thus, there can be little question that marital betrayal, in such forms as porn use, hits wives hard. However, as I demonstrate in Compassion (and hope to show in this series of articles…) the story doesn’t have to end there.
Sam Black of Covenant Eyes was another presenter at the IACSAS New Zealand event. Like my own message, Sam’s involved some uncomfortable statistics about how our pornified culture is harming families. However, his message didn’t end there either. Event attendees walked away from Sam’s talk better equipped to help parents prevent the porn steamroller from flattening the next generation.
That’s good news for children, teens, men, and women down under.