4 minute read

Sex Isn’t the Solution to Your Husband’s Porn Problem

Last Updated: August 14, 2019

Jen Ferguson

Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy. She’s also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

In the first few moments after I found my husband Craig’s digital footprints that led me to his favorite porn sites, all I could see, feel, and speak revolved around rage. I was embarrassed (because clearly, I was not satisfying), angry (did we not just speak wedding vows to forsake all others?), and oddly vindicated, because (finally!) I had proof of something I had suspected for some time.

The truth is, after our first confrontation about this, I thought we would be done with that. He apologized. He saw my anger and my pain. He said he’d never do it again.

I believed him.

Why? Because that was eighteen years ago. I was twenty-three years old. I didn’t know anything about porn addiction, and honestly, very few other people—psychologists, doctors, researchers, pastors—did either. At the very least, if you Googled “porn addiction” back then, you wouldn’t see the myriad of articles and resources you see today.

I thought the threat of my impending wrath would be enough of a deterrent.

I was wrong.

Why Changing Your Sexual Behavior Won’t Help

As you may have guessed, the first time was not the last time my husband ventured into the world of porn, and it was not the end of our confrontations on the subject. Once I realized that this was clearly not going away on its own, I began to think of ways to keep him from it.

It seemed logical that if it was sexy girls he wanted, I would try to become whatever he desired. I lost weight. I tried to be more adventurous in the bedroom. At one point, I even bought a camera, but we are just going to leave that right there and not go into further explanation.

The truth is, none of it worked. The door to being treated like a porn actress (or actor, if your wife is addicted) is a door that must remain firmly closed. Aside from the fact that it’s simply dehumanizing, it’s also dangerous.

Porn Affects the Wiring of Your Brain

You may think, “Oh, my spouse would never ask me to do _________,” but it’s worth remembering that this is something that affects the very wiring of our brains.

Fight the New Drug reports that “in a survey of 1,500 young adult men, 56% said their tastes in porn had become ‘increasingly extreme or deviant.’ Once users start watching extreme and dangerous sex acts, things that were disgusting or morally shameful can start to seem normal, acceptable, and more common than they really are. One study found that people exposed to significant amounts of porn thought things like sex with animals and violent sex were twice as common as what those not exposed to porn believed. And when people believe a behavior is normal, they’re more likely to try it.”

I am extremely grateful that my husband’s porn addiction did not bring abuse into our marriage, though it had plenty of other ill-effects. When he was using, our sex life became lifeless because he was self-servicing and taking care of his own needs. In reality, it didn’t really matter what I did or didn’t do in the bedroom. I couldn’t compete with porn.

Related: 4 Ways Porn Warps the Male Brain

If More Sex Isn’t the Answer, What Is?

It was quite some time before Craig and I realized that his porn addiction had very little to do with sex. It had almost everything to do with a need to escape into fantasy. While the act of masturbation elicited sexual release and a flood of all the feel-good hormones, his primary motivation wasn’t because he wanted sex. It was because he wanted to engage in a world where the stresses and fears of his real life were regulated to the recesses of his mind.

Porn became a sort of respite from rejection, the pain of his past, and his fears of not having what it takes to be a man. He wanted the sensation of intimacy and connection without the risk that comes with developing that with another human being.

Once we recognized what drove him to porn, we began to work toward cultivating a true intimacy in our marriage. Because of the betrayal and hurt porn caused, it was a slow process, but one of the most reassuring things for Craig was knowing I was hurt, but I still loved him. I was betrayed, but I was still committed. My desire wasn’t for him to only modify his behavior (i.e. stop looking at porn), but to show me his true self.

Conversation and Communication Are Essential

It can be difficult to create safe spaces for vulnerability, but it is imperative for recovery for the addicted and for the betrayed person’s healing. Setting some ground rules for conversations can be abundantly helpful, especially when you know that emotions can easily become inflamed.

Here are some examples of some boundaries you may want to discuss before having intense conversations either about your childhood past, current behaviors, or feelings surrounding the addictive behaviors:

  • Appropriate/wanted physical contact during/after the conversations
  • Code word you can both use when you need a break from the conversation. At the mention of this word, the conversation ceases and you agree to come back together when you’ve both cooled down or processed what you need to process.
  • It’s okay to bring up a topic at any time, just as it is okay to say, “This is not a good time.” The person who declines the conversation must take responsibility for restarting the conversation within 24 hours.
  • Refrain from passive-aggressive comments and interrupting your spouse.
  • Freedom to ask any questions of each other. Freedom, also, to take time to answer, especially hard questions.

It’s important to recognize that most addictions are the result of a “hole in one’s heart” that s/he is using porn to fill. Understanding how the hole was created, why it still exists, and what is appropriate to use to fill it, takes introspection, conversation, and a willingness to push past the surface-level questions. You may feel you can do this on your own, but it might be necessary to engage a Certified Sex Addiction (CSAT) therapist as well.

Related—Called to Rise: Overcoming Sexual Addiction

Recovery Will Be Worth It

When Craig and I began to have these conversations, it was almost like we were meeting again for the first time. And, in some ways, we were. It was through engaging in his recovery process together that I began to understand the real him.

He began to see the real me—the reasons behind my fears, my controlling nature, and my dedication to him. And we learned how to love each other, just as we were in that moment, with the hope that God would continue His good work in us as individuals and as a couple.

This can be true for you, too. Though it is hard to have these types of conversations, it is truly worth discovering both the hard and beautiful parts of each other.

Sex won’t solve your husband’s porn problem. But that doesn’t mean you should just give up.

  • Comments on: Sex Isn’t the Solution to Your Husband’s Porn Problem
    1. Jonathan R Butera on

      This article hits home: the need to escape into fantasy, the guidelines for good conversation, and the root of the addiction described as ‘a hole’ in the heart

      Reply
    2. RickyB on

      This is way too broad a brush. In the author’s specific case, the porn problem preceded the marriage and had progressed to a point where it wasn’t amenable to any effort on her part. This is not the case for every situation depending on what you define as “the problem.”

      If porn is the only problem, then solving sexual issues in marriage will probably not solve the porn problem. But in my case, my porn problem developed later in our marriage when several circumstances came about.

      1. My wife brought shame and guilt into our marriage because of numerous past sexual relationships with her boyfriends which led to two abortions. She did not disclose these until well into our marriage after a pattern of sexual difficulty had come to define our marriage.

      2. I brought a nervous virginity into the marriage because my mother scared the crap out of me about what would happen if I ever had sex outside of marriage. Marriage was not sold to me as a place of safety and sexual fulfillment, but rather as a way to prevent my evil lusts from being expressed in an immoral way. But believing that my masculine sexual desires were evil, how could I possibly feel morally right about any sexual expression, even in marriage?

      3. With my wife’s silent shame combined with my sexual pessimism and paranoia, our sex life never became what it should have been despite the fact that she got pregnant so easily that it seemed I just breathed around her and she got pregnant. If the definition of a sexless marriage is less than 10 times a year, our marriage was always sexless but still quite successful at procreating.

      4. New babies resulted in sexual withdrawal by my wife and she came to believe that having babies was a good excuse to go sexless for months and months at a time. She felt empowered to refuse me openly and relieved that I backed off and didn’t trouble her with my annoying “needs.”I became even more depressed and defeatist.

      5. I initiated counseling only to be told by the counselor that I didn’t need sex because I wouldn’t die without it and so I should just stop troubling my wife about it. He never asked my wife why she was so resistant to having sex with me but took her side on the issue.

      6. After years of sexlessness and low testosterone, I finally went to the doctor and was put on injections of testosterone to get my numbers up to an acceptable level.

      7. The spike in my testosterone led to my libido going off the charts. I told my wife that we needed to go back to counseling because of our sexless marriage and she refused and demanded that I stop taking the testosterone if it was going to make me horny.

      8. I got so angry that I decided I would just take care of my own sexual desires.

      9. I told my brother about my struggle with porn and he said he would pray for me and said he would begin meeting with me and we could hold each other accountable.

      10. I found out his marriage has been sexless for the entire 20 years they have been married because he found out she had been physically (not sexually) abused by her father and was incapable of enjoying sexual activity. So now we share each other’s pain and work hard to stay obedient to God even as we realize that our sex lives seem hopeless.

      11. I read an article that tells me that sex isn’t a solution to my porn problem. I would dearly love to get a chance to test that proposition.

      Reply
    3. jason on

      Nice Post

      Reply
    4. Pat on

      for me personally it would be a good solution to my porn problem. we had a arrange marriage and there is a huge mismatch in libido. I wouldn’t look at porn if my wife didn’t refuse to have sex with me and if she enjoyed it. She refused to wear the lingerie i bought for her as a gift on our honeymoon.

      i don’t want to give up on our marriage but she is very selfish when it come to sex and she withholds it. I don’t mind helping her to climax but she resists it. she even tells me to hurry up.

      when i used to challenge her when she refuses, she would be angry and upset, she kept refusing sex so much we almost split up over this issue and almost divorced.

      i gave up and resorted to porn, we’re still married, so ironically masturbating to porn actually saved our marriage because i don’t annoy her anymore her by asking for sex all the time and i don’t get rejected so i feel better.

      because of this we are still married. funny isn’t how something as sad as that kept us together. she says she wouldn’t be with me if she didn’t love me.

      Reply
      • M_Collins on

        I don’t fully understand all the dynamics of arranged marriages but it does often exist within very traditional cultures that tend to not care whether the wife wants it or doesn’t.

        In our culture, however, consent is highly valued and it extends to our right to refuse sexuality and our right to marry whoever we want based on whatever motivates us, and that is usually love and sexual desire.

        If the marriage is not based on consent, at least in terms of who is marrying whom, then a sex life that is based on consent means that there is a huge risk of sexual incompatibility. You couple that with the bombardment of sexual imagery, especially tempting for men, and the bombardment of feminism that tempts women into rebellion and resentment against their husbands and men in general, you have a recipe for an abandonment of the sacred marriage bed by both spouses.

        We have Covenant Eyes to guard your view from at least the most explicit sexual imagery. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding product to protect your wife from the heinous propaganda of modern secular feminism. If there was such a tool, I’d be installing it on my wife’s phone and on her TV set in a heartbeat.

    5. Gretchen on

      Every situation is different, but for my experience, this article is wonderful. I’m the wife with the high sex drive that guys claim they want. My husband has always been vocal that he wants me to “beg” for it, but when I do initiate and try to play, he withdraws and declines. Then I find porn on his laptop.
      I’m a model, I know I’m fit, desirable, and good in bed. My husband has just fallen into disrespectful, lazy habits. Instead of talking with me and engaging, he stays on his phone. Then he watched porn to get his jollies while I sit here wondering why he rejects me for this fantasy that can never be a reality for him. It’s really sad and pathetic when you look at it from our vantage point.
      Luckily, my husband chose me. We are sharing his burden and he has total transparency with me so that he has accountability. We are choosing to work on us, instead of settling for a lazy, selfish excuse of a marriage. I’m so proud of him for his efforts and it’s a huge turn on to know he chooses ME over the ridiculousness of porn.

      Reply
      • RickyB on

        A turn on to know that your flesh and blood is preferred over 2 dimensional pixels?

        My wife just told me she would prefer I leave her alone and find my sexual satisfaction elsewhere. I told her that the pixels can’t compete with her. But that was hardly a “turn on”.

        Is telling your husband you would prefer he sin rather than have sex with him a sin itself? If I act on her wishes does that make her a victim of my betrayal? Is she betraying me first? Or is betrayal only when you sin by commission and not by omission?

      • Jay on

        @Gretchen- “We are choosing to work on us, instead of settling for a lazy, selfish excuse of a marriage.”
        I like that sentence and that attitude! I wish, along with all the men that take the lazy, selfish approach to sexuality, that millions of women would choose the same. Sexlessness, or even low sex in marriage comes mostly out of having a lazy and selfish attitude about sexuality, as much on the ladies side as it is on the men’s side. Stories like yours are sad, but think how many millions of stories have gone on for decades, maybe even centuries, where women are the ones with the lazy, selfish approach to their sexuality. In the last decade or 2 in some cases the tables have turned and suddenly everyone is in an uproar about men rather looking at porn then at their wives. I’m not condoning it in the least, but articles like this very much empower lower desire wives to continue in their lazy, selfish approach, throwing stones of judgement at their husbands.

        @ the author-
        In cases where a man comes into the marriage already severely hooked on porn, I would agree with the premise here, but in cases where the husband walks around 4-5 days a week not knowing where to turn his eyes and how to control his drive, a few times more fun and engaging sex a week would not only do him a lot of good but also their relationship.
        I’m a middle aged man with an average sex drive, and no one can tell me that a man that found great and sufficient satisfaction in his own marriage bed is going to be tempted to go look for porn the next day, unless he has zero interest in his wife or marriage anyway. Now I agree, there have been times where I was so starved for sex after a week or two of not having any, that when it finally happened and it was rather mediocre because I had turned myself completely off sexually in order not to get tempted, the day after, being now fully awake sexually and knowing that quite likely nothing was going to happen again for several days, the temptation hit harder that day then after 2 weeks of nothing. So in a sense having sex with my wife even increased my temptation.
        What to many women completely choose to be ignorant about is that the sexual satisfaction after a sexual encounter for an average healthy male only last anywhere between 24 to 72hrs. Add to that that for most men it is not just about a sexual release but about fun, engaging connections while having that release, that brings deeper satisfaction.

      • M_Collins on

        I think asking specific women to be more sensitive or caring about masculine sexual desire and how it works is a waste of time. I think it’s high time that men in the church go to the elders and demand that, simultaneous with the accountability ministries offered to men, that the mostly worthless women’s ministries start doing their job as described in Titus 2:3-5:

        Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

        I don’t want any more Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Lysa TerKeurst or Kelly Miniter studies that don’t do squat for a woman’s knowledge in how to better love their husbands. Maybe the Shaunti Feldhaun video or something else, but sexually selfish and lazy wives need to get the same level of accountability that porn addicted men are getting from their Conquer Series groups or whatever other study the men are doing.

        If we’re really trying to get husbands and wives working together on this problem we need to recognize the cold hard truth that both spouses are the problem and God is the solution. If you say I am blaming the victim (i.e., “The Wife”), then you are not understanding how men are victimized by sexually lazy and selfish wives. But rather than just fire a blame-thrower at people, let’s start getting back to basics about fighting sexually dysfunctional marriages REGARDLESS of how they became that way.

        Are there any ministries that take a holistic approach to marital sexual dysfunction that targets both spouses without prejudice? Or are we stuck with a one-sized-fits-all approach that assumes a husband-as-perpetrator/wife-as-victim model?

    6. Maisdavis on

      Should we be abstaining from sex while my husband is trying to recover from porn? I’m curious if making love is essentially a “no no” while he is struggling.
      We can’t get in to see a counselor for two weeks and I don’t want to really mess things up these first few weeks.
      When looking back at the last three years of marriage I can attest that I did not help my husbands porn problem, no he shouldn’t have gone there, but I can’t even count how many times I turned him down for no good reason and didn’t pay enough attention to him. He even told me how he didn’t feel important/ a priority in my life etc. I wasn’t what God asks us women to be as wives.
      Here we are now.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hey there.

        There’s not “one right way” to do recovery. You won’t mess it up by having sex or not having sex.

        What do you want to do? What is okay with you? What is not okay with you? Those are the boundaries around sex for you right now. Some people find sex helps them feel closer. Others find that it feels violating and manipulative at this point. How does it feel to you? What do you think is right, right now, for you?

        If you’d like to do something helpful for your relationship while waiting for your therapy to begin, I would suggest reading a couple of books: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson.

        I hope that helps,
        Kay

      • M_Collins on

        Perhaps you should look to God’s word for help:
        “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

        When even Christian psychologists and so-called “experts” give advice that doesn’t even include scripture, it’s time to consult better experts.

        WARNING: This passage of scripture has been deemed by some Christian marriage “experts” as “weaponizing the Bible against victims of betrayal.” Read it at your own risk.

    7. Mitch on

      I can’t even count how many times I turned him down for no good reason and didn’t pay enough attention to him

      Could your husband be suffering from betrayal trauma because of sexual refusal? If so, he needs to go to a wounded husbands group at church.

      Reply
    8. Jon on

      Sex IS the solution if the problem is constant sexual and emotional rejection!

      My wife does not like sex and rejects my interest almost all of the time. She would prefer that I watch lots of porn rather than have sex with her. I do not and never have had the sensation of intimacy with my wife. She rejects all intimacy. Eventually I gave up and watched lots of porn. maybe more sex isn’t the answer, but more than zero sex is. Communication would be great if my wife were willing to do it. She rejects emotional and physical intimacy. I’m tired.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Why is this happening? Behavior is always reasonable. Why is this reasonable behavior for her?

      • Louie B. on

        Same here. I’m 25 years into a mostly sexless marriage. Once every 1-2 years she approaches me (i’m not allowed to initiate), and then with a preceding caveat something like “I’ll tell you up front, I’m not into this, but I know you can’t control yourself, so…” Hugs can’t last more than 5 seconds or it’s “cloying”. So i deal with shame that comes from searching for someone to want me from outside the marriage, and also having committed adultery. NOTE: I’m not condoning my sins. But, I never see the woman’s potential role in some men’s weakness talked about on any of these sites, or preached in churches. Why do women get married if physical intimacy is not their thing? Why not get together with really good friends and buy a house? Your needs for communication, empathy, emotional closeness could all be met without the disgusting sex! No need for anything gross like sexual intimacy! Something tells me that God did not create marriage and sex to look like this.

      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Louie,

        Sexuality is such a complicated issue, especially in the church which has been so heavily and harmfully influenced by purity culture. In many ways, I agree with you that understanding from the outset that “sex is not your thing” would be helpful when that is the case. It is absolutely true that sexual desire as well as sexual orientation are all on a spectrum, and asexuality is absolutely the case for some folks. I can’t speak for what God created, only to what is an actual reality in today’s world.

        The problem is that within purity culture, women are actively taught not to understand their own bodies, they often don’t know what their own sexual situation is, they are taught that only men experience sexual desire, they are taught that if they keep themselves pure, they will automatically have great sex with their equally pure and excited husbands, they are taught that they must submit and have sex even when they hate it, they are taught that if they do everything right, their husbands will not look at porn or have affairs. ETC. The lies are many, and there is little or no support within the Christian world for women (and men) to honestly understand their sexuality.

        When expectations are unmet, as in your case, then the game becomes blame and shame. And you’re caught in that cycle here, I’m afraid. Trying to force one another into a relationship that works for no one.

        I would suggest that you begin with your own issues. Find a therapist who can help you process your own pain, identify your own desires, get out of the shame cycle so you can stop lashing out with blame at your wife. Accept your own reality, accept her reality, and then see where you want to be as a couple.

        I hope that helps,
        Kay

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