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Talking Body Image: From Down Under

Last Updated: March 5, 2024

 In my last post, I described how I was given an opportunity to talk to a group of counselors and pastors in Auckland, New Zealand this past November. The title of my talk (and the video I presented) was Compassion. The theme was the effects of porn and other forms of sexual addiction on the wife of the user or addict.

The talk, the video presentation and my recently released book, Beyond Betrayal, are based heavily on a series of three surveys I conducted on wives of sex addicts in 2014- 2015. These surveys, which garnered nearly 900 responses from women worldwide, focused on trauma, spiritual crisis and body image. Today, I’ll share some of the findings of the latter survey.

Porn Creates Dissatisfaction in Men

Going back to the 1990s, studies showed that when men view porn and other sexualized media, it changes their perception of women. Said one expert: “Media creates an attitude in which women are objects rated by size, shape and harmony of body parts. Sexual fantasy leads to… dissatisfaction.”*

The dissatisfaction porn creates is with “average” women (or women that don’t look sexualized or “pornified), or even just familiar ones. This result is the exact opposite that God was aiming for when He created our sexuality. Healthy sexuality bonds two people together so that they see the true and eternal beauty of the other person. It leads to an exclusive love between the pair, one where the man has eyes only for his wife, and vice versa.

How Dissatisfaction Affects Wives

When a man uses porn and becomes dissatisfied with his wife’s body, she begins to pick up on that dissatisfaction. This is often the case even if she is unaware her husband is using porn. Sadly, once she registers his disapproval, it becomes difficult for the wife to see her own God-given beauty.

Moreover, once she becomes aware of his porn use or addiction, her body image plummets still further. Thus, of the over 80 women who responded to my body image survey, 95% stated their body image suffered upon discovery of their husband’s sexual addiction. Of the remaining 5%, 4% said their body image was already incredibly low prior to discovery.

Specific responses women gave about their change in body image, post-discovery, included:

  • “I used to be fine with my body, for the most part, and now have so much shame and will not even change in front of him.”
  • “Before my husband’s addiction was public, I saw everyone as people. Now I feel inadequate and exposed in all my weaknesses.”
  • “I feel second-hand, discarded, used… like I belong at Value Village.”

Tackling Low Body Image

There are things we can do to help ourselves and others overcome damaged body image. There are also things that are tempting to try, but which do not ultimately help. At the Beyond Betrayal Community blog, I (and guest bloggers) have discussed these strategies in depth. To summarize:

What Doesn’t Help:

  • Excessive time at the gym or working out
  • Extreme dieting
  • Dressing in a sexualized manner
  • Surgery

What Does Help:

  • Reflective time with God about our value to Him
  • Mild exercise and fresh air (to help with stress, not to change our bodies)
  • Healthy diet (as above)
  • Avoidance of triggering media and situations (e.g. where women are presented in a sexualized manner)
  • Relationships with those who love us unconditionally
  • Validation by and support from other women who have overcome the trauma of their husband’s porn or sexual addiction

The survey also showed that when the husband was truly engaging in recovery from his addiction and porn use, the wife had an easier time healing from her poor body image. My previous survey showed that one of the first tools couples were turning to — to tackle his porn problems and help support the wife’s healing — was Internet Accountability and Filtering Software.

To Freedom and Healing

Even us aging women (and who is excluded from that camp?) can find healing from the eviscerating pain of damaged body image. This is true even if we’ve made the mistake (like I did) of trying out some of the band-aids on the “doesn’t help” list. Today is a new day. By switching our focus to the “does help” techniques, we can become stronger, more whole and closer to God.

Porn’s lie is that unless we have the body of a 17-year-old model, we’re worthless. The God of all truth says we are magnificent people of eternal beauty and infinite value.

Let’s make a step toward healing today by allowing that good news to soak into our hearts.

* MR Brooks, PhD, The Centerfold Syndrome: How Men Can Overcome Objectification and Achieve Intimacy with Women, Jossy-Bass Publications, 1995.

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