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Today’s Can of Worms: Is Using Pornography Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

Last Updated: April 1, 2014

When a man or woman looks at pornography, does the spouse have grounds (biblically speaking) to divorce him or her?

Is Using Porn Biblical Grounds for Divorce

First, let’s be clear about the nature of the question. When we use the word “biblical,” the question is primarily a theological one. The person asking it wants to know what God thinks about the matter.

However, the motivation behind a question like this is also intensely personal. Chances are, if you are reading this article, you are in the midst of or know someone in the midst of a terrible situation. So, while the question is theological, this does not mean it is merely academic. Rather, it touches on two painful topics (porn and divorce) that should never be addressed in a cold, academic manner.

Second, let’s be clear about what we’re not asking. We are not asking whether a couple should get divorced (for porn or any other reason)? Having grounds for divorce and actually getting divorced are two very different things. I know many men and women who have come to points in their marriages where they believed they had biblical grounds for divorce but chose not get divorced. Many of them have experienced God’s redeeming power and love as a result.

Still, the question is a thorny one. What does the Bible have to say about this, if anything?

My friend Brad Hambrick, Pastor of Counseling at Summit Church, has posted his personal reply to this question. If you are curious about this topic, I recommend you read his brief paper.

I won’t pretend to have read enough about this to affirm 100% of what Brad has to say, but I found his response both warm and academically sound. Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. How would you reply to Brad’s answer?

photo credit: seafrost
  1. kim

    Thank you for your reply Kay. One more question. How do you compromise on porn use? If one person truly believes that there is nothing wrong with it. And the other person doesn’t. The only compromise the one who sees nothing wrong with it can do is to just watch less of it, or only watch with the other person. Are we, out of love, to just respect that he has free will and look the other way? A second counselor has also said that there is nothing wrong with porn.

    • Kay Bruner

      Well, he does have free will. But so do you. I think you’ve got to consider what porn use means to the relationship.

      Is porn being used as a substitute for emotional intimacy? Does it lead to sexual objectification, demands, and disrespect? Is there escalation into acting out? Is he really able to keep it to the limits that you can agree to? Is he loving, respectful, and attentive to you in general, or is his refusal to stop porn use simply another expression of a lack of attachment?

      To me, when someone has an issue that they are more attached to than the relationship, that’s troubling. Say it’s car racing, and the husband spends all his time and attention buying, fixing, racing cars. There’s nothing inherently wrong with car racing. But when it impacts the relationship in negative ways, when the wife expresses her pain and the lack of connection as a result of car racing, THAT is the real problem. The answer is not to say, “there’s no problem.” The answer is to figure out why car racing matters more to the husband than the relationship. And if the person loves car racing so much he won’t quit, then that leaves the wife with serious choices to make. Do you want to stay in a relationship where you’re going to be second to car racing?

      That’s really the choice we’re talking about here. Does the habit impact the relationship? And if it does, is he willing to work on that? And if not, then what does that mean for the relationship and for your exercise of your free will?

      I absolutely do NOT think that loves calls you to live without boundaries. In fact, I think love demands healthy boundaries.

      I think our culture often trains men to “be a man” so well that many men do not know how to connect, they don’t know how to create emotional intimacy. It’s easier, frankly, to look at porn than to get into the mess of trying to live up to being Prince Charming. It’s a horrible burden we’ve put on men, really, all weight of perfection and performance spiritually, economically, sexually. The church makes it even worse, many times. No wonder men in our culture like porn so much.

      I think one of the ways that we as women can make the process of emotional intimacy easier for men is taking responsibility for our own emotional processing and growth. So they don’t have to feel like it’s all on them to make us happy. Because it’s not! It really is our own job to be responsible for ourselves. If we’re going to ask men to be responsible for themselves (and I am!) then we also have to be willing to be responsible for ourselves. That might mean counseling or a group like Celebrate Recovery. And I think the more we take responsibility for ourselves, the more we’re going to find ourselves able to let others be responsible for themselves as well.

  2. kim

    So is it grounds for divorce if before you married, your husband says that he is on the same page with you about porn, but then after you marry, he says that he sees nothing wrong with porn and he only said before marriage that we were on the same page because he wanted me to marry him? He does not have an addiction but he insists that there is nothing wrong with it and he says that he will never stop watching it. He feels that it is none of my business and that he has the right to do what he wants to do because he says it has nothing to do with me and it’s not wrong. We went to counseling and the counselor said that he has the right to watch porn and that there is nothing wrong with it. What do I do? I am so miserable. He watches a few times a week, and I want nothing to do with it. I feel there are strong connections between porn and how women are devalued in society and trafficking and child abuse. I can’t be in a relationship like this where he is completely insistent and has gotten the validation from a counselor.

    • Kay Bruner

      I am so sorry, Kim, that you had this kind of experience in counseling.

      I suppose in some ways it is true that he has the right to do what he wants to do; after all, he is a human being endowed with free will by God.

      However, in the context of a marriage relationship, one person doing whatever they want to do and expecting the other person to just deal with it is NOT a healthy way forward! I’m sorry that this counselor did not serve the relationship well by addressing the deeper issues of the deep difference between your personal values and your husband’s, and the way that your husband misrepresented his values to you before the marriage. It sounds to me like the counselor took the easy way out–this was going to be too hard to deal with, so he/she dumped it on you and ran.

      I think these are serious questions that you’ll have to unfold for yourself now. If you can’t live with your husband’s choices, if your values do not allow that, what’s next? I think you’ve got to consider what healthy boundaries will look like for you. Here and here are a couple of articles on that. Boundaries in Marriage is a book I’d suggest. Also, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman is EXCELLENT for demonstrating what healthy marriages look like.

      You probably don’t want to go to another counselor at this point! But my husband says that if you called a plumber to fix your toilet and he created a geyser in your bathroom instead of fixing the toilet, you wouldn’t just assume that all plumbers are idiots. You’d call another plumber. There’s real value in having someone help you process emotions and decide on healthy boundaries, especially in a situation that’s so serious and difficult. You need support for you while you figure out what to do. Here’s a short animation I did just recently about choosing a best-fit counselor. There are directories at the American Association of Christian Counselors, and also Psychology Today. Groups are a good place to sort through things, too: Celebrate REcovery, S Anon, xxxChurch. If it comes to that, a lot of churches have Divorce Care groups.

      I’m sorry you’re in such a tough spot. I hope you can find good, solid support for yourself as you decide what’s next and what’s healthy for you. Blessings, Kay

  3. sam

    I posted my situation about 2 years ago. Not much has changed. Counselling is of little help for me and she refuses to go because she doesn’t see the problem here. My wife still refuses sex a majority of the time. This pushes me in the direction of using porn and masturbation.

    Please understand that I find my wife incredibly attractive and would rather be with her sexually and non sexually. I have been told by other women that I am fit and desirable. My question is based on the idea that some posting here believe that me using porn to curb my impulses is grounds for divorce. She would much rather have me masturbate to porn than “bother” her. I am jealous and flabbergasted by the males with willing spouses that would rather view porn than have a real woman – these guys are defective. what about my wife refusing sex and any other intimacy for that matter. Is that grounds for me to divorce her? I am a faithful provider and treat her well. I thought regular sex was suppose to be part of marriage and we were not to deny our spouse. I have explained many times how much rejection hurts me and that masturbation does not bring the intimate closeness that I desire with her.

  4. This post is so helpful, i don’t know what to do my emotions are all over the place!!! i have been with my husband for 4 years and only married for 2 years. from the very beginning our sex life was never great!!! it was very mechanical, like something you have to do!!! i never felt that deep passion from him, it just felt like a task, he never wanted to explore many things. Sometimes down below would not respond and he use to say that he doesn’t know whats going on bla boa boa. I loved him and always tough that he was not very sensitive down there because he was cercumsised. He has a very strong religious background so i always knew that he would never be able to cheat or do anything to hear me. WELL i was wrong just after i gave birth to our first child he decided to go on a trip to Vagas with his best friend i did not say don’t go as i respect him and trust him, well he came back and i found a white shirt of his whit red lipstick all over his collar and foundation, i confronted him he said it was his friends girlfriend. When he came from america he told me that he went to strip clubs and the stripper that was sitting on his lap after finding out that he has a wife decided to kiss his neck and said well she’s not here. well thats his story which i am sure there is more to it!!!! he also lies so much, he goes out sometimes with his crazy womaniser friends and his friends wife also told me that he dances with girls in the club and also knows someone who claims danced with him and stayed on his table. after all of this i sat down on my husbands computer that is always locked with a password as he wanted me to see something on that page, i then opened the previous page and he was downloading 3 types of porn. tears are coming down my ayes now, i feel disgusted, worthless i feel like a full. He then admitted that he always watched porn and it was something he has done since he was 16. We just got married our baby is only 5 months we have the most deep things in life and he still does not care and would jeopardise our relationship for that type of pleasure, i truly feel like he does not love me!!!! he wants another chance as he doesn’t want to do it again, but if i didn’t catch him he would still have done it probably for the rest of our lives.. I don’t think i will ever be able to sleep with him!!! our marriage was fake and even do i have nothing!!! i just want to divorse him, i can not come back from this. He claims he loves me but i don’t think he does, what do you think??????

    • Kay Bruner

      Hi Sara, I am so sorry for the pain you’re experiencing right now. I hope I can point you to some resources that can help you think things through for yourself and make good decisions about what you want to do. You might really appreciate this article that Ella wrote just the other day. As you consider your boundaries, this article may help.

      If your husband is interested, he could look at this article about his recovery process. He would also benefit from reading our free download, Your Brain on Porn. He would also benefit from a group like Sex Addicts Anonymous as he works on his recovery.

      As you decide what to do, you will need support. A personal counselor can help you process your emotions, identify your boundaries, and make healthy choices. A group like SAnon, Celebrate Recovery, or xxxChurch would be helpful to you as well. There are good resources out there for you. Please remember, no matter what he chooses, you can make healthy choices for you.

      Blessings, Kay

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