Women & Pornography

How Porn Has Affected My Marriage: One Year In

When I wrote my book, Beggar’s Daughter, the main goal was to give practical insight into my journey as a female porn addict. No one was talking about it, especially people in the church. Pastors and counselors didn’t know how to address it and women who struggled had very limited resources. In sharing my story, I wanted to offer a glimpse into the pain of brokenness and the healing hope found in grace.

Occasionally, I like to give updates on my journey in order to continue that story and to help those with questions like, “How will porn affect my marriage?”

I searched for posts like this when I was struggling and first trying to find freedom. I wanted some assurance that I hadn’t completely ruined my life. If there were going to be future problems, I wanted to know what they would be, have practical tools, and hope. That’s what I want to do here.

My husband and I are celebrating our one year anniversary, and I’m over here sounding like my 83-year-old Gramma when I say, “How has it been a year already?”

A month after we were married, I wrote a post: How Pornography has Affected My Marriage: Newlywed Edition.  I have also written about how I believe some Christian teachings have actually affected it more and in more negative ways. 

A month after we were married, I shared about concerns I had going into marriage- dissociation and flawed expectations- as well as what I did encounter- a lot of fear and a flawed definition of success. Things like that obviously take time to work through. It’s not like I write about them and they just magically vanish.

Ask my husband, the process of making such things “vanish” is nowhere near magical. It takes a lot of patience, trust, and intentionality. For us, it has also included its fair share of (my) tears. Intimacy is a terrifying yet beautiful pursuit, as is healing.

How is pornography affecting our marriage now?

If I were completely honest… it doesn’t seem to be affecting it much at all.

It is important to note that I am writing as a woman who has recovered from a porn addiction, not one who is currently consuming pornography. I’ve walked in freedom (not perfection) for over a decade, so the effects I experience are going to be markedly different for those who are more recently breaking free or still currently struggling. A current struggle, especially a secret one, can absolutely wreck a marriage. A past struggle does not have to.

The biggest thing I grapple with now is temptation.

I’ve always been realistic about the fact that this is my “vice.” If I’m going to be tempted in any arena of my life, this is one of the top and likely always will be. That’s not because I don’t love Jesus enough. That’s because my brain remembers things I would love for it not to.

We cannot discount the physiology of our struggles. Whatever form of sexual release you pursue, the end result is pleasurable (even if just for a minute). Your brain remembers that. So, when you are in pursuit of pleasure, there is this little trail in your brain with a signpost that says, “Shortcut to pleasure.”

It doesn’t matter how long you let that trail grow over, that signpost is still going to be there. That’s just reality. And if you’re not careful to guard yourself against it, you’ll wander down that trail. It might be overgrown, but it’s still a “shortcut.”

There are times when that trail marker seems to stand out more, and, I’ve actually been surprised that they aren’t when I thought.

I’ve found that temptation strikes most when I’m not expecting it to.

In the year we’ve been married, we’ve spent several weeks apart. The nature of our respective jobs might have us halfway around the world or across the country for days at a time. One might think that is when temptation would strike hardest.

After all, we hear all sorts of caution against times when you’re alone, tired, etc. Experts will suggest things like taking the TV out of your hotel room (which is a bit outdated since many are now anchored to the wall).

The assumption is then that temptation happens in marriage when there is separation and distance.

In some ways, I’m a little perturbed at all of the “traditional Christian anti-temptation” advice. Because all of those people tell you to watch out for times like when you’re alone, hungry, sad, tired, etc.

I have not found this to be the case.

In fact, for me, temptation seems to strike when things are all good.

The times I have been most tempted haven’t been after a disagreement, or when one of us is away on a trip. In fact, I have felt very little temptation in those moments. When I haven’t had food, I just get hangry. When I am tired, I just cry a lot. When I’m alone, I tend to read.

In freedom, those aren’t moments of weakness for me. I can be halfway around the world away from my husband, exhausted off a 14-hour flight, in need of sustenance, in a hotel room with a TV by myself and not feel one ounce of temptation.

In the middle of my struggle, those would have been moments of weakness. Perhaps that’s why they aren’t anymore. Maybe those common “trailheads” have overgrown. I don’t have an answer.

What I can tell you is that, in marriage, temptation has crept up out of nowhere on the best days.

In fact, just the other day, my husband and I were working on a ministry project together and he needed me to buy some stuff online. I typed in a completely benign, absolutely non-sexual, search term and on the very first page of results, “included in your membership”, was an adult movie that appeared to have no connection to anything else on the page.

I was looking for a piece of furniture.

And I will be honest with you, my eyes stared at that option on the screen longer than they needed to.

Part of it was that old trail; the other part was disbelief. This was the second time in one day that something like this had happened. The other was a YouTube suggested clip.

I realized later that I was logged into the account I use to manage this blog, which likely triggered some sort of keyword algorithm. It’s a danger I encounter on my phone as well when working on my writing (which means some of you probably encounter the same- sorry about that!).

For whatever reason, there was this moment of temptation. A fleeting one, but it was there.

How do I handle temptation in marriage?

First, let me ask you what you would have done.

Let’s say you stumbled upon a porn video. You never clicked on it. You hovered over it for a split second, felt that familiar longing from somewhere deep within your body, but quickly moved on. You even went on to enable the safe search restrictions on your account to keep that from popping up again.

Great job! You did everything right! Now what?

You could say nothing. After all, the past is in the past and there’s no sense in making a big deal out of something that didn’t happen. You didn’t do anything wrong. There’s no need to involve your spouse.

Or, you could say something.

For me, that’s exactly how I handle temptation in marriage. I tell my husband.

Why? Because I’m all too familiar with the danger of saying nothing. In silence and in secret these little chance encounters with old flames can quickly escalate, whether those old flames are former lovers or former vices.

Telling my husband does a few things:

    • It drags that temptation out into the light and, essentially, disarms it. There is nothing wrong with being tempted by something but being silent about it can give it way too much room to grow. Sharing kills off shame before it has a chance to take root.
    • It enforces that he and I are a team. We tackle our issues together. He knows my weaknesses; I know his. We can work together to either resolve a current struggle or set up a plan for future ones.
    • It opens up doors for grace. It sounds counter-intuitive, but sharing about my struggles doesn’t destroy or threaten our intimacy; it enhances it.

Many wives tell me they are afraid to talk with their husbands about their struggles because they fear shame. Those same women often struggle with intimacy, especially sexual intimacy. They feel they have to watch porn before having sex with their husbands in order to get in the mood. Some say that, in the bedroom, they just have to replay a recent video in their mind in order to even feel engaged.

A year in, I admit I am no expert, but I can tell you with a great degree of certainty: that’s not how this is supposed to work.

Open and honest communication with your spouse creates ample opportunity for growth, healing, and grace. That’s the entire point of confession. It’s not so you can feel bad about yourself, but so you can find healing and restoration!

Pornography’s effects at this point are nothing more than shadows of a former life that like to dance across the floors of my mind from time to time. When they do, I tell my husband and give him the opportunity to respond in grace.

This allows for an intimacy that goes beyond “sexual intimacy” and is far richer than I think either of us knew possible. In reality, pornography is not affecting our marriage anywhere near as much as grace is.

If you’re married, start opening up to your spouse. Seek out a good counselor to mediate if you feel that is necessary. If you’re single, put in the hard work of freedom now. You won’t regret it.

Pornography can absolutely negatively affect your marriage, but, it does not have to. No matter what your background, you absolutely can know an intimate, healthy marriage marked by grace.

Pornography is an intimacy destroyer. Grace is an intimacy enhancer.

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