Pornography and Marriage

Five Tips for Staying Connected in the Bedroom

I was recently on the Java with Juli podcast and Dr. Slattery asked me what I would say to the woman who is struggling to stay mentally connected in bed with her husband. In this context, she was specifically talking about women who have struggled with pornography and how they can deal with those mental images, but the question impacts a broader audience.

I think many women struggle to stay mentally present when it comes to physical intimacy.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to women who have struggled with pornography.

There is an increasing awareness of the term “mental load” and how in many couples the women carry the burden of the mental load. It’s the women who are constantly aware of the needs in the home, etc. It’s the women who know what has been cleaned and what hasn’t, what is on the menu for the week, what the children need, and what household tasks didn’t get done that day. That pile of burdens and internal checklists can lead to completely unromantic encounters like mentally planning the grocery list while our husbands are trying to get us in the mood.

Nothing says “I’m into you” like trying to plan what you’re packing in everyone’s lunches tomorrow. 

For women who have a past or current struggle with pornography, their mental wandering isn’t quite the same as reminding yourself to do the dishes while your husband plants kisses on your neck. Instead, it’s replacing your husband with the star of the latest romance novel or envisioning yourself in the last video you watched. And it brings with it the guilt and shame of feeling like you are essentially cheating on your spouse while actually sleeping with them.

It’s a surefire way to confuse a heart and a mind and get you so tangled up in shame around something that is intended to be beautiful, connecting, and shame-free. You might say to yourself, “But I love my husband, I would never cheat on him. Why am I doing this?”

And the answer has to do with triggers. Think about other things that can be “triggered.”

I struggle with anxiety and could give you a list of situations that I know trigger it. I know that if someone is late to pick me up, that’s a trigger. What does that mean? That means that my body’s response to that situation is somewhat automatic. My body has been conditioned, through whatever circumstance, to react a certain way to that trigger, so when that trigger happens, it sets off a series of events that feel very automatic and out of my control.

For women who have struggled with pornography, the act of being intimate can actually be, in and of itself, a trigger.

That’s a frustrating problem, because here you are, wanting to be connected to your husband and not wanting pornography to have a place in your marriage, but yet every time your husband tries to start something, it triggers memories associated with pornography or fantasy or whatever. Before you know it, instead of enjoying your husband, you’re lost in a mindmaze and just wishing the whole thing could hurry up and be over.

Or, like the woman whose story I share in my recent book, you have your mind and body so conditioned to be dependent on pornography, you have to turn to it in order to experience arousal.

When it comes to a struggle with pornography, triggers are things that make your brain and body think, “Oh hey! We’ve been here before. We know where to go. Thank you. We’ll just take it from here.”

Before you know it, your super computer of a brain has pulled up all sorts of stimuli that has done the trick before. The problem, as you know, is you don’t want that stimuli. You want the current stimuli (ie. your spouse).

Ideally, you want to avoid triggers, but you can’t really avoid this one. So what do you do?

I’m going to give you some tips, and I want to preface this by saying just because you struggle with this doesn’t mean you don’t love your spouse. I feel like I need to emphasize that because so much of the narrative around pornography is, “It’s the same as cheating and if you do it that means you don’t truly love your husband/wife.” That’s not typically the heart attitude of someone searching “How do I stay connected with my husband.” That’s not the motivation of someone who is grieved that this images are popping up.

We have to understand that lust is a heart issue while pornography, the struggle with it and our seeming dependence on it can very much be a physiological one. Think of it similarly to someone who is struggling with anxiety. There’s worry and fear which can be heart and faith issues, but the physical response of an anxiety or panic attack is not a heart or faith issue. It’s physiological. That doesn’t mean we’re powerless to do anything about it, but it does help to have that understanding from the beginning. We need to know what type of battle we’re fighting.

There’s a difference between the wife who has zero interest in her husband and sneaks off into the bathroom and pulls up porn on her phone to get aroused and the woman who is in bed with her spouse, trying her best to be present and intimate with him and finds herself plagued by images of her past. Those are two different struggles and I am speaking to the latter.

Five tips to help you stay connected in the bedroom.

(Again, I feel like these apply to any woman who finds her mind wandering off on rabbit trails.)

Tip #1: Talk

This seems so unromantic and perhaps even unnatural. That’s because the framework we have for physical intimacy is that two relative strangers decide to hookup and magically somehow each knows exactly what the other wants without either saying anything. They know exactly what to do, where to touch, how to touch, and without a word seemlessly go from point A to heated ecstasy.

This is not real life.

Talk to your spouse. Tell him what feels good, if you enjoy something or if you don’t, if you’d like to take a little longer at this stage or if you’re ready to move on. If your brain isn’t in the game, ask him for five minutes just so you can process your day with him. If you find your mind wandering into pornographic territory, ask him to talk to you. Switch it up and ask him what he would like and what would feel good to him. Talking is one of the ways we help build connection and keep our brain in the present.


Tip #2: Touch

This might seem like it should go without saying, after all this is physical intimacy. It’s basically the most touching you can possibly get, but I challenge you, the next time you find your mind wandering, see where your hands are. If you’ve ever had a massage, you probably know it is completely possible to space out and disengage even while being touched.

One of my husband and my favorite books on communication in marriage, With These Words, shares that a break in physical connection often accompanies a break in mental and emotional connection. The book is specifically addressing disagreements and arguments, but I think the same could be said for in the bedroom. If your mind is starting to recall the last video you watched or some other fantasy odds are you might be being touched more than you are the one touching.

Move your hands around. Pay attention to what you’re feeling. I’d even encourage women not to be afraid to touch their own bodies in this process or grab your husband’s hand and put it where you want it. However you are comfortable, engage your sense of touch.


Tip #3: Change it Up

Predictability is a precursor to boredom. If sex becomes formulaic, your brain is more likely to search for variety. We enjoy variety in so many areas of life from food to scenery to music. This shouldn’t be any different.

Sometimes you want and crave the tried and true because there’s a comfort in that, but there are times that call for new and adventuresome. Sex is meant to be fun. Next time you feel your mind wandering down XXX memory lane, see it as a sign that you’re craving something different and think of just one thing you can change. You’re welcome to think of more, but for some of us, one is enough to add the variety we’re craving.

  • Speed things up or slow them down
  • Add/Switch out your lube
  • Change positions
  • Play some music
  • Find a different location
  • Add some food or ice

On this note, I have had women reach out to me sharing that they feel like they can’t ask to try certain things because they are afraid their partner will feel it’s influenced by pornography. I understand this. I struggled with pornography for years. I doubt you could name a position or sexual act that I hadn’t seen. So, for a while I was very afraid to suggest anything in our marriage because I didn’t want to feel like our sex life was inspired by pornography. Shame over my past was keeping me from enjoying my present.

Here’s the thing, porn didn’t write the book on sex. It doesn’t have a corner market on it. It didn’t invent sex. It didn’t invent sexual positions. It didn’t invent types of foreplay.

If it helps, find a Christian group with suggestions and use that. One of my favorites is Kingdom Sexuality on Instagram. They have an entire highlight of sexual positions. So if you’re at all worried about your bedroom being “inspired by” pornography, instead, sit down with your husband and go through some of these positions and make note of which you would like to try. That exercise in itself could be a whole new level of foreplay!

Tip #4: Open Your Eyes

How many times have you been in the middle of praying and had an unwanted image just sort of pop up on the back of your eyelids? If you’ve been there then you understand the power of our sight to help us stay connected to what’s going on around us. This applies to the bedroom too. Closing our eyes is one of the easiest ways to disengage. Keeping the lights off is one of the easiest ways to disconnect.

There are different reasons we do this. Some women just don’t feel comfortable in their own skin and prefer a dark room. Others don’t enjoy having their retinas fried by staring into the lights on the ceiling fan. For some couples, the only time they can be intimate is in the middle of the night and turning on every light in the room doesn’t sound appealing. I would encourage you to buy some flameless candles. You can even get remote operated ones. You could also buy a small nightlight (we have one like this) or turn on a light in an adjacent room or closet.

Song of Song’s (Song of Solomon) is filled with sensual sensory language, and a lot of it is visual.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in rows of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies. (4:1-5 ESV)

Your eyes are a powerful tool in your fight. Your past with pornography proves you are a visual person, so don’t blind yourself to what is happening right now! That just gives your brain an opportunity to fill in the blanks. Buy some extra mirrors so you can see what’s going on. Your eyes are not your enemy. They are part of the experience.


Tip #5: Enjoy the Journey

I feel like more people need to hear this but orgasms aren’t the point of sex. They’re great, yes, and more time should be devoted to women experiencing sexual pleasure. But, when we start intimacy with the goal of “get me to an orgasm” our brain responds with, “I know how to do this!” That’s when we start pulling up all of the pornography and fantasy. That’s what used to work. That’s the stimuli that got the job done.

If you want to help retrain your brain, give it a new goal it hasn’t faced before. Instead of “sexual pleasure” give it the goal of “I want to get to know my husband better. I want to understand what he likes and I want us to laugh.” There’s no blueprint for that in pornography.

That entire gameplan centers on you having to stay present with your husband. Your brain doesn’t have shortcuts for that. That means it might take longer at first. That means you might go a few rounds without an orgasm as you learn to celebrate connection in other ways. But what’s really neat is as you experience arousal and pleasure through getting to know your husband better, that then becomes the pathway of choice. And because it involves all of your senses, that then becomes a more powerful stimuli than pornography.


If you’re a married woman who has had this struggle, I would love to hear what has worked for you. Shoot me an email at I’m hoping to put together a resource for married women and the more perspectives and stories, the better!