Women & Pornography

Porn and Marriage: Should We Just Watch Porn Together?

This conversation recently went down in the “community” section of an app I use.

“I really wish my husband would stop watching porn. He keeps telling me he’s going to stop but our accounts are linked so I can see that he’s looking at porn at work.”

“Girl, give it up and just ask to watch it with him! Watch it together!”

And this is an email I got in response to a recent blog post:

“I think a woman should tell her husband what type of porn she watches so they can watch it together. That’s what a strong woman would do.”

So, clearly, we need to talk about this idea that pornography is OK if you watch it together.

This is a solution I have seen promoted on several different occasions, from the experts in online forums to marriage counselors. It’s the penultimate “if you can’t beat them; join them.” Instead of trying to correct and confront pornography use in marriage, the idea is we should accept it and join in on the “fun.”

And, at the offset, maybe it makes sense. Maybe.

If you are in a marriage where you or your partner (or both) are compulsive porn users, it could seem like your marriage is, essentially, defined by that problem. There’s frustration in the bedroom. There’s distrust. You’re monitoring each other’s internet usage, etc.

And after a while, I’d imagine it all starts to feel old. It feels like no matter what you try or what you do, nothing is ever going to change, so why bother?

Instead of nagging your wife about her internet usage, what if you just sat down with her? After all, then you could (as the ill-informed email at the beginning said) “Learn what she likes and how to better please her in bed.”

Since this is a prevalent idea, I think it’s worth addressing because as a married woman and a former porn addict I find it very concerning.

Porn Does Not “Enhance” Intimacy

Even as a young girl, I saw this idea promoted that porn and erotica would somehow make your marriage better. My grandparents used to get these mail-in catalogs that advertised everything from self-powered flash lights to denture paste. In the middle there was always a section filled with sex toys and porn videos you could order to “enhance” your intimacy in marriage.

Let me start by saying that sex and intimacy are not the same thing.

We live in a very confused culture.

Before marriage, people kick and scream to say that sex and intimacy are in no way connected. That’s where the hookup culture gets its license. You can sleep with whoever you want because it’s no big deal. And watching pornography is fine because it doesn’t impact anything or affect anyone.

Then, after marriage, that same culture says that sex and intimacy are the same. Now, instead of sex and intimacy having nothing to do with each other, in order to enhance intimacy you need to have better sex. And “obviously,” to have better sex, you need to watch pornography because unlike before marriage it is now suddenly impactful.

The reality is to have better sex, you need stronger intimacy. And porn will not help you with that.

Defining Intimacy

Let’s start with defining what intimacy is. It’s not just sex but it does play a role in sex.

I’ve often heard people define intimacy as “into me see” which I think is really corny. Also, for some reason it always reminds me of Avatar and how they say, “I see you.”

So, let’s redefine this, because the last thing any of our brains need is to associate intimacy with creatures in shiny blue wet suits and tails.

Intimacy is, in a simple sense, familiarity. 

It’s the idea of being familiar with someone- deeply familiar. The Latin root intimus conveys the idea of “inmost, innermost, deepest.” It’s knowing someone in their deepest parts.

My husband knows my hopes, dreams, fears, feelings of failure. He’s traced his hand over the scars of my past. His arms have embraced my sobbing frame. He’s sat with me through two grandparents’ funerals.

He was by my side through the birth of our first child and the weeks of recovery that followed. We’ve stayed up late at night talking about everything from favorite childhood memories to what we hope to accomplish this week.

He knows me. More than anyone in this world. More than friends who I’ve known for decades. He knows me.

In the Bible, you might read a passage like, “Adam knew Eve and she conceived…” That word, “knew” is clearly not referring to just knowing someone like you know your next door neighbor. After all, babies don’t come from handshakes. It’s communicating the idea that Adam was familiar with Eve. He didn’t just “have sex” with her. He knew her.

Obviously, sex is going to fall into the category of being deeply familiar with someone. However, it is not the only thing that falls into that category. In fact, if sex is the only form of intimate knowledge in a relationship, it isn’t a relationship. It’s a hook up.

I would even argue that sex without intimacy is anemic sex.

It’s only and ever about getting my own personal needs met. After all, I can’t meet my husband’s needs if I don’t know them. If he’s not comfortable with me, he’s not going to communicate them. That would leave us in a bit of a stand off, with each of us coming not only to our marriage bed but our marriage in general with our list of demands and expectations and zero concern or care for what the other person needs, feels, or wants.

That’s not marriage. That’s insanity.

It makes sense that people would want to fix it. However, the answer isn’t to work harder at having better sex. Having better sex isn’t going to make me care about my husband’s wants, desires, and dreams. Having better sex isn’t going to make me feel more loved, safe, and appreciated. Having better sex isn’t going to make us more familiar with each other.

If intimacy (the familiarity, closeness, and friendship) is an issue in your marriage, watching pornography is not going to fix it. It’s going to make it worse.

Porn is a threat to intimacy.

When a couple sits down and watches another couple having sex, the couple watching might be sexually aroused, but they are not being intimate. It may amp up your body and get you ready to go and may even lead to powerful sexual release, but the reality is, there isn’t intimacy in this. In fact, the whole set up is anti-intimacy.

Instead of two partners arousing each other, learning each other’s bodies, and building a sexual experience, they’re turning to another couple to arouse them.

And for some couples, they say “exactly! That’s the point! We’re doing this for fun!” But if that’s the case, understand what you are doing. You are blazing pathways in your brain that tell it “this is a shortcut to sexual release.”

In this sense, your consumption of pornography as a couple is in direct opposition to intimacy. As your arousal templates change to become dependent and react, not to your spouse, but to strangers on a screen, you may find yourselves unable to arouse each other.

I have received emails from wives who feel their husbands are unable to arouse them. Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is a problem for men. I once spoke at a conference with Gabe Deem and he shared his own struggles with PIED and said that his own story reached a point where a naked woman standing in front of him wasn’t enough to arouse him. It had to be porn.

This, obviously, isn’t intimacy. To invite pixelated strangers into the most intimate places of your marriage and to make it so you are dependent on them being there isn’t just a threat to intimacy, it’s sabotage.

Porn is not a teacher.

But how else do we understand each other’s sexual preferences?

This is a very popular argument. You can even see it in the email I quoted at the beginning. It’s this idea that if I share my pornography with my partner, I am teaching him. I am helping him understand me better. If he knows what I like, then he can please me better in bed.

Flaw #1 is that, again, better sex is not the answer for better intimacy.

But Flaw #2 is this: pornography is not a teacher.

Pornography is scripted. It is crafted, cut, reworked. It isn’t “real” and the actors themselves will tell you that.

Which means looking to pornography to define and inform my sexual preferences is a bit like looking to a soap opera to inform my interpersonal relationships.  

I feel like no wife in her right mind would sit her husband down and say, “Here, watch this with me. It will help you understand how I think and operate. She’s married to him but sleeping with that other guy, and he killed his ex-girlfriend and gave their child up for adoption but it turns out it wasn’t his child and the child’s biological grandmother is actually the others girl’s second cousin twice removed…”

When we bring pornography into a marriage as a way of trying to inform our marriage, we’re making a fatal mistake. 

Does pornography reveal something about us? Yes, but not what you may think.

I’ve been reading the book Unwanted by Jay Stringer and he brings up a very powerful argument that our pornography preferences reveal less about our sexual preferences and more about our pain.

For instance, a woman who finds herself drawn to rape porn isn’t there because that type of content appeals to her. She might be there because of sexual trauma in her own past and this is her way of romanticizing it and making it not as bad as it would be. If it arouses her, that’s because her arousal template has shifted.

If she brings that porn into marriage as a way of “teaching” her husband “what she likes” then she is setting their relationship up to perpetuate and continue some of the most painful and traumatic experiences of her life. She is recreating trauma.

Does she really want to be treated like that? No.

If true intimacy were the pursuit here, instead of just better sex, her husband would know that. She would know that. As they got to know each other and grew closer to each other, they would be able to work through the fallout of that trauma together. If he truly cared about her and her heart and healing, he would gently steer her away from the model of an abusive and traumatic sexual encounter and into the loving, gentle one her heart longs for.

How does your partner learn your sexual preferences? You communicate. You enter into the work that is knowing someone else. You intentionally pursue intimacy and deep knowledge.

But we’re always looking for a shortcut, even if it’s unhealthy.


Porn and the Christian marriage

Beyond all that, porn has no place in a Christian marriage. None. At all.

If one spouse is a user, the answer is not to bring the other spouse in on it and make it a leisure activity. The answer is to walk in the light and pursue freedom. You cannot achieve the goal of a healthy, God-honoring marriage by indulging Godless behavior.

Hebrews 13:4 says “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (ESV) Bringing pornography into your marriage bed violates God’s standard for a loving marriage. You can read more about sex in marriage here.

There is no easy button.

I can tell you, as a wife, as a former porn addict, as a victim of sexual abuse and trauma, that marriage and intimacy is not always easy. There can be frustration and even disappointment as you work through all of this, but there is also a sacred, unspeakable beauty that I promise you porn cannot match or even encourage.

If you are a couple struggling with sexual intimacy and other areas of relational intimacy, porn isn’t the answer. It might seem like an “easy” button. Just push play and all your problems are solved, but that isn’t the case in the slightest.

We have the right, even the calling, to fight for healthy and whole marriages that are free of any sort of outside sexual influence. If your spouse uses porn, you do not have to just deal with it or join them. You can stand up and fight for true intimacy and fight to rebuild the foundation of your relationship. I’d say the future health of your marriage depends on it.

We cannot treat sex like a drug that numbs the pain of a broken or hurting relationship. Better sex doesn’t fix deficient intimacy. We have the process backwards. And we can’t surrender to our spouse’s struggles just so we don’t “rock the boat.”

Casting a porn addiction as some pathway to better love is false. Telling spouses they need to stop nagging their porn-using spouse and just join them doesn’t create better intimacy. It might create less friction and less fighting, but there are some things that are worth fighting for. Having a strong, healthy, porn-free marriage, in my opinion, is one of them.

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