How to Treat a Porn Addiction: A Psychologist Speaks

by | Dec 1, 2016 | Pornography, Resolving Conflict, Uncategorized | 31 comments

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I’ve written a lot about what to do when you realize your husband watches porn, and why porn is so damaging to marriage–even if you watch it together. 

Today Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a Christian psychologist with tons of experience in actually treating porn addiction. Porn is not harmless, and it can wreak havoc on relationships. But it’s not impossible to quit a porn addiction–and if you or your spouse watches porn, I hope these steps can bring the two of you to a road of healing.

Here’s Wyatt:


How do you treat a porn addiction? Find your husband watching porn? Make sure to check out this post about treating porn addiction to bring healing and trust back into your marriage:

Since the beginning of time, men have wrestled with lust. King David is one of the best examples during Biblical times and most are familiar with his Bathsheba encounter in 2 Samuel 11: 2-4. He was up on his rooftop and spotted a beautiful woman in the village bathing naked. Does he turn away and repent of his lustful eyes? No, he calls her to his bedroom and has sex with her!

Many years later Jesus tells his audience “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, NIV). Jesus wouldn’t warn his audience on a behavior unless it was something that happened often. Therefore, lust in the human heart is nothing new.

However, easy access to sexually explicit content through the internet is new. Now men have access to free pornography 24/7 right in their pocket on their phones. The combination of a lustful heart plus easy access has created an explosion of pornography addiction over the past few years that’s destroyed marriages, devastated families, wrecked employment, and in some cases even caused imprisonment. As most addiction specialist know, the three A’s to addiction are accessibility, affordability, and anonymity and porn provides all three. It’s accessible because it’s everywhere on the internet, it’s affordable because the majority of it is free, and it’s anonymous because you can view it without no one ever knowing.

Unfortunately, most men have no idea how addicting porn can be and how devastating the impact is. “Till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life” (Proverbs 7:23, NIV). Porn has been shown to be as addictive as heroin or crack cocaine because it lights up the same reward center in the brain.1 Combating porn is not as simple as just deciding to stop. It’s a neurological addiction akin to alcohol or drug addiction, making it very complicated.  

In addition, the Family Research Council reports that men who regularly view porn are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their wives and are at heightened risk for infidelity and divorce. As men consume porn filled with airbrushed bodies of women getting paid to be overly responsive, men often start preferring porn over real sex with their wife. Further, young people being raised with porn are becoming desensitized to it and view not recycling as more immoral than viewing pornography, according to a new study by Barna. Last, Barna reports that up to 64% of all Christian men are viewing pornography at least once a month. The power of pornography has infiltrated the church, filling men with shame, guilt, and powerlessness. Paul sums it up well when he says “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. “(Romans 7:15-19, NIV).

Something must be done! Here’s a list of ideas for couples to get started on winning the war with pornography!

1. Men: tell her

Husbands who struggle with porn addiction must open up to their wives about it. Women are often much more hurt when they accidentally discover their husband’s porn use compared to if he voluntarily admits it. When the wife accidentally finds out, not only does it feel like sexual betrayal, but it’s also a major breach in trust because of the lying and deceit about it, which is often more painful than the porn use itself.

2. Wives: balance your reaction

Wives, try to balance your reaction by not over-reacting but also not under-reacting. A wife who over-reacts threatens divorce and has no empathy for her husband’s porn addiction. This type of reaction often encourages the husband to dive deeper into secrecy to ensure his wife never finds out again. At the same time, a wife who under-reacts is also detrimental. She responds by being a bit disappointed but knows it’s a “guy thing” and not that big of deal. This type of reaction often doesn’t create enough motivation for the man to stop looking at porn because it doesn’t seem to really bother his wife.

3. Become a unified front

Couples must learn to become a unified front on battling porn. I specialize in marriage counseling in Boulder, CO and porn is a common problem with couples I see. Often, the goal is helping the husband completely open up about his porn use and helping the wife work through her feelings of betrayal and understanding why it’s such a struggle for her husband.

Similar to discovering your husband is an alcoholic, wives must spend time understanding pornography as a neurological addiction, why it’s so powerful for their husband, what his triggers are, and what about their marriage may influence it. For example, husbands who feel sexually satisfied in their marriage often have a decreased risk of pornography. However, it’s never the wife’s fault that her husband looks at porn because it’s ultimately his choice to cross the line. But, chronic sexual dissatisfaction within marriage can certainly increase a man’s temptation to turn to porn for fulfillment. “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5, NIV).

My wife and I created a free, online porn addiction help seminar to help couples become a unified front by first understanding the power of pornography and second learning how to overcome the power of pornography together.

4. Men must understand their past

Men must understand their story to understand what drives their porn addiction. They should make a timeline from childhood to current on all of their sexual encounters. When did they first see a naked women, what was their first sexual encounter, what was their sexual experiences like in high school and college, what was their relationship like with their mother, were they ever abused, etc.

These types of questions tend to reveal a lot about a man’s sexual story. For example, some men who struggle with porn may have had a mother who was cold and rejecting and looking at porn provides a woman’s attention they never received. Another example may be a man who never felt like he was successful with girls in high school compared to all his buddies but in porn he can finally feel like the alpha. Still others may have been the alpha male growing up with lots of sexual encounters and now they are married but porn allows them to keep that feeling alive.

Men must learn their history and what led to their porn addiction because it’s often fueled by something other than just the rush of seeing a naked woman. The Fight of Your Life by Clinton and Laasar is an excellent resource for this.

5. Eradicate it on the outside and inside

Men must develop a battle plan to start eradicating lust from their life both internally and externally. One of the first things men should do to eradicate porn externally is download a filter onto all of their devices, such as Covenant Eyes. This type of software will save them from themselves because even if they have a weak moment and desire porn the filter will block it for them.

For men who struggle with porn, if they have access to it somewhere, it’s usually just a matter of time before they view it. Similarly, an alcoholic trying to recover would never leave a bottle of Jack Daniels in the closet. In addition, it’s important to have the man’s wife set up the password for their account so they’re never tempted to login and disable the filter. Also, it’s ideal to set up their wife as their accountability partner to receive a weekly report with all of their online activity. Knowing their buddy who also struggles with porn will receive their accountability report may increase motivation some but knowing their wife will receive a report of all their online activity will send their motivation through the roof.

Next, men must pay attention to all of the subtle ways they’re fuelling their lust. They may not be looking at porn anymore, but how much do they view programs with sensuality, look at articles about the hottest celebs, stare at women’s breasts every time they see them in public, etc. Each man must track how they are feeding their lust and strive towards purity instead. Rather than seeing how much they can get away with before crossing the line, they must see how holy they can become so there’s not “even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3, NIV).

Next, to eradicate lust from their life internally one of the most important things is to prioritize time with God daily. Men need time to get filled with His presence and power to help them overcome their lustful bent. Also, memorizing Scripture pertaining to lust is important so when temptation hits, they can counter it with the Word, similar to how Jesus rebuked Satan in the desert with Scripture.

Next, men must identity their maladaptive beliefs about women and learn to modify them. For example, after deep reflection and discussion, one man I worked with uncovered his belief that experiencing a woman’s breasts was the most important goal in life. Once he was able to articulate this belief, he then could critique and modify it. He eventually changed it to say, “Experiencing a woman’s breasts is not the most important goal in life and to think so is immature, the most important goal in life is honoring God, my family, and my career.” He put this new belief on his phone to meditate on it daily so it could slowly replace his original perspective. Doing so eventually helped him become less obsessed with women’s breasts and to keep them in proper perspective rather than as an idol in his life.

6. Relearning sex

Men should consider having a sex fast with no masturbation each time they fall into pornography for a period of time they and their wife agree upon. Doing so can serve as a natural consequence and provide an opportunity for them to regain mastery over their sexual behavior because it has just mastered them.

It also can provide time for their wife to heal from the breach in trust. In addition, men must learn how to have intimacy oriented sex rather than body oriented sex. Porn viewing makes men overly focused on body parts and sexual encounters become more about them getting their “high” than becoming one with their wife. Instead, men need to learn how to connect with their wives emotionally through sex. One excellent way to facilitate this is for men to share some of their loving feelings toward their wife before sex, focus on her pleasure during sex, and look into her eyes occasionally during the encounter and especially during orgasm. Eye contact will help men connect to their wife’s soul rather than just to her body.

Remember, overcoming porn addiction is often a journey and not a destination. There’s going to be setbacks so expect them. However, putting these steps into practice can send you well on your way to victory!

wyattfisherbio

Dr. Wyatt Fisher is a licensed psychologist. He and his wife lead Christian marriage retreats and he also runs a Christian dating site.

 

 

 


References:

1-Judith Reisman, Jeffrey Sanitover, Marry Anne Layden, and James B. Weaver, “Hearing on the brain science behind pornography addiction and the effects of addiction on families and communities,” Hearing to U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, Nov. 18, 2004.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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31 Comments

  1. Dean

    This is a great post, it resonates with my struggles in many ways.

    I told my wife about my addictions before she discovered, and that helped a lot.

    My wife was my “accountability partner” – we made sure I cannot relapse without her knowing – and that was very motivating indeed.

    Also I strongly agree about the benefits of “sex fast with no masturbation” as a relapse consequence.

    Thank you for this post!

    • Wyatt Fisher

      Thank you Dean…..wonderful to hear how much you could relate with my article and some of the tips. Great job battling this with your wife as a team!

      Best!
      Wyatt

    • Ann

      That’s great! I wonder what do you consider as relapse? I would say that is intentional looking at nudity, yet it seems to be not a big deal for him unless it is about 20 images, not 200.

  2. TWB

    I have to disagree on a couple of points. David’s eyes were not lustful, his heart was. If he had simply looked and not allowed his heart and mind to pursue Bathsheba, then there would have been no sin. To lust is not to look, but to covet. This scripture often gets misinterpreted. But Dr. Jason Staples speaks to this much better than I could on his blog: http://www.jasonstaples.com/bible/most-misinterpreted-bible-passages-1-matthew-527-28/

    • Wyatt Fisher

      True….lust certainly starts in the heart

  3. AC

    I really like this post. I told my wife too but she kind of underreacted. She got a little sad but never spoke of it again although I asked her to be my accountability partner. I am pretty much struggling alone. I don’t know if it is easier but the guilt and shame always drives me back to the sin so I am trying. I dont really get the sex fast thing. It has always annoyed me when I read it. Why do I have to have a sex fast? I am practically fasting from sex all the time. my wife never wants to have sex. And it’s not because of my porn struggles. Since she got pregnant and has our daughter it has been like this and that was almost 2 years ago. So I don’t get it. Maybe it irritates me because I feel like I never had a real sex life. But maybe it’s good to stop having sex. The only problem I see is that the desire for my wife will increase until it gets annoying. Let me explain: As I said my wife is not interested in sex. She has told me that she doesn’t feel like having sex often so it is practically once a month or two if I’m lucky. I have always tried to initiate and tried everything I can. I know I’m a douche because I have struggled with porn but I have always wanted to have a good sexual relationship wth my wife. My hope has been to be so intimate with her that I find more motivation to stop, maybe it’s dumb but that’s what I have been thinking. Anyway a couple of months ago I stopped trying anymore. I just got irritated and angry. Altough I hate porn has helped me to be calm. I haven’t felt the need to initiate because I found release there. Do I like it that way? No, I want to be free from this. And I do miss how close my wife and I were before we got our daughter but now my wife lives for our daughter. Nothing is more important for her than our daughter so if I get release somewhere else but still do what a provider and father should do she doesn’t seem to care. Notice I said provider and father, not husband because i don’t feel married anymore. I often feel Our marriage lasted 4 months and now we are roommates and work partners. So do I never want to have sex with my wife? Yes in reality I want it often but I really want it when I have gone some days without porn. I love those days because I just want her and to be with her. And I can feel that desire without being ashamed because I feel better without porn. so that’s why I don’t get the sex fast. I am so irritated to feel desire for my wife and never be able to let her meet that desire and if I would go a time without porn then a sexual fast would mean that I wouldn’t even be able to fantasize about it because I would never that there’s no chance. I feel like it would have the opposite effect and drive me back to porn. I may be wrong but I don’t see it.

    • Wyatt Fisher

      Thanks AC….yes, if you’re already in a sex starved marriage it can be really difficult considering a sex fast each time you look at porn. Sounds like your marriage could be headed for serious trouble. I’d highly recommend you and your spouse watching PornBattle (see link below) together and trying to get some help from a local Christian counselor to discuss the vicious cycle you’re in and how to break it.

      https://www.christiancrush.com/p/pornography-addiction-help.html

      Blessings!
      Wyatt

  4. AA

    I understand that there are tools to prevent him from watching porn.

    But what about masturbation? How would I know he is not still doing it? Isn’t that an important part?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that would be. Here’s what I would say, AA: At some point, you have to trust him. You can’t really be always checking up on him and having to know everything. BUT, you can’t trust him unless he’s proving that he’s trustworthy. So make sure that he’s in a good accountability program, like Celebrate Recovery. Make sure he has a good accountability partner. See a counsellor together, if you can. And if he refuses to do the accountability thing, then ask someone that you both respect and are close to to come and sit down with you and back you up and insist on it. Bring in a brother or a father or a pastor or something. Because he needs things in his life where you know he’s getting better, and where you can slowly start to rebuild trust again.

    • Wyatt Fisher

      Hi AA,

      Masturbation can be a tricky topic and people have different views on it. People who choose to masturbate must be careful it doesn’t become an idol in their life by turning to it every time they are bored, frustrated, aroused, etc. They also must be careful they don’t turn to masturbation instead of their spouse. Lastly, they must be careful of their thoughts while masturbating to ensure they don’t drift towards other people beyond their spouse. However, if none of these things are occurring then some view it as a valid release during marriage as needed. Each couple should discuss masturbation and what role, if any, it should play in their relationship based on both of their needs, concerns and values.

      Blessings!
      Wyatt

  5. E

    I found this article really helpful. It was interesting to see a psychologist’s viewpoint, and I found the problem solving approach to be refreshing in a world that often looks to assign blame rather than fix the issue.

    To the negative commenters above:

    The ‘sex fast’ is biblical – 1 Corinthians 7 – do not deprive one another EXCEPT perhaps BY AGREEMENT for a LIMITED TIME, that you may DEVOTE yourselves to prayer. That is not ‘just take a break from sex’, this time should be used by the husband to get his sexuality under control, so it no longer controls him. The same would app,y to any wife/woman struggling with lust/pornographt/erotica/masturbation.

    I don’t think either party should be encouraged to leave the marriage until the other sorts themselves out, as long as the spouse with the issue (eg porn addiction) has admitted that it’s a problem. If they haven’t admitted that their sin is a problem, then yes, separation would be appropriate. But asking a spouse to ‘sort themselves out’ with no help or support, when they are trying, just isn’t going to work, and will most likely end in divorce.

    We are supposed to ‘forgive our debtors as we have been forgiven’. God forgave us all our sins the moment we repented and decided to turn away from those sins and accept Jesus, even if we still struggle with those sins today. We need to forgive like that. If someone has hurt us, even left us feeling completely devastated, but then confessed, apologised, and is trying to change, we need to find it in our hearts to forgive them also. This is not easy to do, in fact it will probably be the hardest thing we ever have to do, but it will also most likely be the most worthwhile. Because that what He wants most for us – our new commandment: to love others as He has loved us.

    • Wyatt Fisher

      Great comments E….yes, the goal of the sex fast is for the offending party to purify their heart with sex by putting it back into it’s proper place rather than an idol in the center of their heart. It’s also a time for the offended spouse to heal until the desire for intimacy returns.

      The steps outlined only apply to offending parties who are truly repentful of their porn use, take ownership for their behaviors, and are really motivated to improve to honor God and their spouse

    • Bridget

      E, what negative commenters???

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Bridget, I deleted one comment. Just one. It was very abusive. I have no idea what is going on in the comment section here, but there IS something going on. Many people are commenting under different aliases, but they’re the same person. I can see that. And then I think people are going back in and deleting their comments. I may have to turn off comments here because of all the people who are just being dishonest and pretending to be someone they’re not.

  6. Joanne

    Thank you Wyatt, your videos are excellent! And so much of what your wife was explaining in them was also very true!!!!!

    Love Joanne

    • Wyatt Fisher

      Thank you Joanne for the kind words. Yes, the comments my wife makes in the videos are very powerful.

      Take Care,
      Wyatt

  7. Anonymous Wife

    What worked for my husband was very different.

    First, the problem ultimately wasn’t about lust. My husband had turned to porn to deal with sources of stress. It wasn’t a reflection of our relationship or sex life.

    Second, the problem was fueled by a cycle of addiction. He would get stressed, indulge, feel guilty, swear that he’d never do it again, and then the guilt would cause more stress and the pattern would repeat.

    Third, there was a sort of splitting of his personality. He was and is an awesome guy, but nobody is perfect. Other people, however, would think he was perfect, and he felt intense pressure to be perfect and a sense that he was just fooling people because he wasn’t 100% perfect. During the worst of the addiction, there was the perfect side of his personality, and then there was the flip side that seemed to want to be bad and self-destruct. The “good” side was appalled at what the “bad” side was doing, but wasn’t able to stop it.

    So, here’s what worked:

    We had to stop the personality split. He had to truly acknowledge what he was doing and take ownership of it – not just criticize the behavior, but really admit to himself that yes, he was choosing to do these things.

    In doing so, he needed to admit that he wasn’t perfect, and that this was okay.

    He had to consciously think about how he would handle stress in the future, so that he wouldn’t fall back into the same habits.

    Most of the work was him. While the problem affect me, it wasn’t truly MY problem. The one thing that did involve me was making time for us together, and also getting to the point where he could discuss things with me, sexual or otherwise, that didn’t fit with the squeaky-clean “perfect” image, because I wanted to make sure that he could feel accepted as he truly was.

    What didn’t work, at all, was having him make resolution after resolution (it just fed the addiction/guilt cycle). Monitoring didn’t work either. It made it more difficult for me to go online, and it just made him look for ways to work around it. I think a subconscious part of his “flip side” actually wanted to be caught, to rebel against the perfect image. Recovery meant that he no longer had the urge, even when faced with opportunity (which, quite frankly, can be available anywhere).

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks so much for sharing your story! I think a lot of people will be able to relate to that. I’m so glad that you’re both moving forward. That’s wonderful.

    • E

      Yes! You have put it into words so well! You are so right about the resolution/addiction/guilt cycle! Also allowing your spouse to be less than perfect, and still accepting and loving them, oh my goodness, I can’t imagine how hard that must be for someone who has been deeply hurt by their spouses actions, but, as someone who has hurt my spouse with motivations that seem similar to what you have describedI can certainly say that what perfectionists really need is to feel like they are allowed to fail, and will still be loved! I have found that since accepting Jesus, I haven’t really had the urges any more, because now I know that God loves me no matter what, and I always have His arms to run to and He is my comforter. I don’t have a deep yearning for others approval any more, and even if the feeling does come, I now know what to do with it – take it to God and pray, and read His Word, where I find the unconditional love my soul spent years trying to find with the wrong people!

    • Wyatt Fisher

      Wow…sounds like you’ve done an incredible job supporting your husband and becoming a unified front with him against porn….way to go!

  8. Jay Pyatt

    Wyatt,
    Thank you for this great post. My experience with psychologists has been hit and miss. I have a friend that is now on OCD meds because the DSM has dropped any reference to sex addiction.

    I was able to see Dr. Judith Reisman speak earlier this year at the Set Free Summit. She was really powerful.

    What are you thoughts on a mentor to help men struggling with this issue? If someone that has been through the problem can walk with them to find freedom.

    • Wyatt Fisher

      Thanks Jay….glad you enjoyed the post….yes, finding a mentor who has walked through this issue and found freedom can be extremely helpful. Below is a free seminar my wife and I put together on this topic to help men and couples needing support.

      https://www.christiancrush.com/p/pornography-addiction-help.html

      Blessings!
      Wyatt

  9. Mark

    Sheila, I was reading this post the other day and there were a lot more comments than there are now. I can still see the remnants because ‘E’ says ‘to all the negative commenters up above’ but there are no negative comments….they’re gone.

    I understand you have a policy against negative comments, and that’s great! However I have seen you outright attack people on here, and outright let people attack others on a supposed Christian website.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Mark, I deleted one comment. Just one. It was very abusive. I have no idea what is going on in the comment section here, but there IS something going on. Many people are commenting under different aliases, but they’re the same person. I can see that. And then I think people are going back in and deleting their comments. I may have to turn off comments here because of all the people who are just being dishonest and pretending to be someone they’re not.

      • Mark

        Sheila, that doesn’t even make sense

        How would someone delete their own comments off your website?! I have commented on your website over the years, then wanted them taken off but couldn’t do it. The only person who could delete comments is you!

        So I think its you being dishonest and you are deleting them yourself. I’m not sure either why you would assume or even be able to tell the person commenting is the same. Sounds like you’re the one being dishonest here.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Mark, I’m going to be honest here. YOU’RE one of the fishy comments that I can see from the technical backend. I won’t tell you exactly what’s fishy about it, because I don’t want to let you know. But there are a number of people doing the exact same thing and it’s seriously WEIRD.

          I’ve never had this happen before on a post.

          But the fact that you’ve reacted so negatively and accused me like this really gives confirmation that you are the same person.

          I’m sorry if I’m wrong–but I’ve had several web people look into this and this comment thread is really weird–people using VPNs to hide their whereabouts, etc, and many other things. It’s weird.