Defeating Porn: Are We Creating Panic?

by | Apr 13, 2020 | Pornography, Uncategorized | 53 comments

The Real Stats About Porn: How to defeat it
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How serious is the porn issue we face today, both for ourselves and for the next generation?

Should we be panicking, or is it all going to be okay? I say neither… but also kind of both?

All during the month of April, we’re going to be looking at the porn epidemic and try to get a handle on what the right response should be. Last week we started it off by looking at the effects of porn, and by reminding us that not all porn users are male. Today I want to help us get some perspective on the porn problem, so that we take it seriously, but we don’t make it bigger than it is–like I talked about in my podcast on how porn is like coronavirus. So I asked Connor to dig in to the research and write it up for me, and I’m going to turn it over to him in just a minute.

But first, I want to remind us of something. Yesterday was Easter, the day that we remember Jesus’ resurrection. Because of Him, we are no longer slaves to sin. Because of Him, we now have the Holy Spirit, and that means this:

 

For God did not give us a Spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Let’s remember that, as I turn this over to Connor.


Some people may know me as Sheila’s son-in-law (husband of Rebecca) or as editor and occasional voice on her podcast. Some of you may be aware that I am the technical director for the site, whatever that means (I know what it means, but the description of what I do is technical and boring to most). I have also previously written for Sheila on what to do if your husband is spending too much time playing video games (which has seen a sharp and inexplicable increase in readers during the quarantine). But today, Sheila has asked me to write a post about something different. Something serious. Something important.

So let’s talk about the research and how to put it into context.

To a Christian like me, the research on porn paints a bleak picture.

For years now, my studies and my work have required my becoming pretty familiar with the current landscape of research around issues like porn. It isn’t pretty. Some things have become pretty apparent over the last few decades: Porn is more easily accessible than ever before [1], it’s use is prevalent (especially in younger age groups) [1, 2], and it carries the risk of harmful side effects. And I am not just talking about side effects that are harmful by Christian spiritual and ethical standards, but also by secular standards. We are talking about sexual dysfunction, marital dysfunction, emotional impairment, and behavioural problems [3-7]. And a lot of the numbers are BIG…

… However, panic is not the solution. Firstly because panic is not actually a solution to anything, but secondly because there is hope.

It is not the end of the world

As humans, we are kind of rubbish at applying stats to our personal situations. Nevertheless, I want to try to put the research in context so that when we can use it to our benefit rather than let it cast us into a well of despair.

Find freedom from porn!

Your marriage, and your thought life, do not need to be held captive to pornography.

There is freedom. 

Beat porn–together!

Exposure to porn does not automatically destroy someone or make them a monster.

When looking at research that reports effects such as increased sexual aggression and objectification of sexual partners, especially by males, as well as reduced marital, relational, and sexual satisfaction [8-12], it is tempting to conclude that you should avoid anyone who has consumed porn in the past, or who is still consuming it. But here is an important statistic to keep in mind: Over the last decade, random-sample surveys around the world have been reporting 80%-90% of people under the age of 50 have been exposed to porn through movies, magazines, or the internet.

“Wait, that number seems insanely high! How is that supposed to help us?”

Well, I hope it will do two things. The first is to make it clear that this is a pervasive issue that doesn’t just affect a small group of ‘deviants.’ But the second is to show that porn use does not totally define our worth. Our world isn’t 80% made up of rapists, sociopaths, and monsters. In fact, most marriages (including happy ones) will contain at least one partner who has been exposed to porn, and who has perhaps even intentionally sought it. But how can happy marriages with porn use exist when the research says so many negative things about porn’s effects?

Not all porn use is equal.

There are a number of different factors that researchers need to consider when they study porn use. They need to think about the age group of the porn users, the age of their first exposure to porn, previous sexual experiences, how frequently they seek porn, and what kind of porn they consume. Often, a study will focus on a group of people who are similar in one or more of these factors. That means many of the scary statistics about the effects of porn are specific to people with compulsive porn-seeking behaviours, or to people who experienced very violent porn at a young age, for example.

There are big differences between someone who accidentally came across a magazine one time at 16, someone who seeks porn several times a year, and someone who has been consuming hours of porn each week since they were 12.

Does that mean that porn use is okay in moderation? No, there are still plenty of side effects, including increased or decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, premature or delayed ejaculation, distorted expectations in sex or of sexual partners, etc. These side effects may or may not be present in your spouse if your are married to someone who uses or has used porn, which leads me to my next two points.

Porn does not automatically doom our marriages to failure.

One study in the US showed that 56% of divorce proceedings cite an “obsessive interest” in pornographic content as a contributing factor [14]. That’s another big scary number, and my knee-jerk reaction is to read that and freak out, but it is important to break down what that number actually means.

What it does NOT mean is that:

  • If you or your spouse has used porn there is a 56% chance you will divorce
  • 56% of marriages will end in divorce because of porn
  • Porn alone is responsible for 56% of divorce

These points seem obvious when we think about them, but often we simply don’t think about them. We see a big number and immediately think, “Wow, porn is the ‘Destroyer of Worlds.'” But remember, most marriages will have at least one partner with porn use in their history. That means it is unavoidable that there will be some degree of porn use in most divorced marriages, but also in most marriages that don’t end in divorce. Also, this study is not talking about SOME porn use. It is talking about EXTREME porn use, and even then, it is not the sole factor in many of these divorces. The divorces typically involve extreme porn use AND abuse, infidelity, drugs, gambling, or compulsive spending, among other things.

Stats like these should reinforce our idea that porn is a serious issue that can have serious consequences, but they are not necessarily relevant to our marriages in particular.

Your own situation is the one that matters the most.

I really want to get across the point that not all stats about porn are relevant to you or your marriage, even if you or your spouse have a history of porn use.

Say you discover that your husband (or your wife) has a history of porn use, whether you stumbled across the information yourself, or your spouse disclosed it voluntarily. Do not panic just because of what the stats say. Your spouse is not a stat. For example, if the stats say that based on his patterns of porn use he is more likely to seek violent or degrading sex, and to view you as an object, but he has only ever been tender and affectionate during sex, don’t fuss over that stat. It’s not relevant to you.

If, on the other hand, you are religious and come across a research that says porn use in adolescents reduces their religiosity over time and pushes them towards secularism (which it does [15]), and you have a young teen, that is relevant and concerning to you. (I will be writing a post next Monday that will address porn use in adolescents, so if you want some information on what to look out for and how to help your kids steer clear of porn, definitely check it out.)

Or say you are married to someone with a porn habit who shows concerning behaviours and side effects associated with their porn use, let the research be a comfort to you. If your husband uses porn and also pressures you into acts that you find uncomfortable or degrading, if he makes you feel unattractive and unappealing, if he blames you for his lack of satisfaction in bed, or if he pursues other women behind your back, it is not your fault. It is not about you. It is about his porn use and how he allows it to poison him and your relationship. You are not alone. There is scientific documentation that he is not the first to have been affected this way, and the cause is not you.

Porn is not forever.

Whether someone uses porn infrequently or on a daily basis, whether porn has caused them no visible ill effects yet or has completely changed their personality, help should be sought. Because here’s the thing: porn addiction can be treated. Previous porn exposure can be healed. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not too small to redeem us from sexual sin. Porn attempts to replace real intimacy with a shallow, poisonous imitation, but a dependence on porn can be overcome with help.

Porn use and its associated problems often stem from events or exposures in adolescence. There are plenty of counselors, both Christian and secular, who are trained and certified to help people recover from that, or from the damage caused by another’s porn use. Accountability groups can also help. One great tool we have long recommended on the site is Covenant Eyes. Rather than blocking sites, it sends a report of questionable internet usage to your accountability partners.

Maybe you or your spouse will be one of the people who can just quit cold turkey and never look back. Power to you. Perhaps outside help will be required. There is no shame in that. Maybe lots of help will be needed. Maybe it will take years. Maybe there will be relapses. Maybe there will be fights. Maybe it will seem like too much for one person to shoulder. Let God lend you strength. People can quit porn and undo its effects.

But only if they are willing.

Don’t expect porn to go away on its own.

Sometimes people do just stop. And the statistics show a decline in frequent porn use with age [16]. However once again, it is your specific situation that matters. If you have tried quitting cold turkey but keep relapsing and don’t make progress, it might be time get some help. Or if you are married to someone who has told you they are trying to quit, but who isn’t taking any measures toward that end, it may be time to have a conversation and even bring in a third party to support you in saying, “no more.” And if someone truly is uninterested in getting over their porn use, it is unlikely that any amount of counselling, accountability, or prevention measures will stop them from seeking out and consuming porn.

Wow, ending on kind of a bummer…

No, that was not my intention. I just want to help us understand that porn is preventable, treatable, and not the end of the world, buuuuuuut it is still a serious issue that needs to be addressed seriously if we want to beat it. And again, when you see stats or research about porn that scares you, don’t panic. Stats are general. You are specific. Take a breath, look critically at what it means overall, and ask yourself if it applies to your situation. If it does, decide what it means for you and what you should do with the information.

Finally, I would like to apologize to the spellchecker on this site for my Canadian spelling of behaviour, but I refuse to change.

Have you come across stats or research about porn that seemed terrifying at first? Are there any stats that still concern you? Let’s talk about them in the comments below.

Sources

We hear so many stats about porn that aren’t necessarily taken from reputable studies. Here are some reputable ones that I have found if you want to take a look!

  1. Stavropoulos, Vasilis & Alexandraki, Kyriaki & Anderson, Emma & Latifi, Mohammad & Gomez, Rapson. (2018). Adolescent Pornography Use: A Systematic Review of Research Trends 2000-2017. Current Psychopharmacology. 07.10.2174/2211556007666180606073617.
  2. Bev Betkowski, “1 in 3 boys heavy porn users, study shows,” Eurekalert.org, Feb. 23, 2007. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-02/uoa-oit022307.php (accessed April 10, 2020).
  3. Poulsen, Franklin & Busby, Dean & Galovan, Adam. (2012). Pornography Use: Who Uses It and How It Is Associated with Couple Outcomes. Journal of sex research. 50. 10.1080/00224499.2011.648027.
  4. Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of massive exposure to pornography,” in Pornography and Sexual Aggression (New York: Academic Press, 1984); Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Shifting preferences in pornography consumption,” Communication Research 13 (1986); 560-578, Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 18 (1988): 438–453, Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography on Family Values,” Journal of Family Issues 9 (1988): 518-544.
  5. James Weaver, Jonathan Masland, and Dolf Zillmann, “Effect of erotica on young men’s aesthetic perception of their female sexual partners,” Perceptual and Motor Skills 58 (1984): 929-930.
  6. Anthony Mulac, Laura L. Jansma, and Daniel G. Linz, “Men’s Behavior Toward Women After Viewing Sexually-Explicit Films: Degradation Makes a Difference,” Communication Monographs 69 (2002): 311-328.
  7. Christina Rogala and Tanja Tydén, “Does pornography influence young women’s sexual behavior?” Women’s Health Issues 13 (2003): 39-43
  8. Brown, J. D., & L’Engle, K. L. Xrated sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with US early adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit media, 2009. Communication Research. 36 (1), 129151.
  9. Doornwaard, S. M., Bickham, D. S., Rich, M., Vanwesenbeeck, I., van den Eijnden, R. J., & Ter Bogt, T. F. Sexrelated online behaviors and adolescents’ body and sexual selfperceptions. Pediatrics, 2014. 134(6), 11031110. doi: 10.1542/peds.20140592
  10. Donevan, M., & Mattebo, M. The relationship between frequent pornography consumption, behaviours, and sexual preoccupancy among male adolescents in Sweden. Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare, 2017. 12, 8287. doi: 10.1016/j.srhc.2017.03.002
  11. Lo, V. H., & Wei, R. Exposure to Internet pornography and Taiwanese adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 2005. 49(2), 221237.
  12. Wei, R., Lo, V. H., & Wu, H. Internet Pornography and Teen Sexual Attitudes and Behavior. China Media Research, 2010. 6(3).
  13. Dolf Zillmann, “Influence of unrestrained access to erotica on adolescents’ and young adults’ dispositions toward sexuality,” Journal of Adolescent Health 27 (Aug. 2000): 41-44.
  14. Jonathan Dedmon, “Is the Internet bad for your marriage? Online affairs, pornographic sites playing greater role in divorces.” Press Release from The Dilenschneider Group, Inc., Nov. 14, 2002. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/is-the-internetbad-for-your-marriage-online-affairs-pornographic-sites-playing-greater-role-in-divorces-76826727.html (accessed June 10, 2020).
  15. Perry, S. L., & Hayward. Seeing is (not) believing: How viewing pornography shapes the religious lives of young Americans. Journal of Social Forces, 2017. 95(4), 17571788. doi: 10.1093/sf/sow106
  16. The Barna Group, 2014 Pornography Survey and Statistics. Proven Men Ministries. http://www.provenmen.org/2014pornsurvey/ (accessed June 7, 2018).

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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53 Comments

  1. recovering

    Thank you for this post. I’m a recovering addict. It took time until I could accept that I was an addict mainly because I didn’t see the side effects that porn was having in my life. All the talk about selfish spouses both inside and outside of the bed wasn’t and still isn’t really true with me. So I didn’t think it was that of a huge problem. I still wanted out and always have wanted to get out but it took time until I could be honest with myself about it. Some side effects have started to show themself now that I am working on stopping and I am away from it like lower libido or less desire for my wife. Which sucks specially now that I am really working to get free. That lack of desire easily becomes a temptation to go back but I am working on handling the temptations.
    It’s good to hear that age makes it easier. I am doing what I can to break free and sometimes I am hopeful and other times I am not. It’s not easy to find help everywhere. I my country it’s been difficult. Not many sex therapist here and many don’t seem to see porn addiction as a problem. When I first met the regular therapist I have now her first question was: “Why don’t you watch it with your wife?”.
    Thankfully she came around and realized that I have a problem but she focuses more on the source like stress, anxiety, guilt and shame that I have loved with since I was a kid. It has helped and she has given me tools to work with but I still wish I could find a professional therapist that works with this.
    Do you know if there are stats on how much a partner is bothered by their partners porn use?
    My wife supports me in ending my porn use but she hasn’t done a big deal of it. She never looks at my phone. Never asks. She even thinks that some of the boundaries I have put for myself can be annoying.
    I don’t know if it is because she never caught me. I confessed when we were dating. I have confessed when I have failed before but I haven’t told her how much I have watched it before. Things are much better now then it was before with longer periods without it and my goal is total freedom but I wonder if I should let her “catch me” or show her what I have looked at because she doesn’t seem to care so much. She feels hurt when I have confessed and wants me to tel her before I act out but other than that she doesn’t seem to be bothered. I even offered that we could get a divorce twice but she got really upset, not about the porn thing but because I suggested divorce. She still mentions that but not the porn.
    If I look at myself objectively I am an ok husband if you look past the porn. I provide. I am loving. She says I make her feel loved. I give her massages everyday. Take care of the kids, I do chores. I support her in her dreams by helping her through college and etc. and sometimes I wonder if that’s what makes her not think about it much. She has been cheated before and I don’t know if she draws the line there. We never talk about the porn use and I don’t want to bring it up if it is something she doesn’t want to del with. She is very loving and shows no signs of being affected by it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi recovering! First, I think it’s wonderful that you’re honestly trying to quit and that you’re seeking out help and that you’re trying to be transparent. That’s amazing. Truly. I’m so encouraged by this, and I know other readers will be, too!
      As for your wife, I think if she honestly doesn’t want to know, then you need to honor that. It may be a good idea to get a guy that you can talk to who can pray for you and ask the hard questions (and whom you can also ask the hard questions of, because many people need that support). It sounds like the issue is more that you need some support, but your wife likely just can’t be that for you. And that’s okay.
      And, yes, the longer you go without the porn, the more likely your libido is to return.

      Reply
      • Matilda

        I also think the use of cartoon porn should be addressed. I’ve recently come to learn this is a ‘thing’ and have heard men use it as an excuse. The fact it’s cartoons and not real people means it’s ok, no trafficking etc. Cartoon porn is just as wrong and is also targeted at children. The cartoon porn I was alerted to was the Frozen characters. All very anatomically correct and human like.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, I’ve heard about that. It does suck children in. So sad! And, yes, it is a thing that we absolutely need to resist. Even though it isn’t actual children or adults being raped, it still is ensnaring a lot of children.

          Reply
    • Connor Lindenbach

      Hello, recovering! Like Sheila, I am thrilled to hear that you are working on recovery and taking it seriously, despite not having experienced the negative side effects much. I know it is difficult to work up the strength to fight something when it would seem harmless to leave it be.
      As far as the response of the partner, it really depends on a lot of factors like age, sex, religion, culture, etc., and even then tends to vary quite a bit between individuals. In general though, most of the information about the impact on one’s partner is in the context of the accidental discovery of extreme or compulsive porn use.
      I agree with Sheila that it sounds like your wife may not want to know to some extent. It’s great that you have been up front and honest with her from the beginning, but it would probably helpful to have someone else act as an accountability partner. That way she can know you are working on it and have someone to talk to, but doesn’t have to be apprised of your setbacks.
      Keep up the good fight!

      Reply
  2. Nathan

    Porn use should be taken seriously, but there’s no need to panic or overreact, since it can be overcome.

    Reply
    • Active Mom

      I agree but over react looks different to different people. Is the woman who discovered her husbands 10 year secret porn habit and then filing for divorce over reacting? To some maybe but to her she may have made it clear before marriage vows that porn = cheating and she feels she can’t stay. Porn is a serious issue but with Jesus it can be overcome. However, I don’t think we should set standards for how couples should react. It’s up to the betrayed to decide what they can deal with and what their healing looks like.

      Reply
      • Doug

        I mostly agree with this, but I would also counsel towards reconcilliation as a first step.
        I would also caution that it is more important to seek to stand in Gods will, rather than jusy stand on our right to divorce. Your comment on deciding what we can deal with is especially poignant. It could bery well be Gods will that we learn to deal with things we never believed we would have to, and it is how we respond to those trials that define us, rather than the trial itself. If you decide right up front that you are not going to “deal” with something simply because you don’t think you should have to, or because you laid down some ground rules 10 years ago, then Ineould caution that you may well be placing your will ahead of Gods.

        Reply
        • Active Mom

          Doug I agree! I believe that it is between the wounded party and God. I know in some cases of adultery etc the betrayed heard Gods call to stay and the marriage survived and thrived. However, I also know that a woman who leaves heard Gods call to go and is also thriving. It is between the wounded party and God. Divorce is on the table for a reason. God put it there knowing his children may need it to heal and recover. We shouldn’t interfere as a church family to try to influence the decision rather we should just be there to support and pray for healing.

          Reply
    • Ina

      I would caution the use of that language, Nathan. At its heart, looking at pornography is adultery. The feeling that your husband wouldc knowingly choose something over you (especially something fake) is extremely painful. That is a terrible wound to bear. Should women be encouraged by hearing true testimonies of couples that have overcome? Yes! Should we be informed with facts and research about the nature of addiction and have compassion? Yes! Should we tell people not to overreact to betrayal and soul ripping grief? No.
      As a sidenote, when my husband came before me in confession during the first year of our marriage, I prided myself on not “overreacting.” I thought I dealt with it really well and forgave beautifully. A year later it turned out that all I had done was push my hurt down until it had to come out. It would have been far healthier for both me and my husband if I hadn’t bothered with not overreacting in the beginning.

      Reply
  3. Nathan

    > > over react looks different to different people.
    This is very very true.
    > > Is the woman who discovered her husbands 10 year secret porn habit and then filing for divorce over reacting?
    If they never mentioned or talked about porn before, then I would say yes. If they HAVE talked about it, and perhaps her husband told her that yes, he’s looked at porn before but is over it and no longer does, and both understand and (at least officially) agree that porn is unacceptable, then she’s NOT overreacting.
    When I wrote my post, I was thinking more along the lines of a large scale overall reaction to porn, and thinking that the end of the world is nigh because of it. THAT would be overreacting, but a person getting angry at their spouse for watching it is understandable and not an overreaction

    Reply
    • Ina

      Jesus says, “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Talk about “overreacting!” Clearly, he wasn’t being literal, but was showing that sin requires extreme action. Thankfully, grace exists and there is freedom found and healing and it’s the church’s job to communicate that to every sinner (so all of us.) But sin is sin and requires extreme condemnation. Maybe it’s not a sign of the end being nigh, but clearly Jesus thought it was a
      very serious thing.

      Reply
    • Brokenhearted

      Nathan, it sounds like you are saying that unless a husband or wife specifically states that they don’t want their spouse to cheat on them with porn than it is acceptable. I hope that’s not what you are saying but that IS what it sounds like.
      When a spouse commits adultery, whether that be physically or in their mind, they have divorced their spouse in their heart. When the hurt spouse files for divorce, they are only making legal what the cheating spouse already did.

      Reply
  4. Active Mom

    I just think we need to be careful that we as a church family don’t “decide” what over reaction looks like. It’s not biblical. Technically anyone who looks at porn is committing adultery. You are looking at someone other than your spouse with lust. We shouldn’t start making decisions based on whether it was discussed ahead of time etc etc etc to decide whether or not a woman (or man) could leave the marriage. We aren’t the wounded party. The church (some) does this with adultery and it is wrong. I also agree that porn use in someone’s past isn’t the end of the world. If someone used porn before they got married the spouse does not have grounds to leave etc. However, sexual sin committed during the marriage is a whole different animal.

    Reply
    • Doug

      “Technically anyone who looks at porn is committing adultery.”
      I know I am going to be kicking a hornets nest here, but I do not believe this to be the case. I will, however, admit that the pain it causes can be very real, and it feels like cheating. When I first read it a few days ago, my gut response was to refute it. I was then left feeling like I might be saying something hurtful and to be seen as minimizing others pain, and I really didn’t want to do that. On the other hand, after spending some time thinking about it, I do believe this needs to be said.
      I know that many are going to go straight to Matthew 5:28 here, and say that Jesus considered it cheating, but I will point out that he was talking about matters of the heart. In Matthew 5:21 He also said that anyone angry with a brother or sister was guilty of murder and we do not hold that to mean they are literally murderers.
      The act of adultry is a very specific act, and the definition is not subject to feelings. Porn is an excellent example of this, because one person might feel that it is cheating, and another hold it somewhere less than cheating. A man might say something along the lines of “it isn’t real. It’s just pictures” and be 100 percent convicted in that. I know, because before my conviction that is exactly how I looked at it.
      Even among offended spouses, there are many levels applied to it, because it feels differently to them. I think it is safe to say that all feel it is a betrayal on some level, but that level varies.
      I am not saying that porn isn’t very wrong. It is very wrong for what it is, and there is no need to re-define it as something else.

      Reply
      • Patricia

        When I discovered my husband’s porn use, I told him it was the same as cheating. I’m not sure I actually believed that; I was just very hurt and angry and wanted him to feel condemned. I no longer hold that view and I really don’t think his intent when he looked at porn was to commit adultery. No, not at all. This is a complicated issue, but he was using porn as a means to deal with other problems. – work and personal stress, boredom and yes, our mostly nonexistent sex life. Unfortunately porn use just created additional problems .

        Reply
        • Doug

          Patricia, I agree with your initial impression. I do believe that while porn is not actually adultry, that it is a form of cheating. I should point out tho, that I believe there are many forms of cheating on your spouse that do not actually involve adultry. Some replace their spouse with hobbies or sports, some television, and some social media. Cheating comes in many forms, but porn is probably one of the more damaging. I would offer up this to anyone who questions my opinion. I have been on both sides of the coin. I replaced my wife with porn. It wasn’t a conscious decision to do so, but it is pretty much what happened.
          On the other hand, I have been on the side where I felt like everything was more important than I was, not just in the sexual sense, but literally everything. There might not be the same sense of betrayal as there is with porn, but when someone consistently chooses to place everything on a higher priority than their spouse, there is most definitely a sense of abandonment. I would challenge anyone who said one was worse than the other. They are both equally painful.

          Reply
          • This is a Pseudonym

            Doug, we’re talking about two different passages in Matthew. Matthew 5:28 is talking about issues of the heart (everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her IN HIS HEART). I agree with you that it isn’t correct to say, “Lust = literal adultery, adultery is grounds for divorce, therefore lust = grounds for divorce.” Otherwise we would have to say that anger = literal murder.
            However, the passage that I’m talking about is Matthew 19:9 (whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery). The word for immorality includes adultery of course, but it isn’t the specific word for adultery like it is in the Matthew 5:28 passage. From what I understand, it encompasses other sexual sins as well.
            I personally think that porn use counts as sexual immorality.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, you’re right. The word is porneaia (which is ironic! Or perhaps not. I’m sure that’s where our word came from). It does mean “sexual immorality”, not just adultery.

      • This is a Pseudonym

        Doug, I agree with you that saying that pornography/lust is adultery in the literal sense of that word is incorrect. But did Jesus use the word for adultery in Matthew 19:9 when he was talking about grounds for divorce? Some believe that the Greek word used actually encompasses other sexual sins besides the very specific sin of adultery. Here’s an article on Covenant Eyes talking about it (not sure I 100% agree with everything they say, and some of their other blog posts are kinda icky, but it does open up the conversation around this): https://www.covenanteyes.com/2015/10/08/porn-use-as-grounds-for-divorce-how-my-opinion-changed/
        Also, I think we get hung up on, “Porn isn’t actually adultery, so it’s not quite as bad.” Well, with everything that I know now about porn, I think it’s more evil to look at porn than to have an affair. Viewing porn at the very least fuels an industry that profits off of exploiting women and children. And it’s likely that a porn addict has found sexual gratification from watching videos of actual abuse, coercion, and rape. This stuff is available on “mainstream” sites, not the deep dark interwebs. You can read more about that on Fight the New Drug. So porn isn’t adultery, but I think it’s more immoral.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Certainly the long term consequences are far more far-reaching. Absolutely.

          Reply
          • Doug

            I was not speaking as to whether or not porn was harmful, or even how harmful it is. I was commenting on a specific remark about whether or not it was adultry. You simply can not make a biblical argument that it is, without considering what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount to be a literal statement. I don’t know how you can do that without also addressing what he said about anger. If you are consistent that both are meant in the literal sense, then I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been guilty of murder at one point or another.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Doug, watching porn is not merely lust. It is participating in sex trafficking. To tell you the truth, I don’t really care if it’s the same as adultery or not. It is horrendous. It hurts real people. It scars your soul. It hurts your spouse. It changes your personality. Porn use, if taken to the extreme, is certainly grounds for divorce, and is implicated in 56% of divorces.
            Whether or not it literally is adultery seems like an academic question to me. I don’t honestly care. The point is that it is terrible, and maybe instead of arguing whether it’s really adultery, we should be simply trying to educate people to stop it.

      • Matilda

        It’s never ‘just’ pictures or ‘just’ a video, you are watching another human being, naked & doing goodness knows what. That is adultery. You also have no idea who that person is you are watching and using. Have they been abused? Are they being abused? Trafficked? all sorts of horror. Is that what Jesus would do? Would he look at the most broken human beings on the planet (and if your naked on the internet, that is you!) & instead of loving them, sharing the good news with them, would he just masterbate & move onto the next scene? Do you also know this behaviour will hinder your prayers? It is SO very serious.

        Reply
  5. Sheila Wray Gregoire

    Sorry–on a writing deadline so I haven’t been active in the comments today, but I thought I’d just jump in because this is kind of replying to everyone.
    I completely agree that porn is a big deal, if for no other reason that it promotes sex trafficking and is complicit in the sexual abuse of so many. For that reason alone we need to loudly condemn it.
    The problem comes in that some people hear how widespread it is or hear about all of the effects of porn and then they assume that THIS MUST BE what my fiance/husband is experiencing/thinking/doing. But stats are just stats. Some people who have barely looked at porn are haunted for years afterwards with images from it and with a warped version of sex, while others who had a real habit that lasted years can actually quit quite easily and still does understand real intimacy and can have a healthy sex life.
    So what we’re saying is just this–you and your husband are unique. No one else is you. If porn is a problem in your marriage, don’t assume everything from the stats applies to you. Look at it full on, and react appropriately according to what is actually true, on the ground, because it is not the same for each and every person.
    Does that make sense?

    Reply
  6. Brokenhearted

    Thank you Connor for writing this article. My husband is in recovery and it is hard to read the statistics and not worry that there is more damage that I haven’t seen yet. Thank you for the reminder that my husband is not a statistic and God is more powerful than porn.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that’s exactly it! I remember the night before my baby boy was going in for surgery. We asked the surgeon his chance of survival. He said 25% (and Christopher did eventually succumb). But he also told us that Christopher was not a statistic; for him it was unique. It would be 100% either way. And so we should just focus on him. I think that’s true in many areas of life.

      Reply
    • Nelly

      I just want to come in here and say that a betrayed spouse absolutely does have the option to just leave if sexual immorality is present. Just. Up. And. Leave.
      Now, hear me out. I know that every marriage and every situation is unique and there is no universal fix for these issues. What I want to impress is that the decision to stay or go or suffer or struggle or let go or this or that or whatever is an ENORMOUS burden. This decision is SOUL-CRUSHING.
      Jesus gave us a clear, straight-forward option because he is in the business of freeing us of burdens. Yes, you can stay and fight for your marriage. Yes God will redeem it if that is your choice. But here’s the kicker: YOU DON’T HAVE TO. If you do not feel equal to the task, or you just cannot reconcile “come to me and I will give you rest.” God knows the immense pain of intimate betrayal. He KNOWS how heavy the burden is. He KNOWS the suffering, sacrifices, and settling involved in reconciliation after betrayal. He knows these things and so He gives us an out. He frees us from those burdens because that is not what he wants for us. We do not have to be a martyr.
      Idk. I just wanted to say, it is not an overreaction if God himself divorced Israel. It is not an overreaction if God himself decreed that this is a perfectly reasonable and allowable option. Infidelity whether through porn or other means is so, so, so much more painful and far-reaching than can be understood by someone who has not experienced it. God has experienced it. God knows your pain. God does not want that for any of us and so He sets us free. He gave us divorce to set us free. Nobody can speak against you for accepting His love and mercy and choosing divorce.
      No, I don’t want to see marriages and families fall apart. But I don’t want to see God’s sons and daughters in bandage. Marriage is not more important than the people in it. And if sexual immorality has occurred in the marriage, the covenant is already broken. Whoever files for divorce is only making legal what has already been broken.

      Reply
  7. Nathan

    Brokenhearted…
    > > Nathan, it sounds like you are saying that unless a husband or wife specifically states that they don’t want their spouse to cheat on them with porn than it is acceptable. I hope that’s not what you are saying but that IS what it sounds like.
    Not quite. What I AM saying is that divorce as the very first reaction if porn has never come up before is an overreaction.
    Porn is never acceptable.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      I usually appreciate your comments Nathan and you generally provide a calm, rational approach.
      However in this case I do have to disagree. Sexual fidelity is an expectation in most marriages, but especially Christian ones. The vows themselves set a boundary against porn. There shouldn’t have to be a specific discussion, in the same way there shouldn’t have to be a specific discussion around any type of adultery. It should go without saying.
      To add to my point, if one spouse is secretly viewing porn for a decade – they already know it’s a violation of their spouse, that’s exactly why it’s SECRET in the first place. If anyone should initiate the conversation, it should have been the offending spouse BEFORE they decided to integrate porn use into the marriage.
      I agree that all Christians should make grace a first consideration, but relationships are very personal and individual, and guided by the Holy Spirit. I find it neither unacceptable nor far-fetched for a wounded spouse to leave a marriage with no other afflictions than secret porn use, especially long-term. To say otherwise would be to greatly underestimate the damage it causes.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Porn definitely does do damage. Absolutely.
        I would hope, though, that nobody would divorce hastily. Yes, porn is serious. But so are affairs, and I have known many people to come back from affairs. When children are involved in a marriage, too, kids need you to give it a try. They really do.
        And so much depends on what happens at the disclosure. Was the husband admitting it because he wanted to get help, or did the wife stumble upon it and the husband denied it? Is the marriage otherwise a good one, or has porn influenced how the husband acts towards the wife and the kids in a very detrimental manner? Has the porn been accompanied by sexually acting out in dangerous ways, or is it confined to the internet?
        None of this is to say that porn is acceptable. It’s not. But the point of the article is that porn has different effects on different people. To assume that it’s all the same and it’s going to be 100% all of the bad effects isn’t wise, either. Some people actually do manage to quit quite quickly and completely; some do not. That’s why we’re just saying that it’s important to look at what is actually happening, and not just go with stats.
        But porn is awful for all kinds of reasons–not least of them human trafficking. There is no excuse. It’s just that breaking up a marriage is a very serious thing, especially when there are children. Sometimes there aren’t any choices, and sometimes it’s the right thing to do, depending on how the spouse is acting. But remember that if you divorce a man who is deeply addicted to porn, then the kids are still likely to get unsupervised visitation with him, and that is ALSO a consideration. My prayer is that people can be redeemed from this, and that people will turn from this. That doesn’t always happen. People have free will. But I have seen it happen so many times, and that does give me hope.

        Reply
        • Doug

          I believe that if you base a divorce or even a marriage, on one thing, whether good or bad, that you are probably not totally healthy yourself. If you can’t look at your spouse as a whole person, both good and the bad, and then attempt to make the “best” decision, I would wager that you probably have some blind spots about yourself.
          I would also say this yo anyone who ruled out any chance of grace or reconcilliation. I would just say to you should be grateful that Christ doesn’t share your views. He forgives even those of us who were deliberately rebellious, not just those of us who slipped up on occasion. Before you take a hard stance that your spouse knew better, so that justifies any decision you care to make, sit in front of the mirror, and ask yourself how many times you did something you knew was wrong, and Christ forgave you anyways.

          Reply
        • Anonymous

          Brokenhearted, Ina, all the readers who are working through this – I am so sorry. The pain is absolutely real and very very serious.
          Doug – I absolutely believe that all spouses should forgive any and every offense. But I do not believe forgiveness and reconciliation are the same. We should forgive, understand and continue to love everyone as best we can and to see the value Christ has placed in them. However, in the case of porn, the marriage contract and covenant has been broken, and the wounded spouse is no longer bound to it unless they choose.
          In short – yes, it is my preference that marriages be restored in spite of porn. We should always forgive whether or not the marriage survives. The future of children should certainly be considered seriously, but I don’t think it’s right or acceptable to tarnish the wounded spouse’s spirituality if they choose to leave over porn alone. It’s tragic, but ultimately it’s their decision and they are within their rights. It’s unjust and unfair to have one spouse put the family in jeopardy but make the other spouse solely accountable for the family’s restoration. You don’t get to use porn and then accuse your spouse of being “un-Christ-like”. That’s blame deflecting and victim blaming.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, I would completely agree with you here. Completely. If the spouse chooses to leave, they do have grounds. Absolutely. My prayer would just be that it didn’t come to that, but sometimes it does, when a spouse refuses to get help or change.

          • Anonymous

            Also as a last thought here for porn users/addicts:
            You can absolutely heal from this. You can move forward and have freedom. You can sleep with a clear conscience. You can come to place where you can go a whole day without it crossing yourmind, then a week, then a month…Jesus is ready, willing and able to fight with you. He is the one who brings life to dead places – even relationships, marriages, and sexuality. Even if your marriage does not recover from disclosure, you can trust Him to use you, to heal you, care for you, and highly esteem you. As discouraging as some statistics may be to wounded victims, I am sure they are discouraging to you also. But they cannot tell YOUR future – Jesus can. He has not come to judge the world but to save the world.
            However, you will find that grace and forgiveness walk hand-in-hand with justice and discipline. This is not to discourage you, but to prepare you. God disciplines those He loves. If you find yourself facing hard consequences, know it’s because He loves you and is using this discomfort for your good. He won’t waste your tears as you face the hard truths. DO NOT DESPAIR AND FALL AWAY. Keep going – you’re on the right track.
            “To escape the error of salvation by works; we have fallen into the opposite error of salvation without obedience.” -A.W. Tozer

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Very well said!

      • Brokenhearted

        Thank you Anonymous. You articulated what I was thinking so well.
        Nathan, I’m glad that you aren’t saying that about porn. I wonder if you feel that a spouse filing for a divorce after discovering an affair or one night stand is overreacting?
        I wish people could understand that discovering that your spouse is masturbating to porn is just as devastating as it is to learn that they have been sleeping with someone else.
        I know. My husband did both.
        I am listening to the Holy Spirit and I am staying and fighting for my marriage. But it is a blow to the gut when people downplay the pain and destruction that porn brings.

        Reply
        • Jennie

          Hi Broken-hearted,
          I understand- it’s not “ just pictures.” And it is extremely devastating. I know what it feels like to find out and feel like you have been punched in the gut and can’t breathe at the same time. I am so sorry. Your comment stood out to me because I have thought the same things you mentioned- especially your last sentence. My prayer is for restoration also. This is a hard road to walk.

          Reply
          • Brokenhearted

            I am so sorry Jennie. I pray that God will hold your heart together and help you heal. In the beginning I didn’t really think healing was possible, the pain was so great! But God is a great Healer and even though the pain is not gone, I’m not drowning in it anymore.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Brokenhearted, I’m so sorry! I really am. It honestly is a terrible betrayal. Absolutely.
          I would say, though, that I would say the same thing with an affair or a one-night stand. I think it’s worth seeing if something can be rebuilt. If it can’t, then it can’t. And that’s okay. But especially when there are children involved, you owe it to them later to say that you did everything you could, but it just couldn’t work.
          If someone is having an affair or watching porn and feels no remorse and doesn’t want to change, that’s one thing. If they are devastated by what they did and they do want to change, that is another. It really depends. Every person and every couple is different. I just pray God’s grace on you right now, because that is such a big burden to bear. I’m so sorry.

          Reply
  8. sheri mueller

    Statistics/research never tell the whole story, just a slice of it. The whole story reveals itself when you are sitting in a room with a couple to see the pain of betrayal on the wife’s face, and the shame and guilt of addiction on the husband’s face. As a Christian therapist, I see the reality of this daily. Agree that every couple is different and not every marriage is headed for divorce court (thank you Lord for your ability to heal hearts). However, we “think” though the world’s thinking process and not through God’s word and its truth for direction in our lives. His Word is absent in the majority of research studies and becomes a “pick and choose option” in the lives of Christians. Let’s be forthcoming – “But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) I know this is going to happen from time to time in any marriage – but a daily look, or a several times a day look, with a little or a lot of masturbation… does not make for a God honoring relationship – it makes for a self-centered one. Most Christian women do not even talk about this with their best friends… if he looks, it not a reflection on him…its a reflection of her inadequacy as a woman. Unfortunately, she’s still the one to blame for his lust.

    Reply
  9. Nathan

    > > There shouldn’t have to be a specific discussion
    This we can agree on. Otherwise, somebody could claim to be able to do anything they want unless it was specifically discussed beforehand. And to have a COMPLETE discussion of every unacceptable behavrior, along with every possible interpretationa and variation, is impossible and ridiculous. At some point, common sense has to kick in.
    > > I wonder if you feel that a spouse filing for a divorce after discovering an affair or one night stand is overreacting?
    That’s a good question, and maybe I was really thinking about unacceptable behavior in general, and not just porn specifically.
    If the porn watching was part of an overall pattern that included other things, an immediate divorce mght not be overreacting. Let’s take the fictional case of Bill and Sarah.
    Sarah finds out that Bill has been having an affair and confronts him. Bill cries tears of repentance, begs forgiveness and swears never to do it again. Then Sarah catches Bill doing drugs. Same reaction. Then she finds out he’s been going to strip clubs. Same reaction. Then she catches him watching porn. Same reaction, but she’s had enough and leaves him. That’s NOT an overreaction even though he’s never looked at porn before.
    So I guess what I’m really saying is that an auto-divorce the very first time any bad behavior appears, with no attempt at healing of any kind, is an overreaction.
    Of course, each case is different, but I would hope that for the most part, at least some attempt to heal would happen. Then again, like Sheila said, there does need to be remorse, repentance, ownership of the action, and a genuine desire to end the behavior, and all other bad behavior.

    Reply
    • Active Mom

      Here’s the thing. If Sarah catches Bill having an affair and he cries tears and repents she has still been wounded. His reaction doesn’t mean that her wounds can be healed and the marriage saved. It’s good he repented. It’s good he felt shame and asked forgiveness however, that doesn’t mean she carries the burden to save or heal the marriage now. God doesn’t say you can divorce after 3 times, or after being burned in two different ways. That is not biblical! Part of the consequences for his sin might be her being unable to stay married. That is the right God gave her. He doesn’t get a say at this point. He can work on himself, and his relationship with God but a sincere repentance does not mean her only healthy biblical option is to stay. For those that argue that she should stay for the children I listened to a therapist in a group meeting that asked the women if the children were present when they took their vows? Were the children going to be dependent on her until she died? If the answer was No then she needed to make sure that she was healthy and could heal. The therapist was also a pastor. He loved marriage but loved people more.

      Reply
      • Nathan

        All true. Nothing says that the marriage CAN be saved or that you must wait until “strike 3” to divorce, but nothing says that you must, either.
        The pain is real, but I would hope that if something is the first time, that at least an ATTEMPT at healing could be taken. Each marriage is different, so in this case, it’s up to Sarah to determine if things can be healed.
        But an auto-decision that nothing can be healed if something happens even once is more likely than not to be an overreaction,

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I think the big thing here is that there is no one-size-fits-all thing. Every couple is unique, and every couple hurts in their own way. And God is working differently in different people’s lives. I think the big thing is that we stay open to what God would have to say to us. And, yes, I do think the kids factor into that decision, simply because they bear the brunt of the burden of divorce, far more than the parents do. So I do think they need to be considered. That doesn’t mean that a marriage can be saved, but as the child of divorce, I do hope that parents will consider their kids. No one is saying that anyone MUST get a divorce or that anyone MUST NOT get a divorce. I think we just need to remain open to what God is doing, and get on board with that. I do think that God releases a lot of people from unhealthy marriages. But sometimes he’s also really working on a spouse’s heart, and that spouse will become a different person. So there can’t be a prescription, “this is what you must do.” That’s all.

          Reply
  10. Nathan

    I’ll also add that if I get caught doing something like that the very first time, but show no remorse or even acknowledgement that it’s wrong, then an auto-divorce might not be an overreaction.
    I know of two marriages that have survived infidelity and one that has survived porn use. In those cases, there was genuine remorse and a desire to end the behavior.
    Sadly, I have known many marriages that did NOT survive infidelity. In all of those cases, the spouse (usually but not always the husband) would get caught, beg forgiveness, swear that it won’t ever happen again, then it would happen again. So while they ACTED remorseful, it wasn’t genuine.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, there’s a huge difference between being sorry you got caught and being sorry you did it!

      Reply
  11. Nathan

    Comments above about cartoon porn
    This should also be addressed. The excuse of “it’s not real people” is just another version of “it’s just pictures”. Nothing but a hollow excuse.
    And while cartoon porn doesn’t DIRECTLY involve trafficking, people who watch it likely graduate to other things, things that DO involve trafficking.
    So yes, it’s serious, it’s damaging, it can cause other problems, and any excuses are just those. Excuses

    Reply
  12. Nathan

    > > I think the big thing here is that there is no one-size-fits-all thing. Every couple is unique, and every couple hurts in their own way.
    > > No one is saying that anyone MUST get a divorce or that anyone MUST NOT get a divorce.
    Yes to both of these

    Reply
  13. Doug

    I’m going to say this, and I hope it reaches the right ears. Some of you know what I have endured in the course of 37 years of marriage. Much of the damage was self inflicted, but the worst was not. When someone starts talking about their hurts, I get it. I know how deep they can cut. I haven’t always been a good husband by many of your standards, and most of you would have kicked me to the curb. But when you talk about someone being unfaithful, in the same breath that you say you would divorce if you had to face something like pornography, I question if you know what faithfulness really is. I honestly question if you know what love is. You say you love unconditionally, except you don’t. There is nothing you won’t endure for your sons and daughters, but spouses are different.
    I don’t think anyone should be yoked to someone indefinitely in the face of abuse or ongoing sin. Nobody should have to endure that. On the other hand, if you claim to love someone, I don’t see how you can arbitrarily say that there are no second chances because you are just to fragile. There is a great deal I regret in my marriage, a lot of damage I have dealt, and a lot I have endured, but I wouldn’t trade it for anyone elses. My wife has stood by me when she had cause to leave, and I have done the same, and it took a long time to get to where we are now. It wouldn’t have happened if either of us had quit, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that had we done so, neither of us would be as secure wherever we ended up, as we are together. Sometimes it is the struggles we endure that make us worth being with ourselves. We have to go thru them to become the people we were meant to be. Sometimes that can be a very messy, very painful process.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      I don’t think any one here said they would leave because they are “too fragile”.
      It sounds like you believe there is no such thing as a loving divorce. You are absolutely entitled to that belief. Personally I tackle love and forgiveness separately from the marriage contract itself.
      Last year, I had to have my water heater repaired. I hired a contractor I didn’t know who claimed to be Christian. Without going into all the details, it was a horrible scenario filled with lies, shortcomings, excuses, and incomplete work. They did not deliver on their end of the contract, even though they received payment. I could have pursued legal action or other punitive measures, but I knew a bit about them and their lives and decided not to. That’s grace and mercy. I prayed for them and we continue to pray for them and their families. That’s love. Am I going to hire them for another job? No. It’s unwise, un-shrewd, and continuing to fund someone for not working is not helping them improve their business or character.
      Grace, mercy, love and forgiveness are all present, but loss of contract and establishment of boundaries are there too.
      There is no one answer for everyone and I would agree that just because you can divorce doesn’t mean you have to, but I maintain that it’s inappropriate to cast aspersions on people who decide on divorce when they have legal and biblical grounds. It can be done with love, it can be done with forgiveness, and doesn’t make you less of a Christian.
      I am so happy to hear that your marriage is still growing and thriving in spite of everything, Doug. That’s a wonderful blessing. Hope your week gets better, truly.

      Reply

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