With Porn, We Need More Than a Gospel of Sin Avoidance

by | Feb 8, 2021 | Pornography, Uncategorized | 10 comments

Merchandise is Here!

Quitting porn needs to be something that changes you–not just something that allows you to avoid what you find really enticing.

Last week on the podcast we were talking about how women are not methadone for their husbands’ sin addictions. They can’t just have sex with wives and then think that the porn addiction will go away.

First, that teaching dehumanizes women, treating us like objects (and second class ones at that; we’re a dismal substitute for what men really want).

But second, it doesn’t even work. We know from our survey and others that having sex with your wife does not stop a man from wanting to see porn. And, in fact, many times watching porn causes men to stop wanting to have sex with their wives!

So wives putting out more cannot be the solution to porn addiction.

Our guest, Michael John Cusick, summed this up so well that I want to take a minute and reiterate some of what he said.

Quoting Dallas Willard, he said: “We need more than a gospel of sin avoidance.”

I’m going to paraphrase Michael here, but his main message was this:

Jesus doesn’t just save us. He heals us. He binds up our wounds. Jesus’ first sermon was to bind up broken hearts and set captives free.

We tend to see the gospel as: “Jesus died for my sins, I ask Him into my life, and then I try to be a good person until I go to heaven.”

But that’s not the gospel! The real gospel is about  transformation and restoration; that I’m made whole so that my cup overflows into the world and the kingdom comes.

If the gospel can’t address porn, let’s go home.

Most Christians are caught between ceaseless striving and indulging brokenness, but the restorative gospel of Jesus is a third way, that makes us free through restoration and transformation.

We need to stop focusing on sobriety–get men to stop sinning. The goal is not sobriety. That’s the doorway. The goal is freedom and healing.

And freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want, but the ability to do what we most need to do.

We are looking for freedom and restoration and transformation when it comes to porn use, not just striving to stop watching porn.

And what so many men (and female porn users) need is to have a real transformation with how they see intimacy. With porn use, often men’s negative emotions are channelled into porn. Bored? Watch porn. Frustrated and angry? Watch porn, It will make you feel better; more in control. It will give you that rush. Stressed? Watch porn. It will help you forget and help you escape. Lonely? Watch porn. It will make you feel that rush of hormones, and also make you feel like somebody wants you.

Now, let’s back up a minute. Do you remember a while ago I shared about the five levels of communication–cliches, facts, opinions, feelings, and needs/fears/dreams? Well, we get more vulnerable as we move down that chain. 

Many couples never get beyond opinions, only rarely sharing feelings, and even more rarely sharing needs or fears. 

The problem with porn is that many men have taken those needs and fears and transferred them to porn. 

This means the very basis for real intimacy has been stripped out of the marriage, and has been directed towards pornography. Many men (and female porn users as well) have ended up short-circuiting their own ability to enjoy intimacy because it’s all been transferred to pornography, and they have no experience becoming vulnerable with anyone.

They don’t know how to bond or form attachments in the same way because the very impetus for that bonding–the very thing we share as we grow intimate–has been triggers for porn use rather than bonding with the wife.

Then what’s happened? When they’re stressed at work, worried about money–conversations that in a healthy marriage would cause a couple to bond closer together and be there for each other–the porn user has often just gotten grumpy and prickly and angry because the stress makes them really “need” to watch porn, but the wife’s presence or the kids’ presence makes that too difficult.

So these moments that could be bonding moments instead are moments when he just pushes her farther away.

Quitting porn without learning how to become intimate will not fix a relationship.

That’s what Michael Cusick was talking about! We need a gospel of transformation, that changes a porn user from the inside out and helps them heal and become vulnerable again. Helps them so they don’t have to hide.

Just this morning I woke up to yet another comment from the wife of a porn user (I usually wake up to several comments on various older posts, every single day). She writes:

How do I forgive when my husband had no intention of confessing? I found out and he stopped the porn use but he said he planned to do it forever until I found it. Now he feels like a new man but I’m devastated and don’t feel I will ever trust him again. He planned to deceive me for the rest of our marriage.

Exactly. You can’t move on until the porn user has shown that they’re committed not just to quitting porn, but to addressing the underlying intimacy issues. 

That’s why simply vowing that he’ll never do it again and he’ll try harder isn’t enough. How does the wife know anything has changed? If he’s still not sharing emotions with her; if he’s still acting distant; how does she know?

She needs to feel close to him. She needs him to be vulnerable and real with her.

She needs him to be restored and whole. 

That’s what Jesus does. Jesus binds up our infirmities. He carries our sorrows, our hurts, the things that made us run away from real intimacy in the first place. 

On the cross, He shows us that the most powerful One in the universe allowed Himself to be hurt for our sake–not only so that our sins would be forgiven, but to show that sacrifice and vulnerability are the key to the kingdom of God. That it’s not about bravado and false fronts and pretending to have it all together. It’s about humbling yourself. 

And then He gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to make this real in our lives. 

Just saying you’ll quit porn is not enough. 

Phil, one of our long-time commenters, has been drilling down on this in the comments for years, and I so appreciate his tenacity. When he quit, he also needed help. He needed a recovery group. He needed to address his own issues. He needed to understand what real intimacy looked like, and to be able to open up to his wife. 

So many women are shattered because their husbands have promised change, and then told the wives that they should accept that on faith, but nothing is changing in the way they relate to their wives. They don’t open up. They’re still angry. They’re still distant.

The gospel must be more than just sin avoidance.

That’s why Every Man’s Battle doesn’t work. That’s why we need a bigger conversation about this. We need to see both how big God is, and how vulnerable Jesus allowed Himself to be.

And then we need to let that change our lives. 


This is the conversation we want to start with The Great Sex Rescue. 

Our book launches in just three weeks now, and the 400 people on our launch team have been incredible and so encouraging! If you’ve pre-ordered, you can join the launch team and get access to the book right away. Just send me your receipt (the details are lower down on this page) and you’ll get an invite to the Facebook Group. We’ve already done two Facebook Lives with more to come!

Here’s just a little bit about what they’ve told us so far:

 

I’m about 4 chapters in and soaking in everything I’m reading. This book reads like a best friend over coffee and I don’t want the conversation to end. Thank you for meeting women where they are. I’m carving time out of my day to sit and read!

The Great Sex Rescue

We just want to help change the conversation in the evangelical world.

Our resources have treated women as the solution to men’s porn addictions–or else they’ve told men they just need to try harder. 

Those aren’t the solutions. 

Let’s get back to the real gospel of Jesus. 

The Great Sex Rescue

Launches March 2!

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

Pre-Order Now! (Helps us out a ton)

And if you email your receipt, we’ll send you a special pre-order BONUS

Time to Pre-Order

Day(s)

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If porn is the story of your marriage, know that we are so, so sorry.

We’ve seen so many people struggle with this–and so many female porn users struggle as well.

But please know that the gospel is big enough to help you through this. But it won’t help if you only focus on stopping watching porn.

It will only help if you allow Jesus into those deep recesses where you’re scared to go.

Vulnerability and intimacy are the real transforming power, and they come through the healing work of the One who binds up all our wounds.

If you’re having trouble, please seek a licensed counselor who knows about sex addictions and betrayal trauma, because there is a way through.


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Recovery from Porn Is More than Just Quitting Porn
Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of 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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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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10 Comments

  1. Anon

    This is a really great post. This is what many men need to hear. Not so they can excuse their actions but so they start learning to take responsibility for the emotional problems that are the real issue to this. It wasn’t until I stopped focusing on me being a horrible maybe even demon possessed person that I could start seeing that my issues with porn went further than that.
    Yes it’s my flesh, it’s my sinful nature and I need to repent and I need to have self control that needs to be taught but it also needs to be thaught that it can be about so much more. Issues that started in my childhood and me learning to deal with my emotional problems by using porn. Which has continued.
    The part of talking about how I really feel really hit home. It’s my biggest problem. I have such a difficult time with this. My situation is so unique and I don’t even know how to start talking about these things. I mean how do I even mention that I am freaking out for soon having yet another kid that I don’t feel prepared for? That I still live with the resentment and sadness over her pushing me into having kids before I felt ready and me because of I am a people pleaser said yes. That she has pushed this whole relationship to her getting what she wants and I was too afraid to hurt her so I don’t even know what I want?
    I don’t even know how to start a conversation like that and my therapist isn’t much of help. So sadly porn has been my escape. I am working on this. I want to learn new ways to deal with the anxiety that hit me like waves and makes me despair. I don’t want porn to be my comfort anymore. I don’t know if I will ever bring this up to her but I want to learn new ways to deal with the sadness and anxiety that comes over me when these thoughts come over me. I need to take responsibility for what I can and learn new coping mechanism that may not have the same effect but helps.
    And I think it’s important for all men to hear what you say here to learn to take responsibility for their emotional issues. To address them even if it is tough and means unpacking difficult things they have been hiding deep inside. I know it’s a challenge for many men but it must be done for true change. Hiding behind ones difficult childhood for example and not doing anything about it is only going to lead back to porn.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you’re seeing the root, Anon, and not just the shame! I know you and your wife have a lot of other interpersonal struggles, and learning to draw boundaries with her is important. If your therapist isn’t much help, is there someone else you could see? Sometimes we just don’t click with a therapist, and that’s okay. If you’re paying money, make sure it’s someone who can really help you!

      Reply
    • R

      Anon, sending empathy and validation in your struggle. I second that Shieila said: Find a therapist who is a help to you. There are licensed, Christian, trauma-informed therapists out there. Now that most of them do online therapy, it’s easier to find one no matter where you live. I’ve found I actually prefer that mode. It can be tough to find the right therapist for you and can take some time (been there). I think Sheila has a post about how to interview therapists to gauge their experience level. Not all therapists who say they’re trauma informed actually are. Wishing you the best.

      Reply
  2. Nathan

    Anon, I’m praying for you and hope that you can heal from all this. Your situation may not be as unique as you think, though. For example, feeling unprepared for a child is very common. I know I felt this way when Mrs. Nathan announced that we were going to be parents. On the other hand, everybody’s story and situation is different, but we all have elements in common.
    And yes. Willing to stop is only the beginning. If all you say is “fine, if you want me to stop, I’ll stop”, you’re sending a message that says “I’m not stopping because it’s wrong and hurtful to both of us. I’m only stopping so you’ll shut up and stop nagging me”. That doesn’t really build intimacy.

    Reply
  3. Recovering from abuse

    Very good. This post hits many of the issues. Unfortunately, I think many licensed counselors and sex addiction programs also focus on sobriety without the transformation. 🙁
    I have one part I’d like to push back a little on: “ That’s why simply vowing that he’ll never do it again and he’ll try harder isn’t enough. How does the wife know anything has changed? If he’s still not sharing emotions with her; if he’s still acting distant; how does she know?
    She needs to feel close to him. She needs him to be vulnerable and real with her. She needs him to be restored and whole. “ I would agree that this is true. However, sex addicts are often very self centered. And the spouse was betrayed.
    Yes intimacy must be established for true reconciliation to happen. But the first step isn’t for the porn abuser to share all his/her junk with the betrayed spouse. The first step is for the porn abuser to have empathy for the pain he/she has caused the betrayed spouse.
    In my marriage, he admitted the porn only when caught and backed into a corner, but years later, he still minimizes my pain.
    So yes, a spouse in a healthy relationship will want to hear the hurts and fears of the spouse. But in an unhealthy relationship where betrayal has happened- please don’t heap the burden of hearing those hurts and fears on that spouse. She first needs to have emotional safety firmly established by the one who betrayed. This comes through ownership and empathy.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Really good point! Yes, absolutely. When I was talking about vulnerability, I wasn’t seeing it so much as being about sharing the junk about porn, but rather being able to share, “I’m really worried I’m going to get laid off,” or “I find it difficult to talk to my brother because he’s always being so sarcastic,” or “I’m worried that our daughter is talking back so much and I feel like I haven’t set a good example for her and I don’t know what to do about it.” Like, just sharing things in general more, and opening up in general. I totally agree that a lot of the actual betrayal stuff needs to be done in counseling or with a group, but not the wife. But the wife should be hearing what’s going on in his heart in general, and many spouses of porn users have never heard that sort of thing.

      Reply
    • Phil

      With regard to recovery programs and therapists and focus on sobriety: Yes maybe true to an extent BUT. My story goes like this – First I had to fall – hard enough that I needed to surrender, Then I found a 12 step program and a therapist. I was always a church goer but that wasn’t solving anything. YES – I had to focus on sobriety first. Work: this was tough for me and many folks struggle with just that part. I was half in and half out as they say for 3-4 years. Gaining sobriety then falling. I had to “learn” how to do it. Then it got real when my business failed and I realized once again that My “drunkenness” caused me to make poor decisions and now it was time to get sober! For many years I could only see things through my recovery lens. I would go to church and hear the message and think about it through my 12 step filter. Eventually though I was able to start to separate the messages and use them both together. God is the message in both places: recovery rooms and church. But again I had to learn. To be able to share with others started not with my wife but with guys in the rooms. God through Therapist? not so much unless you find one that is Christian based but that wasn’t my story….so it is a process. It takes time. In now 18 years of being in recovery I have never seen anyone struck sober/healed. As Cusick said You cant just tell a person you have to believe in Jesus and then all is well.. Of course thats the end game answer but at least for me I had to do work to undo my thinking as an addict. A LOT OF WORK. While God certainly can do anything I just dont think it happens that way for 99.9% of folks. It takes work. And we screw it up along the way. I certainly have. However, to answer question 2: The way you gain trust in your partner is by the addict demonstrating over time their new behavior. Again – it takes time. But not just 3 months either. It can be years. I have been healing for 18 years. My marriage was saved by Grace. Not only is that my wife’s name it was certainly God’s grace. All I can tell you is I have done a TON of WORK and God has blessed me. I feel like personally not only am I in a final phase of healing but so is my marriage. There is lots of work to do yet. I think its finally going to be fun work👍🏻 Amen.

      Reply
  4. Nathan

    Recovering, I’m sorry that that’s happened to you. You’re correct, though. It starts with ending the behavior, owning it (i.e. not claiming that others “forced” me to do it), and openly acknowledging the pain that it caused.
    It’s a long road, but people CAN reach the end.

    Reply
  5. clb

    I strongly recommend http://www.strive21.com for those trying to undergo the transformation that Sheila is writing about. I know many people whose successful transformation began with and was built upon the principles described in that program.

    Reply
  6. Anon

    Sheila, thank you once again for raising the destructiveness that is the book “Every Man’s Battle”. If my husbands porn addiction destroyed our marriage then that book finished it off. We were at a church at the time when I left my husband and he was forced to confess. Didn’t do it of his own accord. People in leadership rammed the theologies of that book at us, along with the books ‘His Needs Her Needs’. All of those books were crippling and absolutely finished us off.
    It has been almost ten years since my husband’s dripfed confession and our marriage did not survive. We stayed in the same house to avoid financial destruction but we sleep in seperate rooms and are friends only. I think I probably stopped caring a long time ago. My husband has told so many dreadful lies over so many years it would be impossible to ever trust him again. This whole topic is just too much. I don’t want to be married to someone who is tempted by other women for the rest of our lives. I still see him ‘bouncing his eyes’ and that just makes me feel even worse. We don’t wear wedding rings and I can honestly say I do not want my teenage daughter getting married. It just isn’t worth it.

    Reply

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