Are you making sex harder than it needs to be in your marriage?
We’re in the middle of our doing marriage on hard mode series, and today we’re talking about doing sex on hard mode! (and, yes, I know that’s a double entendre).
We’ve got a lighthearted look via economics and demand and supply curves, and then a more serious look at the harmful ways we can talk about sex and porn (and obligation sex!).
Plus I have a big update that wasn’t in the actual podcast below–so listen in and scroll down!
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Timeline of the Podcast
0:30 The Economics of Sex
10:00 The Inputs of Sex
12:40 Misconception of Sex vs Porn
23:00 Andrew joins us to discuss the pornographic mindset
32:00 Why Porn is the USER’S problem
Are We Making “Sex” too Expensive?
Okay, this one was more tongue and cheek, and it’s really an excuse for me to use Economics 101, which I ended up having to take 3 times (!) not because I failed, but because different programs kept requiring it even though I’d already taken it.
But the thrust of the argument is this: Sex has certain “inputs”–you need to have energy; time; a place to have sex; emotional connection; etc. etc. If the “price” of those inputs rises–meaning they’re harder to get–then sex isn’t going to happen as often.
It’s actually Day 27 of 31 Days to Great Sex, and I take you though a quick quiz of the things that can make sex more “expensive” in your marriage. Sometimes when we think of it that way, it becomes easier to work on frequency. It’s not just about deciding to have sex more often, but rather addressing the things that make it harder to have sex!
Do you find it hard to talk about SEX?
Are We Talking about Porn and Sex the Wrong Way?
The largest segment of the podcast today looked at whether we’re making marriage harder by suggesting the wrong way of handling porn use. We often see porn as a substitute for sex and vice versa: so he quits porn, but then she needs to have sex with him so it’s easier for him not to relapse.
This is dangerous thinking, and we covered these issues:
- Porn use can cause betrayal trauma in the spouse–even if the spouse doesn’t know it.
- Often porn use is caused by trauma itself.
- Telling a porn addict to make a blanket promise that they will only ever ejaculate with their spouse can create a situation where the spouse feels used and degraded.
- Porn use can create a pornified view of sex.
Porn use changes how the porn user understands sex and intimacy. Until this is dealt with, sex can’t stop someone, or help someone, not use porn.
We talked with Andrew Bauman about this:
Co-Founder & Director of the Christian Counseling Center: For Sexual Health & Trauma (CCC), Andrew J. Bauman is a licensed mental health counselor with a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.
On today’s podcast he shares his thoughts about the pornographic style of relating. You can read more about this in his book The Psychology of Porn.
The Bigger Reason We Talked About This: Gary Thomas wrote a post claiming that your spouse can help you with a porn problem.
He published it last Friday: My Spouse Can’t Cure Me, but Can Help Me (originally titled My Wife Can’t Cure Me, but She Can Help Me).
In it, he gives many caveats that sound verbatim from The Great Sex Rescue, which Gary has read, but chose not to cite or give me credit for.
He then goes on to tell the story of Jay and Christina. Jay had a porn addiction that predated their marriage, and their marriage became virtually sexless. Seven years later they worked at improving their relationship and understanding different libidos, and he quit porn cold turkey. Then he admitted his sex addiction to Christina, and while she was horrified, they decided that she would be more available to him and that he would only ever ejaculate with her.
He found having more frequent sex helped him not to relapse.
Even though Jay had been using porn throughout his adult life, the problem was framed as Christina’s lack of empathy for Jay’s sexual needs.
The abuse recovery groups, and spouses of porn addicts groups, were very hurt by this article–and very stunned.
I know many abuse advocates (some of whom have been on the podcast) who were horrified at this article, because it does not present a proper view of porn’s effects on the spouse. It does not mention betrayal trauma or the pornified view of sex in relation to the anecdote. Though caveats are given repeatedly, the anecdote that the article features blows all the caveats out of the water, and even the conclusion of the article seems to contradict the caveats, leaving the reader confused.
The abuse community has always admired Gary Thomas because they felt that he was one of the evangelical authors that “got it” since he wrote When to Walk Away. They were very, very surprised with this article. (You can see a Facebook Live that Sarah McDugal from Wilderness to Wild and Anne Blythe from Betrayal Trauma Recovery did regarding this article; here’s a shortened version).
Many people expressed this disappointment, confusion and betrayal on Gary’s Facebook page on Friday. They were polite (I saw the comments). Some used emojis, and many pushed back, but it was actually more polite than most debates on my Facebook page. On Saturday morning Gary deleted his Facebook post (though not the blog post) and put up an announcement that a few venemous people had hijacked it and gaslit him (yes, he called survivors venemous).
He claimed that he was the one being gaslighted. To be clear, these are the kinds of comments that he deleted:
People were appalled that he had done this, and on Monday night Rebecca and I had a 90 minute conversation with Gary where we tried to help him understand how and why his article missed the mark and why the abuse community was upset. We asked him to consider that their feelings may matter, and that they may have a perspective worth listening to. After that, he did amend his Facebook post so it made reference to venemous “comments” rather than people.
We then recorded this podcast on Tuesday.
We wanted to address this topic to explain why the original article was off base, but we didn’t want to reference the article because we were hoping that he would take it down by the time this podcast went live, and if he did, then we decided we would not talk about it publicly since he had listened to survivors’ pleas.
Instead, the article is still up Thursday morning when my podcast is going live, and this is the comment that Gary has at the bottom of the article right now:
I had thought, when writing this post, that my many caveats about never blaming the wife for a spouse’s sin (which I repeated several times!) would get through, but apparently in telling the true story of one couple’s experience some came away feeling I was still saying precisely that. One couple’s experience isn’t universal, and using this example perhaps took away from the teaching portion where I was trying to make it so clear that I do not, and have not, ever blamed a spouse for their spouse’s addiction.
I’m leaving the blog post up, however, with a slightly altered and hopefully less triggering title, because it has been so misconstrued by others on their blogs and Facebook and I want people to be able to read the original for themselves. Some attackers take a sentence or two out of the blogpost, which I believe is qualified many times over elsewhere in the blog, and portray it as that’s my point—when it’s exactly the opposite of my point! I’m willing to say I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be—this is a blogpost, not a book—so I still think if someone reads this fairly, without assuming false motives, they’ll get the point. If not, feel free to stop following the blog.
I can understand why Gary didn’t see the problems with how his article handled porn recovery.
Before I started diving into the research surrounding porn, I could have written something similar. What he’s saying seems like normal advice. But it’s actually not accurate because it doesn’t take into account how porn distorts the relationship–and how betrayal trauma can affect a couple.
The problem is not that Gary didn’t give enough caveats; the problem is that Gary did not talk about porn recovery properly, and left out key points. His post was actually the wrong advice.
When we teach on this, it’s incumbent upon us to listen. When the experts in the field are telling us that we have made a big error, it’s incumbent upon us not to be defensive, but again, to listen. This is doubly true when many of these experts are also victims and survivors who can explain that this is not merely a difference of opinion, but something that harms.
Deleting all comments is not listening.
Gary has not taken it down, and continues to block people on Facebook who challenge him on it and delete their comments and comment threads. I’m finding this very sad, because Gary was one of the few evangelical male authors who did consider abuse victims’ perspectives. I find it very, very sad that he is refusing to listen.
To repeat, here is the order of events:
- they went to him individually;
- He deleted their comments and accused them of being venomous and illogical;
- they came to me;
- Rebecca and I went to him individually;
- we gave him time to change.
And now I am letting you all know what is happening.
Again, I never would have put this in this post had Gary taken the blog post down, and I did my utmost to try to convey that this was the right thing to do.
We hope that with the outcry about this blog post, Gary may reconsider and understand that when people are harmed by teachers, that actually matters.
UPDATE, 2:26 pm Thursday: It looks like, after all the outcry on Facebook after this post came out, Gary has finally decided to do the right thing and take down his post, so the links to it won’t work. I’m glad he’s made this decision; I’m sorry it took so long, and I had hoped it could have been done before having to bring this public.
Things Mentioned in This Podcast:
- The Great Sex Rescue and 31 Days to Great Sex
- Support our Patreon for as little as $5 a month! Help fund our peer reviewed research and new social media channels to spread our research.
- Join our email list!
- Andrew Bauman’s website, his article on the pornographic style of relating, and his book The Psychology of Porn
- Your Sexually Addicted Spouse by Barbara Steffens–has information about betrayal trauma
- Gary’s article “My spouse can’t cure me, but can help me“
- 2 Hour Facebook Live with betrayal trauma experts talking about the problems with the article–and a shortened version of it
What do you think? Have you known someone affected by the pornographic style of relating? Have you seen betrayal trauma in action? Or do you like economics too? Let’s talk in the comments!
Posts in the Marriage on Hard Mode Series
- Podcast: Are We Making Marriage Harder Than It Needs To Be?
- 6 Ways You May Be Doing Marriage on Hard Mode
- Identifying the One Thing that’s holding back your marriage
- Are You Doing Too Much as a Family?
- Why Downsizing Can Be Worth It
- Podcast: Are We Doing Sex on Hard Mode?
- 10 Red Flags about Marriage and Sex
- How Gender Roles Can Make Marriage Harder than it Needs to be
- Dealing with the Primary Breadwinner Stereotype so it doesn’t hurt your marriage
And SIGN UP for my emails to get our end-of-the-series activity to work through this with your spouse!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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Makes me sad that another one goes down on the “I don’t get what porn does to the spouse” sinking ship. Maybe and I don’t mean to sound mean. But maybe all of these Evangelical Christian MEN should stop writing about something they haven’t lived through. I don’t hear a lot of men (even doctors) discussing in detail the pain women go through during child birth and how it actually feels to bring a child into this world. Maybe they should also sit out the what a victim should do for a porn user conversation as well. Stay in your lane as my kids would say.
I think a lot of men write about this really well–like Andrew Bauman and Michael John Cusick, for instance! But the difference is those two actually got trained in it specifically.
Dr Doug Weiss of Heart to Heart in Colorado Springs writes truth about Partners and the porn addict. All their counselors are trained in helping both get the healing they need.
Does Gary have any expertise or training in sexual addictions? I find it very strange that so many Christian authors and speakers recommend wives have more sex to help their husbands with recovery. While I don’t specialize in addictions, I know many (secular) sexual addictions recovery programs require total sexual abstinence for a time while tryingto achieve sobriety. They actually tell their clients not to have sex with their spouse at all for a time. Strange to me that Christians are advising the opposite.
No, I don’t believe that he does. He does mention near the end of the article that many therapists recommend a period of abstinence, but the problem is that the anecdote goes against all of Gary’s caveats and teachings and shows a man who got better and whose relapses were made better by his wife having more sex. And the problem was presented as his wife not having empathy for him–even though his porn use predated the marriage.
It’s an odd article, because the teaching says one thing and the anecdote he chose says the exact opposite in every case.
“sex has certain “inputs””
(OK, immature Rebecca signing off now)
Sheila, I’m a huge fan of your work, which was instrumental in helping me finally advocate for myself in my marriage. I’m so thankful that you’re willing to be a pioneer by speaking against all of the horrible teachings that Christian couples have received.
Please consider what I have to say.
Last year, you wrote an article called “A Word to Low Libido Spouses” – https://baremarriage.com/2020/09/a-word-to-low-libido-spouses/
You started out the article with saying: “When your spouse married you, your spouse trusted you with something that was very near and dear to their heart.
Your spouse trusted you with sex…But there’s a problem. You’re the one who holds the key.
You’ve become the gatekeeper.”
Then you relate an anecdote from a man who said he wanted to kill himself because his wife didn’t have sex with him.
Then you have a heading that says, ” When you like sex fine, but it’s just not a priority” and then you state, “Many, if not most, low libido spouses fall into this camp.”
How does that fit with what you’ve been saying about the reasons for infrequent sex? Your research found that when some really harmful things (porn use, never having an orgasm, marriage satisfaction, etc.) are dealt with, frequency tends to take care of itself.
I know you issued caveats in that post, but please re-read it from the perspective of someone that has grown up hearing the obligation sex message and/or has a spouse that uses or used porn.
In Gary’s article (which was horrible), he says, “And, through a female blogger, Christina became convicted about her lack of empathy toward Jay’s desire for sexual intimacy, particularly how vulnerable our spouses are to us sexually.”
Please consider rewriting or taking down that blog post.
I’ll also say that I loved The Great Sex Rescue. But I do take issue with the anecdote that you included about the man that looked at porn “a few isolated times” when his wife wasn’t physically able to have sex. You say that she learned that he was actually a great guy even though he had looked at porn a few times. No, if you betray your spouse when they are physically vulnerable, you are not a good person. She couldn’t have sex either, and that didn’t cause her to cheat on him.
That’s not to say that someone *can’t* come back from that. But if their spouse doesn’t want to have sex with them or continue the relationship, that’s their choice. They don’t need to realize that their spouse that cheated on them is actually a good person.
That anecdote is saying that looking at porn is kind of unavoidable, and kind of understandable and excusable if your spouse isn’t available sexually to you for a time, and as long as you only do it a few times. Guess what? It’s always a choice. You don’t accidentally click on porn a few isolated times and whoops! Cheated on my spouse! Not mention the horrors of the porn industry.
Again, I love what you’re doing for Christian women, Sheila. It’s so important, and I really appreciate how you listen to your readers. Please consider removing that anecdote from future editions of TGSR.
I will definitely go back and look at that blog post! Thanks for pointing that out. I’m not sure what I said, but I believe that I did make caveats for all of those things.
AS for GSR, we need to remember that porn is a really complicated issue. We run into two problems: not taking it seriously enough; and taking it too seriously. It’s absolutely serious always in the sense that it is the real abuse of real people, and drives sex trafficking.
But also, upwards of about 75% of men have used porn at some time or another–and the vast, vast majority of them go on to leave porn behind and have healthy marriages and healthy sex lives. When we present porn as a problem that no one can get over without deep counseling–well, that isn’t actually true according to research studies. Many men do watch a little bit, and then stop, and they’re sorry, and that is not the same thing as being addicted or having a chronic habit.
There’s a dose-response effect to porn: the more you use it, the more it impacts you; the younger you started, the more it impacts you. When we’re talking about porn, it’s very, very important that we do it from the perspective of what research actually does say. And our survey of men is in line with what other huge studies have also found: most men who watch porn do put it behind them and lead good lives.
So I want wives to know that if their husband did watch porn a few times, was repentant, truly doesn’t want to do it again, and has confessed–this does not mean your husband is evil or that your marriage is over or that you need a major intervention. The research actually shows that most men in that situation go on to be fine.
On the other hand, someone who has used porn a lot, or who refuses to stop, is an entirely different thing.
I’m not excusing porn use, but I do think we need some nuance and we need to be true to what the research says. It is absolutely always a choice. It is absolutely always a betrayal. It was absolutely avoidable. But it also isn’t the same thing as having a multi-year porn problem. Does that make sense?
Oh, one other question: How would you suggest that we do handle a situation with a low libido spouse who CAN enjoy sex and who does feel connected to their spouse but they just don’t want sex? How should this be talked about?
I know this is very triggering for many women, but it is important to show both sides of the story. So what would be a way to talk to low libido spouses about prioritizing sex without causing shame or guilt?
For me, it’s not about if the research says if the vast majority of men stop watching porn. We should absolutely let wives know that their husband can make a change and he isn’t necessarily doomed forever. But we also shouldn’t make it seem like you have to stay with someone that betrayed you otherwise you’re unforgiving. You can forgive someone for cheating on you, and divorce them. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I think we should give wives both options. Your marriage doesn’t have to automatically be over, but if your bottom line is no porn in this marriage, it’s okay to stand by that.
If a woman came in to counseling, heartbroken because she found out that her husband had been watching porn, would you think it was a good idea to tell her, “Well, 75% of men have watched porn, and most of them get over it. So…he’s not really a bad guy.”
Betrayal is betrayal, whether it’s once or 1,000 times. I think it’s invalidating to say you can’t be too upset if he only used one time. Of course the longer the use, the worse it is. But just because more is worse that doesn’t mean less isn’t really that bad and we shouldn’t take it too seriously.
If the research said that 75% of men go to strip clubs, but the vast majority of men then move on to have a happy marriage, and maybe only pay to go to a strip club a couple times in a marriage but then are sorry, would we say it’s not that bad? That we have to learn to live with it?
Research is important, but sometimes it’s just a sad indication of the state of the world, not how God wants things.
This is very true. That’s an excellent point.
But I also do want to calm many women down. I would hate to see a marriage blown apart, especially when there are kids involved, when a husband used porn a few times and regretted it and stopped. Is she justified in leaving? Sure, she has grounds. But is this the best thing for everyone? I really doubt it.
It could be that she couldn’t get over the betrayal, and again, that is her right. But I also would hope that this is where the Holy Spirit could move with grace in both partners? Divorce is a huge disruption that is very often necessary. But not always. And I think sometimes when we blow porn up as the worst thing a man can do, we forget that there are gradations of porn use. There is a difference between a compulsive user where porn has changed his whole way of relating to women and to sex and someone who has used it a few times and regretted it.
I’m not sure, but I think we should never pressure someone into having sex when they don’t want it. Telling them that their husband/wife might want to kill themselves if they don’t have sex with them doesn’t seem like a great way.
If a woman decides to leave she didn’t blow up the marriage over a small issue -he blew it up with unfaithfulness.
Pastors say the same thing over people having affairs. It is true you can stay and forgive, and maybe that’s best in some situations; but you are not less than if you leave and forgive.
Yes, that’s definitely true. So much depends on what else is going on in the relationship, and whether there are children. There’s just a lot to consider. I’m not saying anything is right or wrong–just not to assume the worst or jump to the worst case scenario necessarily.
Thank you for saying that, Sheila. My husband definitely fell into the camp of occasional use, then fully confessing and repenting when I found out. I have often felt like I failed by not forcing him to going into counseling at the time, so it’s encouraging to know there is research showing we can still be ok.
Sheila, about the difference between using porn a few times and repenting compared to a compulsive addiction, were you trying to tell wives who WANT to stay in the marriage that he might be able to recover without intensive counseling, so don’t lose hope and think the marriage is doomed?
Ok, trying to unjumble that. Are women being told that if her husband watches porn once, the marriage is broken until he undergoes lots of counseling. When in reality, sometimes he can, on his own, change himself for the better and become someone safe to be intimate with?
When it’s honestly a few times, yes. And, honestly, sometimes even when it’s a long time, people can often get better without counseling. But research has shown the dose-response effect–the more you use, and the longer you use it, and the younger you were when it started, the more shame has built up and the more there has to be untangled. So I’m a HUGE proponent of people with long-term addictions seeing licensed counselors. But the problem is that when we talk about that all the time, then people who catch their husband using it once can jump to defcon 5 immediately, and it just may not be to that extent. The key is: how long has he been using it? Has it affected his style of relating to you? Is he repentant? Is he trying to rebuild trust?
I would just hate to see women jump to the worst possible conclusion and feel like it’s hopeless when it may not be. But I would also hate to see women (and men!) think, “well, he’s sorry and doesn’t want to do it, so we’ll just move ahead and it’s no big deal” when it honestly is a big deal. Does that make sense?
I also want to say–usually when you catch a guy and he says “I’ve only used it a few times” that’s not actually true. I think what really matters is the pornographic style of relating. Does he have one? In the example in Great Sex Rescue, he honestly didn’t, and it honestly was just a few times. But almost all compulsive porn users say it was “only a few times”, so you have to trust your gut. Most wives know when it is more than just a few times.
For some reason I can’t add to the specific comment of Sheila’s here about”calming women down.” That’s pretty patronizing, though I love what you normally say. I actually think going DEFCON as you say is a really good idea until you know what to deal with. Addicts lie, addicts minimize and deny even to themselves. Porn addiction often moves into physical infidelity if not dealt with. My husband is recovering from porn addiction. When he first disclosed just a little bit, it didn’t sound like an addiction. I put a few boundaries in place and let it go, because I felt like maybe I was overreacting. I actually ignored a few of your addiction oriented articles because it “wasn’t an addiction.” Cue 2.5 years of unprocessed trauma dealing with suicidal depression and physical symptoms. I thought it was PPD until I was thrown back into it with a further disclosure and felt the same. Now it’s clear it’s very much an addiction and there’s counseling, polygraphs, all the books and groups, etc. I would have saved myself a lot of pain, if I’d gone a little DEFCON the first time. Not everyone’s story and not everyone who ever watches porn is an addict, but I would argue that most have an intimacy disorder that they’re often set up for which leads to porn addiction. Check out the Helping Couples Heal podcast with betrayal and sex addiction expert Omar Minwalla. Mind blowing stuff! Again, love your stuff, but not those comments.
Sheila, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of calming women down when their husbands use porn a few times. Maybe you didn’t mean it this way, but it could be taken to mean that a wife who isn’t calm after learning about her husband’s betrayal is somehow weak or a bit crazy.
It seems invalidating, like they aren’t allowed to feel the same level of trauma as someone whose husband used more often.
Also, where is the line between –
“He *only* used a *few* times, asking him to go to therapy is kinda overkill.”
“Well, you done messed up, buddy. Get thee to therapy!”
I totally hear you. I just also want people to understand that the long term effects are not necessarily the same, and reassure women who want to save their marriages that it isn’t just possible, it’s probable. We know that porn is a dose-response effect.
I’m not saying don’t feel trauma–but I also think it’s really important for women to have hope. Most don’t want their marriages to end, and I do think this is a conversation with a lot of nuance.
How would you think I could best convey that nuance, because I do want to do this well?
I guess maybe I don’t see that giving women hope that their marriage can get back to normal is one of the most important things for them to think about after learning of their husband’s betrayal. If they’re in hysterics, of course someone close to them should come along side them and comfort them.
But I think for the first few months after D-day, people should only be validating how they feel, weeping with them, telling them their anger and disappointment – everything they’re feeling – makes sense. Tell them that they’re likely in shock, experiencing trauma, etc.
Telling them that the betrayal isn’t THAT bad, that their marriage can recover from this… could be really harmful for the betrayed (at least in the first few weeks after D-day). I think giving them ALL the time they need to feel ALL the feelings is best.
I doubt that many conservative Christian women are going to divorce their betrayers in the few months after D-day (when the emotions and trauma responses are probably the most intense) … I would guess that the percentage of women who treat porn use as LESS significant than they should is higher than the number who divorce their husbands “willy-nilly”.
This is a Pseudonym:
I am the woman from Sheila’s book whose husband looked at porn a handful of times. (I’m not LITERALLY the woman Sheila talks about, I’m just saying my situation was the same as that woman’s.). And I think I get what you mean when you say the anecdote from the book can make you feel like Sheila is telling a woman in that situation that she shouldn’t feel MASSIVELY betrayed. Because it IS a betrayal. It is infidelity, hands down. And that’s exactly how I felt even though my husband only used it a handful of times. Should I be happy if he only went to a strip club a handful of times? Should it bother me less if he exchanged sexually explicit photos with his co-worker just once? So if he does it once, it’s no big deal, because the QUANTITY of the betrayal is more important than the betrayal itself? Your concern, if I’m understanding it correctly, makes complete sense to me, because I was deeply hurt by my husband’s infidelity, and I had great anger and fear and anxiety. It turned my world upside down for an extended period of time as he and I worked out the implications of his behavior and what it meant for our marriage.
BUT. I actually found her anecdote in the book helpful because I was the woman who read all those books that said your man will lust because he is biologically pre-disposed to do so and that I just needed to accept it if I wanted a relationship with a man. And it wasn’t until I was able to un-learn that mindset that I was able to believe that there was hope not just that my marriage would survive this, but that my marriage could actually thrive. Because my husband, while still truly and righteously wrong, while still guilty of breaking his vows, was not a lost cause. I assumed he was a lost cause at first because I was taught the mindset that the best I could hope for was that he would ALSO want me. I would forever be in competition with every woman on the planet for my husband’s sexual attention. And this mindset slowed the healing process for me and my husband. Now, the issue at hand, and the crisis in our marriage were entirely his doing, BUT, when I was able to realize that not all porn use is a porn-addiction problem, and once I realized that some guys can sin, sin greatly, but walk away from it without years of deep and intensive therapy, then I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I realized I didn’t have to worry that he was always white-knuckling his fidelity to me. This gave me great hope. It could be easy for him to keep me as the only object of his sexual attention once we spent a loooooong period of time (couple years) rebuilding the trust that was lost through his actions. The sin was devastating, but not defeating. It was monumental, but not insurmountable. I think that was the point of that particular anecdote, and I desperately needed to hear it.
I’m sorry that you did not find it helpful, and I am not sure I understand how you would have preferred her convey that message differently, but I want you to know that I agree with you that we should NEVER trivialize the amount of hurt and betrayal a wife can or should feel when her husband cheats, even if it’s “just with an image”. The hurt is real. The hurt is significant.
Wow, I am so glad that you found that anecdote helpful. That is what we were trying to show–that it isn’t hopeless in many cases. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt or that it WILL get better; but just that we don’t need to write off the marriage right away. Especially when there are children involved, I think people do generally want hope that it can be rebuilt. I think that, like you, many women are afraid that their husbands are lost causes and that they can never treat them well. That is how many books talk about it. The truth is that the data does not. Many, many men can get on the other side and treat women well, and a substantial minority of men have never been into porn in the first place. Treating this like it’s inevitable isn’t helpful, and that’s what we tried to show.
It is a very difficult thing to talk about well, but I do think the hope is important to convey.
We absolutely should offer hope to women who want their marriage to work out. We should definitely let people know that you can always choose to walk away from porn and recover and live a normal life.
Here are the problems I have with the anecdote in the book:
*It mentions that the husband cheats on his wife while physical intimacy wasn’t possible. This may not have been the intent, but it kind of excuses him for cheating. His wife managed to be faithful even though she couldn’t have sex either. I would leave that detail out since it’s just meant to make us feel sympathy towards the betrayer.
*It says that even though he cheated on his wife “a handful of times” he’s still a good guy. Instead I think it should say that he put in the work to become a better man, or that your husband is able to work through things and BECOME a good man. You’re not a good man if you cheat on your wife.
*It paints the picture that the couple was able to fairly quickly get back to normal. And it’s kind of implied that that should be the standard if your husband only looks at porn a few times.
*It only gives the option of a wife that chose to stay. If you paint a picture of someone staying being The Best Wife, you should also say that if your husband cheated on you with porn, it’s okay if it takes you a very long time to recover from that. Even if it was only a few times. It just feels like it’s placing more value on a wife that forgives and gets back to normal quickly.
Yes, I’m betting that a lot of women want to save the marriage. I just think there would be a way of conveying that that wouldn’t be hurtful. Maybe don’t make excuses for the betrayer, or make it seem like you’re better if you don’t ask for therapy?
Personally, I think that if you get to the point where, on a Friday night, you decide to go cheat on your wife, there’s something deeply broken inside of you. Asking for therapy doesn’t seem crazy…
Also, the focus should be on the person who was betrayed, not the relationship, not the marriage, not the betrayer.
I had a very long-running argument with Jay (the subject of the article that Gary Thomas) over his views on masturbation and sexuality for single people. He, ironically, accused me of being entitled. I’ll let the reader decide how to process that.
What’s disturbing about all these books and blog posts and articles is that there is no empathy whatsoever for the wives who find themselves in these situations. Wives are supposedly these bottomless wells of sympathy and giving who never need to be filled back up. Oh yeah, except that God will fill you up, because wives ought not rely on their husbands to meet the wives’ needs. Wow, how *#@^& convenient for husbands no matter what the issue is: porn use, periods, postpartum, lack of emotional connection, no help with raising his own offspring. And wait, who preaches these things? Men! Well, that isn’t the slightest bit self-serving, is it?
How can any self-respecting man involved in Christian ministry not see that a husband’s (or wife’s) continued porn use after marriage is the same as committing adultery? Marriage is supposed to be sexually exclusive, and yet porn use gets a pass because an outsider’s physical body isn’t physically engaged? What a load!
All this “the wife has to help the husband with his porn addiction, even if it predates the marriage” sounds a lot like “women have to help their husbands go to the gym and eat right” so that he can improve his physical health. Yeah, if he ain’t self-motivated, her work on his behalf won’t do squat. And besides, wives are only supposed to make the most fainthearted suggestions in three sentences or less every ten to twenty days. How about we adjust that teaching to the problem of porn use? “Wives, you can only give your porn-abusing husband a fainthearted attempt at sexual release every ten or twenty days.” I’m liking that updated wording!
HA! The last bit made me laugh. (For others: that’s a reference to some stupid advice in Love & Respect about how a wife can’t bring up an issue with her husband more than once every 10-20 days).
This is very interesting. Something that I feel is still bothering me though is that porn here is still being treated as a sexual issue or based on sexual desire. I’m sure in many cases it starts out that way or it can still be that way but usually with addiction, porn is coping method for deeper problems. Usually it’s not about sex.
My husband has had problems with porn off and on throughout our marriage. I’m familiar with the feelings of betrayal trauma and just a broken heart. But my husband would always tell me that this wasn’t about me–it wasn’t anything I could prevent or do anything about. It wasn’t about lack of desire, attraction, or a lack of sex. (I’m the higher drive spouse). But I could never “get it.”
It wasn’t until counseling together and reading books that he learned his porn use was his “go to” when his lack of confidence in himself or when feeling anxious.
Since the root issue isn’t really about sex, sex really can’t fix the issue.
It’s like emotional eating or turning to your phone when anxious or upset.
The thing that helped our marriage was that realization because it gave him insight that he could take to Jesus. Once he went to Jesus with the real issue, things have gotten so much better.
And our counselor educated me heavily in co dependency. If I were to hold myself in any way responsible for keeping him from looking at porn, that’s codependent behavior. Being co dependent has been soul crushing.
I like to call myself a recovering co dependent. I have no responsibility to my husband’s choices. I can only control mine and he can only control his. This is a life in Christ. This is a life in freedom.
We do talk regularly and I’ve asked him to talk to me about how his recovery is going but I have asked him to be the one to bring it up. And for a year and a half he will bring it up weekly on his own.
I can’t tell you how life changing it has been to
1. Recognize that porn isn’t about sex or a need I can’t meet
2. Developing compassion for this struggle that so many feel trapped and stuck in darkness with
3. Realizing my codependency and actively working to overcome it.
I really do not think ANY licensed counselor would support the idea of a spouse being required/used/needed to help the other spouse by being available for sex to prevent porn use. This is toxic teaching for both spouses and creates a codependent dynamic.
Really interesting, S. I know some counselors are trying to replace the idea of codependency with betrayal trauma, since codependency implies that you still are playing a role. But the message is exactly the same–you’re not responsible. You can stop the dance and step outside of it. You can have compassion on him, but that means calling him to repentance, not trying to fix it yourself! Love it. Thanks for sharing.
Sheila, I don’t know how to reply to you exactly, but thank you for clarifying betrayal trauma vs. codependency. I went down a rabbit hole on this this morning and I think this is a distinction that should have been made in my counseling. I would have liked to explore these ideas in more depth.
That being said, I have a history of abuse in childhood and I think I did adopt very controlling behaviors–the books I read and the group therapy I participated in on codependency was still incredibly freeing and helpful.
I still believe that treating a problem with porn with sex is not really treating anything.
I don’t really understand enough the difference honestly–but I’ve heard a lot of betrayal trauma experts talking about the issue and I know it’s a big one right now in the literature. I’d like to do a deep dive into it some time! I’m glad it helped. And just remember that controlling behaviours can also be safety seeking behaviours.
So I am a woman with a high drive who probably has abuse in her past although I can’t remember it. Masturbation and disassociation have been part of my life for a long time. Finally in counseling and it’s really helping me see the messed up ways I viewed sex that prevented, not helped, intimacy. Even though I was not watching porn, the thoughts in my mind were a betrayal to my husband . As part of counseling we practiced abstinence for an extended time period. It was similar to any other addiction – my desire was so intense at times I wanted to kill SOMEBODY lol. And there were a few times my husband and I had sex when I knew I would fall to temptation if we didnt. Meanwhile the intensity of the desire drive me to be able to focus on him better and relearn how not to dissociate.
I was so thankful to him in those times. I feel that they have been a huge part of my healing and recovery process. I truly believe if he refused sex, I would have reinforced my bad habits of the past. But by having sex with me, he started building something new and better in its place.
The obligation sex message has also done harm to me in the past so I would never say a woman is obligated to have sex to help her husband refrain from porn, and I also know from experience lack of sex is not the thing that caused the addiction, but HAVING it together CAN be a huge help and relief and yes, a God-given “way out”. Since I have been that person who needed it I just wanted to mention this for the men who are in recovery even though I am not a man. We advocate treating men and women equally – so let’s treat them equally with this too.
Oh my gosh I just had a lightbulb moment. What if husbands were advised to help their wives overcome emotional eating by making them three delicious meals every day? It sounds so ridiculous but it’s the exact same thing!!! Fixing the addiction with more of the same!
Yes, NM! Exactly.
It’s treating the symptom not the cause!
We need to do more of these parallels and inversions to point out just how ridiculous some of this teaching is.
Fixing huge meals for an over-eater compared to having sex with a porn addict: good analogy to help us think about this. We don’t expect the overwater to never eat again, or even to not eat until they lose all the weight they need to. In the same way, I, as the woman with sex issues in my case (see my post above) feel strongly that I could not have survived on a diet of no sex for several months. Eventually we expect over eaters to continue eating and we expect porn addicts (or fantasy addicts in my case) to continue having sex at some point on their road to better health.
So you do fix them a meal, but the kind matters and the frequency matters. Perhaps there needs to be a level of abstinence practiced. Perhaps a bit of fasting is required. Perhaps you fix them vegetables or oatmeal for a few months – and sex is very “vanilla” 🙂
Part of what really helped me in my journey to recovery was waiting until I was super desperate and then my husband saying yes to sex. And then relearning to have it the right way.
There was so much wrong with that Gary Thomas article, but how could he overlook the fact that the husband was continuing to have sex with his wife before coming clean about his porn use?! That is what books like “Every Man’s Battle” advocate for – don’t tell your wife until you’ve got some recovery under your belt! That is sexual manipulation. You can’t truly consent if someone is withholding a key piece of information. The husband probably knew that his wife wouldn’t want to have sex with him if he told her right away. So he waited. And then she was supposed to tend to his sexual needs after he told her. Ew.
Exactly. Exactly. Also the fact that the guy said he was able to come clean because he felt more intimate with her. NO. They weren’t intimate, because he wasn’t being honest. The whole thing is very problematic.
This is just so sad. My husband and I are reading Sacred Marriage together right now (since it was one of the books that scored so well on your rubric) and really getting a lot out of it. I guess we all need to remember that even good teachers can have blind spots. I really hope he finds the humility to listen and come around.
Yes! I hope he comes around too.
I know it scored well, but the book’s idea that marriage should be holy and not happy did traumatize a lot of people and cause many women to stay in terrible marriages. Many of them have commented on that very idea — holy, not happy — here on the blog and on Facebook without mentioning the author’s name. I believe he’s aware of the damage and that Enough is Enough was his indirect way of trying to atone for it.
His recent behavior confirms my long-held suspicion of him and my suspicion of nice complementarians in general. Just compare the polished and mild Gary Thomas to the buffoonish and downright abusive Emerson Eggerichs. Yet underneath the gentle tone as well as underneath the offensive one is the same old rot. Patriarchy.
Andrea, the actual book is quite clear that it isn’t saying you SHOULDN’T be happy in marriage, but that it shouldn’t be your main aim, because our main aim in any life, whether married or single, should be to be Christlike. Whereas if you go into marriage thinking ‘I want this to make ME happy’ your focus is on self and self-gratification, which is a recipe for disaster in any relationship. Unfortunately, a lot of people just picked up on that tagline & missed the message of the book. He actually writes a lot about the importance of making a wise choice of marriage partner, including shared goals & interests etc.
I’m really saddened to read his latest post, since I have a huge respect for what he writes, and in the past, he has always been a very strong advocate for women in dating & marriage relationships. He’s received a lot of criticism for speaking out so strongly against abusive marriages, so I think this is genuinely poor judgement/communication rather than poor attitude toward women. He has had the humility, courage and grace to admit he’s been wrong in the past too, so I pray that when he has had time to rethink, he will do so again now.
Anon (and everyone),
If you go back and read some of his old stuff after this latest debacle, you’ll realize the gaslighting. In this episode with Focus on the Family he talks about a husband who’s fishing all the time and how his wife got him to stop neglecting the family when she asked him “What do you need me to do that I haven’t been doing?” Then he chuckles about how he knows women will hate him for telling that story. At 9:40 he says women need to be strong in order to handle their husbands’ anger and impatience, then uses Jesus as an example of the most maligned person on earth who never once said “poor me.” Of course he makes all the caveats, but like Sarah McDougal said in her FB Live, they don’t mean anything when surrounded by all the other bad stuff. She also indicated that she’s afraid this latest article shows who Gary truly is. And even when he offers caveats, it’s the most extreme cases, like a woman whose husband left her on the side of the highway with their newborn in her hands and drove off. Very very few can relate to that, but there are literally millions of evangelical women suffering in destructive marriages (1/3 by Leslie Verick’s estimate).
I do find this really sad. Thanks for doing the research.
Sheila, I have a question that maybe you can address in the future. My church has a very active recovery group and I believe all our pastors have gone through it. Which is great and all, but now several pastors and other men on the congregation have confessed porn use – either from the stage on Sunday, or during various other group meetings. It really bothers me! I know it needs to be addressed, but what is the point of confessing in front of a whole bunch of women you don’t really know? It leaves me feeling so icky. I don’t want to picture you in front of your computer. And now I also feel kind of like a doughnut at an overeater’s anonymous meeting when I go to church. Have you seen this as an issue in other churches? Am I thinking about this wrong? I guess I see it as more intimate, between him and his wife and counselor/accountability group. It’s part of the reason we are thinking about leaving our church. It’s so male-dominated that I don’t think they even consider how their “freedom” in Christ affects the women in the pews.
This happened at a church we went to also. The pastor from the pulpit on Sunday talked of his continued struggle when he or his wife were out of town. Very unsettling to me. I find it strange that this sin is so winked at compared to other sins. It seems almost cool to confess it. I guess since it’s every mans battle it’s ok.
Yes! It’s like “look at me, I’m so vulnerable and repentant!” Meanwhile his wife’s soul is bleeding out…
It affirms their manhood in a world where you’re not a real man if you only sleep with one woman your entire life. That’s why they’re confessing it publicly.
Yeah, public confessions about those matters set off alarm bells for me, too. Some churches make public confessions the end goal of sanctification. To me, they point more toward other character flaws.
Sheila, when you and Rebecca spoke to him, did you bring up the plagiarism? If so, what was his response?
That is currently being looked at with our editors/publishers, and i preferred to keep that discussion in writing rather than on the phone.
I have a lot of respect for Gary Thomas (I’ve seen and benefited from his advocacy for survivors in other places), so this is quite disappointing.
This does bring to mind a chapter in his book “The Sacred Search” where he claims that 1 Cor. 7:8-9 say that people who are struggling to control their sexual urges should marry quickly. For the same reasons you outlined here, I find that problematic—a spouse becomes the savior, a spouse is now a sexual outlet, etc. Yet, I feel like I have blinders on and can’t see a different interpretation to those verses.
Do you have thoughts on how to correctly handle that Scripture? Thanks for any help!
Sheila wrote a post about 1 Corinthians a while back!
I also read and was disappointed in the Gary Thomas post that blew up this discussion. I think part of the reason why it created such a hullabaloo is because it was uncharacteristic of him. He is one of the good guys and has consistently recognized women as equal partners in marriage and all that goes with that.
Anyone, and everyone, has made a mistake (I know I have made many), and I just can’t see discarding Gary Thomas and his teaching for either one lapse in judgment or a case of poor communication. This was pointed out to him (by many) and he has removed the post. Let’s have some compassion for him and instead of continuing to antagonize him, consider the whole of his good work.
Note: I am neither a relative nor a personal friend of Gary Thomas. I just believe that his intentions were good, and in this instance, things came out wrong.
I agree that it was uncharacteristic. And I also agree in giving people chances to correct themselves, and I’m really really hoping that Gary shows himself to have humbled himself and listened to those he harmed.
The problem that I see right now is that he didn’t actually apologize or change anything until it was affecting him press-wise. I wish he could have opened his ears and listened to the initial outcry last Friday, taken down the post that same day, and just put up a quick, “I wrote a post that was taken entirely differently than how I intended. I’m going to be taking the criticism to heart and talk about this in a safer way in the future” when he learned he hurt people. I just wish that the knowledge he had hurt people had been enough. And hopefully he proves himself in his follow-up he’ll be writing in the next few weeks! Truly and sincerely, that is my hope. I think he has so much potential to help people, but how he’s been treating abuse victims this week is truly horrific and shocking, coming from him. Hopefully he redirects back onto his previous path of standing up for the downtrodden!
Regarding the debate about how to address an occasional porn user, I sympathize with the difficulty of trying to encourage women who WANT to save the marriage while trying not to harm those who don’t or are uncertain. It’s possible to care about both while not knowing how to convey it!!
Personally, my marriage follows the idea that “not everything that’s permissible is beneficial.” 1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23. Had I known everything I know now, it would not have been beneficial to get married, but by the time I considered that divorce might be permissible, there was enough change to conclude that it wasn’t beneficial. However, each situation is different regarding what’s the most beneficial, so I don’t say that anyone should stay because I stayed. Also, frustrating as it is, slow change is more trustworthy than fast change. Slow change is sustainable, while fast change is often fake and deceptive.
Even though I didn’t know about the literal use of the word “methadone” until this year, I’d heard a more subtle version of the message for years, and I didn’t see anything wrong with it for a long time because I didn’t think about whether porn involved a different attitude than loving sex. Even then, I never wanted to pressure a wife, but I mistakenly thought a wife who wanted it could help an addict.
As a result, I’m undecided about how mad to be at the pastors that told my husband to read Every Man’s Battle. Part of me thinks I should be soft on them if I’m soft on my past self, but part of me feels like they deserve great wrath for not noticing how wrong it is. Especially since its dehumanizing content is less subtle than Thomas’s article, and since they chose to be leaders. My feelings are more conflicted by the fact that these pastors actually have empathy for abused women, which is confusingly inconsistent with EMB, but also is a reason not to dismiss them as heartless.
I totally believe they deeserve wrath! But HOW MUCH MORE those who have read The Great Sex Rescue and continue to teach it? (like Gary Thomas did this week).
Sheila, in an earlier comment, you asked…
“… How would you suggest that we do handle a situation with a low libido spouse who CAN enjoy sex and who does feel connected to their spouse but they just don’t want sex? How should this be talked about?” – Sheila
It got me thinking.
Do they each have a wholesome view towards sex?
Do they each put the other first?
Answering those questions might help figure out where to go next.
Your podcasts always make me cry… I’m 53 and my husband is 55. If he would watch these and decide to be proactive and take care of “his stuff” I could see this helping so much. Its hard to listen to what I know is so right when it takes two to correct and not just the wife, which I have tried through our whole marriage. To have my husband see his responsibilities like you share here and take care of them would have been amazing for our marriage I’m sure. At this point in our already 3 years sexless marriage is there even hope anymore? We are friends and that’s good. Can we have more if he doesn’t “work” for more?