PODCAST: The Porn Triage–How to Tell How Likely Recovery Will Be

by | May 26, 2022 | Podcasts, Pornography | 24 comments

Podcast on Porn Triage
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Can we have a nuanced discussion about porn and the likelihood of recovery?

One of our goals for what we do is to help people have “informed consent”–in other words, before they make a decision, they need to know all the facts. We can’t be afraid of data and evidence.

And when it comes to porn, that’s super important, because porn use does not always have the same effect on relationships. While porn use is always intolerable and must be stopped, and boundaries must be drawn–it is not necessarily equally destructive.

Some people use porn but don’t develop a pornified style of relating; want to stop; and treat their wife (or husband) well. And some use porn and become entitled or abusive.

Thus, figuring out what you should do when you discover your husband is using porn (and I’ll talk about husbands here because this conversation is mainly happening about men, even though women can use porn too) is largely about looking at the bigger picture, and doing a triage, so to speak.

In a battle, medics assess the wounded and try to figure out which ones will likely recover, which ones won’t, and which ones need intervention the most. That’s what we’d like to do today with porn, and suggest a way we can think about a porn triage.

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

 

Timeline of the Podcast

0:10 Changes are coming!
2:00 Addressing friendly fire
9:00 The Porn Triage: Two distinct diagnoses
25:45 But what about those who can recover?
32:00 PTSD discussion
39:00 Porn is the new Purity Culture?
44:15 But can you still leave?
49:00 Sarah discusses noticing vs lusting

Let’s talk about the porn triage!

What’s been happening in a wider conversation on social media is that there’s been some concern that I’m being too easy on porn users. We found that only 50% of married, evangelical men use porn; many women who have gotten out of abusive relationships with porn addicted husbands feel that we’re downplaying the problem by reporting this number.

We’ve also said that porn alone does not cause the major destruction in the marriage, but porn accompanied by a number of other markers, especially the pornified style of relating.

This does not mean that we don’t think porn is harmful or should be tolerated! We’ve always, always said that porn use is a non-starter, and must be dealt with.

But we also think it’s important to tell the whole story.

For some women, their husbands’ porn use means that the primary concern on discovery should be seeking safety. Don’t worry about preserving the marriage–just get everyone safe. Separate if you have to (and you likely will have to). Make sure your finances are protected.

But for others, the signs actually show that recovery is very possible.

So let’s look at the markers:

Markers that the porn use puts you on the “seek safety” path:

  • Is the porn use associated with other forms of abuse?
  • Has the porn use escalated into escorts, prostitutes, or strip clubs?
  • Has the porn use led to a loss of employment?
  • Is the porn use accompanied by other addictive behaviours, such as substance abuse or gambling?
  • Has the porn use spilled into the bedroom in the form of sexual coercion, asking for outlandish things, or sexual assault?
  • Have the children been exposed to porn, either intentionally or not?
  • Is the porn being consumed of an especially heinous nature (child sexual abuse materials, extreme violence or perversion)
  • Is the porn use accompanied by great secrecy, especially in other areas of life?
  • Has the porn use been accompanied by anger or a failure to be a decent father or a decent person in general?
  • Has recovery been supposedly ongoing for years, but no progress is ever made?

If one or more of these things is present, then the main concern should be getting safety and help for yourself and kids, not trying to salvage the marriage. If he does seek treatment and he does recover, that’s awesome! But don’t put your life on hold while you wait for that.

On the other hand, if these things are present, then recovery is very likely:

  • they own the problem without blaming it on anyone
  • It is not accompanied by a pornified style of relating
  • they seek out their own help and counseling
  • They stick with a program
  • They willingly give up privacy/secrecy

And our survey found strong evidence of BOTH groups of people. Many guys actually do recover from porn, and so we have to be sure that we don’t talk about all porn use as meaning a marriage is doomed. On the other hand, some porn use is so destructive that we shouldn’t just be counseling women to wait for his recovery.

This is where data comes in. Of course, women in both groups may still decide that this is a rubicon they can’t cross, and the betrayal is too big. But at least they have data so they can make a decision with informed consent.

The problem that I have seen is that there’s been an effort to try to paint every case as the same. But it’s not. And if we want to stop porn use long term, we have to help people get help. We can’t create a new purity culture for boys with porn, the same way we did for girls with any kind of sexual thoughts/activity. If we want boys to be able to stop, we must talk about how it actually is possible to quit, and porn does not necessarily ruin your whole life.

Sarah McDugal: Noticing vs. Lusting

After our talk on porn, I shared a Facebook Live my friend Sarah McDugal had done on noticing vs. lusting. Sarah is an abuse recovery coach and the founder of the awesome TraumaMamas app, and she shared how this discussion of how noticing isn’t lusting can be difficult for those who have been married to sex addicted husbands–but it doesn’t mean it’s not a discussion worth having.

I really appreciated her gracious take on this one, and I asked her permission to share it on the podcast. Sarah will be joining us on a later podcast to talk about her awesome new app.

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

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

It’s time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Things Mentioned in This Podcast:

Podcast on Porn Triage

What do you think? How can we improve this conversation and make it more nuanced? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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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24 Comments

  1. A2bbethany

    Now I know what pron is! I believe it’s a typo?

    Reply
      • Codec

        Pron is actually a memetic synonym for porn.

        Reply
  2. Codec

    I respect that you have never talked down to me. That you try hard and smart to have good research.

    Reply
      • Codec

        On the giving up secrecy thing. It actually does help. My therapist has been helpful with that.

        I have also been going to therapy.

        I do not want to blame people. My problems are my own even though it is influenced by things I have done and things done to me.

        About not all porn use is the same. True. For that matter thanks to reading Jay Stringer I have found that sexual fantasies can point to things that are actually healthy desires expressed in unhealthy or suboptimal ways. I am interested in reading your books, american hookup, bauman, jung, etc.

        I have to ask you. Do you think that singles experience porn differently? I think so. After all I have never been in a relationship in part because the idea of relationships scared me some. What if they hate me? What if it leads to something we will regret?

        Reply
        • Sequoia

          Codec,
          Keep in mind that the majority of porn users started out when they were single and brought that with them into a dating or marriage relationship. So when you ask if singles experience porn differently, I’d have to ask you what you meant by “differently.”

          I would think that you might be more frustrated as a porn user in a marriage, because now you can compare your actual spouse—who has likes, dislikes, requires emotional intimacy, has headaches and bad days, who doesn’t give you as much privacy as you had pre-marriage—to what you’re watching on-screen.

          Comparison breeds distrust and dissatisfaction, and you’re more likely to put that frustration on your spouse and blame them. This in turn creates a worse relationship.

          I’m not necessarily saying “singles have it easy,” I’m saying that greater secrecy and power imbalance are required if you’re going to use porn in a relationship/marriage. 0/10, would definitely NOT recommend.

          Reply
  3. SL

    Thank you for this podcast today. You now gave me a place for my experience with my husband. He’s never fit in either category with porn use. In the last 2 month….I’ve never felt more seen and understood. Spiritually, marriage wise, and in parenting! Love the content you keep bringing to the table.

    Reply
  4. Andrea

    I wish I could remember where I read this, I don’t think it was Sam Perry, but men bring to porn the attitudes they’ve already absorbed about women, so some will be inspired to abuse their wives and others will not, like the last letter you read where the wife was treated wonderfully even though her husband watched porn. But I also understand how much easier it is for a betrayed spouse to convince herself that “all men” are like that rather than that she had the distinct misfortune of marrying a bad guy.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think that’s all very true. Some men are simply worse than others with the way they treat their wives. And porn is part of the story, but it isn’t the whole story. I hope that abuse survivors can realize that this can be GOOD NEWS for them, because it means that they weren’t crazy. What they were going through was far worse than what most people do. They need more support than most. It is worse.

      Reply
  5. exwifeofasexaddict

    Thank you for treating this topic with nuance and facts. I have some thoughts about your lists of questions for triage. My exhusband at different times displayed traits from both lists. For the first 17 years, I thought he was in the recovery category. At 17 years, he confessed to having sex with 7 other women. In my ignorance, I still thought the marriage could be saved, so I stuck around for 8 more years. I saw him relapse several more times, including escalation. I saw him pressure me to dress in ways a was not comfortable with (demonstrating his pornographic style of relating). I saw him get into a truly good and helpful Pure Desire support group. I saw him do counseling for a year and be completely transparent and seemed to take full responsibility. But ultimately, that pornographic style of relating was too entrenched, and he shifted to blaming me and ultimately left me. He married again 3 months after we divorced, to a woman he had allegedly known for just a few weeks. So it’s clear that he never overcame seeing women as objects.

    So I think your triage questions are good questions to ask and different levels to be aware of. But these dudes lie. It’s important to know that what they tell you might not be the truth, or the whole truth. I’m really glad you said that any porn is infidelity and it’s acceptable to leave, even a man who can be rehabed.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi there! First, I’m so, so sorry that you went through this. I can’t imagine it for this long. Just awful!

      I would say that when he confessed to having sex with other women, you’re now in the “get to safety” category, not the recovery category. At that point, it’s best to make plans to separate and separate your finances and make sure the children are safe and that you have a safety net around you.

      That’s the thing–as soon as he shows any signs from List 1, then you’re no longer in the recovery route. In order to recover, he would have to do significant work on his own and completely own the problem and get counseling and show progress.

      I’m sorry you had an additional 8 years. That’s so sad.

      Reply
      • exwifeofasexaddict

        That’s a fair point. And yet another way that the church let me down and failed me throughout my life on the subject of sex. Because that belief, that any marriage can be saved if you just believe hard enough and act good enough, was instilled in me years before I got married. And I got married at 19.

        However, he was cheating for 5 years before he confessed. I knew something was off with him, but I never suspected it was infidelity. Outwardly, he appeared to be doing everything right. Because these guys have a motive to lie. I don’t know what solution is. Trust your gut, maybe? I don’t know if there’s anything I could have done differently prior to his first confession.

        Anyway, I appreciate how you handle these issues. I appreciate your studies, and your rational approach, and your valuing of women.

        Reply
  6. Jon

    You tout evidence/research based ideas about sexuality, yet you start from a non evidenced based presupposition that porn use is ALWAYS damaging to a marriage. And by “porn use,” I don’t just mean the porn that men watch, but porn that women consume, including written and audio erotica. Please site your research based evidence to back up your claim that porn is ALWAYS bad in a marriage! While I’m not giving a blanket defense of pornography, I am asking for your evidence. What the evidence will actually show is that the problem is secrecy and shame around a practice that is incongruent with a person’s moral beliefs. Please listen to this episode of the Sex and Psychology podcast to hear something about real research in this area: https://www.sexandpsychology.com/blog/podcast/episode-96-the-wonderfully-weird-history-and-science-of-masturbation/
    By the way, I am not coming from a conservative fundamentalist, men are men and will watch porn, point of view. And I did not want to put this in the comments, but your contact form (ask Sheila a question) is not working. What concerns me about your podcasts on lust and “porn addiction” is that there is a strong sex negative tone of shame (you are a “bad guy”) that will actually deepen the problem you are trying to fix. Consider stopping the use of terms like, “good,” “bad,” and “normal” when it comes to people’s sexual practices. Rebecca is particularly guilty of this. Also your definitions around “lust” and “objectification” are loosely defined and problematic. These words create stigma and shame and drive people further into hiding their “sin.” Instead, focus on what either brings health or harm to relationships. Wholeness always comes from openness, transparency, and vulnerability in an atmosphere of love and grace. Anything that kills this atmosphere of non-judgmental grace that fosters openness, will ultimately work against the outcomes you desire.

    Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      you didn’t even listen to the podcast. Listen to this one, and read and listen to other posts. It’s defined. They say why porn is bad. The answers are all here.

      Reply
      • Jon

        I listened to it all and have listened to many of their other episodes. I did not say they did not define why porn is bad. I asked for the research based evidence to support their conclusions. And by that I mean the larger body of research and not just their own research which does not represent the general population.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      We surveyed 32,500 people in total, and we found that porn has a dose-response effect. So ANY porn use at all puts you in a category where your marital and sexual satisfaction is less than if you didn’t watch porn.

      This is evidence based.

      Now, the discrepancy isn’t large if you use porn just rarely. But as porn use is more frequent, there are more and more problems and we see a significant effect, including ED being about 4 times as likely with daily use as with no use.

      Reply
      • Jon

        As I said, I am not making a blanket defense of porn. I acknowledge that it can be a huge problem for many people and many relationships. However, your survey is not representative of the general population. Correct me if I am wrong, but you are surveying people who are primarily evangelical and thus have been brought up in an environment that creates shame and internal moral conflict around porn, erotica, and masturbation. You also only site your own research as your evidence and fail to acknowledge the larger body of research on porn use that would not necessarily validate your own “evidence based conclusions.” To sum it up, the overall data is hardly as conclusive as you say it is.

        Reply
  7. Connie

    Really? We’re arguing about whether adultery/fornication is ‘not so bad’ as long as it is not done often, or is hidden? Or whether the church guys commit adultery at 50% or 80%? If the guy is such a good actor that he is not treating his wife in a ‘pornified way’, and the kids don’t see it? This is just creepy. I know that if a dad hides his sex addiction, the children are spiritually affected anyway. They will often pick up the same addictions. This podcast is completely leaving out the spiritual aspect. Have you read Jimmy Hinton’s dad’s story? Or the story of Achan in the Bible? I wonder why Achan’s whole family was killed. I think that I would much rather be dealing with a man who was sinning outright and in other ways, than a total hypocrite. Even if he confessed, I would always be looking over my shoulder. The church of the west is in big trouble.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      We’re not saying that it’s okay if it’s hidden. Did you listen to the podcast? We’re not saying the porn use is okay at all. We’re simply saying, “how can you tell if recovery is possible/probable, or if you really shouldn’t aim for recovery at all?”

      And, yes, if he confesses and takes initiative to get help, then recovery is very possible and likely. If the pornified style of relating hasn’t impacted how he’s treated you, then, yes, recovery is very likely.

      If, however, there is a pattern of a lot of secrecy; if there has been abuse; if there has been sexual coercion; then recovery is not as likely and the main goal should be to get yourself to safety.

      How would you say that you can tell if recovery is possible/probable? Because about 40% of men who do use porn at some point do recover and stop using it. So we know that for many, many men recovery is possible/probable. Are you saying that we shouldn’t talk about this?

      And as for the spiritual aspect, what we said was very in line with Jesus. We’re saying that when you own your sin, don’t blame it on anyone else, and take the initiative to make amends and seek help, then recovery is possible. Because what we’re describing is repentance as Jesus talks about.

      Reply
  8. Blue

    This was really great. The bit about anti-porn as the new purity culture was really insightful. The idea that there are degrees of porn use and harm matches my experience in the real world, and indeed we’d comment on most vices in this way.

    Reply
  9. Looking

    Could you give me a couple book titles from the authors that were recommended for men in this situation? I tried looking them up but didn’t have much luck

    Reply
  10. Divorced My Gay Ex

    Wow- I wish I could have read this when I was going through it 15 years ago. I’m now divorced, safe, happy, and on the other side of recovery… but it was a longer road than it should have been due to bad counseling advice from Christians.

    We went to Doug Weiss for a few years and they actually had us create a sex agreement contract where we had to agree on a number of times we would have sex in a month and give ourselves consequences for not complying! I tried to explain t too our counselor that I didn’t feel safe but they insisted it would help us bond with each other. They never taught us anything about what consent is and isn’t. Their other method of control was to administer lie detector tests every few months. They were the leaders in the field of sex addiction for Christian’s at the time. Sometimes I felt blamed for his acting out bc of my enabling “codependency “ and was called a co- addict. Almost to say that if I allowed his acting out without giving him a consequence I was contributing to the problem. This caused me to feel even more responsible and invested in his recovery.

    I will add that my experience of secrecy and shame in the church was nuanced bc my spouse was gay and in denial. I still struggle with exposing him and feeling free to be open about it bc it will bring another layer of judgment and rejection to our family and my kids are teenagers now.

    We also went to Jason Graves for a few months and he give advice to gay men to stay married, manage their lust issues, and for the wives to be supportive and accept friendship. It felt degrading and depressing bc I realized my husband would never enjoy sex with me like I wanted him to. I didn’t want to accept a lifetime of marriage where we manage each other’s needs even if we don’t feel like it.
    All that to say thank you for being a voice and giving advice and resources to those who have been affected by sex addiction/ abuse. I was told to persevere in an unhealthy marriage and focus on whatever he needs to make his recovery work. I now see that as abusive and I coach women to take care of themselves first, to find & create a safer community, and grieve what was lost so they can make better choices in the future.

    Do you have resources for conversations with kids when their dad is closeted?

    Reply

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