In my last blog post I shared my personal account of pornography and other sex addiction within my marriage. While it’s normal and understandable as the wife of a sex addict to take your husband’s “acting out” personally, I have found it extremely helpful to understand the science behind pornography and other sex addiction as a path to my healing. Personal healing in this journey cannot be overemphasized. It’s natural to want to hurry up and “fix” the addict but the trauma to spouses as a result of their husband’s sex addiction is very real and also must be dealt with. One question I had was why was my husband viewing pornography when I had literally never rejected him sexually even one time. Never. So I started researching what pornography does to the brain. It’s not pretty.
In the book “Out of the Shadows” by Patrick Carnes sex addiction is described as “a pathological relationship with a mood altering experience” (Carnes 2001). The reasons why someone might need their mood altered are endless, of course. My husband told me once that he did it to “get back at me” when he was angry with me and didn’t want to share his feelings with me. In “Wired for Intimacy. How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain” by William M. Struthers it says “repeated exposure to pornography creates a one-way neurological superhighway where a man’s mental life is over-sexualized and narrowed. It is hemmed in on either side by high containment walls making escape nearly impossible.” After only a few hours (accumulative) of viewing pornography the brain is hooked on it. The images are burned into the brain within seconds of seeing them. That is what makes them so highly addictive. It was explained to me once like this ; pornography addiction may start out as a sexual craving but in the end it is nothing different than an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Pornography is the vehicle used to numb the addict the same as all other chemical addictions. There is a chemical reaction that occurs in the brain at sexual climax. It’s that reaction that keeps a pornography addict coming back. And like drugs or alcohol the amount of the substance used needs to increase in volume or, in the case of pornography, in the type of pornography viewed, over time. What would once bring sexual satisfaction no longer does. Many men attempt to get their wives to act out things that they have watched. This is rarely consensual and constitutes abuse on many levels. I did not know how to say no to these things. I mistakenly thought if I did them then my husband would not watch pornography. I was wrong. I was feeding his addiction and I didn’t know it. What I did know was that there was no intimacy in our relationship. John would pursue me sexually until he got what he wanted and then cast me aside until he wanted sex again. There was no concern for me, how I felt, or what I wanted. I was rarely satisfied sexually and felt used and often like I was a prostitute after. It was horrific. That is the only word I can use to describe how it felt. I felt like a piece of garbage every single time. Yet I never said no because of MY unhealthiness. I didn’t know that I was worth more.
As I grew spiritually I began to be haunted by images both that I had seen and those that I had not. It was as if there were demons taunting me and my soul ached to know why. As I said in my last blog post I thought the issues lay with my unforgiveness. But in marriage what one spouse does affects the other on many levels, including spiritually. In the book “Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to sexual Integrity” by Dr. Doug Weiss it says “ Effects on the spouse when a man chooses an unclean lifestyle of secret lust, pornography, or other sexually inappropriate behaviors, he might think that what his wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Nothing is further from the truth. As Christians, we believe when we get married, two become one. God’s final creation in the garden was marriage. Yet our bodies are not only one with our wives but with the Lord as well. Not only does God grieve because of what we men choose to do to ourselves, I believe he grieves because of what men’s’ secret lives do to his daughters – our wives”. So when my husband finally understood the hold that pornography and sexual acting out had on him and took it to confession and was told not to tell me, his wife, that only made the destruction worse and last longer. And it opened me up for severe spiritual attack which robbed me of at least a decade of my life. As I mentioned before God will not allow us to live in our secrets forever. He knows that if we are living in lies then we are living separated from Him. In our experience my husband was given many opportunities to come clean with me and he chose not to so God chose for him. As Dr. Weiss says “God loves you too much to let your secrets kill you, so exposing them is an act of his grace and mercy.” The weeks that followed my husband’s first and second disclosures were weeks (and months) of extreme pain for me but in him I saw a weight lifted. A man who knows what God’s grace and true integrity looks like and longs to live in it cannot carry a burden of that size around with him and truly be at peace. John was at peace for the first time in his life as far as I had seen. That part of the nightmare was a blessing for John, our children, and for me. When sin is exposed and lies are brought to light living as God wants us to live becomes more of a possibility than ever before.
So what can spouses, addicts, and the Church do to fight against this pornography epidemic? Being honest is first and foremost. As the spouse of a sex addict I had to not focus on John’s sins but I had to focus on me. I learned in recovery that I had been unhealthily dancing around John and his addiction for years. We had little money so first I found a free support group at a local parish. Those are few and far between, unfortunately, but it was a breath of fresh air for me. I learned the hard way that going to a priest may not always bring the support or information that I had assumed it would. These men are only human and their knowledge can only go so far. Finding people (licensed or not) that have been educated in sexual addiction is vital. We unfortunately live in a culture that has accepted pornography as a way of life. The CCC 2354 says this “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts for the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal at, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of it’s participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials”. Unfortunately we do not live in a culture that prevents these things from being produced. Pornography is everywhere from grocery stores to movie theaters masked as “pop culture”. Finding someone that understands the destruction of pornography, lust, and other sexual addictions can really aid in the healing of all involved. In my case I was blessed with friends who had traveled this road, pastoral associates who were willing to help, low priced Christian counseling in my town. There are countless reputable resources online for free or low cost and some at higher costs. I have been blessed with a husband who truly wants to be right with God and be the husband that he believes God has called him to be. I am grateful for that. It doesn’t erase the trauma but it does aid in healing for both of us. John is committed to staying clean and does things like having internet accountability software installed on his phone (Covenant Eyes is my favorite). He stays away from most online sites as (unfortunately) the ads and other information on them often contain women that are half dressed or not dressed at all. We got rid of cable years ago. We pray together. We are going to priests and other clergy and sharing our story in hopes that it will better help them understand the real effects of pornography and deception. One priest told me that he feels pornography is THE moral issue of our time. I believe satan has used pornography to take down the family. We must stand with God and, if our spouses are willing to get help and actively seeking recovery, we must stand with our spouses. The true battle here is not between us and our spouse or even our spouse and pornography. It’s between married couples and Satan. We must fight this battle together with our spouses to win the war. With God’s help we can win. A person’s brain can be rewired. In “Wired for Intimacy” the author states “The road to depravity leads into the heart of hell and yields isolation. The road toward sanctification, however, leads into the heart of God and yields freedom from temptation.” It is possible to change. There are countless stories of healing and redemption. I will close with this from Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
The program at the parish where I attend group uses this model : MY HOUSE
Dr. Douglas Weiss has countless resources for addicts and their partners including telephone counseling. The book I mentioned above is here: CLEAN