Is digital adultery poisoning your marriage?
By Forest Benedict
Both God and pornography grabbed my attention at a young age. At age six, my father introduced me to Jesus and at 12 a classmate presented me with pornography. For years these two loves would compete as I sought to serve God while secretly hiding an insatiable hunger for sexual sin. This conflict continued for over a decade. Years of false starts and self-induced suffering eventually resulted in surrender. I finally sought help.
How God redeemed my story is beyond belief. I am now a Christian therapist who specializes in the treatment of sexual addiction. God continues to use my work and writing to bring hope and help to others.
Maybe you can relate to my story. The odds are that everyone reading this is either experiencing the draw of pornography or knows someone who is. Sadly, the church is steeped in sexual addiction. Though too few are talking about it, many men, women and children are mesmerized by this siren’s song.
Pornography has a stranglehold on the church, with an estimated two-thirds of Christian men and one-third of Christian women viewing it. Adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are the largest consumers of pornography, and the estimated average age of first exposure has dropped down to nine. In shame-driven isolation, too many stay silent.
Pornography harms all of life
Pornography use harms all areas of life, especially relationships. Most couples come to me in crisis. So often one partner experienced early exposure to pornography and believed the myth that married sex would substitute their sexual sin. In shame, they concealed a secret addiction. This was the first betrayal that would someday surface. Maybe they abstained for a season but, eventually, when the stresses and struggles of life emerged, they often ran back to their comfort of choice: pornography.
When spouses seek a pixilated prostitute, they trade their relationship for wreckage (Prov. 5:4-5). Marriages are harmed in three ways when this happens.
Hindered intimacy: Connection and addiction cannot coexist in a relationship. When one partner uses pornography addictively, it prevents intimacy. The connection that comes from reaching out to their spouse does not occur when they run to pornography to cope with life’s pressures. Time and attention that could be invested in their relationship is instead spent on sexual sin.
A similar impact on one’s relationship with God can also result. Repeatedly reaching to pornography rather than God’s outstretched arms is the sad story of one who forsakes their “first love” (Rev. 2:4). They must choose between lust and love but cannot have both.
Stifled sexuality: It is baffling to me that pornography was once promoted as a sexual aid. If anything, using pornography stifles sexual satisfaction. Premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction can be consequences. Not only can pornography use diminish sexual ability, it also alters sexual attitudes. According to Covenant Eyes, a company that offers Internet accountability software, 88 percent of porn scenes contain physical aggression and 49 percent contain verbal aggression. It is no surprise that this skews views of sex. The “blessed” and satisfying sexuality hailed in Proverbs 5 is light-years away from the demeaning distortion of sex present in most pornography.
Unparalleled pain: Even when sexual addiction “only” involves pornography, it is often experienced as infidelity. Many partners who undergo this type of relational trauma experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), losing their sense of safety. These partners can experience anxiety, depression, rage, hyper-vigilance, intrusive thoughts and shame. They may blame themselves, becoming preoccupied with their body image. They may lose trust in their spouse and in God. Sadly, these symptoms often persist long after the day of discovery. Covenant Eyes reports that over half of divorce cases are related to pornography addiction, so it is apparent that pornography use can poison a marriage.
Finding a new path
Pornography use harms more than just marriages. Relationships with children, God and others are impacted. Neurologically, self-control is impaired. Self-image suffers. Witness to the world is silenced. Justice is undermined, as the porn industry propels sex trafficking forward. No sphere of life is untouched. How fitting that the plea of Proverbs is to keep to a path far from the adulteress (Prov. 5:8).
For the reader who is ready to pursue a new path, here are six crucial strategies for finding freedom:
1. Find same-sex support. Accountability is essential for both prevention and confession. When tempted, humbly call for help. Grace-based, not shame-based, support will sustain lasting change. Both addicts and partners can benefit from a guided group setting where their secrets are safe and their hearts can find healing.
2. Go deep with God. Brennan Manning writes that the journey from mistrust to trust can be like a “second conversion.” Letting God compassionately hold one’s heart in trying and tempting times is much different than simply memorizing verses. Both may be helpful but recovery will entail daily experiences with God, not just learning about God.
3. Pursue external and internal protection. Easy access to the “portable prostitute” is a trap. Protecting devices with filters and accountability software is often necessary. Implementing internal protection means learning self-care routines that strengthen self-control. Adequate sleep, exercise, and healthy eating will bolster the brain’s resistance to temptation. For those traumatized, self-care is equally essential.
4. Seek out a skilled professional. Stories abound of those who sought support in all the wrong places. Seeking someone who specializes in sexual addiction treatment can prevent unnecessary pain and promote lasting healing. This will be important for both addicts and their spouses.
5. Disclose with discretion. Dumping every detail of a pornography problem on a partner can be detrimental. Honesty and transparency about the past and present are necessary but without the guidance of a trained professional, some specifics may cause unnecessary wounds.
6. Be patient with your partner. Recovery for both addicts and partners is a marathon, not a sprint. Long-term change will require significant soul-work. Patience will provide endurance for the lengthy road ahead.
For both the reader who is far down the path of pornography and the traumatized spouse, there is hope. Our loving Father can “restore the years the locust have eaten” (Joel 2:25). For those who have humbly sought help, I have seen relationships reconditioned to a new level of intimacy. There may be years between the present reality and a healed marriage. Yet, this rough road to recovery is far superior to the instability of a divided heart (James 1:8), the despair of disconnection and the anguish of an unfulfilled life lost to lust.
I believe God is raising up a church that rejects pornography and seeks authentic connection. As God unshackles us, he invites us into his mission of setting captives free. Though this path to healing is steep and treacherous at times, it is incredibly rewarding. And the view from the top is spectacular. It is my steadfast hope that someday I’ll see you there.
Forest Benedict is a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary who currently serves as an adjunct faculty member in marriage and family therapy. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sexual addiction treatment provider.