James Bryden writes, “Love does not die easily. It is a living thing. It thrives in the face of all life’s hazards, save one —neglect.” And when you get involved with pornography it causes you to neglect your sexual life with your spouse. Pornography hurts intimacy in marriages and kills out true love.
Brian was in his early twenties when he came to my (Bill’s) office to talk alone. He was angry because I had told his wife, Kaye, that pornography should not be in a part of their sexual experience with one another. Brian has always been an independent thinker and did not like getting such bold advice from someone he didn’t know very well.
Intent on Winning
Brian was obviously uncomfortable, but he was intent on winning me over to his point of view. After very little small talk he blurted out, “So what’s the big deal with looking at pictures of naked women? Didn’t God create the human body? And isn’t the body beautiful?” “Yes, God did create the human body,” I replied, trying to disarm Brian’s assumptions. “And yes, the human body is beautiful. But Brian, do you need to use pornography in order to lose your wife?”
Brian was apparently stunned by the directness of this question as he began thinking out loud, “No, my wife and I have a good sex life and we would have a good sex life whether we watched X-rated movies or not.” “Does your wife want to watch pornography?” I continued. “No,” Brian said hesitantly. “Most women say that pornography makes them feel used,” I responded. “And men who are honest with themselves say that pornography controls them. A marriage cannot last a lifetime when you feel manipulated and your wife feels exploited.”
Doesn’t Have to be Boring
“Come on, Bill, how can you think that lifelong marriage works anymore? Do you honestly believe that a man can be satisfied with only one woman? You can’t really expect that! It would be so boring!” “Well, it doesn’t have to be.” I responded. “My wife and I have a very satisfying relationship and our sex life continues to get better.” “Yeah, but you’ve never done the things I’ve done. You haven’t seen the things I’ve seen. You live a very sheltered life so it doesn’t take much to give you a thrill!”
Brian sat thinking to himself. I could almost read his mind. How could this man truly believe that sex with only one woman could be as good as all the sexual experiences he had had? How could I expect him to change?
Brian tired to explain away the nagging dissatisfaction of his own life as he told the story of his quest for the sexual fulfillment he believed was his right. He bragged about the women he had “conquered” as a young man. He touted his venture into soft pornography, then hard pornography, and justified his daily addiction to pornographic material by pointing out that all “real” men did the same.
“Do you think I’m a real man?” I asked him. “Well, yes, I think you’re a godly man and I respect you.” Brian didn’t want to offend his pastor but he really didn’t think that a religious man understood sex. “I don’t look at pornography. By your definition I am not a real man,” I continued, much to Brian’s discomfort.
Brian’s half-hearted retaliation exposed the vulnerability he was beginning to feel, “You are not supposed to look at pornography. You’re a pastor!” “Am I not a man because I am a pastor?” At this point Brian realized he was trying to cover up his own pain by discrediting his pastor. His pent-up emotions broke loose as he told of the haunting pictures in his head, from childhood years. He saw his father, mother and other women engaging in sexual activity. Brian took time to listen to himself for the first time in his life.
“Why does my dad have to be a pervert? Why did I have to get a dad who would do those things to my mom? And why did my mom let those things happen? What’s wrong with me that I have to have these parents?”
Brian’s flood of emotions laid bare the source of his personal involvement in the sexual revolution. He didn’t respect his dad because his dad had abused his mom. He didn’t respect his mom because she had allowed herself to be abused. His response was to abuse his own sexuality so that he fit into the family. It was too painful to say his mom and dad were wrong.
In utter frustration he told me that he didn’t know how to relate to women without being sexually involved. He avoided all contact with women that wouldn’t lead to sex. Brian exclaimed, “After all I have experienced, I don’t think I can look at the woman I married with respect —as if she is a real person. I’m afraid I will only look at her as a sex object. But, do you really think I can change?”
Trying to Fill the Void
For children of the sexual revolution who want to have a lasting marriage relationship, the pornography issue is explosive. This generation has been bombarded with graphic sexual entertainment and flooded with opportunities to indulge every sexual imagination. Many boast of their newfound freedom and brag about their guilt-free lifestyle. Tragically, though, a rising number in the post-sexual revolution generation have found that being thrust into sexual experiments outside of marriage has threatened their ability to build a lasting marital relationship.
The pornography issue became a crisis for Brian when he met Kaye. He honestly loved Kay but was afraid he would be too sexually restless to build a lasting marriage. Despite his fears Brian and Kaye got married. For the first few months, Brian thought his struggle was over as he and Kaye seemed to be sexually compatible.
In time though, the thrill began to deteriorate as the allure of new experiences demanded Brian’s attention. To fill the void, Brian started bringing home movies that depicted couples engaging in various sexual activities. He convinced his wife to watch these movies with him and then try to perform the acts they viewed.
For Brian the excitement returned. He felt like new life had been breathed into their sex life. He couldn’t understand why Kaye had grown colder toward him. Kaye didn’t understand why Brian needed these movies. “Am I not exciting enough for you,” she asked. She wished Brian would love her just for herself, rather than for her body. But she was afraid she’d lose him if she refused to participate. She really loved Brian, but she was repulsed by the things he asked her to do.
The Empty Well for Men Hurts Intimacy
This struggle for Brian and Kaye existed because pornography is an empty well. The well is empty for men because it can never satisfy. Men are easily aroused by visual images; that makes them targets of pornography. Initially, the graphic nature of pornography attracts the aggressive nature of men and makes them think that a need is being met.
In an environment of constant sexual stimulation, this aggressive nature cries out for more graphic displays and can even turn to a darker side —sexual violence. The more frequently a man watches pornography, the more graphic and violent the pornography must become to produce the same level of arousal.
Brian, like most men, didn’t think he would become violent, but if he continued to depend on pornography to help bring excitement to his marriage relationship, he was guaranteeing his own dissatisfaction. At first, it would seem as if the entertainment was working. But if he continued, he would find the level of absurdity and violence had to increase to reach the previous level of sexual pleasure.
The Feeling’s Gone
We have observed that depression is associated with prolonged exposure to pornography. Depression affects all aspects of life, including sexuality. Research has shown that “compared to healthy men, depressed men reported less frequent sexual thoughts and fantasies, less frequent sexual activity, less pleasure from their sexual activity, and less satisfaction with their sex lives.”
One man, addicted to pornography for 10 years, grieved over its effects on his life. His angst came to a turning point after seeking out a peep show where quarters allowed him to gaze at women rotating around on a platter while they masturbated. He thought: “There is no art, no beauty, and no acrobatic dancing. The woman is obviously a sex object and nothing else. The men are isolated, caged voyeurs. There is no relationship.”
Days later he took a trip down the coast, filled with natural beauty, eating at his favorite restaurants, and lodging at his favorite bed and breakfasts. As he stopped to gaze over the windswept ocean, he mused about the numbness that had taken residence in his heart: “I felt no pleasure. None. My emotional reaction was the same as if I’d been at home, yawning, reading the newspaper. All romance had been drained out, desiccated. …Was I going crazy? Would I lose every worthwhile sensation in life? Was my soul leaking away?”
The Silent Agony for Women
The well is also empty for women, because the acts depicted in pornography are stressful to women. One woman, after years of silent agony, was finally willing to admit her husband was addicted to pornography. She gave the following testimony before the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography:
He made me want to die —every time he took me to bed —and I felt he wanted to destroy who I am. His triumph over me was controlling me in bed and making me feel what he felt. He didn’t love me. There was no feeling of comfort or fulfillment, only pain, emptiness and deep loneliness.
As a couple participates in pornographic activities, their relationship inevitably suffers. The woman feels used and the man is left with the frustrating reality that he is the only one pleased with the performance. Loneliness and alienation set in and the couple finally concludes they cannot meet one another’s needs.
The Downward Spiral
Even hard-core pornography users are admitting that a spiral of alienation occurs when pornography is introduced as a partner in a relationship. One young man, who had been involved in sadomasochism and the pornography business, got married, and then had children. He says he sees nothing wrong in his addiction to erotica or in sharing some of it with his children, but his comments reveal the numbing effect it has. “I don’t think my kids are ready for it. Hard-core becomes very detached. …I guess it’s the impersonalness that I’m not sure they can deal with.”
Although he’s not willing to face it for himself, he does recognize that pornography makes a very personal expression of love impersonal. This alienation spins downward through unmet expectations, which leads to withdrawal from real sex into fantasy and masturbation. Finally the spiral leads to anger, because neither the real-life sex partner nor his own body can keep pace with his erotic fantasies.
The Road to Sexual Fulfillment
The road to fulfillment is found in a whole new well to drink from. Sex is a very special gift that has been given to married couples to enhance their adventure through life. The adventure involves a curious exploration of the multiple possibilities a couple can discover to express their sexual love for each other.
As the couple continues to grow with one another, the intimacy builds. New possibilities for romantic and sexual expression are naturally found. But lifelong sexual innovation is possible only if the couple values the relationship and continues to grow. When pornography is used, the exploration process is accelerated so that a couple engages in physical activity beyond their own personal comfort level.
The natural discovery process is assassinated by the demands on the couple to perform up to the level of the entertainment. If an intimate relationship is reduced to a performance, the inevitable result is frustration and insecurity. Sexual success in any marriage requires that the discovery of sexual fulfillment happen at the pace comfortable to the couple, not that dictated by pornography.
The Key to Sexual Success
The key to sexual success is balance. The couple should be open to the process of discovery that is inherent in any intimate relationship. When new approaches to the couple’s lovemaking are uncovered, they both must remain open to the possibilities.
A wife should have the courage to listen to her husband’s needs and pleasure choices, but she must not allow herself to be reduced to a performer on the stage of her husband’s self-seeking fantasies. It is okay to say no in the midst of an intimate relationship when a woman feels that she is being taken advantage of rather than being loved.
Kaye had tried unsuccessfully many times to discuss her dissatisfaction with Brian’s demands, so she was amazed when he approached her one day and wanted to talk about the coldness of their relationship. “What is wrong with you, Kay?” Brian asked with a bite in his words. “How come you never want to try the things I want to try?”
“I don’t think anything is wrong with me. I’m just a woman, and women don’t like pornography,” she responded, trying not to react defensively. “Well, I know some women who like pornography,” Brian added, “They think it’s fun.”
“I don’t know those women, Brian. All the women I know are threatened and turned off by watching others engage in sex. I just want to make love with you, and I want you to make love with me, not with the women on the TV.”
Wants to Be Loved
Brian was listening, so Kaye went on. She spelled out in detail how she would like to be loved by him. Brian marveled as Kaye told him the romantic things he does that she appreciates. He felt close to her as she explained where and how she liked to be touched by him. Brian was pleased as she described how special she felt when he was spontaneous in their lovemaking. He felt ashamed as Kaye told him how ordinary and degraded she felt when she was repeating what they had watched on a pornographic movie.
This conversation opened up a new dimension in their relationship. Brian felt a renewed sense of pride in their marriage. Finally, he had figured out how to make Kaye feel special. He felt a new sense of courage in his intimate relationship with Kaye, as he came to understand her needs and desires. His sense of pride as a man was boosted as he saw he could arouse his wife, rather than focusing on only fulfilling his own desires.
Now, Kaye and he had a secret. They knew how to relate in a way that nobody else knew about. Understanding these mysteries about Kaye fired up a brand new desire in Brian. Eventually, Brian found enough security with Kaye to consider destroying the pornographic material he had diligently collected since puberty.
The Tough Choice
Brian was realizing that a man who wants to have a satisfying relationship with his wife must make the tough choice not to allow pornography to infiltrate his life and compete for his affection. He, like other men, discovered that authentic men don’t need artificial devices to gain fulfillment. A billboard in Midland, Texas, that we (Jim and Sally) especially like, pictures several men (noted sports and community leaders), with the caption, “REAL MEN DON’T NEED PORN.”
Remove the Strangler
The destructive effect of sexually graphic material on a man’s life is illustrated by an example from nature:
In Mexico and the tropical zones of South America a so-called “strangler” fig grows in abundance. The fruit is not palatable except to cattle and birds. After the birds eat it, they must clean their beaks of the sticky residue. They do this by rubbing them on nearby trees. The seeds of the small fig have a natural glue which makes them adhere to the branches.
When the rainy season arrives, germination takes place. Soon tiny roots make their way down into the heart of the wood and begin to grow. Within a few years the once lovely palms have become entirely covered with the entangling vines of the parasitic growth. Unless the “strangler” figs are removed, the tree will begin to wither, dropping one frond after another until it is completely lifeless. The only way to stop the killing process of the “stranger” fig is to take a sharp knife and cut away the invader. (From: Infosearch)
Developing a Plan of Action
In the same way, pornography will take root in the heart of any man and slowly steal his ability to love only one woman for a lifetime. If porn is a part of your life, the only way to put life back into your marriage is to take drastic measures and cut away the invader. You must develop a plan of action toward sexually explicit material:
1. Decide to abstain from pornography.
2. Decide to focus only on ideas that promote your relationship with your wife.
3. Decide to avoid places that would tempt you to get involved in the downward spiral.
4. Meet regularly with 2 or 3 other men who are sympathetic to the problem and will provide compassionate accountability.
5. Get some help with Online Accountability, which can help you when you are alone with your social media devices.
These men should be made familiar with your plan to avoid contact with pornography. They should be given permission to ask questions such as, “When was the last time you viewed pornography? Are you doing the things you said you would do to build your relationship with your wife? How close are you to falling back into pornography?”
If pornography addiction has developed, special action should be pursued. We recommend talking with a trusted counselor.
A Weekend of Freedom
Brian and Kay are fortunate. Brian sensitively listened to his wife as she lovingly confronted him with her distaste for pornography. As a result of their courageous interaction, they decided their relationship was too valuable to threaten with pornography.
They planned a romantic weekend away at a hotel with one requirement —the room had to have a fireplace. They loaded the provocative collection of pornography in the trunk and headed off for their weekend of freedom.
After sharing a delightful dinner filled with candlelight and romantic conversation, they went to their room and built a warm fire. Seated on the hearth, they proceeded to place the articles of pornography in the fire. While the material burned, a new sense of freedom came over them. It was as if the unrealistic sexual demands they had placed on themselves were rising with the smoke and dissipating in the air. That night was one of the most memorable evenings of lovemaking Brian and Kaye have every experienced, and the freedom introduced to their marriage has led to many more.
You may be feeling trapped by the escalation of explicit pictures you’re carrying around in your head. You may be feeling discouraged or demoralized by the unreal performance expectations placed on you by a spouse entangled in the web of pornography. Hang in there. You can hack away the invading tentacles and take the bold step to say no to pornography and yes to each other.
Gather all unrealistic expectation builders (pornography, explicit movies, novels and so on) and arrange for a bonfire. If a fireplace is not available, gather up all the material and shred it or smash it with a hammer so no one else will be exposed to it.
Then lay out a new white comforter or blanket as a symbol of wiping the slate clean, and enjoy your new sexual freedom together. Make love in front of the fire or at another special “new” location that says, “I release you from the ‘fantasy sex syndrome’ and I commit myself not to use pornography.”
This article comes from the book, Pure Pleasure (Making Your Marriage a Great Affair), which was written by Bill and Pam Farrel and Jim and Sally Conway, published by SALTSHAKER Books. Unfortunately, this book is no longer being published. However, their book Red-Hot Monogamy: Making Your Marriage Sizzle is available, which may help you in your marriage. You can also visit the Farrel’s web site at love-wise.com.
— ALSO —
The following blog, written by Sheila Wray Gregoire, points out additional points to consider on this issue in marriage:
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Pornography and Cybersex