If the gospel is good for anything it must have an answer to the worst problems humans face. As believers we know that intellectually, but the body of Christ frequently hides from some of the really bad stuff. Pornography and your Christian marriage may seem like things that should not be said in the same sentence. But in 21st century culture it’s something we must address, and find God’s answer for.
I hear from people every week who struggle with this. I hear from the small-church pastor who feels he has no one to help him out of his addiction to pornography, the godly wife who just found out her husband has been watching porn for years, the young Christian woman who weeps in shame over her continued failure to stop engaging in internet pornography.
Although statistically more men than women get hooked by sexually-charged images and videos, pornography is an equal-opportunity destroyer. Men and women, married and single, Christian and unbeliever, young and old – it affects them all. Our sexualized society spends multi-billions of dollars on this. It starts young; your ten-year-old (or younger) can watch it on their cell-phone while riding the bus to school. (As a parent, you may appreciate this article about kids and sex.)
Dr Juli Slattery, psychologist, author, and media professional, has stated that she no longer asks couples whether pornography is an issue for them; she asks what role pornography is playing in their relationship. And almost every struggling couple I talk with indicates it played or is playing a role.
So what is a Christian to do? Refusing to address pornography is putting your head in the sand, especially if you’re married or contemplating marriage. But as with all human brokenness God has an answer – if you’re addicted, if your spouse is addicted, or if you want to proactively protect your marriage.
Pornography and Relationships
Pornography, like any addiction, lessens your ability to be stimulated by and enjoy the real thing. Those images stay in your head a long time. Pornography is all about sexual stimulation without having to do the work of intimacy. It skews a person’s brain about what sex was intended to be, what men want, and what women want. It makes sex all about self-gratification, and that’s one of the big reasons why pornography is never acceptable for a believer.
True relationships are mutual. A godly marriage is more about learning to love well, not primarily about getting your own needs met. You married (or will marry, if you marry) a flawed human being, one who will never live up to the superficial and completely unrealistic images offered by pornography. True intimacy requires vulnerability, forgiveness, communication, change, unselfishness, and more. Pornography short-circuits all of that.
It’s not all about you! If you cannot accept that, both as a human being and as a follower of Jesus, please don’t get married. Ever. A healthy marriage takes work, and even if you do everything right it doesn’t guarantee everything will “work out.” But you must reject and deal with pornography if you do want a healthy intimate relationship. And news flash; marriage will not cure your or your spouse’s porn use!
If You Struggle with Pornography
Pornography is highly addictive to the human brain. It gets its hooks in you and will not let go. As with tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, or any other addictive substance or behavior it will only leave by militantly driving it out and replacing it with something better. That only happens through a healing and delivering miracle of God combined with your own absolute and never-ending determination to live in freedom. (Isn’t that the way to overcome any variety of sinful addiction?)
There is hope! If this is your struggle, decide right now to agree with God about His right to ownership of your life, mind, and body. This is not about shame and guilt; the enemy loves to heap that on you. God is just as willing and able to deal with your sin in this area as any other sin. He is eager to forgive, heal, cleanse, and transform you.
Briefly, the way to find freedom from pornography is to bring it into the light, deal with the roots of your sexual stuff, deeply connect with other believers on the same journey, develop an escape plan for when you will be tempted, and hungrily take into your being everything God makes available to you. If you’re married, tell your spouse. Connect with a same-sex spiritual friend as an accountability partner. Plead the blood of Jesus over your mind, heart, sex life, and relationship (if married) every day. And daily, out loud, submit your sexuality to Jesus.
I’ve written a more extensive article on finding freedom from pornography, including some suggestions for other resources.
If Your Spouse Struggles with Pornography
It’s normal to feel overwhelming loneliness, shock, rejection, anger, and more if you discover your spouse has been engaging with pornography. You may also feel guilt; If I had been more sexually appealing and agreeable, my spouse wouldn’t have done this.
Please hear me carefully. Your spouse’s struggle with pornography is not about you! Yes, you are a flawed human being, and undoubtedly been less than a perfect spouse. But your spouse is completely responsible for their own behavior here as in every other area. It may be one of the hardest emotional steps you must take, but put this monkey back on your spouse. This is not about you.
What do you do now? First, take care of your own heart. Bring your feelings of anger, rejection, guilt, etc. before God. Invite Him right into the middle of your trauma and sense of betrayal. Ask Him to show you how He sees you. Spend some time listening to what He has to say to your heart. Accept His healing in your soul; that takes time. You will need to walk the journey of forgiveness – not saying everything is OK, but setting your spouse free for God to deal with.
Letting your spouse own their responsibility does not mean you are powerless in your relationship. If your spouse is enlisting your support in breaking free from pornography, you can be a great help to them. Don’t parent or micromanage, but listen. Ask how you can be a tool God uses in their journey of freedom. Otherwise, if your spouse has a hard heart in the matter, know that even with your spouse’s bad behavior you can find the life of meaning God has for you.
Before it’s a Problem
If you are in a relationship and contemplating marriage, or if you are married and want to guard against the destruction of pornography, deal with this issue proactively. Don’t think it won’t affect you just because you are in love or are both Christians.
I strongly encourage every couple to talk about pornography. Where have you been exposed to it? How did you respond when you saw it? What feelings come up around this topic? (Shame? Guilt? Anger?) Who would you feel safe talking with if you struggled with pornography? If this has been a struggle for you, what have you done about it? How safe do you and your (intended) spouse feel talking about this together?
A godly marriage is a place where each one is accepted with unconditional love, and that love is a vehicle for healing and growth. That does not mean you accept bad behavior! It does mean you seek God’s intervention for both your own heart and for your spouse.
Genetic factors, early messages about sex and sexuality, hormonal differences, cultural circumstances – these and many others affect one’s vulnerability to pornography addiction. If you or your spouse are vulnerable, work together to put extra-ordinary safeguards in place. Sometimes when it comes to media, environment, etc., it’s “Others can. You cannot.” Covenant Eyes is one helpful resource.
Pray about it together. Pray for your own heart and for your spouse in this area. No fear, no shame, no guilt. Live in the light. Stay humble. Keep God in charge of the future of your marriage. It’s too big a burden for you to carry yourself, and He’s well able to carry you through.
Your Turn: What role has pornography played in your relationship? What are you going to do about it now? Leave a comment below.
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