Pornography can be an unhealthy substitution for sex with one’s spouse, but often it’s a symptom of a deeper issue and a way to cope with unresolved pain. The user may be avoiding true intimacy.
When Bill came home from work, he was puzzled that he didn’t hear his kids or the television. He rounded the corner and found his wife, Karen, sitting in his office chair and glaring at him. His skin prickled.
“Where are the kids?” he asked.
“I took them to my parents’ house. I need to talk to you and I don’t want them here for this conversation.”
Bill’s mouth became dry making swallowing difficult. His eyes met Karen’s as she continued, “I found your pornography on your computer and I want you to move out immediately.”
Bill’s throat tightened, and he suddenly had difficulty breathing. He closed his eyes and tried to remember the latest X-rated sites he had been looking at. He felt nauseated as he imagined Karen seeing those images on his computer.
Hot tears of shame rolled down his face as he fell to his knees. “Please,” he whispered, “I’ll do anything. Please don’t make me leave.”
He searched his wife’s face for a sign of hope, but Karen looked away in anger. Images of what his life would be like separated from Karen and the kids flashed in his mind and caused his heart to twist in his chest.
“I am so ashamed,” Bill said beginning to sob and covering his face with his hands.
Finally, he heard Karen’s question, “Will you go to counselling with me?”
Bill looked up. “Yes!” he said, desperate for hope. “I’ll do anything.”
Bill understood God’s standard and knew he had been emotionally unfaithful to Karen. His deep insecurity had caused him to create walls in his and Karen’s marriage that prevented them from becoming too close. He had been avoiding intimacy with Karen for years. Pornography was a substitution for sex. Bill knew that it was a problem, but it wasn’t the only problem. Pornography was a symptom of a deeper issue, and using it was the way that he chose to cope with his unresolved emotional pain.
Pornography was only one way that Bill blocked a deep relationship with Karen. His behaviour was subconsciously based on fear and the need for comfort. Part of him longed for closeness, but he was afraid of needing someone. Bill shut down the vulnerable part of himself, buried his desires for emotional intimacy and isolated himself in the name of self-protection.
If Karen tried to talk to him, he would push her away by blaming, manipulating, criticising or withdrawing from her. He did not trust Karen and, therefore, he was not willing to risk being vulnerable with her. He turned to pornography instead of risking Karen’s rejection or criticism. Porn was just easier. Bill did not have to risk his ego or his heart to meet his basic physical need. And masturbation didn’t require an emotional relationship.
Bill admitted that pornography had greatly affected his sexual relationship with Karen. They had sex infrequently during the previous 10 years. If Karen initiated sex, he would make an excuse why they couldn’t right then or he would agree to put it on the calendar and not follow through.
Even though he sometimes felt guilty about hurting Karen, he didn’t feel as if he had a choice. Bill needed to have the upper hand in the relationship to feel comfortable. With porn, he felt in control, which gave him a sense of power. The women in the images and videos were always ready and willing — and he didn’t have to sacrifice anything for their approval.
But using pornography to achieve orgasm also made Bill feel defeated and alone.
As Bill and Karen began the painful process of working through their problems in counselling, Bill started to understand the deeper issues driving his relationship-avoidance behaviour. He realised that he didn’t feel worthy of love in a relationship because of early rejections and pain in his childhood.
Bill also had a powerful fear of being abandoned. Therefore, he kept people far enough away from his heart that he would not risk being devastated by the loss of that person should he or she leave. Being emotionally close to Karen was especially risky because marriage was supposed to be the most intimate anyone could be with another person.
Addressing the issues
Bill’s counsellor suggested he attend a group for men who struggle with pornography and intimacy avoidance. Though this is the last thing Bill wanted to do, he was committed to changing his patterns. He agreed to attend. He felt tense as he walked into the room and looked at strangers with whom he was supposed to bare his soul. But he listened to their stories and was impressed with the men’s courage and honesty.
One guy described the struggle this way: “It’s like I’m constantly fighting a war within myself. I want to stay away from porn. I tell myself every time that I give in that this is the last time … but it’s never the last time. I can hold out for a little while, but eventually, there I am watching it again. Afterward, I feel ashamed and weak. Of course, when I feel bad about myself, then I want to feel better. Porn temporarily makes me feels better, but it’s this destructive hamster wheel that I just can’t ever exit.”
Bill exhaled and relaxed. Hearing someone vocalise a struggle so similar to his own gave him hope that he was in the right place. Real change happened in Bill’s group. The men provided accountability, understanding, validation and a kick in the pants when needed. They phoned or texted one another when they were struggling with the urge to “act out” by withholding emotional intimacy or through pornography.
Bill also worked a 12-step recovery process and began to heal some of the deeper wounds that triggered his need to self-soothe. He learned that pornography was an outlet to cope with feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy. He was able to build meaningful, healthy relationships with the men in his group. He practiced sharing thoughts and emotions with Karen, too. Eventually he was able to trust her enough to reveal to her all he had been holding back.
Bill learned that he had to focus on getting himself well, regardless of whether Karen decided to continue in the marriage. He had to work toward feeling that he was OK with himself — no matter what happened. He knew that only then would there be a possibility of creating a healthy relationship with Karen.
As a result of counselling, the men’s group and hard work, Bill was able to stop his pornography habit and strengthen his family relationships. Bill rediscovered parts of his inner self that he had kept buried, and he began to feel and experience freedom in his life.
If you or a loved one struggle with pornography, reach out for help. Change is possible!
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A variety of issues can fuel habitual pornography use. Understanding the deeper needs of individuals affected by this common problem is important. Reach out to well-trained helpers, and if you are a married couple do so together. Change is possible!