The real need behind a man's addiction to pornography
By Dr. Dan Erickson, CSL People Matter Ministries
“If my wife or children really knew me; knew about my ‘dirty little secret’ it would devastate them. I can’t come clean! It is hopeless! I don’t want to be seen as some kind of pervert in their eyes. I could not stand being rejected by them. God, why can’t I find satisfaction in my wife? Why do I keep going back to a mistress who is only real in my own imagination?”
There are countless men, even Christian men, battling their addiction to pornography, living a counterfeit life filled with hopelessness and despair. My intent is not to give out more guilt but let men know that there is hope. I am convinced that the answer to overcoming any man’s addiction to pornography is a proper understanding of intimacy that is real and healthy, when it is in the context of right and godly relationships.
There is a principle that states “behind every problem is an unmet need.” I believe that’s true. Behind the problem and addiction of pornography is an unmet need. When we dabble in things that we know are not good for us and our family we have to ask, “Why?” We who are committed to help ourselves and other men overcome this deadly addiction have spent most of our time discussing the horrible consequences but little time on the cause. The average addicted man feels beat up emotionally and spiritually over this thorn in the flesh. The problem behind the addiction of pornography is that men do not understand intimacy and do not know how to express it in their marriage or relationships. It is much easier to have intimacy with a magazine or video. The real issue is that when men think about intimacy, they think “sex.” For many men sex becomes a diversion from their own pain, disappointments, anger, hunger, loneliness and despair. It is the one thing they feel they can control, but when it is over the need still remains.
Most men do not understand that, generally speaking, when women think about intimacy they are thinking about a journey, a journey that will take time and will lead to a deeper sense of relationship and love. Intimacy may culminate in sex but it is not necessary for complete satisfaction. Real intimacy flows out of right relationships.
Webster defines intimacy as “a close connection of individuals pertaining to their inmost being and proceeding from within.” The only time intimacy is referred to as sexual is when it is seen as illicit. To keep a complex subject simple, you could define intimacy as “in-to-me-see.” Real intimacy and right relationship is about you seeing into your mate and her seeing into you. If we follow this line of thinking it opens up all kinds of possibilities. We can genuinely have real intimacy and right relationships with anyone, our wife, our children, a friend and especially with God.
Through many years working with men and couples, I would suggest that there are five symptoms present when intimacy is lost. Are any of these symptoms present in your relationships? Be honest and see if any of these are consistently present.
1. Silence. Intimacy takes talk! Intimacy requires talk that goes beyond the surface, openness without condemnation and transparency that brings self disclosure without rejection.
2. Self-centeredness. Intimacy takes sacrifice! If intimacy is going to be maintained in any relationship it has to be about others and not about self.
3. Security that is lost. Intimacy takes trust! Intimacy demands a relationship that is trustworthy, open, transparent and free of deception and lies.
4. Separation. Intimacy takes you being there! Intimacy takes both an emotional and physical presence. For real intimacy to work both parties must have the courage to stay together and work it out.
5. Schedule. Intimacy takes time! Real intimacy, like real relationships, takes our time and emotional energy.
When these symptoms are prevalent in your relationships it will lead to a “closed spirit.” A closed spirit leads to lost intimacy resulting in lost relationships. I’ll illustrate it this way. If you take your own hand and open it wide you can touch, feel and grasp things. The hand represents openness, warmth and sensitivity. Now imagine that the hand itself resembles the relationship, the fingers represent a person’s spirit and the palm of the hand is the heart of an individual. What would your hand do if every time it reached out it was slapped, ignored or poked with a sharp object? Every time it reached out it felt pain, rejection or insensitivity. It would have the tendency to protect itself by becoming closed. Closed fingers will lead to a closed palm which leads to a closed hand. A closed spirit will lead to a closed heart which leads to a closed relationship. Intimacy is the heart of the relationship. If one keeps abusing the heart, the spirit closes and the relationship is lost.
A closed spirit will extinguish the fire of real intimacy and right relationship. The loss of real intimacy will drive us to a counterfeit and to our own imagination.
There is hope. There are keys that will help unlock the heart of a closed spirit, restore real intimacy and right relationships.
• Show tenderness expressed through talk and touch. Voice your commitment. Listen, don’t argue. Attempt to give appropriate and meaningful touch that is not sexual but sensitive and compassionate.
• Take responsibility for your own action. Recognize your offense, admit the wrong, and seek forgiveness immediately.
• Restore the trust and give time for response. Allow time for trust to be restored. Be patient it is worth the wait.
I challenge you to do more than read another article. If you are married I plead with you to have enough courage to go through this material with your wife. Be honest and transparent. Take a chance that she loves you more than you think. If you are single, find a friend that would commit to you as a “comrade in arms.” It will be a battle, but it is worth the effort. I encourage you: to let real intimacy and right relationship begin.
What is so incredible about real intimacy is that it leads to a quality of life and relationship that results in mutual appreciation; a willingness to spend time; good communication; a strong sense of commitment to each other; personal needs being met and an ability to deal with crisis in positive and supportive manners. How can any counterfeit or imitation be better than this?
For an extended version of this article visit our website at www.peoplematterministries.com
NOTE: Three perspectives from women are noted below:
The effects of pornography reach far beyond the offender. As a woman and a wife it is impossible to compete with ideas and images that are portrayed. I often wonder, is he thinking about me or the image of the perfect woman? Pornography degrades and devalues women and relationships. It is an escape from the reality of life and the commitment of a loving relationship. It erodes the trust that is crucial for a marriage relationship to grow. A wife will always wonder where her husband is and what he is doing when he is away from her. As a woman it would be easier to deal with an affair than to deal with a picture. A real woman can be confronted but an image is not real and there is nothing you can do about it. As a woman it is hard for me to understand why? Women are not visual in the same way men are and so this is almost repulsive for me to ever think of looking at images of men in those ways. The hurt and repulsion that we feel can sometimes serve to make the situation worse and it goes underground. We love our husbands, yet for us it feels that we are not enough. Not beautiful enough, not desirable enough, not endowed enough, not willing enough. I think in reality it is an addiction and not what we are lacking. We feel afraid, confused, hurt and repulsed and no one wants to tell anyone about it. We feel guilty and sometimes believe it is our fault. For women who love someone who is addicted to pornography it is a very lonely road. Unlike other addictions people usually don't talk about them. It is difficult for men and women to get the help they so desperately need.
In my own words…
I have listened to numerous speakers and read several books about a man’s addiction to pornography and masturbation. Each teaching emphasizes to the woman “it is not your fault; it is not a reflection on you as a woman”. I hear the words but I have to admit I do not understand, so I have trouble believing them.
I often joked I never heard my mother say the “s” word. I wasn’t sure she knew what it was.
I married right after high school. I was a virgin on our wedding night. On the second night I locked myself in the bathroom thinking now that he got what he wanted he wouldn’t want me any more. I didn’t understand anything about sex. We had two beautiful daughters and life became routine. We had obligatory sex about every six weeks. He worked, I took care of the house and children, and we attended church. I thought was all life was supposed to be.
One day my husband came home from work and while I was wrapping up bread I had made he asked “what would you do if I didn’t come home anymore”. He said he was “tired of being responsible for a wife and two kids” and that he wanted a woman who did “more than just lay in bed”.
Did more? What more? We always did the missionary position after a kiss and touch. What more was there? The more I thought about it the more I realized we never discussed the “s” word. What more did he want? How had I failed?
When I was asked to marry again, I knew that I had to be sure he was satisfied. I vowed I would not say “no” and I would do all I could to be attractive and exciting to him. I failed again from the very beginning. I did all the things I could to encourage him and to appear attractive, but I found he had a drawer full of magazines and enjoyed cable channels. Before coming to me he would view from one of these sources. I often questioned what was wrong with me; he would tell me that I should appreciate those things. “What difference does it make where the excitement starts as long as I come in to you?”
I would never be attractive enough to turn on my own husband. I felt ugly and undesirable. When he came to bed with me I felt like he was going to bed with whatever image he had viewed, not me. I was just a physical release.
I became more and more unsatisfied to which he told me that “sexual satisfaction is in the head. If you are not satisfied, the problem is yours.” In an effort to know what true sexuality was in his mind I tried reading some of the articles he did. I felt dirty and violated. He told me I was too sheltered as a child, it was time I learned the truth. He said a lot of the articles he read were written by women, so this was what a women wanted and I needed to learn from them.
I tried talking to our pastor once. He told me this was between my husband and myself and was not to be discussed. Now I am dirty, violated, unattractive, and have a disgusting sin which cannot be forgiven.
After a period of time he no longer needed me after the magazines. I guess I wasn’t good enough because he found it better to take care of him. He masturbated himself to sleep because it was more relaxing.
He got tired of my complaining about the masturbation. The magazines and movies became more bizarre. He started practicing these on me in an effort to make me more responsive. Did I cause him to read those things and watch those movies? I wanted his love and approval but nothing I did would satisfy him. I became angrier, I felt dirty and humiliated. This only caused him to go deeper into the pornography. He started masturbating in front of me to show me what I was unable to do for him. My spirit closed more and more until finally I would step outside my body and watch from above as he viewed his latest pornographic pictures and then practiced on me. I felt like it was my fault because I was not a good wife. I was not pleasing to him; I was unable to satisfy him. I had failed.
His pornography addiction led him talk to prostitutes for the rush. He flashed people driving by, for the rush. He kept telling me I was too sheltered and innocent, that I didn’t understand men. He touched my daughters because I was too sheltered. It was my fault. I had failed. That was what he said. And I believed him. He was the only one I could talk to about it. The “s” word is not something people discuss…. Except in the pornographic area.
By the time I found out he touched my daughters he had already stopped touching them. However, my finding out caused him to became more bizarre with me. I felt that by allowing him to hurt me, he was leaving them alone. It was my punishment for the divorce. It was my punishment for failing. It was my punishment for sin. I had failed as a wife and as a woman.
People who saw us commented how we looked like a nice couple together. They thought we made a good couple. If they only knew.
I wanted him out of life. I hated to talk to anyone for fear they would know what my husband had done to him and to me. I was afraid to find out that other people really did those things and something really was wrong with me because I didn’t like it.
I considered suicide but I had to protect my children. I couldn’t do that if I were dead. I couldn’t put them through another divorce. This was their daddy and they wanted their daddy at home. I prayed for God to give me the strength to leave. Instead, he took my husband. One morning we kissed goodbye as we left for work. We talked on the phone on our lunch hours. He died three hours later of a massive heart attack. God set me free.
What does a woman feel and do when she discovers her husband is involved in pornography?
I felt devastated, alone, unattractive, and quite frankly disgusted. I shouldered the blame on myself, and I felt I must have done something to cause this. I had suspected that something was not quite right in our relationship but either was afraid to find out, or could not put my finger on it.
When I became aware or the problem, I was unprepared to deal with the situation. I rejected him and treated him as some sort of “pervert”. My mind could not compute what this was all about and I felt betrayed. It was as if my life as I knew it was over. The trust I had built up with my husband was broken and I began to worry about the future and if this was just the “tip of the iceberg”. I could not understand why and how this had happened. Most of all I felt angry that he would do such a dumb thing to jeopardize our relationship, family and life. I felt something precious had died, and I began working through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, loneliness, depression, acceptance and finally hope.
Then came a crossroad, I could go on as if it never happened, hoping it wouldn’t happen again, pretending that somehow it was just a mistake and not facing the possible addiction that could be present. Secondly, there was the possibility of total rejection or separation when I can’t even entertain counseling or any kind of intervention. It would just be too humiliating and it would be easier to walk away.
So, is there hope? I believe there is with true repentance, counseling, prayer, accountability and the desire on both sides. It will not be easy, but God is the mender of broken lives. It is said that when you break a bone that bone, when healed, is even stronger than before. I have faith in God that this is possible in broken relationships.