In recent years, the term “porn addiction” has become a common and colloquial way of referring to a compulsive behavior related to viewing pornographic imagery.

While the term porn addiction neither meets the medical criteria for an addiction nor is it a recognized as a diagnostic category in the DSM 5, there is no doubt that pornography has become a serious and growing problem in many marriages. Unfortunately, many counseling approaches are either dismissive and  minimize the issue on one hand or moralistically condemn without understanding the fuller context of  problem on the other. In either case, the damage to the relationship caused by using pornography can be overlooked and/or go untreated.

While pornography has been around forever, the current situation has been complicated by the advent of the internet, which has increased the prevalence of easily available sexual imagery exponentially.  While the overall negative effects of porn on individuals is is hotly debated, its negative impact on many marriages is not.

With respect to dealing with pornography as a marital issue, several factors must be acknowledged from the outset:                                                                                                                                                                         1)  The very subject is often taboo and usually arouses both  intensely negative and guilty/shame-filled feelings. 2)  Due to our culture’s mixed messages about sexuality, may couples find it difficult to talk calmly about sex. (Thus,  in order to have productive  and honest conversations about pornography, it is often necessary to look at the couples’ upbringing and education regarding sex as well as the overall state of their marriage, including their sex life.)                                                                                                                                                                            3)   When porn is watched, the behavior is often concealed  and hidden from the partner. Hiding the practice usually  involves deception and lying

In my practice,  have found time and time again over many years that the inevitable deception and lying is pornography’s most destructive consequence for a marital relationship. Lying destroys trust because the secret is always exposed.  It goes without saying that trust is an essential ingredient for marriages to thrive.

So, given the way things are, what can be done ?

I will save specific treatment suggestions for dealing with  marital pornography problems for another time but I want to stress a crucial first step for anyone who is in crisis or is suffering with this issue:   Come clean, admit the problem to your spouse and be willing to get help.

One of the most surprising and positive reactions that I have noted from spouses whose partners engaged in pornography is that they have felt and express great relief when their partner was honest and acknowledged what s/he was doing. When one stops trying to hide or deny his/her activities,  the healing process begins.  The most common dilemma that couples would fall into was when  the porn user would promise to stop but didn’t and was found out  watching … again.

Instead of understanding that the porn use was a difficult problem which needed professional help,  spouses often draw erroneous and negative conclusions that their partner  lacked character, were perverted ,  didn’t love or find their partner sexually desirable, etc. .    

In contrast , when a partner was honest with his/her spouse, even though s/he has not been able to quit looking at pornography, the ability to admit and share his/her embarrassing shame-filled difficulty becomes a trust-building moment when the couple, instead of growing apart in anger, could become closer and work together to solve the problem.

Rather than creating unrealistic expectations ( like one can just stop using porn like some people just stop smoking),  it is important for both partners to realize that the using of porn is not an incurable plague .  It is a symptom of an underlying emotional and/or relational problem for which there is effective treatment.  When a couple makes the effort to resolve the underlying issue, they discover that they have also found deeper intimacy,  trust and satisfaction in the relationship .  

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC   7/23/2018                                                         

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