The Scourge of Pornography

by Willard F. Harley, Jr.

Over the life of her marriage, Jody saw a steady decrease in the frequency of sexual activity. Eventually she and her husband, Matt, were only making love once or twice a month. His enthusiasm for sex had decreased. She asked him many times to make love to her more often, and that she would do almost anything to make that possible, but her husband told her that he was just too tired to do it as often as she would like.

Then, one day, Jody came home from work early and discovered Matt watching a pornographic video. He had viewed pornography before during their marriage, and when she caught him doing it, and told him how hurtful it was to her, he promised to stop. But now she knew that he preferred pornography to the real thing -- with her.

Matt's defense was that he had a right to privacy, and that Jody should not try to infringe upon it. Any effort she had made in the past to encourage him share his sexual behavior and interests with her was met with a roadblock. He would not confide in her. He assured her she was attractive to him and that he loved her, and that should be enough for her to know.

Matt promised not to view the videos again and he put the tapes in the attic. But Jody was still devastated. She was afraid that if he was prevented from viewing the videos, he might resort to using the Internet to view pornography, or even to have an affair. Apparently, she thought, I'm just not enough for him.

There are many reasons why wives feel so threatened by their husband's use of pornography. They often feel unjustly compared to models who are years younger and more physically fit. They also feel that the sex acts in pornographic videos are degrading and sometimes sadistic, something that does not reflect the mutual care they need in a love relationship. They are also aware of the fact that when their husbands masturbate to pornographic images, they show less interest in having sex with them, and are less able to perform adequately. And, like Jody, they feel that they are not enough for their husbands.

But aside from the rationale of a wife who objects to pornography, her emotional reaction is usually so intense that she simply cannot remain married to a man who views it. Many divorce their husbands who won't end it.

The purpose of pornography is to stimulate sexual arousal, primarily for men. And it does a very good job achieving that objective. Whether through videos, still photographic images, drawings, animation, video games, or a host of other ways to portray sexual subject matter, its effectiveness has been tried and proven. It's been such an economic success that it stands as one of the most lucrative businesses, especially for poorly educated people who are unskilled in making a living some other way.

So it's not likely to go away anytime soon. Pornography has flooded the Internet, and almost all men using the Internet have viewed a pornographic website at least once. But I have been very impressed with how upset most wives, like Jody, become when they find that their husbands are regular viewers. For many women, viewing pornography is tantamount to having an affair.

What's Wrong with Pornography?

From a psychologist's point of view, I see pornography as a great obstacle to having a successful sexual experience in marriage. It is especially designed to make sexual arousal easy and convenient. When a husband has a choice of being sexually aroused and climax quickly and easily to pornographic images in private or with his wife which is much more difficult and time consuming, he is very tempted to choose pornography. As a result, his sexual experience with his wife languishes, as was the case with Jody.

It's an example of the contrast effect as applied to enjoyment. When a person experiences two enjoyable experiences, one being more enjoyable than the other, the less enjoyable experience is usually considered somewhat boring. When the more enjoyable experience is eliminated as a possibility, the less enjoyable experience becomes more enjoyable. So in Jody's case, Matt lost interest in having sex with her because the alternative was more enjoyable for him. If the alternative had been eliminated, he would have been much more eager to make love to Jody.

Another reason that pornography makes sex in marriage more difficult is that most men experience a temporary loss of libido after a climax. For young men, it can be restored in a matter of hours, but by the time he reaches middle age, he can lose his intense sexual interest for days. If Jody's husband masturbated to pornography every two days or so, he would rarely have the sexual interest that would motivate him to go to the trouble of making love to Jody.

Matt didn't stop having sex with Jody altogether. Rather, he simply made love to her much less frequently. Perhaps his use of pornography increased during the years of his marriage in proportion to the decrease of their lovemaking. Or, his normal loss of libido as he aged may have made the complexity of lovemaking less attractive.

But the primary reason why pornography is bad in marriage is that it's extremely offensive to most wives. Even in cases where a husband can maintain a highly frequent and satisfying level of lovemaking with his wife, when she knows that he is viewing pornography, she is usually deeply hurt. For her, it's as if he's having an affair. She doesn't want him to express his sexual feelings with anyone or anything but her, and his masturbating to pornographic images is usually very threatening to her.

That reason alone, that it's offensive to most wives, is enough to make a solid case against pornography. Anything that's done repeatedly in marriage that either spouse finds highly offensive should be eliminated. But how can something that's so enjoyable and readily available to most men be swept out of his life?

Policies for a Fulfilling Marriage

I've written marital policies as basic guidelines to help couples create a fulfilling marriage. If they are followed, a couple can maintain their love for each other throughout life. But if they are violated, a couple risks losing that love and can even risk losing their marriage.

The first policy I've recommended that applies to this situation is the Policy of Sexual Exclusivity: Never engage in any sexual act or experience that does not include your spouse. The primary reason for this policy is to encourage couples to avoid sexual experiences that would contrast with the sexual experiences they have with each other. By limiting sex to the marital relationship, their lovemaking becomes more enjoyable and fulfilling to both of them than it would be otherwise. They make massive Love Bank deposits when they make love, and consider their sexual experience well worth any effort that it takes.

The second policy that I recommend is the Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse. This policy makes marital behavior mutually enjoyable and beneficial. If one spouse wants to do something that is not in the best interest of the other, the policy encourages that person to avoid doing it. It tells spouses, Don't gain personal pleasure or advantage at the expense of each other. This policy has very broad application in the way couples meet each other's need for sexual fulfillment. It not only supports the policy of sexual exclusivity, but it also directs them to create a sexual experience with each other that is mutually enjoyable.

The third policy is the Policy of Radical Honesty: Reveal to your spouse as much information about yourself as you know: Your thoughts feelings habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities, and plans for the future. As was the case with Matt, most husbands that view pornography do it in secret. They try to keep it from their wives. This rule encourages them to avoid doing anything in secret, especially something that their wives would find offensive.

If these policies are followed in marriage, the problem of pornography, and a host of other problems are easily overcome. If his wife finds viewing pornography to be offensive to her, a husband simply does not do it.

But what should you do if the three rules I've mentioned are not followed. What can you do if your spouse continues to view pornography, violating the Policy of Sexual Exclusivity and the Policy of Joint Agreement? And what can you do if he tries to hide it from you, violating the Policy of Radical Honesty?

Quite frankly, if your spouse violates those three rules, pornography will not be your only problem in marriage. But I draw a distinction between willful violations of these rules to view pornography and sexual addiction. In the case of willful violations, there really isn't much that can be done to resolve the problem except to separate until the husband decides that his marriage is worth more to him than his choice of viewing pornography. I've witnessed many cases where, after a brief separation, a husband decides to stop viewing it, never to return to it again. His decision to follow the policies solves the problem.

But if the husband is a sexual addict, a sincere decision to end his viewing of pornography is not enough. He may want to stop, but can't resist the craving to view it. He feels guilty whenever he does it, and may even confess it to his wife shortly thereafter, expressing deep shame for his behavior. But when given an opportunity to view pornography, he takes it.

The most successful formula for treating any addiction is to separate the addict from the source of the addiction and/or to reduce the craving. To assume that an addict's willpower will be enough to end the behavior reflects a misunderstanding of what an addiction really is.

In Jody's case, leaving pornographic videos in the attic is a big mistake. They should be destroyed. As to her fear that he would then use Internet access, there are many programs and servers that would filter out pornographic websites from the his computer or Smartphone. Making sure that the history of website visits are not erased, and using a Keylogger to record all keystrokes can hold an addict accountable for what he is viewing. Since many businesses now monitor employee use of computers to make sure that they are not used for viewing pornography, the addict's most common sources is his private computer or Smartphone.

A sex addict really does want to overcome his habit of viewing pornography (by definition of a sex addict). So when the lines of defense I've mentioned are breached, he is usually willing to explain how the breach took place, and what can be done for him to avoid it in the future. In some cases, I've encouraged sex addicts to give up use of their private computer or Smartphone, and use their wife's computer or Smartphone when they are together. He carries with him a cellphone without Internet access.

In addition to separating a husband from pornography, reducing his craving can also be beneficial. If a wife is willing, increasing the frequency of marital lovemaking can have a very positive effect on his temptation to view pornography. As I mentioned earlier, most men experience a loss of libido for a certain period of time after a climax. If lovemaking takes place when his interest in sex is being restored, the temptation to have sex any other way can be greatly reduced. Husbands, who are routinely rejected when they try to make love to their wives, find pornography a very tempting alternative to relieve their craving.

I'm not suggesting that a wife make love to her husband whenever he feels the need. That could easily create a sexual aversion for her if she feels that she has no choice in the matter. But when a husband indicates a need to make love, and for whatever reasons, she is unwilling, I strongly recommend that she suggest an alternative time and place where she would be willing.

Another way to reduce sexual craving is to take certain antidepressant medications. While that may seem like an extreme solution to the problem, there is a secondary benefit that should not be ignored. When an addict is going through withdrawal (avoiding contact with the source of addiction), depression is a very common experience. For a sex addict, his use of certain antidepressant medication will not only help him reduce his sexual craving, but it will also help him overcome his depression.

While on the subject of depression, I've found that many sex addicts suffer from chronic depression that has existed for years. They use pornography as a way to temporarily relieve their depression. So when this problem comes to my attention, I will often recommend antidepressant medication at the beginning of an effort to overcome the depression. Along with the medication, I strongly recommend lifestyle changes that address the source of the depression. For most men, that often means a career change.

What Doesn't Work

When a woman discovers that her husband is secretly viewing pornography, her reaction is usually quite intense. She feels that the images he is viewing is a violation of fidelity. It's like catching him in bed with another woman. From his perspective, it's not even close to infidelity because he is not actually in a relationship with anyone. He is just using the images to become sexually aroused. But her reaction usually convinces him that whatever justification he might have is not worth the fallout, so he promises that he won't do it again.

But she will often not let the issue go. She is so upset about it that she starts to interrogate him about his sexual practices that have been kept secret from her. Instead of calmly letting him know that she would appreciate complete honesty regarding this very important issue in marriage, she attacks him, expressing her deepest disrespect for whatever he reveals.

He is caught in a no-win situation. The more he reveals to her about his sexuality, the more critical she becomes. And yet, if he tries to end the conversation, she accuses him of stonewalling her. He loses if he says anything, and loses if he doesn't say anything.

In spite of how upset a wife may be about her husband's habit of viewing pornography, expressing her disrespect and anger toward him doesn't help solve the problem. It makes the problem worse.

If she were to calmly let him know how very upset she is about what he is doing, but wants to avoid doing or saying anything that would make the problem worse, most men will react in a proactive way, willing to answer her questions and avoid whatever it is that is upsetting her. He can see that whatever he might gain in secretly viewing pornography is hurting his wife deeply. Instead of trying to defend his behavior, he expresses his willingness to avoid doing it in the future. A respectful discussion of the issue can help decide if the problem can end with a simple decision or if it falls into the category of an addiction, which would mean that he realizes that the problem is beyond a simple decision to stop. His willingness to report to his wife any violations of their agreement can help determine if he is actually an addict.

Of course, willful violations, which usually means that the husband doesn't report his secret viewing of pornography, and is caught because his wife is now paying closer attention to his internet viewing habits, means that negotiation is pointless. He will not try to avoid doing it unless threatened by the loss of his marriage.

That brings up the question, is a husband's willful viewing of pornography sufficient cause for divorce? For many wives, it is. The pain she experiences when he is willfully using images of other women to become sexually arouses, creating sexual alternatives to her, is such an egregious violation of trust that the marriage cannot continue for her. I recommend a separation before actually filing for divorce, because many men come to realize the importance of the problem only when she makes it a marriage deal-breaker.

Most men cannot understand why their wives would be so upset about pornography. They wouldn't feel upset if she viewed pornography, so why is it such a big deal to her. The answer has to do with her attitude toward sex in marriage. For her, sex should be exclusive commitment because it reflects the extraordinary care they have for each other. Sex outside of marriage in any form is viewed as a violation of that commitment, and cause to question whether extraordinary care really exists.

As a psychologist, I know that all forms of sex outside of marriage is a major threat to a marriage, even when it's with images rather than real people. It dilutes the effectiveness of marital lovemaking, a basic ingredient that helps make the Love Bank deposits needed for a couple to stay in love with each other.

For more information on this topic, read my article, What is Sexual Addiction?

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