An anonymous blog poster commented unfavorably on my story. She said that my husband had a "30-year addiction to porn" (not true) and that by my agreeing to do the specific act he'd seen in porn, I was allowing myself to be degraded, our marriage bed to be defiled, and giving in to his "addiction" by letting pornography design our sex life. I posted the following comments there as my rebuttal and a further explanation.
commenting on the blog, OldMarriedLady wrote:
I see that I need to explain my personal stance on pornography.
Now that porn has become so pervasive in this world, there are research studies constantly being done on the effects of porn on the human body and mind. What has been discovered and pretty much proven is that watching porn delivers a hit of dopamine (a feel-good hormone), much like alcohol or drugs provide a “high”. Most of the time, people watching porn aren’t doing it for the sexual thrill – they’re medicating a personal pain, alleviating stress, soothing a deep hurt. They are trying to fill a void in their soul. Some people drink, some do drugs, some overeat, and some choose porn. And why not? It’s a very, very tempting substance. It causes no physical harm, its use is virtually undetectable, it does not impair your ability to function in your day-to-day life, causes no hangover, and now that it’s all over the internet, it costs NOTHING.
My husband was far from being an addict – he watched the porn maybe every 7 years or so. He insists that each time I unearthed the stash, it was when he had just recently brought it home and started watching it. Apparently I’m incredibly intuitive about his behavior. (I would hope so after all these years.) Because I’m a compulsive document saver, I have copies of the angry letters I wrote him each time I found the porn, and they are dated. The most recent was in 2009, and the one before that was in 2002. I have no doubt that he was using porn for emotional pain relief, because 2002 was right after his mother had died and he now had literally no one left in the world (he’s an only child and his dad had died 2 years earlier). My own dad was hospitalized and dying, and we were trying to financially support my mentally ill mother. He couldn’t come to me and admit he was scared and stressed and hurting, because he’s supposed to be the man, the leader, the rock. He found a way to temporarily make the pain and hurt go away with that sweet dopamine rush.
In 2009, shortly before I found another stash, we had just found out that our daughter had been sexually assaulted years ago by a friend of my husband’s friend, an acquaintance my husband had gone hunting with a few times. She had kept quiet about it for almost 7 years. My husband just could not process all that, he felt as though he had failed our daughter and set her up to be harmed (we had let this man give her a ride home one night when my husband wanted to leave a gathering they were all at and she didn’t want to go home just yet). Yes, he should have given it all to God, and I’m sure he did, but I guess he’s a weak Christian because it wasn’t enough to dull the pain and anger gnawing at him. At first he started drinking more than usual, but when I pointed that out and was concerned for him, that’s when he switched to the “secret” drug once again. On top of all that, this was when he started experiencing ED for the first time in our lives. So, he felt as though he’d failed his daughter, and now was failing his wife, and was a pathetic excuse for a man. Instead of being able to come to me – his wife, his supposed helpmate, his lover – he internalized everything. When he saw how angry I would get when I found his porn, ranting about how he had disappointed and hurt me with it, why on earth would he think of coming to me for love and support, for relief of his own deep hurt? (To this day I deeply regret my behavior towards him during that time, but as I said earlier, I was going through some stuff of my own.)
So – was I supposed to never forgive him for watching porn? (Why is porn considered a “worse” sin than any other, anyway? It’s a FORGIVEABLE sin.) Was I supposed to stay angry with him for the few remaining good years of our marriage and sex life, and further cut him off from any love and compassion I could show him? Seriously, I felt SORRY for him, that he couldn’t manage his pain and stress and that he needed a crutch and I couldn’t give him one. *I* wanted to be his “high” – I wanted him to get his dopamine rush from me, from my body, and with an extra helping of bonding oxytocin that you can’t get from watching other people have sex on a screen. This is what God wants – for a man to delight in his wife. God also wants us to hate the sin but love the sinner, to have compassion towards those who struggle. After months of thinking things over, anger and hurt gave way to nothing but compassion for him. One thing I always do when going through trials like this, is to really stop and think about what it would be like to have the roles reversed. What if I was the one who sinned (my compulsive overeating at the time, for example) or had hurt my spouse – how would I want to be treated? What would I want him to say (or not say) to me? Once I looked into that mirror, it was something pretty ugly looking back at me. If he had said some of the things to me that I had said to him, my heart would have been broken. (I will never understand how this man continues to love me deeply and unfailingly despite everything I’ve done and said over the years. I feel truly blessed to have him.)
Now, for reasons unknown, this particular sex act is what pushes the best buttons for my husband in terms of getting a dopamine hit. Who knows why people get sexually wired the way they do, but everybody has their particular favorite thing. I also think by never getting to actually experience it, he had elevated it to a kind of mystical thing. I wanted to demystify this act for him, so that he wouldn’t think of it as something unattainable and forbidden. I wanted to take a lot of the evil lure out of it, make it something that is about us together and is ok to desire. I wanted to reclaim this act (which is not a sin) for the good of marriage. As I said earlier, he didn’t ask me to do this with him. I’m the one who kept pushing him to do it. He had stopped asking for it years ago, and now he felt that he really had no right to ask me to do it because he’d repeatedly watched it in porn, and particularly after the way I’d ranted about how disgusting and degrading it was (and I was just plain wrong about that).
This was just the final step of forgiveness and healing for both of us. And really, what it boiled down to was this – would it kill me to let him try it with me? No, of course not. I freely offered this sexual act to my husband as a gift, and it turns out it was really easy to give (and keep giving) and it was a gift to me as well. The ultimate irony is that I have never been able to have an orgasm during traditional intercourse, but I have an orgasm every time we do this particular activity. I was depriving myself of a lot of pleasure for 33 years because of my ignorance and fear.
My husband is a very good man who did some bad, stupid things a few times in his life. Who among us hasn't? He never exhibited any of the hallmark behaviors of an addict - he was not verbally or physically cruel to me, he didn't refuse me in favor of watching porn (his refusal was due to his ED and the related depression), and he was genuinely remorseful (for the pain he had caused me) the last time he was caught with it. He finally understood that his porn use was hurting me and hurting our marriage, and he didn't try to continue covering it up and indulging in secret. He didn't ask or demand that I act out the things he had seen in porn, and didn't unfavorably compare me to the porn actresses. If I hadn't found his stash each time, I most likely wouldn't have even known he was using porn because he was not exhibiting any negative behaviors.
I think there are varying levels of pornography use just like there are varying levels of alcohol use. Some people drink to excess every day and are addicted. They become mean and hateful, ruining their lives and making life miserable for their spouse and family. Some people only drink a few times a year, at holidays. Some people have a drink or two each week and it's not a problem. Some people go years without taking a drink. I likened my husband's porn use to drinking, which is not something he does to intentionally hurt me. I could forgive him for abusing a substance (porn) as much as I would if he was overindulging in food, alcohol, or drugs. Of course, I went through weeks and months of anger and hurt after finding out what he had done; I initially thought it was about some flaw or inadequacy of mine, that I wasn't enough for him sexually or physically attractive enough, that he wanted to "cheat" on me by watching porn. (That was actually another reason that I wanted to do this particular act with him - I wanted to "call his bluff" and see if it was really doing this act with ME that he wanted, or just to continue watching porn about it. Did he want real sex, or the porn? Was his porn watching "about me"?) It took a long time to come to understanding and true forgiveness.
I realize that the process of understanding and forgiving is far more difficult in cases where the porn user is deeply addicted and behaving poorly towards their spouse, so I'm certainly not implying that my solution is the right one for everyone. A couple of folks here at TMB asked that I cross-post my story here in case it resonates with anyone, so I did.