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Is Porn an Affair?

Recently I was asked to do a FB Live surrounding the question “Is Porn an Affair?” Like you, I’m not surprised by how many conversations, debates, and opinions surround porn. People openly share their thoughts about whether porn is helpful or hurtful. So, I decided to write this blog in such a way that both parties can take a look and consider the impact porn has on relationships.

Why don’t we talk about it?

Let me start by saying this – I think it’s easy to have an opinion about something we’re protecting. It makes sense that we’d advocate about an issue we’re supporting. Yet, sharing an opinion about something we’re doing that’s hurting others, doesn’t get good press. Why? We don’t want to admit when we’ve done something that’s hurt someone else. We don’t want to give porn up, especially when it boosts our mood, sparks our fantasies, takes us out of our unwanted feelings, or removes the blahs of momentary boredom. And particularly, we don’t want to see the reality of what it does to our families.

• We look away and avoid the conversation all together.
• We play tricks with our mind by telling ourselves, “it’s the last time – I won’t do it again.”
• We absolve our guilt or feel entitled to look at porn when, “our partners put on weight,” “they’re not open
to certain sex acts,” “they’re too busy with the kids,” or “they aren’t there to have sex with me when I’m on a business trip.”
• We try to convince ourselves that it’s a harmless form of art.
• We minimize how looking at porn dehumanizes others.

In my book Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal I describe how it feels to be on the other end of chronic, unyielding, sexual betrayals.

The word betrayal comes from the Middle English root word bitrayen, which means to mislead or deceive.1 According to Dr. Frank Seekins, the term betrayal dates back to ancient Hebrew, in which much like the ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Arabic languages, every word is formed by adding pictures and sounds together to paint or illustrate the meaning of the word. Two ideas are conveyed: to betray (reema), or “what comes from a person of chaos”;2 and to deceive (badad), or “to hide, cover, offend, deal unfaithfully, or pillage.”3 Betrayal is a deliberate act of disloyalty intended to dupe or cheat by lying and breaking someone’s trust.4

What happens to those of us on other side of porn is traumatic. Surprisingly, my research showed that 76% of the 100 betrayed partners surveyed, showed clinical symptoms of posttraumatic stress. Chronic sexual acting out can cause the same type of posttraumatic stress in partners that happens with military people who have been in frontline conflicts. Shock, anxiety, panic, anger, sleeplessness, and depression become unwelcomed companions. Like soldiers returning from duty, betrayed partners seem okay on the outside for a while. But the unseen wounds of trauma continue to grow, fester, and poison them from the inside out.

It’s like walking into an angry nest of wasps. Hemorrhaging from an overdose of poisonous venom may be a more merciful way to go. Think about the striking similarities. A honeybee can only sting once, as its barbed weapon becomes lodged in its victim, ending the bee’s life. But a wasp’s stinger remains intact, so it can sting over and over. When a betrayed partner is still living with a sexually compulsive husband using porn or a serial cheater, the chronic pain and ongoing deception repeatedly sting the unsuspecting partner.

Betrayed partners are walking wounded. I’ve heard their stories, and I have my own. The pain is insidious, especially as much of porn use happens on devices paid for by family resources, and under their own roof.

 

How is choice a necessary part of the conversation?

In responding to the question, “Is porn an affair?” rather than merely expressing my perspective, I thought I’d ask over 4,000 betrayed partners to share their thoughts on this conversation. Who better to ask than the ones who’ve experienced pain from non-consenting, porn use. Non-consenting porn use means that you didn’t go to your significant other and say, “Hey, I just wanted you to know that I’m going to be looking at porn in our home office today” or “I’m taking my phone into the bathroom, so I can look at porn behind closed doors.”

I have a very simple solution to this problem. Be honest – just tell us. Don’t hide it. Give us a choice in the matter. Invite us into a consensual decision. Consent means to “allow, approve, or accept” what you’re doing. When we committed to be with each other, we chose to be loyal and true – so please don’t hide this part of our sex life and story.

I’ve offered this solution to hundreds of couples I’ve spoken with for the past 20 years. I haven’t had one porn user take me up on my simple idea. Why?

Something deep inside of them knows it hurts us. Something deep inside of them gets twisted. They believe porn is harmless and private. Something in their mind feels entitled to look because they’re mad at us, they’re not getting enough sex or the kind of sex they want, or because it’s just what “all guys do.” Typically, it’s hidden, not done in broad daylight or in the family room where their spouse and children walk by. Yet, behind closed doors, when I ask porn users “What if your children were to see you looking at porn? Or your partner was to find you? What if your boss or HR director were looking over your shoulder or tracking your porn use at work, what then?” Most porn users shrug their shoulders, look away from my eyes and say, “I wouldn’t want that – I love my family,” or “I wouldn’t want to risk my job.” Porn is a soul eater. I watch their insides erode as they drop their head and look toward the ground.

Where the nickel hasn’t dropped yet is with the idea “porn kills love.” Porn and love don’t mix. Porn and spirituality don’t mix. Porn and integrity don’t mix. Porn inhibits sexual intimacy as we incessantly compare bodies and objectify people.

The more a woman feels like an object; the less she wants to be with her significant other. It’s crazy how women intuit changes in their partners sexual inclinations. We feel it. We sense it in the way you touch us, interact with us and how you look at us. We haven’t found out yet that your porn use is behind the changes we’re experiencing.

So, I looked up the definition for the word affair in Webster’s Dictionary and this is what I discovered. Affair: a romantic or passionate attachment typically of limited duration5

I found it interesting that it included “a passionate attachment typically of limited duration.” When someone looks at porn, their brain releases adrenaline (passion), dopamine (feel good drug) and oxytocin a brain chemical used to bond us to others. When people bond with porn it directly affects the attachment with their partner. Research by Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant showed how 6 hours of exposure to soft-core pornography was enough to damage the viewers satisfaction with his or her spouse.6 Shocking really, and cause to re-think the meaning behind how the word affair has been used. Regardless of how TV, movies, and novels portray an affair, a passionate attachment to ongoing porn can create an affair of the mind.

 

How does porn effect betrayed partners?

Here are some thoughts shared by betrayed partners when I asked the question “Is porn an affair?”

“He said he always has those images in his mind, even when he’s not actually watching. He also, no matter how well our relationship seemed to be going, would sneak off to see ‘the other women’ every chance he got.”
-Becky

“Unlike a physical affair – even a serial cheater could not possibly have an affair with the same number of women a porn addict has had affairs with – the number of images they have viewed and attached themselves to. Those images stay in the mind when a physical affair might long be over. The pain goes just as deep and wide.”
-Sheila

“I think it’s a form of one. The sexual addiction pathway is dangerous as it progresses. It leads to so much dehumanization and desensitization. This can lead to acting out with real people whether outside people or people you love. I think it puts families out of safety and in danger. It feeds the sex trafficking business, child abuse, and adult abuse. It’s unacceptable.”
-Carrie

“It isn’t important what I think or feel, unless it conforms to Scripture. I learned this by trusting the poor counsel I received at my church, which is a large evangelical one. My thoughts: Jesus says if you even look at a woman with lust you commit adultery in your heart. You have defrauded your spouse and taken a sacred act to be shared with your covenant partner and satisfied yourself. I doubt that the pastor who told me porn wasn’t the same as adultery with a shrug, would have given his own daughter the same advice.”
-Cheryl

5 years into my marriage, a local therapist looked at my husband and I and said, “porn and marriage don’t go together, that’s just a fact.” It shook me, because I thought my husband was “getting better” – surely, he was working on it and would be free soon!! – but here were words that indicated that the ongoing porn use (that he felt bad about yet continued to do) would destroy our marriage. I found the book “An Affair of the Mind” by Laurie Hall really helpful.
-LauraChristel

Yes, unequivocally yes. From my own personal betrayal experience, porn is the “gateway drug” of affairs. First it was “just” porn, then specific chosen people in specific private web shows, then online affairs and only God (and he) knows what else. The moment my husband chose to withhold from me and get pleasure from another woman was the moment he became unfaithful for the first time and the 100’s of times after.
-Tamara

Acting out with porn, especially high-speed porn has all the elements of prostitution except skin touch. It is in my opinion prostitution by proxy. Soliciting the services of a paid sex worker for a sexual alchemy outside the marriage.
-Judy

Oh, the deep HEART hurt that I’m going through is unrelenting. After a few years of praying, counseling, crying, and yelling, he begged for forgiveness and promised he would never hurt me again. He admitted he had a sex addiction and I was knocked over in unbelievable shock. He was 9 years old and found a dirty magazine in a garbage can and his addiction grew from there. I really didn’t understand his addiction and thought he could just stop pushing computer buttons. Here we are 6 years later, and he had an affair with a co-worker and is looking at his porn again. I don’t even have words to describe what I feel and what I’m going through. Truth is, he never stopped looking at porn. Anything that has to be hidden from one partner is an affair. It deprives the other spouse of affection and intimacy. He has less interest in me and it causes me to doubt myself, and feel insecure about my body, unattractive. Porn leads you down a destructive path of deceit to get a fix (another word for addiction).
– Tissy

Yes, definitely an affair. Marriage is based on a covenant of exclusivity. Porn is a break in that exclusivity.
-MaryAnn

Absolutely! My husband has chosen pornography to bond with sexually over me. He satisfies himself with too many other “lovers” whether virtual, print or other, all the while totally rejecting me. This is my story of 37 years. He has his sexual needs met and I have neither physical, emotional or spiritual intimacy with him, painfully this is his choice. Not mine. I’m so tired of being unwanted, rejected and unloved. I have loved him so much, but my efforts have been worthless. What a human tragedy is my story. Our story. It could have been so different if only he were willing. He isn’t.
– Jeanne

The sad part is that I used to think “no.” I was told so many times it was “normal and natural for guys” and I heard it so many times I believed it was true. I read about the side effects of porn use and realized what I thought was job/stress induced was actually porn induced – the anger, withdrawal, and disinterest in life.
-Shannon

Lots to consider here. I hope I got you thinking and better yet, I hope I opened up a conversation between you and the one who’s looking at porn.

 

Brave On!
Dr. Sheri

 

 

1. Vocabulary.com, s.v. “betrayal,” accessed September 4, 2017, https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/betrayal.
2. Frank T. Seekins, Hebrew Word Pictures: How Does the Hebrew Alphabet Reveal Prophetic Truths? (Scottsdale, AZ: Hebrew World, 2016), 149.
3. Strong’s Concordance: 898. bagad, accessed September 17, 2017, http://biblehub.com/hebrew/898.htm.
4. Vocabulary.com, s.v. “betrayal,” accessed September 4, 2017, https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/betrayal.
5. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/affair
6. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/nnbckv.pdf

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. My h is a recovering sex addict. He relapsed in June of 2018 and has struggled with pornography since. He was very defensive when I confronted him about his addiction. He became emotionally abusive. I made up my mind to file for divorce in January and prayed for God to show me if I needed to do something else…to work a miracle. My h went to a long weekend intensive for sex addiction in early Nov and has been like a different person since. He is kind, helpful and thoughtful. I am seeing him do recovery work. I’m afraid of getting hurt again and want to know if this is real change. Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Hilary,

      I completely hear you. It’s so hard to trust again when you’ve been so deeply hurt. Real change includes humility and hard work over time. You may want to read the chapter in my book Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal called “To Tell the Truth” as there are some great suggestions for the benefits of truth-telling over time. Your husband my want to read the chapter, “How He Can Help You Heal.” It has some great information on the importance of truth-telling and recovery.

      Brave On!
      Dr. Sheri

  2. Hi Dr Sherri….My 21 yr marriage is a casualty of the porn industry. My ex brought it into our marriage and 21 yrs later even though he said he wanted freedom he left at my request with his addiction fully active. I went through hell and back. I am now seeking healing through a christian therapist using EMDR. Thank you Dr. Sherri for your book and opening my eyes to getting help for trauma. There have been many in my marriage. One of the biggest is the lack of validation and support that the church offers. We went to many counsellors, marriage conferences, intensives, prayer counselling, deliverance prayers and nothing changed. My ex was part of a support group for sexual healing at a church and the men coddled each other, talked about how broken they were and continued in their addictions. I was lead to believe that it was my fault. I was told it’s not that bad and because it’s not physical adultery then it’s not adultery. My ex continued to lust after other women for our whole marriage. I was treated so poorly. I would like the church to stand up and help women like me that were caught up in these lies. I know there are many other women in my position and they probably feel as alone as I did. The church really needs to stop shooting it’s own. God Bless you for coming along side women and validating their pain.

    1. Hey Karen,

      I’m so so sorry for your experience. Recently I was asked to do a roundtable discussion for a Promise Keepers event https://promisekeepers.org/ in 2020 where they interviewed 5 women on the impact of pornography, sex trafficking, and sexual betrayal. The Honorable Vance Day, who is one of the leaders for Promise Keepers, called pornography and cyber-sex “virtual infidelity.” I couldn’t have been happier to hear that out of the mouth of a man who’s so respected. I, like you, want the message to change in the church. It needs to, for everyone’s sake. Thanks for sharing so passionately.

      Warmly,
      Dr. Sheri

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