An LDS woman shares some of what she’s learned about her husband’s sex and pornography addiction–and her own recovery.
Prior to working a recovery program, sex was, in my mind, the ultimate sign of love. This view of sex has not served me well. It has led to heartbreak of the most acute kind. I’m not sure how exactly I came to believe that sex was the most important sign of love, but I know it happened sometime in my teenage years.
Church and seminary lessons during my youth often focused on how sex was only to be practiced within the bonds of marriage and how there was no greater sin than adultery, with the exceptions of murder and denying the Holy Ghost. In Matthew 5:28 we read, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” So when my husband told me he was struggling with pornography addiction, I was beyond devastated. How could he look at pornographic images? How could he lust after someone he wasn’t married to? He must not truly love me or this never would have happened.
Because I did not understand the nature of addiction, I wrongly blamed myself. I must not be attractive or thin enough. I must not be exciting enough in the bedroom. Somehow I was not enough; he had to look elsewhere to find fulfillment. I was so embarrassed by his disclosure that I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t confide in family members or friends. So I isolated myself. I kept my pain a secret. I tried attending a Church-sponsored 12-step group, but we weren’t supposed to talk in any detail about the specific addictions that brought us there. That was no help to me.
So I continued to isolate myself and tried to deal with this problem on my own. Then two years later came another disclosure. I didn’t know that without treatment and recovery, sexual addiction is always progressive. When addicts relapse, they don’t go back to the “tame” images they were viewing at the outset. They go back to where they left off. And then it escalates. My husband had moved way beyond pornography and masturbation, on to acting out with other women.
That disclosure nearly killed me. It was a level of pain I had never experienced before (or since). Gratefully, I was inspired to reach out to a friend for help. She had been through the same struggle a few years earlier. Talking with her on the phone, I wept uncontrollably. How could my husband do this? How could he participate in this intimate act with someone else? She explained addiction to me and also said something I’d never heard before, “Sex is not the most important sign of love; it’s only one expression of love.” Wow! That had never even occurred to me. Coming to believe that statement has helped heal my heart.
Think about the people who love you most before you marry, the ones who truly sacrifice for you. They are usually your parents, grandparents or close friends. These are people who don’t have sex with you. They show their love through acts of service, through giving their time and energy, through talking and listening to you. These are people who have seen you at your worst, when you’ve been sick or vulnerable. Service, sacrifice, kindness, emotional vulnerability and honesty: these are the most important signs of love.
The Savior Jesus Christ, the very epitome of love, loved us all enough to sacrifice Himself for us. His great love compelled Him to take upon Himself the sins of the world through the Atonement. He died on the cross because he loved us. I think he was very clear on the subject of the most important sign of love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Sex is not the most important sign of love.
It’s difficult to change life-long beliefs. While I used to think that sex should be the most important sign of love, I’ve come to see that it’s not. If sex were the most important sign of love, you wouldn’t be able to buy it on a street corner, or engage in it with a stranger. It wouldn’t become an addiction that compels you to act in ways that destroy you, your marriage and your family.
I believe that sex is sacred, that this God-given power should be practiced only as He has stated. But I now understand that it’s not the most important sign of love. My husband is working hard on overcoming his sex addiction. He meets with a counselor, attends at least three meetings of Sexaholics Anonymous each week, has a sponsor and works the 12 steps. I meet weekly with a counselor and work my own recovery program through S-Anon. I’ve found wonderful, strong women who understand my pain and are able to share with me their experience, strength and hope.
We are healing our marriage. Trust is returning. We work hard to show our love for each other through kindness, forgiveness, acts of service, emotional vulnerability, honesty and sex. But I now understand that if we eliminated the sex completely, we’d still have a wonderful and fulfilling marriage because sex is optional and is NOT the most important sign of love.