Sexual Intimacy with an LDS Porn Addict | Pros and Cons

An LDS woman left a comment on the website today that contained the one tough question I’ve been dodging for a while. Ah, well…a new year…what better time to tackle a thorny issue than the present? Our friend recently discovered that her husband of more than ten years has been consuming pornography about “four or five times a week” since even before they were married. In fact, he said he couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t addicted to porn. Now things are out in the open, however, and he’s going to start working a recovery program. Also, they’re going to start going to couple’s counseling together.

Many LDS women wonder whether they should continue to be sexually intimate with a porn addict husband.

Sex with a porn-addict spouse or not? That is the question.

So here’s the big question: She wonders whether she should be having sex with her husband. If I had to guess, I would think that this question ranks in the top five in the mind of every Mormon woman who knows her husband has a porn problem.

Keep in mind that I’m not a trained and licensed therapist; I just have very strong opinions–and a website that may now be getting more traffic than even the LDS Church’s combatingpornography.org website. There is a reason for this: RowboatAndMarbles.org makes sense to Mormons and we all so desperately want to make sense of the “pornography crisis.”

Whenever I can, I try to analogize to alcoholism. I’ve found that it helps me see addiction issues more clearly. So here’s the similar fact pattern: An LDS woman learns that her husband has been secretly consuming alcohol four to five times a week for the past ten years. He’s going to start going to AA and they’re going to start couple’s counseling together to deal with his alcohol problem. Now she’s wondering whether she should maybe start drinking a little wine at mealtime and maybe another glass before they go to bed at night. Controlled drinking in the presence of the spouse–that’s really what she’s considering.

So what’s the answer for our hypothetical LDS wife of the alcoholic? Well, our first thought, of course, is why would this Mormon woman want to start drinking booze with her alcoholic husband? Isn’t drinking alcohol bad for both of them? Isn’t it against the Word of Wisdom? By drinking with him, isn’t she also disqualifying herself from temple blessings along with him?

Perhaps she’s hoping that by drinking with him, she will keep him from going off and drinking on his own. The problem is that with alcoholics, drinking with family and friends does nothing to satisfy the compulsions and the obsessions of alcohol. Without recovery, he’s going to drink with his wife and still sneak off and drink on his own because that’s what alcoholics do.

For Mormons, the alcohol example is pretty clear. Alcohol is bad for both LDS alcoholic and spouse, so clearly a Mormon woman would not start drinking with her husband just to keep him from drinking alone. So what would she do? She would tell him, “I love you. I know that you’re an alcoholic and that you won’t overcome your addiction on your own. Obviously, I will not participate in your drinking with you.

“As a matter of fact, I know that I cannot stop or even control your drinking. So I’m not going to try. What I am going to do, however, is start going to Al-Anon meetings so I can learn how to regain my sanity and how to protect myself and my children from the damage you continue to inflict on our family.” And then she would go to work to protect herself and her children. Hopefully the husband would get the help he needed. But that would be outside the wife’s control.

OK, so now we come back around to sex and porn addiction and the LDS couple. If you’ve read my book or done much reading on this website, you’ll know that definitions matter–a lot! So the question “Should I be having sex with my porn-addicted husband?” is actually a bit more complicated than it first appears.

Hollywood and the record labels (walking hand in hand with the adversary) have quietly lulled most of Western Civilization–including most Latter-day Saints–into a zombie-like trance when it comes to sex. Beginning probably even before the 1950s, they quietly and consistently fed us a steady stream of images, ideas and musical hooks that have normalized the notion of lust-driven sex. They have fooled us into thinking that passion and lust-driven sex are the same thing and that “mind-blowing” sex is at the absolute pinnacle of passion. Like Pavlov and his dogs, they have trained all of us to believe that sex is a mouth-watering grand prize–shiny and Bedazzled. It’s not quite godliness–oh, wait, yes it is! They have indoctrinated us to believe that sex is a form of godliness worthy of our worship. And, oh, how we worship it!

Hollywood haggled with us over sex. We ended up with a ceramic elephant lamp.There’s a big lie in there, however, and Mormons of all people should be able to recognize it–but we don’t. It’s almost like we were involved in some flea market haggling with the purveyors of our society’s current gutter-level view of sex. They cried out, “All sex is great! Anything goes! Oh, as long as it’s two (or more) consenting adults!” We responded, “No! Sex outside of marriage is bad! Sex within marriage is good!”

We should have been surprised when Hollywood and the music labels responded, “You’ve got yourself a deal! You stick with that ‘sex in marriage=good’ idea! Live and let live! We won’t bother you too much and you don’t bother us too much. Go for it! Yessirree! ‘Sex in marriage=good!’ Yep! You’ve got it all figured out! Good on ya, mate!”

Like idiots, we fell for it. They framed the boundaries of the sex discussion and we never questioned them. We were so grateful that Hollywood and the record labels granted us the right to “sex in marriage” that we thanked them with money. Oh, sure, they call us prudes and label us as religious fanatics from time to time, but that’s really just to keep up appearances. Ever wonder why there are multi-plex movie theaters in Utah? If Hollywood hates us so much, why don’t they punish us by not allowing us to see their movies?

On our end, we criticize them and then we still go see their movies and we still buy their music. They love us because we pay them and we support their lifestyle.

So where did we go wrong? It was when we allowed the sex argument to focus on the marriage boundary. We were so obsessed with insisting that sex outside marriage was bad, that we never really honestly looked at sex inside marriage. Partly, we didn’t want to get involved in what goes on “in the marital chamber.” More importantly, we simply didn’t have the vocabulary to discuss the issue. Hollywood and the record labels had hi-jacked sex and had established the vocabulary of sex. Mormons and others felt dirty even using the words–so we didn’t.

Jean Valjean carries Marius through the sewers of Paris

Jean Valjean and Marius

Two things that this website has accomplished in Mormondom are (1) to re-frame the sex issue and (2) to provide Latter-day Saints with a vocabulary that allows them to honestly and openly discuss the sex issue without feeling like they’re hiking through the sewers of Paris with Jean Valjean and Marius in Les Miserables.

For many Latter-day Saints these days, sex with people other than spouse is still pretty clearly wrong. In contrast, for these same Mormons, sex with spouse is morally right and the more the better–because we believe that healthy people have lots and lots of sex–and we want to be healthy, don’t we? Thanks again, Hollywood!

But focusing on the marital sex boundary has muddied the waters. If we draw the line at marital sex versus non-marital sex, does that mean that anything goes as long as it’s between (consenting) spouses? Way too many Mormons genuinely and honestly don’t know the answer to the question, “Is sex with self considered sex inside marriage or sex outside marriage?” Why? Because we keep focusing on the marital line in the sand instead of the lust line!

On RowboatAndMarbles.org, we advocate that the proper line of demarcation is not whether sex is inside or outside marriage, but rather whether we are engaged in lust-driven sex or lust-free intimacy. This may not matter much for the rest of the world, but for sex and pornography addicts, it is life and death. For those members of the LDS Church who are familiar with the three degrees of glory and know exactly who it is that inherits the telestial kingdom, it is spiritual life and death.

We shout from the rooftops that sex and pornography addiction is really a misnomer. I am addicted to lust. That is my drug of choice. I consume it by looking at porn, engaging in masturbation, objectifying women, fantasizing and trying to connect emotionally with the women around me–and that’s not the end of the list either. Here’s what’s important for today’s discussion: When I am in my addiction, sex with my wife is also lust-driven sex! It is harmful to me and it is harmful to her. It damages her self-worth and mine. Lust-driven sex impairs our ability to connect mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is part of the problem. It is most certainly not the solution!

After a significant period of time in recovery, my wife and I discovered something unexpected. Literature in Sexaholics Anonymous and S-Anon talks about it, but we weren’t keyed into it until we actually experienced it: lust-free intimacy. It is vastly different from lust-driven sex. Both may involve passion, but lust-free intimacy brings a level of satisfaction, peace and togetherness that dwarfs any and all lust-driven sex. I’ll say it again: Lust-free intimacy is exponentially more satisfying on all levels (ALL LEVELS!) than lust-driven sex.

Once you experience lust-free intimacy, lust-driven sex seems fake, like those life-sized cardboard cutouts the theaters use to promote movies. They look almost real, but then you see that there’s no substance to them. They’re one-dimensional. That’s how lust-driven sex compares to lust-free intimacy.

The thing is, most people–including most Latter-day Saints–have never experienced lust-free intimacy because they have been steeped in our culture of lust and lust is all they can relate to. Lust always demands more lust. It is never satisfied. As a people, we have been suckered into believing (without realizing) that more and more lust is better. Most of us don’t know that lust-free intimacy even exists.

Some Mormons (and others) may have suspected that there was such a thing as lust-free intimacy, but we were dismissive of the notion because it came to us from “prudish” voices. The allure of lust with all its glitter was just too enticing. The “prudes” apparently could not meaningfully contrast lust-free intimacy with lust-driven sex so we all but ignored them. Hollywood, the record labels and our friends and relatives shouted about how wonderful and satisfying (and healthy) lust was–and we were blinded by the shiny rhinestones. But they had no ability to compare lust-driven sex with lust-free intimacy either. Having never experienced the latter, how could they?

I’ve got more to say about all this, but I’ll save it for another post. In the meantime, let’s ask the question again in a more precise way: My spouse is a lust addict and for the last ten or twenty years has been getting his/her drug by consuming pornography and engaging in masturbation. Because I know that porn is never the “only” problem, I also know that he/she has also been getting his/her drug by fantasizing, objectifying women/men including me and occasionally by having sex with me. The sex with me has necessarily been lust-driven sex on his/her side. I’m not sure how lust-driven it’s been on my side; that’s something I need to figure out for myself.

In any event, twenty years of porn consumption and masturbation is evidence of the fact that all sex for my spouse is lust-driven sex and therefore all sex with my spouse is harmful to both of us. Marital sex is not the cure for addiction to lust-driven sex. If marital sex is lust-driven then it provides the same drug to my addict spouse as the porn and the masturbation and the fantasizing and the objectifying and all the other lust-focused thoughts and behaviors. I don’t want to be a part of that train wreck anymore. My failing sanity will not permit it. I need to protect my sanity, my health and my children. I’m going to start going to S-Anon.

In my opinion, that’s the answer. I guess my post title was a misnomer, too. If there’s no recovery, sex with a porn addict is all cons–no pros.

So does that mean no sex ever again? The short answer is not necessarily. The longer answer will be the topic of another post in the near future.

Happy New Year!

Image credit: flea market sign: Luke Partridge (www.lukepartridge.com) via stock.xchng

About Andrew+

Latter-day Saint, sex and pornography addict in recovery, dealing with depression, returned missionary, father of a bunch of kids, graduate degree, self-employed, Book of Mormon reader, writer and thinker. Working on understanding and overcoming resentment, the number one killer of addicts.

Comments

Sexual Intimacy with an LDS Porn Addict | Pros and Cons — 15 Comments

  1. Well written and lots to ponder. Thank you. I am not surprised your site is getting lots of attention. The truth is setting many free. Best of thoughts! Kandee

  2. Great post, this is indeed a sticky point. There have been brief periods in my marriage where I have refrained from acting out over an extended period of time (ie no sex with self or others). During these periods I still struggled with lust.

    How do I know this? Because, I remember conversations with my wife that surrounded our intimacy, which always took place in the midst of lust-driven sex. Sex with my wife was the only time that I was acting out. In doing so, I consistently tried to push the boundaries of what she was comfortable doing without any regard to her state of mind, or pleasure for that matter. Honestly, I was trying to act out the many scenes or images that my mind had banked from TV, movies, and pornography, pretending that since I had seen it somewhere it must be normal, healthy, and something we should be doing.

    Since entering recovery almost a year ago, sex with my wife has become very different, in a good way. First off, I don’t spend the day manipulating my wife for sex anymore. I don’t convince her to have sex with me. If you do either of these, that should tell you that you are being driven by lust, not by a desire to be intimate with your wife.

    In addition, my SA program has taught me to live a positive sobriety, where I use the actions of love in all my relationships. First and foremost this affects my wife. Living this kind of life, there is no room to push or prod my wife into sex, or into doing anything sexually she doesn’t want to.

    I find joy in seeing her smile throughout the day because of something that I do or say, not in the bedroom. Living a life of love and sobriety where I spend more time fulfilling duties, honoring commitments, and connecting with family and friends means that I don’t have time to fantasize about sex with my wife and urge her to fulfill said fantasies.

    Sex does happen, but significantly less often. But when it does, it is always more meaningful and its satisfaction seems so much greater. Unlike lust-driven sex, lust-free sex doesn’t demand more and more. The memory of the intimacy with my wife lives longer, lasts longer and drives me to be more loving and involved with my wife and family, the opposite of what all my previous lust-driven behaviors would do.

  3. Great post, Andrew! I think you’re right about lust-driven sex being unhealthy. I also think it is very common, with addicts and non-addicts. And while I readily admit to being an addict, I believe I was a Jekkyl and Hyde, I was capable of lust-free sex, and found it to be therapeutic for both of us after times of difficulty. I’m not dismissing your argument. I can see how in many (most?) instances it might make perfect sense. It’s a touchy subject (no pun intended), and would be awesome to see it studied scientifically. I do know that we are enjoying lust-free a lot more now that I am in recovery! Again, great topic!

    • Thanks for the comment. My problem as an addict is that in times of difficulty, sex was therapeutic for me in the same way that getting loaded would be therapeutic for an alcoholic. I was self-medicating with my drug in order to numb out rather than dealing with reality. I was completely incapable of properly measuring my meds. While sex may have been helpful in bringing me and my wife together emotionally, I have to wonder if, given that I’m an addict, abstinence and sexual sobriety wouldn’t have brought us even closer together. I don’t know the answer but I still wonder.

  4. I agree with Andrew on much of what is in his post, and look forward to his conclusion he has saved for another post. I don’t agree on the assertion that one cannot be intimate with a spouse while in recovery, and this obviously is up to the individual (or couple) to honestly figure out.

    Those in recovery know they will always be recovering sexaholics (lustaholics, whatever), so if one stipulates that one must remain intimacy-free during recovery, by definition physical intimacy will be forever off the table. I’m sure this is neither the intent or the desired end of the sanity and serenity we are trying to gain/regain. That is not to say one COULDN’T remain celibate if both husband and wife want it that way, but sex is a gift from God, and I believe His intention is for us not to be absolutely celibate within a marriage. Chastity, of course; celibacy, in moderation, if needed.

    I totally agree that physical intimacy needs to be lust-free, and I believe it is possible, but the sexaholic needs to be absolutely honest with him/herself and the spouse. Is one’s intent to gratify one’s own sexual desires and lusts when contemplating or staging physical intimacy? Then the sexaholic in recovery needs to reassess and refrain. Will this be difficult? Absolutely, and one probably needs a counselor to help with figuring out how to help a 20-yr (or 30 or 40-yr) sex addict be physical in a lust-free way. The Spirit’s influence would be a must in this regard, and I believe prayer would figure into this, as well. If there’s any kind of intent to satisfy oneself through sex, I think one can be sure that intent is lust driven, rather than having the intent to strengthen the marriage bond and express love and affection for the spouse.

    I think Eddie’s comments above are spot-on. My two-cents’ worth.

    • CB: Thanks for the comment. I don’t think I ever said I was against marital sex when an addict is in recovery. Quite the opposite. I was talking about marital sex when an addict is NOT in recovery. No recovery from lust addiction means lust-driven behavior and obsessive and compulsive thinking. And as I’ll talk about more in future posts, recovery is a whole lot more than just announcing, “Hey, I’m a porn addict and now I’m in recovery! Sex is going to be a whole lot different for us from here on out!” Addicts and spouses need time. They need time to recover from lust. Time to learn to recognize lust and eliminate it. Time to learn to cope with reality without the self-medicating numbness that lust provided in the past.

  5. I have a hard time with this because my husband has always told me that having sex makes him feel loved by me. I fear that if I tell him ‘no sex’ if he is acting out (since he is still secretive about his addiction) it will make our lives even more miserable and it will be hard for me to contain my emotions in public. Course it all ready is miserable, but he will be more irritable and angry with me. I know he will not treat me nicely. My conclusion is that I am way too co-dependent, sensitive, and a pleaser. I would do anything for him. How do I get out of that trap? Is that safe to tell him those boundaries so early (not that it’s THAT early..I’ve found out three years ago but was naive) when he is non-complaint with a recovery plan? Will this make him do worse things and look for women elsewhere? I guess that’s what I’m afraid of even though I don’t think he would. Everything is new to me.

    • I know it’s a tough issue especially with an active addict in the marriage. I think, however, that it’s important for you to stop wondering what’s best for him and start focusing on what’s best for you. Is it healthy for you mentally, physically and spiritually to be sexually intimate with a man who objectifies the women around him including his own wife? Is that a good thing for you? Is that something you can live with or is it something that will drive you crazy? Is it already driving you crazy?

      My wife decided that she couldn’t live with it and that her sanity was more important than trying to babysit an addict who whined when he didn’t get the intimacy (lust) to which he thought he was entitled. (That’s me, by the way.) She was not the only LDS woman to make the choice of sanity over babysitting the addict who needs to learn to be a big boy on his own.

      I encourage you to get and read Rhyll Croshaw’s new book, What Can I Do About Me?, get and read S-Anon literature, attend S-Anon meetings and talk to a therapist. I wish you all the best.

      • I appreciate your responses. I know I need to do those things! It’s just so hard to know where to start. But maybe that’s my answer. I will read, attend meetings, and learn to do all I can do for myself and then decide and listen to the spirit to know how to approach my husband. He is usually very sensitive, but he’s not as much the last two years. I guess I’m just fearful of it getting worse because of his attitude towards getting beyond ‘self help’. I love my little family, just hate the fact that i don’t know the future..thanks again.

  6. This information is so helpful but also confusing to me. My husband and I have been in recovery for about a year. The confusing part is that my bishop specifically told me not to withhold sex from my husband. A counselor also hinted the same thing. Saying men guage love from their wife by her wanting to have sex with him. Hinting that he will not feel loved if we dont have sex. I always struggle with feeling objectified and love the idea of fixing our relationship before having sex. Me being hesitant about sex has been the biggest frustration for my husband. Maybe he is co-dependent? I know i am a little co-dependent and am aware of it and working on it. But after reading this stuff, I am terrified that my husband is not doing this for himself, but to please me (or keep me around). The lust free relationship sounds lovely. My husband has been pretty clean during the last year. Only a few slip ups where he looked at near-nudity…swimsuit model pics. We was very honest with me about it because we address his acting out every day (at my request). But he always has this “optimistic attitude when he is confessing like how great it is that he didn’t actually act out. That he only nearly acted out. Where I am devastated and feel unsafe and vulnerable. Makes for a bad combination. Any thoughts?

    • If I can be bold enough to reply, Mel, I am just barely past the stage you’re at with my husband’s addiction. First, absolutely do NOT trust what your bishop and his counselors are saying. Not to say they are not spiritual leaders, but they are not trained in this. Most bishops are stuck in old belief systems about pornography that oversimplify the problem.

      What it boils down to is what makes YOU feel safe. Your husband’s problems are his problems. If he chooses to act out, he also happens to be choosing not to be intimate with you (if that’s the boundary you set for your own well-being). If you feel dirty, your self-worth is shattered, or in any other way feel worse as a result of intimacy with your husband after he acts out, you deserve to say “no.” He made a choice, knowing fully what the result of that choice would be (your withdrawal from intimacy). Not that your boundaries should be set up as punishment, but they should be clearly stated so that he knows what he’s getting into when he makes a choice.

      If your husband is open with you, that’s great. Good on him. HOWEVER, it sounds like you intuitively know that something’s up, that there’s no sincerity. Go with your gut on that. As Andrew has stated elsewhere, if he is not attending a 12-step programs, meeting with a sponsor, attending meetings, meeting with bishop regularly, AND being completely honest with your or his sponsor, then he is not in full recovery. Trying to white-knuckle it and do it all by his lonesome is NOT recovery, and I guarantee he is still objectifying you and other women (based on how he’s reacting to your no-sex idea, this would be my guess).

      Do what YOU need in the relationship to feel safe. His wants do not trump your need for emotional, physical, mental safety. You WILL go crazy if you keep doing things for him that make you feel badly later. I have spent night after night crying over the fact that I gave in to his lust, only to discover that he had been looking at porn or chatting with women online all week, which was likely why he was so desperate for it. I felt like he was probably picturing them while he was with me, like I was just another sex toy, an object. It destroys your self-worth. DON’T ALLOW IT.

    • If you haven’t, yet, check out Andrew’s article here about boundaries (http://rowboatandmarbles.org/boundaries-for-spouse-and-lds-pornography-addict.html). it will give you ideas and clarify what boundaries you can and should set for your own well-being. In response to your bishop, tell him how you feel about having sex with your husband, how much it hurts and damages you. Tell him you don’t feel that your feelings of self worth should be damaged and your body – a temple of God – should be used for his lusts and appetite.

    • Mel: Thanks for the comment. I just wanted to point out one or two things and suggest that you read my post on “The Fine Art of Hairsplitting.” Keep in mind ALWAYS that the problem is LUST not porn. The standard by which your husband should measure his recovery is not whether or not he’s looking at images of naked individuals engaged in sexual behavior, commonly referred to as pornography. If he has a problem with lust, SWIMSUIT PICS ARE PORN for him! He’s drinking in lust. He’s taking lust hits. He’s objectifying women. The fact that there happens to be a little bit of cloth covering private parts doesn’t change the fact that he’s taking lust hits off that image. For a lust addict, porn is anything–ANYTHING!–that gives his brain the hit it’s so desperate to have.

      As I noted in the post, I frequently analogize to alcoholism. If an alcoholic is trying to straighten out his life, he gives up ALL ALCOHOL. Binging on watered down beer or maybe a screwdriver with extra orange juice and less vodka is still nothing more than consuming the drug that is going to kill the alcoholic. That’s not recovery. It’s denial and hairsplitting.

      Men and women with a lust addiction are doing the same thing when they do what you say your husband has done. He got his lust fix, but he did it with swimsuit pics. That also means that he spent time before he looked at the pics ritualizing and fantasizing about looking at lust-giving pics.

      Finally, I like what Alyssa’s comment above says about doing what you need to do to feel safe and sane. Nothing in the Gospel (not even Paul’s massively misunderstood musings about marriage and sex) requires a woman to continue to give her lust-addicted husband his drug by having sex with him.

      If your husband is a lust addict, that means his brain is broken. He is sick. He is desperate for his drug, lust. No inspired and informed bishop would suggest drinking whiskey shots with your alcoholic husband in order to “show him you love him.” Why then do so many bishops continue to suggest that if sex is the problem, having more sex–with a lust addict–is going to solve the problem?

      When your husband is in real recovery, he will become able to engage in lust-free intimacy that is a million times more exciting and satisfying than lust-driven sex. Sex will become optional rather than a desperate need. It will assume its proper role in your marriage and no bishop will have to suggest to you or anyone else that the way a woman shows her husband she loves him is by having sex with him. The way I express love is by looking someone in the eye and saying, “I love you.” It’s not by having sex with that person.

  7. This article and comments are wonderful. I really appreciate the discussion on the difference between loving intimacy and lust driven sex. I appreciate Andrews use of alcohol and alcoholism to keep a clear focus on what otherwise could be a very blurry boundary. I am very interested in the follow up article Andrew. Has it been written ? Is it a specific follow up I have missed? Or is the follow up dispersed in multiple other articles? Thank you so Andrew and others who contribute to this website.

  8. One of the first things I learned at my SAA meetings is that everyone has a different story, and that what brings us together is not our stories so much as our strong desire to heal from our addition and to help each other through the process. Having said that, I have gained so much from others’ stories as suggestions for new possible ways to deal with my addiction – understanding that their solutions will probably not work exactly the same for me. Thank you all for your stories here. They show me new possible ways to heal, and they give me new hope.