Names have been changed for privacy.
Originally published August 23, 2016
I’m a therapist. I’ve heard arguments that pornography is a cultural, religious, or a moral dilemma. I argue that porn is a real problem, and it has been very real, personal, and first-hand for me.
For years in my marriage, my husband was emotionally distant. We didn’t have a relationship. After dinner, my husband would help me put the children to bed and disappear for hours on the computer, sometimes until four in morning. We were seldom intimate. I was the one rejected by my husband and felt emotionally abandoned. I was young and naive. I knew something was wrong in my marriage, but I didn’t know what. I read several relationship books in order to fix things, and nothing seemed to work.
I questioned if it was me. I had an inkling that just maybe it was porn; he had passwords on his computer, which was turned away or in another room. But I believed I had to have proof. I would interrupt him at odd hours and find him playing games. I thought I was wrong, and my husband often told me I was too needy. Marriage was a big commitment, and I tried hard to make it work.
It soon became clear that my husband was lying: He used the credit card without telling me. He went to huge lengths to hide his smoking and other habits by washing his hands and changing his clothes. Finally, we went to marriage counseling about his dishonesty and emotional unavailability. I asked him if there was anything else I needed to know about, and he said no. After marriage counseling, I hoped we were better; I made myself believe we were better. I decided to have another baby because I thought it would take attention off our foundering marriage.
At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom of two children. My husband didn’t want me to work, and for years, I didn’t have a car. It seemed I couldn’t get out of the house or out from under his thumb. While I was eight months pregnant with my third child, I found pornography on his computer. At the time I wasn’t ready to deal with anything more. Mentally, I put it aside. Once in a great while, my husband became the man I married, and I remembered why I tried to make it work. So was the case after our baby. He was present for the birth, but he soon reverted back to his ways of spending countless hours on the computer and seldom being available. Fortunately, I had a good friend and neighbor who told me to talk to my husband about the porn. When I confronted him, he admitted to having a problem with pornography.
He told me he couldn’t stop and needed help. I was very angry, mostly because of the lies. He had opportunities when we went to marriage counseling to come clean, but he didn’t. I didn’t know if I could trust him because of this pattern of lying and hiding behavior.
Lying was worse than the pornography. I also felt angry and betrayed because my husband had chosen pornography over intimacy with me. Our sexual life was pretty non-existent, one or two times a month, while he was looking at pornography and masturbating every day.
I felt very unattractive and worthless. I was also very angry because to society’s standards I had a good body and was thin to the point of being skinny. I remember yelling, “I could be a porn star! Maybe I should, so you would look at me!”
I thought about leaving him, but decided to stay with him if he went to counseling. We found LifeStar, a sexual addiction recovery program. It was life-changing for me. Sexual addiction wasn’t about sex, but how he felt about himself and dealt with emotions. I learned to set boundaries with my husband and other people, which was big for me because I tended to say yes when I wanted to say no. I learned to take care of myself and make myself a priority because I put everyone else first. I learned I had a voice.
I was empowered to go back to school for a career and stand up to my husband. For the first time, I realized I could choose to be happy, and I was only responsible for me. The healthier I became the worse my husband was with looking at pornography. He increased it at work and lost his job. I issued him an ultimatum: get it together or I was leaving, and I kicked him out of the house. He sunk lower, and I moved myself and the children to my mom’s. I realized he wanted and was excited by what he couldn’t have. If he could have me, he didn’t want me. If another guy wanted to date me, he was interested.
There is a flash of hope for those who lose everything and come face to face with their truth. My husband did a 180 and told me he had kept me away to protect himself. It made me determined and passionate about fighting pornography and sexual addiction. I was involved in S-Anon and presented at a conference for social change. I continued my progress in school, earning my bachelor’s degree, and applied for graduate school. By that time, I had determined to be a therapist to give back, working with trauma and sexual addiction. I was able to come full circle. I found myself on the other end of LifeStar, being a facilitator and clinician instead of a client. I’ve seen many lives impacted by pornography and those who have an addiction, staying up all night, not taking showers, looking at it at work, losing their religious status, and going to prostitutes. I’ve seen marriages destroyed and hearts-broken over porn. I’ve seen lives destroyed.
But I also see hope. There is hope in education and talking to our children about the falsehood of pornography. There is hope in society when women are treated with respect and not just used as sex symbols or demeaned in porn.
It’s time to get real about beauty and what makes a woman truly beautiful—not the photo-shopped, heavily-made up girl you can’t have, but the one who stands by your side, supports you, and loves you. Love can heal and is perhaps the biggest fighter. I learned through my journey to love and validate myself, which is the biggest empowerment of all.
If we stand idly by and let pornography destroy the lives of great men and women, we are letting society fail. By actively raising awareness and helping those who are struggling overcome this plague, we are choosing to protect families, individuals, and society.