What happens to a marriage when pornography invades the home? What is its relational and sexual impact on the couple? While our culture increasingly dismisses any talk about the negative impact of porn, the reality is that it’s much more corrosive and damaging than you think. Long before your marriage descends into the chaos of exposure and threats of divorce, you need to know the damage that porn can inflict on relationships. It’s never too late to change direction if you know or suspect that porn is disrupting your marriage. One way to start on the road to transformation is to honestly examine the damage porn has already done to you and to others. Sometimes God uses warning signs in our lives to get our attention. There are three major ways that porn disrupts and eventually destroys marriages.
Pornography Destroys the Beauty of God’s Design for Sex
A healthy marriage is based on intimacy. Adam and Eve were “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25), a description not just of sexual pleasure but of relational intimacy. They held nothing back from each other; they were totally open and vulnerable. They knew each other in a way that no other couple ever did. Before sin entered the human heart, they experienced sex as God designed it, mutually pleasurable as both sought to selflessly please the other. God gave them the gift of sex as the means to deep relational connection.
But when sin entered the world, the perfect intimacy that Adam and Eve shared collapsed. Because God made sex such a powerful experience, it needed the relationally safe boundaries of marriage. Intimacy is not something that happens quickly between two people; it grows through the years as the couple faces problems together. That is why the father in Proverbs 5 tells his adult son to remember the years he has spent with the “wife of his youth.” He is not to throw away those years and experiences to have sex with anyone he chooses. The pleasure sex brings is better within the boundaries of marriage, with the wife he has spent years knowing and loving. “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18–19).
God created sexual pleasure within marriage and values it as a foundational expression of growing spiritual and emotional intimacy. But the physical intimacy with your spouse that God values so highly is steadily corrupted and ultimately destroyed when you engage in porn.
Pornography Makes You Selfish and Self-Centered
As one Christian counselor put it, viewing pornography is all about masturbation.¹ In other words, when you engage in porn, it’s all about what you can get out of it. It’s about your fantasies, your pleasure, and your desires. Women and men are reduced to mere sexual objects for your own selfish pleasures. The people on the screen, whether you are passively viewing them or actively engaged with them (via webcam, texting, or chat rooms) exist only to please you. Real intimacy, which by its nature takes time to develop, is obliterated in quick hits of self-centered fantasy.
What gets lost in viewing or engaging in pornography is this critical fact: the person you are interacting with is not real and neither are you, because the foundation of your “relational encounter” is a total lie. In real life and real relationships, there is someone you want to get to know, and someone who wants to know you as well. The fantasy of pornography is that you believe you are the object of someone else’s interest and desire, but the cold reality is that you are really alone with yourself.
Pornography Isolates You from Your Spouse and Family
The more you use pornography, the less you will attempt to relate to your spouse as God intended, because that involves effort and a willingness to care about someone else. In contrast, porn becomes the way you escape the endless stresses of life, especially the stresses that are part and parcel of marriage. Life in a fallen world is difficult. A good marriage not only lets you weather the storms; it helps you grow through them. But porn entices you with the false promise that you don’t have to face those storms. Instead, it promises pleasure and escape. In porn you will find women who are beautiful, daring, lonely but anxious to be fulfilled by you—quite different from your wife. In porn you will find men who are thoughtful, romantic, and willing to tackle any challenge to have you–quite different from your husband. But porn, very simply, entices you into a world that doesn’t exist.
Your spouse, meanwhile, continues to occupy the real world, and the more you pull away into fantasy, the more he or she will feel abandoned by you.
¹Jeffrey S. Black, Sexual Sin: Combatting the Drifting and Cheating (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2003), 6.
This blog is an excerpt from our minibook, What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married? by Nicholas Black, published by New Growth Press. To purchase this minibook, and other resources from Harvest USA, click here.
03 Aug 2017
I never heard the term “mixed-orientation” marriage until a few years ago. I didn’t have a name for what we had. It was just marriage. There wasn’t any special treatment of our relationship. Maybe things would have been easier if there was. I wasn’t aware of any couples’ support groups, retreats, or conferences focusing on this unique covenant.
When Mike pursued me, he already knew about my past and it didn’t matter to him. He would joke that we have the same struggle: a weakness for women. He wasn’t intimidated by my attraction to women, and he wasn’t threatened by it either. He just loved me. He didn’t want us to have a strong relationship in spite of my attractions; he believed we could have one that transcended my attractions. A mixed-orientation marriage didn’t scare him at all.
Our story isn’t one you will read about in the media because it doesn’t attract the same attention as others, namely the ones featuring adultery and divorce due to a spouse’s same-sex attraction. News like this feeds the false belief that any sexual desires thwarted or denied will only cause heartbreak and betrayal. “Follow your heart” becomes the new Golden Rule, and “being true to yourself” is now seen as heroic, regardless of who gets hurt.
But Mike didn’t expect me to be miraculously delivered from my struggle as soon as he put the ring on my finger. He knew it would be a journey, but he had hope. Mike trusted my relationship with Jesus would be the foundation of my love for him.
Ultimately, I wasn’t choosing between Mike and women, I was choosing between God and women. I committed my heart, body, and spirit to Jesus, and that included my sexuality.
The most powerful temptation for me is to find my worth in my friendships with women. I would pursue and invest with abandon, often leaving my husband feeling abandoned. He would point out that I listen more and better to the women in my life than I do to him. I would immediately get defensive. But it turned out to be true. I would put more stock in my friends’ opinions and advice, and seeking Mike’s was an afterthought.
The cure for that isn’t giving Mike more attention or time, it’s responding to Jesus’s conviction about where my heart is. If I’m not present to my husband, that most likely means I’m not present to God. I can’t improve my marriage solely by focusing on my husband’s needs. The only victory over flesh we will find is when we are both seeking the kingdom first.
Ultimately, I wasn’t choosing between Mike and women, I was choosing between God and women. I committed my heart, body, and spirit to Jesus, and that included my sexuality. I tried the white-knuckling for years. I tried to be vigilant about what I saw, listened to, and read. I prayed for awareness of the vibes (bait) I was putting out and being honest about vibes from others I was picking up. I was scrupulous in my confession. I wore shame like a shroud and defeat like a mantle.
I was focusing on behavior modification when what I needed was heart transformation. God doesn’t want me driven to distraction by fleeting feelings or momentary twinges of desire, he wants me so transfixed by him that what I want changes dramatically. I’m no longer aiming for fewer temptations as I am longing for more of God — more of his Word, more of his presence, and more of his healing power. That is when I want more of Mike — more of his heart, more of his attention, more of his affection.
God doesn’t want me driven to distraction by fleeting feelings or momentary twinges of desire, he wants me so transfixed by him that what I want changes dramatically.
There are specific challenges we face in our relationship. Mike has felt lonely over the years. He often prays that my longing for him would match the intensity of my desire for women. Anne Lamott once said that the mind is a dangerous place, you shouldn’t go in there alone. I have women I confess to, who hold me accountable, and ask hard questions. My husband checks in with me regularly and helps me stay present.
When I’m in a vulnerable place struggling with my thoughts and desires, I don’t stay there. I’m learning how to invite Jesus, right then and there, into whatever fantasy is playing in my head. I imagine myself talking to him about what is happening, why l want it, or who I want, and how I think it will fill the hole inside me. Then I look at him and beg him to be enough for me, to give me the power to say no to myself, to surrender my desires to him, and ask him to fill the emptiness inside me with his Spirit.
My struggle can be a constant source of hurt for Mike. He senses a low-grade rejection of him as a man. He hasn’t had anyone to talk to about this; nobody he knows has experienced it. He doesn’t have a safe place to express his pain and confusion. He doesn’t have someone to walk alongside him in this. It’s taken him years to acknowledge it and share how he feels.
I don’t believe that my same-sex attraction is the biggest obstacle in our marriage. It’s not the hinge that all other arguments or issues swing on. When we have conflict it’s not because I have a crush on a woman, entered into enmeshment with a friend, or gave in to using porn. More likely than not, it’s about Mike’s anger, my impatience, my detachment, his negativity. Those are the real enemies of our marriage.
We know that God brought us together and keeps us committed. Our marriage is a testimony of how God’s healing power and love can draw people to one another and keep them devoted, faithful, and fruitful, even in the face of adversity and disappointment. Our faults and failings threaten to separate us, but when we are vulnerable and honest, those same things pull us closer to each other and to God. We have an enemy who wants to destroy our marriage, and us, but we have a God who will defeat death and destruction in any form, and he has hope and a future for our marriage.
Tammy is founder and curator of The Mudroom, a collaborative blog encouraging women to speak truth, love hard, and enter in with each other. Find out more: here.
Many who come to Harvest USA battling a serious pornography problem are married. Some discussed their struggle with their spouses before getting married, while others kept it completely hidden. Pornography’s impact on a marriage can be devastating, sometimes to the point of becoming the main factor in a couple’s divorce.
With this danger in mind, is your fiancé’s use of pornography grounds to call off an engagement—or even to end the relationship? If sexual sin, past and present, can destroy a marriage, raising those questions before taking vows becomes a matter of wisdom. It’s also a matter of necessity today. With the universality and accessibility of pornography, almost no one’s heart and mind today are untouched by its impact. Younger generations of Christians, especially, have grown up with high-speed Internet and its ability to deliver pornography anywhere and at any time.
If sexual sin, past and present, can destroy a marriage, raising those questions before taking vows becomes a matter of wisdom. It’s also a matter of necessity today. With the universality and accessibility of pornography, almost no one’s heart and mind today are untouched by its impact.
If almost everyone is affected by porn in some way, then it is not enough to simply ask your fiancé, “Have you looked, or are you looking, at pornography?” That’s not going to decide your answer about the relationship. Rather, you need a follow-up question if the (likely) answer is yes, “If this is an ongoing issue, in what direction is your struggle going?” Meaning, what is he or she doing about it? Is your fiancé showing a growing desire to honor Christ in all areas of life? Is that seen in how he or she acknowledges struggles, confesses sins, and shows evidence of repenting?
To better understand/comprehend the question and evaluate the answer, here are three key ways to gage that process.
Is your fiancé growing in openness and transparency?
First, is your fiancé growing in being open and transparent with you and others about this struggle? Many couples never discuss sexual issues, much less struggles, even when the relationship is clearly heading for the altar. But these issues need to be brought into the open. More than ever, it is essential that couples receive biblically-based pre-marital counseling. Discussing sexual issues with a third party provides a degree of safety for talking through these issues. Navigating this kind of disclosure without help can be scary and difficult. How much should I share, and what details should I give? This is why having an experienced pastor, counselor, or older mentoring couple walk with you is recommended. The goal of this disclosure is meant to promote intimacy, but done carelessly, without wisdom, it can have the opposite impact.
The third party can also provide discernment on the health of the relationship, answering critical questions about proceeding towards marriage. Sometimes the intensity of the struggle might indicate that the relationship should slow down, and any plans for marriage be postponed until further evidence of success is demonstrated. You need an outside voice to help you make that decision.
This transparency not only needs to happen in pre-marital counseling; it should be an ever-increasing way of how you are currently living. Is your fiancé open about other things in his life, or do you sense that he keeps some things hidden? One devastating consequence of pornography usage is a typical pattern of deceit and hiding, which eventually bleeds into all areas of life. In addition, do you both have trusted people in your lives who really know where you struggle, both individually and as a couple? The biggest barrier to fighting sexual sin is living in secrecy. Shame does that to us.
Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (ESV). If your fiancé has never told anyone else about his struggle, then that is a sign he’s not ready to deal with his sin, and he’s also unable to see the situation with any clarity. Danger ahead!
Are specific steps being taken to avoid sources of temptation?
Secondly, is your fiancé actively taking steps to remove clear sources of temptation in her life? If she struggles with her phone or laptop, has she gotten accountability software and put up filters? Or maybe she’s even gone back to a dumb phone, because she knows that having 24/7 availability to the web is a dangerous place for her to live. Though simply removing access to pornography does not guarantee a changed heart, it is evidence that your fiancé takes this struggle seriously. We often have a love/hate relationship with our sin patterns, and it is typical for most of us to be tempted to keep a back door open to our sin. We don’t seriously want to be free of it. Intentionally eliminating those back doors is evidence that she is not simply managing sin; she wants to kill it.
1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be sober-minded and watchful because the devil seeks to devour us. Taking real, sacrificial steps to avoid sources of temptation means that you accurately understand the weight of the situation. Real change needs to happen at the level of heart, but that change is facilitated by humbly recognizing the need for clear boundary lines to live within. For the sake of loving God and others well, we willingly accept restrictions that make it harder to engage in sin.
Deciding to postpone or call off an engagement or relationship requires the insight of trusted and competent mentors.
Are other people holding your fiancé accountable?
Thirdly, accountability is the natural result of transparent living. If your fiancé has taken the difficult step of sharing his struggle with trusted friends and mentors, is he also willing to be held accountable to them? A one-time confession of a private struggle is often a liberating and freeing experience. But the harder work comes in the regular discussion about how the fight has been going and what changes need to be implemented to fight better. If he is willing to be challenged and called to account by men who care about his soul, then you both will experience the fulfillment of God’s promise to “give grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
Establishing who bears this burden of accountability is important. It is unhelpful for a (future) spouse to become the “porn police.” This does not mean that couples fail to confess their sins to one another, but it does mean that the one who struggles has friends in his or her life who regularly ask hard questions. Consequently, the accountability partners have access to speak freely to the couple and their counselors to give their input. Having accountability partners outside of the romantic relationship provides additional support for the struggler. Without it, a constant temptation to worry and speculate can seriously impair the relationship; with it, the fiancé knows that the problem is being addressed and that her intended spouse is getting the help he needs.
We’ve looked at three key areas to consider if your fiancé is struggling with pornography: increasing transparency, actively fleeing temptation, and accountability. If one of these areas is lacking or non-existent, some serious and difficult discussions—and decisions—need to happen. But, again, this should not be done alone. Deciding to postpone or call off an engagement or relationship requires the insight of trusted and competent mentors.
In addition to discussing struggles with pornography, Christian couples need to honestly address how they are honoring Christ in maintaining sexual integrity in their relationship before marriage. Christian couples today are as sexually active before marriage as their secular counterparts. A false line is drawn to rationalize their behavior; everything short of intercourse is defined as not being sex. There are good reasons for delaying sexual intimacy before marriage, and one of them is learning to center your relationship on Christ by jointly encouraging each other to obey and trust his will. If disobedience is brought jointly into the marriage, then a perilous pattern is established. How you choose to honor God and one another through sexual integrity in one season of life will show your commitment and fitness for the next season.
Take heart, brothers and sisters: God does not call or bless only those with perfect obedience to him. His grace covers a multitude of sins, and that same grace can enable both of you to turn from destructive relational patterns and toward honoring Christ in this important area of life. And taking appropriate, wise steps, before saying your vows, is an investment that will reap a harvest of righteousness and joy in God’s glorious covenant of marriage!
You can watch Mark talking some more about this on his video: Is a Struggle with Pornography a Deal-Breaker for Getting Married? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
15 Jun 2017
Are you engaged? In a relationship and thinking about getting married? You’ve got lots to talk about—and be honest about with your future spouse. But the time to talk about these things is now, before you make your vows. And one critical thing to discuss is pornography and sexual sin.
Click here to read more of what Mark says couples must do before the wedding, “Is a Struggle with Pornography a Deal-Breaker for Getting Married?” And click here to read the full version of our latest harvestusa magazine.
With the legalization of gay marriage, Christians more often find themselves invited to same-sex wedding ceremonies. This poses a dilemma for believers of whether to attend an event that celebrates a life-union that God nowhere approves of in Scripture.
Declining to attend seems like an easy solution. But because it involves friendships or family connections, the matter can be quite complex. The issue is more difficult if the wedding involves a child or other close family member. (For additional insights, read our mini book, Your Gay Child Says “I Do.”)
Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer. Here are some things to think about that we hope can help you make a wise decision.
The space for this article is not sufficient to adequately examine the scope of Scripture on this matter, but here are three scriptural principles that should guide you.
Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the
one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer
- Be in the world but not of it. Knowing how to engage with the world is important for Christians. Being set apart from the world (who we are and how our lives reflect who we live for) is demonstrated by our living in the world. Loving and investing [time] in our neighbor is the means by which the world comes to know God.
- Freedom in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 and Romans 14 are key passages where Paul argues for the freedom of the believer to engage with others in society, centered around the contentious issue of that day: eating meat from an idol’s temple. For Paul, (Christian) freedom involves examining issues of motivation, concern for the impact on other believers, and the context of the situation (see 1 Corinthians 10: 23-33 and Romans 14:20-23). Freedom in Christ enables us to think through how our actions affect others.
- Faith/conscience. Paul’s conclusion in Romans 14 is that we decide on issues such as these based on conscience, and that if one remains unsettled, then it is wiser to not participate because it “is not from faith.” Christians can stand on both sides of difficult issues, so the freedom we have in Christ to discern how to live strategically in the world should move us to extend grace to those who decide differently.
After examining Scripture, which must be the basis for all decisions, here are some relationship issues that can guide you in making a decision.
- What is your current relationship to the person getting married?
Are they a casual co-worker, friend, distant relative, or someone with whom you have a closer relationship (like a family member)? Has the invitation been given to everyone in your office, department, or family? Or, has it been given to you because you have a closer relationship? These factors can help you determine how best to respond. For example, if the person is someone with whom you have a good friendship, then you are in a position to speak directly to him or her about the issue of attending. If your friend knows you are a Christian, then this becomes another opportunity (or maybe the first!) to discuss your faith and how that influences your decision.
- What would you be trying to convey by your attendance?
Some people make the distinction between supporting the person, whom they love and care about, and supporting the event, of which they don’t approve. In making this distinction, it can communicate that attendance is not an implicit approval of their marriage. This is a meaningful distinction. We do this constantly in our other relationships, communicating our differences but remaining involved in each other’s lives.
This distinction may depend on how vocal you have been about your faith. What kinds of conversations have you had? Do they know you are a Christian? Do they know your views about homosexuality? If so, your presence could actually “stun” them or really mess up the categories they may have about Christians like you? Christians, living intentionally by the gospel, can sometimes be confusing to people, causing them to rethink their positions and perhaps see new and bigger realities. That’s a good thing.
If you feel that attending would lend weight to your Christian witness, then you might go. Your attendance would be in line with your desire to pursue a relationship because you care for them, and you want to keep the relationship open to have further opportunities to share the gospel with them.
- What are you concerned about if you decide to attend?
Are you afraid that your attendance would communicate your approval? Or, are you afraid of explaining why you feel you cannot attend? Are you afraid you would not know how to act or how to talk with other guests, most who would support the marriage? There can be lots of fear involved in making this decision. Ask the Lord to guide you regarding all these issues. Fear or anxiety about disappointing someone is never a good motivator to make a decision. A better question is this: What response might cause further openness to the gospel?
- If you decide you cannot attend, could you substitute something else?
If you reach the conclusion that you cannot attend, you might consider an alternative response. For instance, giving a card or gift would still show your care for them and acknowledge that this was an important day for them (it was, but you don’t necessarily have to join in on the celebration).
If you are close to the person or couple, but still conclude that you cannot attend, then consider taking them out to lunch or dinner. Of course, this may be an uncomfortable get-together, especially if the person will feel hurt by your absence. But a quick follow-up may go a long way toward bringing understanding and another opportunity for you to share your faith. Another decision some people make is to not attend the wedding (because of the nature of wedding vows) but to attend the reception (if this is, of course, agreed upon by the wedding couple).
- Do one or both parties claim to be Christians?
Someone once said, “We shouldn’t expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people.” If the person or persons getting married are unbelievers, this doesn’t mean you have an unhindered green light to attend—but if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is in rebellion to God’s design and intention for how his people should live, and is celebrating it and inviting others to join in, then that is another matter.
Many would argue that even if one of the parties is a confessing Christian, attending would be entering into their delusion that the marriage union is fine with God and is sanctioned by him. But some will make the distinction that attending is not the same as approving.
As you can see, these are hard issues! Your decision must come from wrestling with Scripture, drenched in prayer, and discussed with close friends or family members. But know this: Your wrestling with this is itself evidence of your heart wanting to do the right thing to honor Christ and to open doors for the gospel. Realize that there is no ONE answer to this, but there is one thing you can count on: Like Jesus, you’ll probably be misunderstood regarding the implications of any choice you make. So, when you make your decision, know that you have made it on the basis of what will honor God, and be at peace on that basis.
08 Jul 2015
Dr. Clair Davis, retired church history professor from Westminster Theological Seminary, writes on church and gospel issues. When he writes on sex and sexuality, he has a lot of good things to say, so we thought you’d like to read it also. Dr. Davis wrote in respomse to the Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court’s decision enabling same-sex marriage in all states has gotten much attention, positively and negatively. It will facilitate unbiblical marriages everywhere, and God and his law will be massively mocked. Of course that is very serious. Going ahead, will those opposing this decision be convicted of hate-crime? It is very possible.
But how is this anything new? Some of us can remember when states followed biblical norms, permitting divorce only in cases of adultery. That was when people went to Reno, Nevada, to live for six weeks until they could obtain a “no-fault” divorce there. Those finding that inconvenient were able to enlist private detectives to help them set up a phony adultery in raids on hotel rooms. I can’t remember how believers responded to Reno, but wasn’t that just as serious then as the Court’s decision today?
No doubt there are legal and social advantages to “marriage,” but in a hook-up culture, that has little to do with sexual activity. Puberty comes earlier and marriage much later; do the math yourself. No one says “common-law marriage” any more, but what could be more common? Has the evangelical Christian church, along with Catholic and Orthodox churches, been consistently clear?
This has nothing to do with our welcoming people. Jesus welcomed all us sinners, and we are so glad. But along with our trusting Jesus Christ comes repentance for our sin, and that is what we know ourselves and seek to tell others. I tell this story, one that I actually experienced, about getting drainage pipe for a plot of ground and asking for a much bigger pipe than the clerk suggested, prompting his response as he sold me the really big one, “You do have a drainage problem.” That the Beloved Son of the Father should give up his life for us sinners, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”—that wasn’t to show off, that was because of our sin.
We are called to welcome all to Jesus, but clearly turning to him means turning away from whatever idol you worship, including same-sex relations. We need to show and tell that this means us too. We are not called to be Pharisees, to look down on those not as holy as we are. In no way are we worthy.
Were we sloppy about Reno? Hook-ups? It is time for us to repent of that and our own respectable sins too. The Court has gotten everyone’s attention right now, so why should we delay our own repentance? And along with that, calling the world around us to Jesus the Savior? Not just same-sex people—that suggests their sin is greater than ours, and it isn’t. That suggests cultural narrowness, and our calling is to the whole world. The Court has people awake. Now is the time to talk—more clearly and consistently than ever before.