Too many people who struggle to overcome habitual pornography use believe that marriage will solve their problem. “Once I get married,” the reasoning goes, “I’ll have a God-given way to enjoy sex, so I won’t need porn anymore.”
But in nearly every case, those who go into marriage hoping that an ongoing problem with pornography (or other unwanted sexual behaviors) will disappear once they’re married are gravely disappointed.
The reason may surprise you, but it’s actually very simple: Sex within marriage is about connection, pornography is about disconnection.
Let me explain.
God created sex to be a part of the intimate relationship between husband and wife. When a man and woman marry, they are joining their lives together. The two are becoming “one flesh.”
In pornography, sex is not about joining one’s life with one’s spouse, but about using others’ bodies as a way to disconnect from real life and real relationships and enter into a fictionalized reality that centers around only one person—the porn-user.
Sex releases a powerful cocktail of neurochemicals in a person’s body that make a person feel awake and alive, satisfied and peaceful, connected and comforted. Porn hijacks this process so that a person can feel at least some of these things on demand. Over time, a person’s nervous system adapts to recognize that when life gets difficult, emotions become painful, the body hurts, or the heart longs, the person can dissociate from real life and real relationships and by “plugging in” to the sexual arousal of porn (or other sexual behaviors).
So for the person who has made a habit of using porn or sex to dissociate, the marriage bed becomes a place where he moves away from his spouse even while he is moving toward her sexually. This is a recipe for marriage problems for sure.
If dissociation has been how you’ve used sex, marriage alone won’t fix that. Your brain needs to “rewire”—to learn to equate sex with connection rather than disconnection, with intimacy rather than intensity, with love for your spouse rather than just pleasure for yourself.
So where do you go from here? Here are three simple ideas to get you started:
- Begin practicing reconnecting with yourself. Rather than seeking to dissociate from hunger, pain, longing, or the other things you feel, become curious about your feelings and feel what you feel.
- Practice sharing your feelings with other trusted people in your life, including your husband or wife.
- Begin practicing connecting with your spouse’s feelings. This isn’t about fixing your spouse or even necessarily fully understanding why they feel the way they do, but it is about being with their feelings. Learn to let your heart, mind, and body to be with your spouse’s emotions.
- Finally, seek to be intentional in your marriage to make space to connect emotionally and relationally, not just through the physical act of sex.
If this is all new to you, you will likely need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it from a counselor or experienced spiritual coach.
Jesus spoke to the religious leaders of His day about how they praise God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him. In a similar way, don’t be satisfied with bringing your body close to your spouse while your heart or mind are elsewhere.
As you grow in this area, your marriage bed can become a place that is increasingly about sharing and giving yourselves to each other, rather than disconnecting and using each other. In this way, your face, arms, and body can become a place of more authentic comfort, peace, refreshing, and love for your spouse, and theirs for you.
Want to hear more this week? Check out the latest Becoming Whole podcast; Fragments of You
I certainly relate even though I’m not married. Being single sexual fantasy works the same way.It certainly is about dissociating myself from reality.Also I now realize that my body will acclimate itself to the level of stimulation I keep subjecting it to..Great topic Josh Thanks again..
Thanks for bringing the singles perspective, Paul. That’s always so important in the Body of Christ, especially since our ultimate goal isn’t about helping people just to have good marriages, but about becoming better lovers of Jesus–whether single or married!
Thanks for this. I can see that connecting everyday intimacy with physical intimacy and being in relationship during sex is a path to healing and strength.
Thinking “out loud…”
I often think about what marital intimacy would look like if neither person had any outside influence concerning sex before they were married – impossible, I know. In contemporary society, even if neither spouse has had previous sexual “experience“ or involvement with porn, images of sexually compelling bodies and thrilling extramarital affairs are so ubiquitous that it makes it almost impossible not to be ramped up by things that have nothing to do with spousal intimacy. When one gets to the moment, where is arousal really coming from? My thought is in agreement with the article, but pointing out that one doesn’t have to engage in solo sex while watching porn in order to feed the brain and body with fodder that encourages dissociation from a spouse during sex. I realize that pornography and habitual sexual behavior is an acute issue right now, but I wonder if, rather than just talking about fixing, we should also be talking about the path to holy marital intimacy without becoming broken before we get there. What if we aimed higher? Sex for a Christian couple should look “other” than what it looks like for those who don’t know Christ, no? Might that also inform our paths to healing – not just correcting what’s wrong, but perhaps changing the destination as well?
Great topic, Tadd. My hope is that as we engage parents in how to talk with their kids about God’s design for sex, we’re helping bring that conversation online for more people. But what are your thoughts about it? What would you say should be said “about the path to holy marital intimacy”? And where and how would you introduce those ideas (parenting, from the pulpit, youth group small groups, others)?
Okay, Josh; you really have me thinking. I hate that. Thinking is so overrated.
What should be said?
1. It seems the path to holy marital intimacy is counter cultural, just as following Jesus is. Taking our cues from the world will never lead to holiness.
2. If adolescents choose to follow God in this area, there will likely be social implications, making consistent support vital.
3. Hoping for the best, hoping that young men and women won’t get messed up sexually obviously doesn’t work.
4. NOT for the faint of heart. Courage.
5. Spiritual, not religious. Desire for God, Spirit empowered, not a list of don’ts.
6. Vision and anticipation of what God has in store.
Where and how?
1. Mentorship. Fathers. Mothers. Father and mother figures. Fathers and mothers of friends. (I’m thing gender matched, but maybe it doesn’t have to be entirely that way.) Initiation into Godly manhood and womanhood.
2. Perhaps groups of same gender comrades. “Approaching sex in a counter cultural way doesn’t mean you’re messed up. Stick to the fight. I’m with you.”
3. The pulpit scares me. Just sayin’.
4. Maybe a group of fathers could bring their sons together for discipleship, including what’s already on most teenaged guys minds. Same for the ladies.
5. I have one friend who intends to support and enable marriage at a young age if his son finds a Godly woman he wants to marry. This seems wise to me.
6. Might there be a way to help young men and women who desire a holy sexuality meet one another? Church youth groups might not be that place.
7. Some place of safety.
Okay. I’m going to rest my brain now. Except to say that this mostly addresses those who plan to marry and actually find a Godly partner. What is the path for the single or celibate individual?
Tadd, thank you for taking the time to think through some of these things and sharing them. I especially would love to see more mentorship in this area. Great idea!