Last week I shared some detailed research on the Effects of Pornography on Marriage, Family & the Community. But I wanted to take this issue to a more individual, human level. The following is a revealing interview with Stu Gray, a happily married man (you’ll find his relationship posts at The Marry Blogger) who shares his personal experience with casual, then addictive use of porn.
When did you begin using pornography?I fell into pornography when I was a pre-teen/early teenager of maybe 12. I spent junior high and high school sneaking around the house looking at pornography that belonged to my dad – my or friends’ dads. When I went away to college, I began my own collection; by my sophomore year, the Internet had become an easy way to gain access to pornographic images.
I told many girlfriends, “Porn is just a way of life. Get used to it, or don’t be in a relationship with me.” Porn became a “destresser” after a long day—or a companion on a lonely night. I spent a lot of time with porn, at least daily at some points. There were seasons of time when it would be less important or exciting, but I would say on average my viewing was some sort of image once or twice a day.
I threw out all my magazines and videos the year my wife and I were married in 2004, but the computer still proved to be an issue for me. I really felt a change in my behavior happen in the fall of 2008, and porn has not been a huge temptation for me since then.
How did pornography use affect your marriage?Porn affected my marriage in huge ways. It put a roadblock between me and my wife on many occasions. She felt I was always comparing her to an image; she did not understand my desire or need for the extra images or stimulation, believing that she should be my source of sexual desire.
Now, because of our experience with porn, we have learned some very important lessons about our relationship. We discovered that anything that comes between a couple can be a wedge to pry them apart—or an opportunity to grow together—and to stand together and fight it.
My wife doesn’t like the fact that I have had this struggle, but she is my biggest fan. She realizes that we are a team, and we have to fight together against this thing…and not let it come between us. She used to view me thru the lens of pornography, and so did I. But when we moved the porn out from “between” us and put it “in front” of us, we were better able to battle it together. Not that we would wish any type of problem on any relationship, but this has been a blessing in our life – allowing us to learn a very important principle about being “one” as a husband and wife.
Did you find it addictive?I didn’t believe porn was addictive until I decided I wanted to stop. Then I realized that I really had a problem. I used porn to medicate hurts, to relieve stress, to disconnect from real life. Many of those things are the exact same reasons people turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, over-eating—any of the “addictions” we normally think of in our society.
Did it make you feel less attached to your wife?Absolutely. If my wife is to be the person I share our sexual intimacy with…and I am off by myself in “porn land” getting some sort of false intimacy from someone who is not my wife…guess what? It changes the way I interact with her. I don’t have to be kind to her. I don’t really have to pay her attention. I tended to get upset easier, because I felt she wasn’t meeting my every sexual need (something I believed porn did). I had fewer reasons to be kind because my sexual need was being met, often, by myself. Communication would become difficult—or harsh—much more easily.
There seemed to always be a cloud in our relationship. It was made up of lying about porn, and hiding it. That also took its toll on our marriage, spending so much effort on cleaning up behind myself online to hide where I had been. It became a hassle. And, it catches up with you. To think that your decisions and choices won’t catch up to you is stupid. There always comes a time when you are caught, and have to face the music (and in my faith – that time to face the music may not be during my life here on earth). It wasn’t on the scale of Tiger, Jesse James, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton, or Dave Letterman, but it didn’t have to be to still be hurtful and negatively impact my marriage.
How do you think your pornography use affected your wife?I believe it impacted her more than I know. Negatively – it destroyed trust and safety in our marriage. It put her confidence in me on the line. If I was being shifty in this area, was I being shifty in other areas as well? It made me hard to deal with, selfish and child-like.
On the positive side though, I have to give her credit. She, through much prayer and counsel, came to the realization of it being “us vs. porn.” If she had not had that epiphany and decided to come alongside me in this battle, and pray with me and for me, to encourage me, to help me stay accountable to people and remember my true desires (to be the best man I can be), I don’t know where we would be today.
How/why did you stop?There were several times that I wanted to stop, and tried to stop. I had many reasons to stop…yet, the reasons were outside of myself. I would think, “I have to stop because people will think I have an addiction,” or “I have to stop because I might hurt someone,” or “’I have to stop because I don’t want my son to have a problem.” When I realized that I, first, wanted to be a better man, a man of better character, because I wanted to be better for me, then for my wife and son, for other relationships, that’s when the change really began for me.
One of the first decisions I made that led to change was my decision to give my life over to God as an adult. I had always thought of myself as a “Christian” because I went to a Christian school and didn’t drink and do drugs. I was a pretty OK guy in my mind. But I realized that my life wasn’t really OK—that I was a broken dude, and needed someone more than just myself to really bring about change.
Here are some practical ways that have helped me:
I ditched every piece of porn I owned. Trashed it in a big green dumpster. That was very first step. There were several more, but this was a physical act breaking away from the habit that I wanted to stop. I want to be a better man. To be a real man of character. Still broken, but trying to live out my life humbly – realizing that I couldn’t do it all on my own. When I really began feeling freedom from porn in 2008, that was the exact same time that my personal computer blew up. Literally—it just stopped working. I had to go to the public library to do any type of work. So, every day for a month, I was at the library in the computer lounge surrounded by people. It was a real reason to not surf porn. I was in public. When I finally got the new computer, the temptation was much less, because I was used to new habits.
I made the decision that I wanted to be better for me.
I changed up my habits.
I tried several groups…Sexaholics Anonymous was like dipping my toe in the water of “recovery” for me. I didn’t connect there for whatever reason, but did find another great Christian-based group called Samson Society. These are guys who are looking for real life and real relationships. It’s not a “sex addicts” group by any means. It’s a “Hey I’m messed up, he’s messed up, lets be in each others life so when we feel like messing up again, we can encourage one another to not be stupid” group. (Several Recovery Groups)
I meet with one guy whom I share everything with. I tried to have my wife be that person for a while…and that was too much for her. As much as she supports me and loves me, it still hurt for her to hear when I had messed up, or wanted to mess up. So, this guy and I share our lives with one another. We call one another and check in. It really helps.
I filter my computer use. In the past, I have limited the time on the computer, the places I could visit…and I still do this. There are several great programs you can use to help steer in a better direction. (Several Filters for Computer)
Thanks to Stu for sharing his candid story. We wish the very best to him and his lovely wife. How about you, have you struggled with this issue? Or does your spouse have differing views related to pornography?
Coming soon…Upcoming posts will provide insight into how married couples can have fulfilling, satisfying intimate lives with some insights from Dr. Patricia Love.