Suggesting that it is possible to porn-proof your marriage may appear to be preposterous. Porn is so prevalent in 2017 that it may be simply impossible to prevent yourself seeing and coming into contact with pornography. However, what if you could build a marriage relationship and a shared worldview where pornography was not even attractive?

To begin with I want to clarify what we’re proposing, and who this is for.

You cannot walk through a mall, drive on a major highway, watch TV or use the Internet without being exposed to pornographic images. By ‘pornographic images’ I mean images capable of provoking sexual attraction, thoughts or fantasies. Such images are nearly impossible to avoid on a daily basis. That’s a sad but true commentary on our society’s sexualization of women in particular.

So when I talk about porn-proofing your marriage, I’m not necessarily talking about living a life where you don’t ever come into contact with these images: that would be pretty much impossible. Which is sad. But what I’m aiming at is creating a marriage and a shared worldview where pornography holds no traction (there’s no grip) and no attraction (there’s no real desire to pursue it).

I also want to point out who this post is for and not for.

Who it is for: If you’re currently in the grip of a pornography addiction, I hope you will find this useful. If pornography is not a factor in your marriage and you want to keep it that way: this is for both of you. If one or both of you are recovered pornography addicts then I believe this will be helpful as well.

Who it is not for: If your spouse is in the grip of a pornography addiction and you want to single-handedly shape your marriage in order to out-compete or even just eradicate pornography than you’re probably coming at this the wrong way. This post is not really for you until you fall into the previous category.

You see, it’s not your job to manage your spouse’s recovery.

Your job is to both confront and refrain from enabling, and I think you should even go so far as to refuse to take responsibility for your spouse’s recovery. It’s the addict’s job to own all aspects of his or her recovery, not yours. We do have a previous post on steps you can take when you’ve just discovered your husband’s porn addiction, so that may be helpful for people in this situation.

Having said that, it’s not fair for you to choose movies with pornographic scenes while also holding the conviction that pornography is wrong, and expecting your previously- or currently-addicted spouse not to be triggered by this. I mean, if you’re comfortable with some pornography, then you should be comfortable with your spouse viewing some pornography too, right?

Finally we should mention for those who are new to our website and podcast that Verlynda and I speak from a born-again Christian worldview. It is our belief that pornography does not have anything to add to your marriage because the Bible and even secular research both support the notion that the best sex is happening inside marriage. We could go a lot further explaining our beliefs and the theological underpinnings but I think that is an adequate summary for now.

Pornography and Marriage Quality

Let me cite some research relevant to pornography and marriage quality. Stack et al[i] noted that high marriage quality was linked to lower porn use. Another researcher[ii] also observed that satisfaction with real life sex is not linked to rates of porn use (i.e., porn use is not compensating for lower satisfaction with sex, and increasing porn use is not equal to increasing sexual satisfaction). In fact, Poulsen et al[iii] showed that high levels of porn use lead to lower sexual satisfaction for both men and women.

A Barna Group study called the Porn Phenomenon also reported a number of other potential impacts of pornography, including:

    1. A dramatic reduction in a spouse’s capacity to love their wife and children
    2. Difficulty achieving orgasm with your spouse
    3. Increased likelihood of having multiple sexual partners in both paid sex and extramarital sex
    4. Wives’ reporting their husbands’ sexual advances as conveying a message of objectification as opposed to meaningful interaction
    5. Increase in sexless marriages

We could go on and on.

The point is that porn is not helping marriages — I really, truly believe that pornography has nothing to offer and nothing to add to creating a healthy, vibrant, enjoyable marriage — including sexual intimacy within that marriage.

Porn-Proofing Your Marriage

This is a multi-faceted issue so we’re going to touch on this at different levels, from behavioral all the way to examining our worldview.

Behavioral Safeguards

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. But I want to mention it because curiosity is a powerful thing. You can see something sexual that piques your interest and then it becomes a rabbit trail into pornography until you get lost in that world.

So I think there is value in doing whatever we can to protect ourselves even from accidental exposure to pornography. You might not be able to totally shield yourself from sexually provocative images, but you can certainly remove some of the temptation and make it harder for yourself to engage with overtly pornographic material, especially online.

It’s for that reason that our family uses a device called Circle, and we have Covenant Eyes accountability for adults and accountability and filtering for our kids, and we use Google Safe Search all the time. To be candid, we probably need more.

There’s a lot more that could be said on preventive measures so we’ve packaged it up as a document that is available to our patrons. If you’re not a patron today, we’d like you to consider becoming one. You get the benefit of immediate access to all of the bonus content we mention in our podcast and also your support means that we can continue to reach and influence more and more marriages through this show.

Protecting Your Marriage From Internet Porn

Our bonus guide gives you a rundown of some of the best porn-proofing software and settings you can use on your computer and other devices. From filters and accountability programs to support apps for mobile devices, there’s lots of help out there for taking away the temptation and helping you stay true to your marriage.

Social Circles that Resist Pornography

Now let’s look at how your friends and social circle can protect against porn use. Social control theory states that people may want to engage in deviant behavior (such as porn use) but their social bonds provide motivation not to[iv].

For example: things like bonds to society, to a particular religious or political view, or to family may prevent a person doing something that their society of family would deem unacceptable. You might want to look at porn but thinking about how your family or friends would react may influence your decision one way or the other.

A study from 2004[v] analyzed 531 surveys of internet users and found that three particular kinds of social bonds were related to cyberporn use:

    1. Church attendance negatively predicted cyberporn use
    2. Being happily married reduced likelihood of cyberporn use by 61%
    3. Political liberalism increased odds of porn use

I just thought it was really interesting to look at this. It challenges us to step back and examine our most influential social circles. Who do you choose to put in your circle?

Think about this in terms of your marriage: you want to have a circle of friends that you move among who uphold the sanctity of marriage. You may have Christian friends but have an unacknowledged contract between you that it’s OK to watch inappropriate movies, or maybe there’s the odd porn or sex joke that just communicates the idea — we all do it, what’s the big deal? Having this element of permissiveness in our social circles increased our vulnerability to pornography.

Religiosity and Pornography

This one is more interesting. Let me start with a poignant quote: “while religiosity is consistently negatively associated with an acceptance of pornography, these same attitudes do not always translate to a lack of use.[vi]

People from Christian backgrounds often have negative attitudes to porn use but actual usage levels don’t always reflect this. For example a study by Nelson et al in 2010[vii] interviewed 192 Christian men aged 18-27 and found that 100% of them thought porn use was unacceptable, but that 45% of them had still used porn at some point in the last 12 months.

This was lower than porn use rates in the general population for a similar age group (87%) but still shows that beliefs and actions don’t always tie together.

So just calling yourself a Christian, or even having closely held beliefs, doesn’t necessarily porn-proof your marriage.

However, there are some specific characteristics noted by Nelson et al.[viii] that were found to be linked to not using porn in Christian men: (keep in mind as we list these that this is from a research perspective, not a preaching-at-you perspective)

  1. Higher levels of current and past involvement in religious practices (prayer, scripture reading, attending church etc).
    Regularly connecting with God and other Christians in this way was thought to serve as a reminder that porn use was unacceptable. “Even if an individual is taught that pornography is unacceptable, religious beliefs may not be enough to prevent pornography use without the regular, maybe even daily, participation in activities (praying, reading scriptures) that reinforce those religious beliefs.”
  2. A stronger sense of identity and self worth, particularly relating to family, dating and faith. Having a stronger sense of who you are and what’s important to you strengthens you against the temptations of porn.
  3. Stronger relationships with the family, particularly a stronger relationship with your mother, and higher involvement in religious activities as a family.
  4. Lower levels of depression. For this one it’s unclear which direction the effect is: it could be that those who used porn felt guilty about it, leading to depression, or could be that depression causes weaker impulse control or the need to use porn to raise your mood. In either case porn use is closely linked to depression, so if either of them affect you it’s important to seek help.

So a strong personal belief, supported by regular practice and a close family, can guard you against porn where simply having a faith does not. But there’s a flip side. There are also some risk factors associated with religiosity that can increase risk of porn use and addiction.

Having highly conservative Christian views or being raised in “rigid, authoritarian families” can produce a very high emphasis on sexual purity and the belief that sex is taboo and should not be talked about. This then means that someone who uses porn once would feel very isolated and too ashamed to come forward for help about it, leading to a “cycle of shame and guilt” that leads to addiction[ix].

So you have to shape your faith (in terms of church life, beliefs, and behavior) as a couple in order for this to become a resiliency factor against pornography. It’s not enough to assume that just because you’re church-going and Bible-toting people that you are porn-proof.

Deeper Issues

Finally there are some deeper issues yet that I believe can help porn-proof a marriage.

Worldview: what goes through your mind or happens in your body when you see the full scale images in the window of Victoria’s Secret in the mall? This is important: you need to see a person, not just a body. That’s somebody’s daughter. She has hopes, dreams and aspirations. She has a story to her life. If she finds worth in the sale of her beauty to an advertising or modeling agency, that’s evidence of her brokenness.

She is not an object for lust or gratification. She is a human being. You should feel sadness for her. What was private and precious is now just being used as smut for the idle gaze of lustful passers-by who have no intent of appreciating the person — just the body. It’s your worldview that will change the perspective of everything from seductive images in a mall to what is clearly marketed as pornography. Are you in a world of people? Or bodies?

Intimacy: learn to open your emotions deeply to one another. There is no person you should feel more emotionally connected to than your spouse. If you’re not there — take action so that in 1-2 years from now you will be there. You don’t want intimacy voids left in your marriage that are going to be looking for opportunities to get filled up with pornography and the fantasy world that brings. One of the things that makes pornography such a powerful addiction is that it presents itself as a form of pseudo-intimacy. So creating a genuine, robust, healthy intimacy is a huge resiliency factor — then the fake alternative holds far less appeal.

Sexuality: challenge yourselves to grow as a couple in this area. Not to out-compete the online world — you don’t want to try to achieve what they have. That’s not your standard. But rather to create something between you that is at times some or all of these things: exciting, playful, adventurous, intimate, loving, passionate, exploratory, etc etc. Again: if your sexual experience inside your marriage is rich and fulfilling, then the cheap alternative that pornography offers won’t hold the same appeal.

More could be said but hopefully this gets you started. Porn-proofing your marriage is about more than just knowing in your head that pornography is wrong and putting up behavioral fences that stop you acting on your urges. If you and your spouse create a worldview and a lifestyle that’s focused on honoring God and seeing people as people, not objects, then the very idea of pornography becomes abhorrent. And it’s when you see it in this light that your marriage becomes truly porn-proof.


 

References:

[i] Steven Stack, Ira Wasserman, and Roger Kern, ‘Adult Social Bonds and Use of Internet Pornography*’, Social Science Quarterly, 85.1 (2004), 75–88 <https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0038-4941.2004.08501006.x>.

[ii] Christian Laier, ‘Cybersex Addiction: Craving and Cognitive Processes’ (unpublished Wissenschaftliche Abschlussarbeiten » Dissertation, Universität Duisburg-Essen, Fakultät für Ingenieurwissenschaften » Informatik und Angewandte Kognitionswissenschaft, 2012) <http://duepublico.uni-duisburg-essen.de/servlets/DocumentServlet?id=30007> [accessed 15 March 2017].

[iii] Franklin O. Poulsen, Dean M. Busby, and Adam M. Galovan, ‘Pornography Use: Who Uses It and How It Is Associated with Couple Outcomes’, Journal of Sex Research, 50 (2013), 72–83 <https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2011.648027>.

[iv] Stack, Wasserman, and Kern.

[v] Stack, Wasserman, and Kern.

[vi] John Sessoms, ‘The Cyber Pornography Use Inventory: Comparing a Religious and Secular Sample’, Senior Honors Theses, 2011 <http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/honors/247>.

[vii] Larry J. Nelson, Laura M. Padilla-Walker, and Jason S. Carroll, ‘“I Believe It Is Wrong but I Still Do It”: A Comparison of Religious Young Men Who Do versus Do Not Use Pornography.’, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2.3 (2010), 136–47 <https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019127>.

[viii] Nelson, Padilla-Walker, and Carroll.

[ix] Jeremy N. Thomas, ‘The Development and Deployment of the Idea of Pornography Addiction Within American Evangelicalism’, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 23 (2016), 182–95 <https://doi.org/10.1080/10720162.2016.1140603>.