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Marriage and Pornography: What Am I to You?
Years ago, when I was seeing couples for marriage counseling, I heard a conversation between a husband and wife that has remained with me to this day. Sitting in my office, the wife said to her husband: “Why is it that every evening you need to watch pornographic videos? I don’t like what that does to you and to me.” He replied defensively: “I have asked you many times to join me in watching. But you don’t want to. If you did, you would feel differently.”
She became even angrier. “You don’t understand me at all,” she said. “When you watch pornography and then you approach me for sex it makes me feel cheap. What am I to you? I feel like one of the actors in the video who has stepped out of the screen to satisfy your need. I don’t want to be that. I am your wife. I want you to make love to me, to express your love and care for me, not because you want to use me to satisfy your needs.”
Scientists are finding that pornography has become an epidemic aided by its widespread access through the internet. Dr. Patrick Cranes, who first advanced the idea that a person could become addicted to sex, calls the addiction to internet pornography “the crack cocaine of sexual addiction.” Its use is especially prevalent among men, but also by some women.
What should concern us is that scientific evidence points to the negative impact of pornography on the individual using it, on marriages and families. Although internet pornography is most often consumed by a person alone and in secret, the impact of its use is felt by the whole family, starting with the spouse.
The couple mentioned above is a good example. The wife was upset because pornography was changing, in a fundamental way, the meaning of her intimate relationship with her husband. The user’s attitude toward intercourse is no longer an act of love, which is a self-giving interaction. Instead, it is simply a pleasure-seeking opportunity. The spouse becomes an object of personal satisfaction.
Bergner & Bridges in a 2002 study reported comments by the spouses of pornography users: “I am no longer a sexual person or partner to him, but a sexual object. He is not really with me, not really making love to me … He seems to be thinking about something or someone else — likely those porn women … He is just using me as a warm body.”
Researchers report that women whose husbands use pornography feel betrayed, almost as if the spouse was having an affair. This threatens the marital bond.
The Catholic Church understands the damage that the use of pornography causes the family. The Catechism teaches us that pornography “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” (CCC #2354).
Unfortunately, 47% of Christian homes report that pornography is a problem in their family, according to Integrity Restored, www.integrityrestored.com, an organization that offers men and women tools to break free from the bonds of pornography.
According to “Guardchild — Protecting Children in the Digital Age,” 70% of children aged seven to eight years old have accidentally come across online pornography, often through a web search while doing homework. As a parent, I encourage you to do all that you can to protect your children from accidental access to porn. Covenant Eyes, www.covenanteyes.com, has a tool that offers both a filter that blocks pornographic materials and tracks where your children are going online so that you can guide them.
For anyone struggling to battle the temptations to watch these false and misleading materials, finding help is very important. Pornography addiction, like alcohol addiction that requires surrender to a higher power, we need the help of God’s grace to overcome an enemy taking over our life. We turn to the Lord for strength and courage, and as a starting point, we can approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Also, it’s important to find a support group to help keep us accountable and encourage us.
Question for Reflection:
What am I doing to protect myself, my children, and my family from exposure to pornography?
John Bosio is a former marriage and family therapist, director of religious education, and diocesan family life coordinator. He and his wife Teri are authors of several books on family ministry and marriage.