I’m psyched about today’s story. Last year I received a great email from a wife whose marriage was being destroyed by her husband’s compulsive and secretive porn use. She had suspected the truth for years, but he always denied denied denied and made her feel crazy–until she caught him wet-handed. Recently, I received an update on their story, and I want to compare the two. This story is on the longer side, but it’s packed full of golden information both for problematic porn users and for their partners.
The full text of Anona’s letter is below in italics. My comments are in bold.
First, I’d like to say thank you for sharing your story and providing insight into a deeply personal topic from a secular/scientific point of view.
The topic of Internet porn should be important to everyone, regardless of religion or political party. We all want healthy relationships, fulfilling sex lives, and a safer world for our children.
I’ve been wanting to reach out to someone who understands and can discuss things with an open mind.
When I lost my virginity to my first serious boyfriend, I had expected to be the only woman in his life. Then, I realized he had other women in his life: thousands of them that he visited regularly online when we weren’t together. I was devastated by this. I asked him to stop because of how it made me feel. He just lied about it and hid it better. As a woman who yearns for romantic love, finding out porn is in your relationship is similar to that feeling you get when you realize the greater expanse of the universe and how small and insignificant your life is in the grand scheme of history. It’s a feeling of being exposed as not important, one of millions, small. So initially, my objections had been wrapped around me and how it made me feel. He cheated, we broke up.
Later, I started watching Gary Wilson years ago and I had always had an interest in understanding the negative effects on porn and relationships.
I don’t have any moral objections, but I was always clear to any partners I’ve ever had that I didn’t want porn in my relationship. It was never for religious reasons, it had to do with how it made me feel and then later the things I was learning. I spent time lurking on NoFap seeing the stories of these men whose lives were being destroyed by porn.
My husband and I started dating in 2003 and we’ve been together since then. For most of our relationship, there was no porn. He didn’t have the internet, he didn’t have any pornographic materials and was never seeking it out. He had a flip phone until late 2015 after our first son was born.
Shortly thereafter, I started seeing changes in his behavior. For the first time, he started picking at me about my looks and became withdrawn from fixing our relationship issues. Based on everything I had learned over the years, I had suspected porn. He repeatedly told me that wasn’t the case. We had another child, and after our son was born in 2018, I made it very clear to him that he was going to have to start putting in more effort into our sexual relationship. I am a high libido person. He had always characterized himself as low libido, which was apparent in the years without porn.
What a lot of porn-using men crave is a partner who desires them. They think, “Once I’m in a relationship and having sex all the time, I won’t need this anymore.” The irony is that frequent porn use can sap one’s desire and appreciation for real people, and they cannot enjoy what the relationship they’ve always wanted when they get it.
As I pressed the issue for sexual intimacy, I started noticing things that did not seem right. He was having trouble getting a full erection with me and when we had sex, it was very impersonal. Again, I asked him if porn was the problem and even brought up PIED as the potential issue. This was a weekly argument, sometimes more often than that because something wasn’t right about his behavior.
Women seem to be much better at this level of intuition than most men.
Then, finally, one night two months ago, we were again fighting about porn. I asked him to just be honest with me and he kept calling me crazy and telling me he wasn’t doing anything wrong. At this point, after being gaslighted for YEARS and turning into an insane detective, I caught him. After thinking I went to bed because I was hurt that he wouldn’t tell me the truth about his porn, he went straight to the browser and typed it in. That moment is burned into my brain: His shame and embarrassment and that moment of clarity I had been searching for to explain what had been happening in our relationship.
Most of the trauma experienced by partners doesn’t come from the porn use itself but from the months or years of deception and gaslighting (making you feel like you’re crazy or unnecessarily paranoid when in fact you’re right) by the person you’re supposed to be able to trust and depend on more than anyone else. When the truth comes out, your world can come crashing down and it’s very damaging.
My reaction was horrible, as was his. I was hurt because it was a boundary.
Most people think of “cheating” in a rather narrow way. My definition (and that used by most in counseling/therapy), applies to any behavior you are hiding from your partner because you know they would be angry or hurt by it. This is most true for sexual and romantic behavior but holds true for other things as well, such as gambling with your mutual savings, continuing to drink/use drugs after saying you quit, etc.
I was hurt because I suspected he had PIED and he didn’t care. I was hurt because he’s been the sexual “gatekeeper” for all of our relationship. He knew I wanted sex daily/every other day and for years was lucky to get once a week at most. I had previously begged him to keep me a part of his sexual life. I offered sex, oral sex, whatever he wanted to keep from masturbating and to keep our relationship alive. I was hurt because he blamed it on my appearance. I bought lingerie, I have always taken care of myself and I did everything he ever asked of me. When this came out, I brought up multiple instances where he was clearly acting out porn and it made me feel violated.
At first, my reaction was to make it all about me. I became so self-loathing for having a body of a woman with 2 young children. I have been dieting and exercising regularly. I was never not trying to make myself look better – not just for him, but for myself. Then, it finally occurred to me that my husband had taken 17 years of experiences: trips around the world, fun memories, romance, great sex and the blessing of having two healthy, beautiful children and reduced me to a “fat” woman he didn’t want to have sex with. In that moment, I was able to realize that this had NOTHING to do with me. This was porn sickness. This was his problem and his responsibility to change and be accountable.
Eventually, after 3 days of intense arguing, a lot of crying on my part and threatening to leave, he finally broke down about his deep shame. He says he didn’t use it very often (as in once a week) and he never thought it would hurt me this much.
Denial is a very powerful force.
But I kept telling him that it’s not just about hurting me. It was hurting our relationship and hurting our family. We were fighting about porn constantly and he denied it for so long and never stopped. He wasn’t focusing on us, he was focusing on himself. He knew I always wanted sex and instead, chose porn. He can’t openly accept everything he’s done and that’s part of his own shame and limitations. Not everyone can be so open and I know he struggled because after never being a guy that into porn and priding himself on it, to have to come out and admit you let it destroy your marriage is very hard to do.
Since then, I have installed blocks on our router (he’s not very technologically savvy) and he has promised that he’s done. He’s told me he feels better about himself not lying or keeping secrets. I have no desire to get into any details of his habit, but rather, to focus on our future. I feel that if I knew more, I’d fixate on it.
I think that’s an emotionally mature decision, but it’s one that many in your position struggle to make.
He’s 2 months porn free and I can see real changes in his attitude (and erections), but he will not read about the brain changes or get involved in any support. I think his shame keeps him from reading things that make him feel bad about what he’s done. He feels that he’s left it behind him. This was a guy who lived porn free for 13 years and never had any porn problem before that. This is how dangerous and damaging the habit can be to someone who was never that into porn to begin with and never grew up with porn.
Internet porn is a very potent stimulus, and you don’t have to start using in childhood or adolescence like I did in order for it to hook you and have a devastating impact on your life and relationships. I understand your husband’s desire to put the porn period of his life in the past as fast as possible and forget about it. I really do. And if he’s successful in that approach, more power to him. But if he struggles again in the future, eventually he will have to admit that he needs outside support. It will be painful and challenging but ultimately very fruitful.
For me, once the light went off in my head that I could never compete with porn and that sex was more than just looks or feelings, I changed, too. And finally, the other night, I went to put something sexy on. He came to me and hugged me. He told me: “You don’t have to impress me. I love you. That doesn’t look comfortable. Relax and be yourself. I love you.”
I can still get triggered by things he says, but I know he’s making an effort. He’s been very clear about wanting to protect our sons and educating them on the dangers of porn use. The problem is that our culture normalizes it and refuses to accept that even non-compulsive, users who pick up the habit later in life can leave a path of destruction. And for what? Porn? Really?
I’m glad that you’re preparing your sons to make informed decisions. I know it’s not made any easier when you’re swimming against the cultural stream. The organization Protect Young Minds has a course that you can use at home to educate and prepare your kids for the hazards of modern technology called Brain Defense. I recommend looking into it https://learn.protectyoungminds.org/a/43560/X3dmFVL4
I wanted to thank you because I’ve been watching your videos to gain a better understanding of what men are going through. I want to be a responsible parent to my boys and I want them to be informed, to feel love like it’s meant to be felt and to comfortably be themselves without shame and secrecy.
You’ve gotten me through this difficult struggle and even helped me be more compassionate about what he’s going through. This has also helped me start talking to other friends of mine with young sons and get the word out. I can’t say enough kind words to you.
Thank you, Noah.
Eight months later, I received an update.
It’s now been almost 11 months since the “D-Day” (April 2nd is burned into my memory).
For the first few months, 3-5 with blocking software installed on the router, it was still rocky. I found that while porn and masturbation was out of the picture, the seeking was still part of his habit (Dailymail bikini pictures, Instagram). He wasn’t masturbating, but that part of his brain was still seeking stimulation. Along with it, our marriage and his potential as a husband and Father was still compromised. Likewise, he was still suffering from PIED to some degree (although he wouldn’t admit it). He uninstalled Instagram from his phone and stopped getting news from tabloid websites.
Within one month of quitting everything, my cranky, critical, disengaged husband turned into a kind, loving and present partner.
The potential harms of porn use go far beyond waning erections, and the potential benefits of living pornfree go way beyond having better sex.
Our arguments are infrequent and where in the old days I know when we would fight, he’d go to porn for comfort, we now end arguments with sex.
That sounds nicer.
What’s amazing to me is that he’s now back to “factory settings.” He has no issues being turned on by just kissing, he doesn’t criticize my body, he actually opens his eyes when we’re making love and went back to using his hands. For years, when I suspected porn was an issue, he said it was just his age (he’s 42), but that was not the case at all.
He doesn’t talk much about his feelings. That’s just not who he is. But he has told me a few things.
-Porn was an escape, but was never really fulfilling. He wanted a happy marriage and family; porn takes away your time and energy, but doesn’t give you anything worthwhile in return.
This realization is critical. If you’re still yearning for porn, you might be sober but you are on the path to relapse. At some point, we have to realize that there’s no substance there to miss.
-Porn seemed like it wasn’t that bad, or it was normal. In his mind, he said he was making excuses and minimizing it. He didn’t think I would be as hurt as I was (or he did know, and told himself it wasn’t going to be that bad) so he could continue.
-He never realized how it deeply it affected him until he quit and because of that, he has no interest in it, ever again. This one was interesting to me because he lived without porn for most of our relationship before that (no laptop, no internet, flip phone, no magazines, no VCR, no DVD player, sometimes, no cable). Perhaps it’s the gradual descent into it and once you’ve handed porn the wheel, you don’t even realize you’ve become a spectator not only in the bedroom, but in your life.
So while he’s had his victories, and he’s done his work to be better, I’ve had my own work to do.
The following lessons I think are very important for the mutual healing process.
-Porn arguments are off the table. He’s quit, he’s living honestly and forgiveness means that I can’t keep throwing it back in his face when I get upset. This is a boundary worthy of respecting.
-Accepting the things he’s doing to rebuild trust. For the first few months, I was still playing “cop,” and I would get pretty worked up. He went out of his way to show me I could trust him. Instead of looking for every way he could hurt me, I believe in the man he’s become and I’m open to him making himself better instead of looking for what he could possibly do.
-Showing gratitude. A relationship infested with problematic porn use is full of resentment. It’s part of the cycle and it was being played out on both sides. Now that the secret is gone and the porn is gone, through a lot of working together on getting to know each other again, we’re able to show gratitude. Being truly grateful for your partner, holding onto the good memories and letting go of the bad, has taken our marriage in the direction I’ve always wanted.
-I stopped making it about me, for good. Women sometimes find it hard to believe that porn is just a compartmentalized “thing.” We think it’s about us and our attractiveness. We beat ourselves up about it while the addict sits by helpless and confused about what he can do to make us understand. When I let go of the hurt and realize it’s just a dangerous “substance,” I stopped blaming myself and how I look.
Thank you for listening when things were still very new and raw. Thank you for your contributions to helping people avoid the escapism and start living fulfilling lives. Thank you for helping me show compassion and understanding.
Stories like this one are why I do it. Thank you for sharing yours.
More than anything, thank you for providing content that helped explain to me what was happening. I knew porn was in the picture and I knew he was changing. I learned a lot watching people explain the issues with problematic porn use. It helped put the pieces together. All I needed was to catch him and bring the issue to light. That night saved my marriage.
I have heard many people say that the best changes in their lives have stemmed from the worst events. I have a client who says that the three best things that ever happened to him were a heart attack, a divorce he didn’t want, and his current wife discovering his porn use. I know how painful this process has been, but now you two have a chance to be closer and more trusting of each other than ever before.
Now, my focus has been on ensuring my boys aren’t affected by this. Thank you for providing content on that, as well. What you’re doing can save families and save children; all out of a genuine concern for them to live the life they deserve.