The following email was sent to all members of the Atheist Morality group. I've rendered it anonymous and posted it here with my response because the message program truncated it when I tried to email the response to the entire group.

I recently discovered that my husband has been watching porn on a regular basis for several years. We are Catholics by birth - I no longer consider myself a Catholic, a Christian, or anything - bordering on atheism but still open to the idea of a creator. He is still a believer in "God" and not sure really what he believes, but realizes that Jesus is a myth and the scriptures are human fabrications.

His problem now is a moral one, and he is confused about how one makes moral decisions without the "rules of religion" he seems to be unable to self-regulate without an outside force - this is a completely foreign concept for him, as he is a black and white thinker, very rational and a rule follower, and without the rules he is lost.

He is seeing a counselor who is Christian and suggested a CD series which is scripture based. This is not appealing to him.

Looking for resources to help with pornography addiction that are not religious-based. Ideas?

Hi, Matilda, et al.

Your husband’s problem, as you said, appears to echo from his and your days in the Catholic/Christian faith. So let’s back off a bit and look at this from a natural and humanistic point of
view.

First, all men look at pornography. Now that is, of course, not entirely true, but it is true enough that when in 2009 a University of Montreal research team was seeking 10 men who did NOT watch porn for a preliminary study on the effects of watching porn, they could not find them. Let me reiterate that: They were looking for ONLY TEN MEN (among a student body numbering 55,000, at a university located in a largely Catholic city and with a sizable religious studies department) who were not consumers of pornography. They could not find them. Every man they spoke with watched porn. Every … single … one.

So, what does that tell you? While it may surprise a couple that was raised in a church that demonizes sexuality and discourages open discussion of the topic, pornography and watching it is universal and natural. Your husband is asking himself to do something that is, in all likelihood, every bit as unnatural as remaining celibate. It becomes characterized as “a problem” when he and his religion-based counselor cast a moral judgment against this pervasive and instinctual part of life. He is left feeling guilty and mentally ill, when in reality he is just like every other guy in your neighborhood.

Now, this is not to say that pornography never causes problems. Here are some examples when it could:

- A man could ignore the sexual needs of his committed sexual partner, and instead indulge all his sexual energies in pornography.

- A man could spend unaffordable amounts of money to buy porn or access to pornography websites.

- A man could avoid his work or family responsibilities in order to compulsively devote more and more time to pornography.

- A man could use porn that involves the exploitation of children or of unconsenting adults.

If these sorts of problems have not arisen, then perhaps your husband does not have a problem with pornography at all. Perhaps, instead, he has a problem with anxiety about watching porn, and what he might want to do is relax and enjoy it in moderation.

Now, because this has risen to the point where YOU are writing, I will assume that you, too, are anxious about his use of pornography. I cannot know who you are or what you think about this issue, but others will read this, so let me take a moment to address those who, by virtue of being educated in a religiously conservative environment, may also carry some anxiety about their partner’s use of pornography.

Watching pornography neither constitutes infidelity nor in any way signals a rejection of you or of your marriage. Porn does not violate marriage vows. Pornography is, after all, simply pictures … most often of people your partner will never meet or even see in real life. Remember—while watching pornography, most folks never get anywhere near another real-life potential sex partner. Again, I will reiterate: He has violated not one syllable of his marriage vows, and he has given you no reason to feel abandoned or insecure. If you two have grown so rigid that you equate infidelity with the very thought of sex with another person, then that idea (not the pornography) will put your marriage at risk. Your vows mean only that, even though thoughts about sex with another person may arise, you have committed yourself never to act on those thoughts in reality.

(There are those who believe that men actually are more likely to remain faithful to their spouses if they occasionally watch pornography, but I have never seen a study that corroborates that assertion.)

Your religious upbringing prevented the two of you from learning about the normal and enjoyable variations of human sexuality, and you appear to have inherited from your faith a perspective that dehumanizes sexual morality. You are not alone in carrying those ideas even after leaving behind the other tenets of faith and morality. But perhaps you and your husband could say goodbye to the preachy counselor who is potentially ruining your marriage, and instead find a sex-positive marriage counselor who can help both of you break the rigid framework in which your religious upbringing tried to encapsulate you.

Tags: fidelity, marriage, morality, pornography

Views: 468

Replies to This Discussion

Pornography is *pictures*. It degrades no one to cast a *picture* as an instrument of sexual pleasure. Certainly, if one were face to face with the person in the pornography, he would want to treat that human being as a person, with thoughts and feelings of his own; he would interact with that human being as a "fully human" person. But the watcher of pornography is not face to face with an actual person. He is only viewing images.

Moreover, even if I conceded that it cast *human beings* as objects of sexual pleasure, why in the world would that be wrong? Even husbands and wives are objects of sexual pleasure for each other at times. They are also objects of intellectual pleasure at other times, and of musical pleasure (if they sing together or play instruments or some such) at other times, and so on. Is it wrong to watch a baseball game because it reduces the players to mere baseball-playing objects? Is it OK to watch if one also cares about the human-interest stories about those players, but not OK to watch if one's only interest is in the baseball game, because that's degrading? If the baseball player were your houseguest, you'd certainly want to treat him as more than just a baseball player, but instead as a person with thoughts and feelings of his own; and if the porn star were your houseguest, you'd also want to treat him as more than just a porn star but instead as a person with thoughts and feelings of his own. But neither one is your houseguest; you're just *watching*. How is that degrading?

I have always thought that the "it degrades human beings" argument would have at least a little more superficial force if its proponents *also* wanted to stop the evil practice of human beings' being degraded by being compelled by economic necessity to be assembly-line workers eight hours a day, or to be shoe-store clerks, or to be cashiers, or to be ditch-diggers, or to be similarly reduced to single-function roles that did not involve them as anything more than organic robots. But nobody objects to that. (Well, actually, some do--but then why is pornography a special case?) And if it's justified by that economic necessity--well, the people in pornographic films are making a living, too. (And at least some of them enjoy it--they are doing what they want to do and are getting paid for it, so it's hard to see how *they* are being degraded.)

As for "sex addiction"--I suspect that where to draw the line between having a healthy liking of sexuality and being a sex addict depends heavily on one's own feelings about sexuality. If one's liking of sexuality gets in the way of his discharging his responsibilities, then there's a problem (although the problem might not be "sex addiction" but rather simple irresponsibility). If not, then why think of a liking of sex as an addiction? You wouldn't do that with a liking of baseball, would you--unless, in parallel, it interfered with the discharging of one's responsibilities.
I think I'll let Ms Naughty speak for me on the idea of porn addiction.
http://www.msnaughty.com/blog/2010/05/05/this-load-of-guilt-and-sha...

I'll let Violet Blue and Ms Naughty speak for me on women in porn:
http://www.msnaughty.com/blog/2010/06/02/our-porn-ourselves/
I'm sorry, but I just do not agree with you that this is in no way a breaking of a marriage vow.

I personally do not have an issue with pornography, generally speaking. I do not think it's necessarily bad, without value in a committed relationship, or denigrating to those involved (providing, of course, that all participants are entirely willing).

However, every relationship is different. Every person that commits to being in a relationship with another, be it marriage or not, makes (or at least should make) an agreement with his or her partner about what is acceptable and what is not. This has nothing to do with the actual words that are said during the marriage ceremony. For most couples that is merely symbolic of the vows they have already discussed and affirmed.

Within the confines of some relationships, it may be agreed that watching pornography is okay and even encouraged, while within others it may not. We can have a discussion another time about whether an agreement like that is realistic or even detrimental, but that is beside the point in this case. The fact is that it was an understanding between the two involved that this was not an acceptable behavior.

If one member violates this agreement, even if as a result of an urge or addiction that you or I may not find wrong, it is still a violation. It may not be an act of infidelity, but again, that it something that an outsider cannot assert. The members of the relationship can have a discussion about whether that was an unrealistic expectation, but in this case, it seems that neither one of them has come to that conclusion. That is their right to do so, and I don't think that their problems will be solved by attempting to convince them that there is no problem.

Though this is probably unnecessary to make my point, I am going to give another example. I am engaged to be married next year. I have never really wanted kids. My fiancé needs to have children. I knew this about him early on, and I made a decision that if I was going to pursue a serious relationship with him that I knew would probably lead to marriage, I needed to be prepared and willing to have children with him one day. I decided that this was something I could do, and so we have an understanding that we will try to have children one day. There will be nothing in our marriage vows that affirms this. If, years from now, I decide that there is no way I can or will have children (and of course I don't mean physical obstacles), then he can legitimately claim that I have broken this particular marriage vow we made together. My decision may not be wrong or bad, but I have violated his trust and the understanding we had.

Though I do not know of any programs that are specifically geared toward a situation like this, my recommendation to the person who originally sought out answers on this topic is to seek individual or marriage counseling with a secular therapist. Most therapists that you would find through an internet search are secular, and you can feel free to inquire about this with them. That does not mean that they will not take your husband's religious views into account- they may if he guides discussion in that direction- but it won't be their focus if he doesn't want it to be. Here is a link to a therapist locator: http://www.therapistlocator.net
The fact is that it was an understanding between the two involved that this was not an acceptable behavior.

Is that a fact? I can find nothing in the posts to support that conclusion. I find that the wife recently found out about the husband viewing porn, and that it seems neither of them knows how to deal with it, but I find nothing supporting that it was an understanding between them that it was not acceptable. If anything, it seems to me that it was simply never discussed at all (which is not the same as "an understanding"). Because of this the rest of your argument is pretty well moot. I will, however, point out one more bit of semantic nit-pickery on my part.

You said:

so we have an understanding that we will try to have children one day. There will be nothing in our marriage vows that affirms this. and then: If, years from now, I decide that there is no way I can or will have children... then he can legitimately claim that I have broken this particular marriage vow we made together.

No, he can't. He can legitimately claim you have broken an understanding you had, but since by your own admission there was no such specific vow, he cannot claim you have broken one.
I will clarify what I meant, then, regarding your semantic nitpickery. I should have used the word ceremony instead of marriage. There will be nothing in my ceremony vows that affirms our pre-discussed vow of having children. As I said before, the ceremony vows are merely symbolic. I guess I didn't realize that pedantic- woops- I meant semantic nitpickery went hand in hand with quote-mining, since you clearly read all of what I wrote.

As for your other point- well, you may be right. It's not definitely a fact. It may have been implicit, in which case, the original poster has less of a claim- a claim which, I'll admit, she has not made. However, based on the original poster's other posts, I don't think you can argue that she does not feel her trust has been broken. The only quote of hers that refers to the activity of watching porn is, "Why on earth would I want to engage in an action that degrades women - that is just absurd." Be it an explicit or implicit agreement, I can't imagine the husband didn't know that she would feel this way. I still hold, then, that that is a violation of a vow. Now, to clarify again, I do not feel that a violation of a vow is necessarily wrong- it is just a violation.
Oh please. Don't accuse me of quote mining because you fail to be concise in what you're attempting to say. You are pushing your own views of what marriage (ceremony or vows) means. I am married and my wife and I hold no such belief that our ceremony was somehow an all-encompassing symbol of each and every "understanding" we had about our relationship before we were married. Our marriage vows (written by us) encompassed only those things which were/are considered relationship "deal breakers" for us. Everything else, every other "understanding" we have in our relationship is mutable and relies on communication about any point of contention as our relationship grows and changes over time.

What I get thus far about the wife's problem with porn is the same as your attitude toward marriage - that being that you both have an idea in your head of what it is and expect everyone else to fall in line to that idea. From everything I've read so far from the wife, I am forced to wonder if she has more of a moral issue with her husband watching porn than he does (or at least just as much). Of course none of us knows any more details than what is presented here, but based on what is presented, it seems to me that you jumped to a personally biased conclusion about the relationship in question and then proceeded to pontificate based on that assumption. Now, you may have been right in your assumption, you may not have. I took issue first with calling it a "fact" when indeed it was not. And second with your further self-defeating language in trying to prove a point that was built on unsteady ground to begin with.

It is only a violation of a vow if such a vow is explicitly agreed upon. There is no evidence, as yet, of such other than your personal bias as to what "marriage vows" encompass. I am not arguing as to whether or not she "feels" her trust has been broken. I am merely arguing that it is entirely possible that no "vow" was broken, and that given the current evidence at hand, one cannot successfully argue otherwise... unless of course you were at the wedding, or know that Catholic (an assumption on my part) marriage vows include "I will not watch porn."

ETA: In case it wasn't obvious from the above, my nit-picking wasn't about the use of the term "marriage" instead of "ceremony", it was about implying that a violation of an agreement that is unmentioned in your vows can be considered a violation of those vows. Unless of course, you have written in something like "and all other previously agreed upon understandings shall also be confirmed and adhered to through the symbolism of this ceremony." Which you may. I've heard stranger things.
I appreciate the nuanced agreements that can exist between couples.

However, I believe that, in order to be ethically binding, couples should enter into such agreements only if there is strong likelihood that the parties can adhere to them. And as I showed in my original response, it is entirely unlikely that any man can realistically live up to an agreement not to view pornography.

(He would be just as unlikely to fulfill an agreement not to grow hair in his ears, not to lose any teeth, or not to belch.)

There is an alternative, however. The husband can agree always to cover his porn-viewing tracks so that his wife can live in the fantasy that she has the one truly virtuous spouse who would never sully their relationship by viewing another naked body. That way they both get to cultivate the fantasies that tickle their fancies most.
There was an episode of Seinfeld in which all four main characters entered a bet on who could go the longest without masturbating. Each reported daily whether they were still "master of their domain." As a result of their restraint, they had trouble sleeping, they became irritable, and life became generally less pleasant. Finally one of them cracked, paid off the bet, and in the end, each one was shown sleeping peacefully with a smile on their face (and no doubt a small stain on their bedclothes).

This Seinfeld episode also describes a "voluntary" act, wouldn't you agree? Similarly, eating, drinking, and sleeping are also voluntary acts (ones in which a person can likewise indulge in moderately or excessively). But all of these acts are prompted by internal drives that can become overpoweringly insistent when we deny the body the attention that it is due.

Now, to make the point regarding porn, the drive for sexual arousal and release is extremely both powerful, and visual images are a potent element of the entire process. Left without pornography, both men and women will automatically conjure imaginary pictures during all forms of sex, but particularly during masturbation.

The use of pornography thus simply replaces or enhances internal input with external input, thereby satisfying the drive for sexual arousal (and potentially release).
I think you misread my post. Some research that is better written than my own pained scribble may help. The Wikipedia article on Sexual Fantasy and its associated reference citations may help describe how sexual arousal works somewhat differently for guys than for women. (BTW, I'm not trying to paint with too broad a brush. Many women also find pornography appealing.)
This issue has come up in my marriage more than once. We are both atheists and while our parents that raised us are very religious we were both over it well before we met. He likes porn I'm not really a fan myself. I do, however, like to read some short erotica from time to time.
My reason for disliking it really has nothing to do with thinking it is bad, it is about me. I have, with good reason, very poor body image. I've tried everything from diet and exercise to medicine to keep off the extra weight to no avail and it is very upsetting for me personally. The hormonal issues are just not well addressed and we can not afford the type of medical care that would help so I am stuck with this situation unless this changes.
He is a great husband and always goes out of his way to make me feel attractive and loved. Early on I really wanted the porn to go away altogether and, in fairness, he has made great strides to be accommodating. We have just come to an understanding that he keeps it out of my view as much as is reasonable and I leave it alone and don't complain. We are both compromising on this issue, but in all fairness it is driven by my own insecurities, not his behavior. I'm not saying this is the case here, he may be a raving porn all the time addict that makes you feel objectified or unimportant, I have no idea.
The resolution for us has really been one of him being sensitive to how it makes me feel and me being sensitive to his need for space and some personal places of his own; I certainly have mine (like A|N). We just view this differently and arguing will not solve the issue.
Every marriage is different, but they are all dynamic and changing commitments because life is not static. The question posed was about finding counseling and the way I would address this is to suggest seeking couples counseling and ask, in advance, what the persons techniques and religious philosophy behind their recommendations are. This last part is because so many are 'state' affiliated but still insert their religious perspective very directly into the matter, often very explicitly.
Hopefully this is not viewed as an attack, but a suggestion.
It seems that this change in belief has impacted how marriage is viewed so it may help to have an impartial third party help you sort out why he is now so interested in porn and why it bothers you. It is very likely that you both have valid concerns that need addressed.
If I may also humbly suggest a book that may get some negative remarks or that you may have read because "Don't sweat the small stuff in love" was a great help to me in the first couple of years of marriage and a good reminder for me 9 years later. If for no other reason than it helps me see my husband more as a separate entity from myself, something that can be hard to do when viewing him as my husband or his son's dad.
This is an extremely insightful and mature response. You know yourself well. It sounds like you and your husband are lucky to have found and married one another, and you've offered some wonderfully sound advice.

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