Is Looking At Porn Cheating?

Today,  please welcome guest post writer from Through the Fire, Lisa Hall-Wilson, as she shares her journey and thoughts about porn and its effects on marriage.

Is looking at porn cheating? You know I’ve got a few opinions on this because this question inevitably leads to – Is it OK to divorce him/her because of the porn? That’s a much bigger question.

I recently interviewed Canada’s Christian Sex Lady – Sheila Wray-Gregoire for an upcoming article. We got chatting briefly about porn and porn addiction. If you’ve been reading Through The Fire for a while, you know about my husband’s multi-year addiction to porn.

I thought there would be value in sharing my journey and thought-process of having lived through it.

Is looking at porn cheating

Is looking at porn really cheating?

I’m not an expert on sex – don’t claim to be. I’m not a biblical scholar either. But I’ve lived this. My husband didn’t go out and find a prostitute, he didn’t commit adultery in the physical sense. The Bible says, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) NASB

Harsh, right.

The Bible calls it adultery, but society doesn’t. Society says looking at porn, assuming those involved in the production of it are consenting adults, is harmless. (I take issue with the ‘harmless’ label: From Men’s Health: “In a Utah State University study, for example, more than half of male users said looking at porn led to problematic outcomes—social, spiritual, psychological, or relational. These negative effects weren’t linked to viewing time—the men who watched porn frequently were just as likely to report problems as those who watched it less often.”)

But let me tell you this, as the spouse, it FEELS like cheating. He chose photo-shopped images and FICTION over me. He poured out his desire on them instead of me. He had no interest in me. The cycle of shame and guilt he lived with caused him to be explosively angry, verbally abusive at times, and distant. Now, I know that his addiction had nothing to do with me. His choice to turn to porn wasn’t because of my lack. Understanding the why of it lessens the sting, but at the end of the day you’re still facing the reality that there’s no trust or respect left for him.

So, if the Bible says it’s cheating, and qualified psychologists acknowledge that to the affected spouse it feels like cheating…

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

As someone who lived through this, I considered it cheating. Would it have been worse if he’d physically gone out and committed adultery? I don’t know. In my case there wasn’t ‘the other woman’ instead I faced ‘hundreds of other women’ embedded in his memory and within easy access – though I never feared any of them would call, show up on the doorstep, or take him in if I kicked him out. Hope I never have to find out. But where does that first question inevitably lead spouses?

If viewing porn is cheating, does that make it grounds for divorce?

This was a question I wrestled with. I mean blood, sweat, tears, guts-on-the-floor wrestled with. The New Testament gives a couple of instances where divorce is allowable: abandonment, adultery, and many tack on abuse of any stripe. Death is the only instance the Bible states is cause for remarriage. (I only bring this up because it factored into my own thinking – this is not a comment on anyone’s decision.)

I felt I had biblical grounds for divorce if I wanted that, but I had to abandon any thought of remarrying. (I realize that not everyone would agree with my thinking, but this is where my conscience led me.)

Was I willing to spend the rest of my life (I was in my early 30′s at the time) alone, or could I maybe work this out? Ummm….. Being alone forever sounded pretty good. I was done with men and with relationships in general. But forever is a loooong time.

The story of Jesus saving the adulteress from stoning came to mind. The Bible gives us these words: “He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) NASB

Could I honestly say I had NEVER entertained a lustful thought about a man who wasn’t my husband? But I’ve never looked at porn – assuming malicious pop-ups don’t count.That’s not the question. Have I ever entertained a lustful thought about another man? Yes, I’m guilty of that. Didn’t that also make me guilty of adultery in the biblical sense?Ummm…..

The other story that came to mind was the story of a king who was owed a large sum of money but he forgave the debt. The forgiven debtor then went to a man who owed him a much smaller sum. The forgiven debtor threw the second man in prison when he couldn’t pay. When the king learned of this he said, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’” (Matthew 18: 32-33) NASB

The first man had been forgiven of a much bigger debt than the second man, but forgiveness is what was expected from both who held the debt regardless of the amount. How much had God forgiven me of? A LOT. ….Oooh (There are perhaps better examples of this principle, but this is the one that came to mind.)

If I could forgive my husband of this hurt, (and again, my conscience warned me that God would require this of me regardless) would I be willing to still be married to him?

Suddenly my self-righteousness lost its luster, the glitter flaked off, and I was left with the naked truth. When held to the biblical standard, was I any better than him? That didn’t diminish my hurt, or the work he had to do to make it right – not what I’m saying. But when we’re judged by the same stick, did I still have a case? Yes…and no.

That’s the journey my thoughts took which helped me decide to stay and not seek divorce. It was a lot of work to rebuild our relationship. Not a single bit of it was easy. That road was paved with hurt and tears and many sleepless nights. On the other side of it we’ve now got a history together that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

My decision seemed rather black and white because my husband was truly repentant. He earnestly sought professional help, he did the hard work of breaking the addiction and has stayed free of it. If that hadn’t been the case, the other evidence that influenced my decision still remained true, but it would have made my decision a lot more difficult.

It was my conscience, not my heart, that convinced me to stay. My conscience, and my desire to be obedient to the principles and moral code set out in the Bible as I understood them. Not everyone will agree with the path I chose to arrive at my decision, not everyone will make the same decision I did. And that’s OK.

Lisa_hall_wilson FB profileLisa Hall-Wilson has published over 70 articles in the Canadian faith-based market, is a syndicated columnist, and has won national awards for her writing. She blogs at www.lisahallwilson.com but you can find her hanging out on Facebook.



Comments

  1. Fantastic post. And I agree with the thought processes and Biblical reasoning that Lisa shared. Having personally been on both sides of this very same thing in the past, I believe Lisa came to the right conclusions despite the painful journey. Thank you for sharing!
    Jason@SongSix3 recently posted…On 26 Together, An Open Letter…My Profile

  2. Tony Conrad says:

    I have always classed it as mental adultery personally as Jesus pointed out. Whether it could be grounds for divorce does depend really. There is a difference between one fighting for the victory and one totally enslaved with no intention of changing. I think the situation of the latter could be grounds for divorce but of course one must seek God on this, but being legalistic could tie you up for life.

  3. This was so good, Lisa. I have seen many women ruin their marriages from being unsubmissive, manipulative, and controlling which destroys a marriage every bit as much as pornography. Both are sin and need to be repented of but I think many women refuse to see the sin in their own lives and only look at the sin in their husbands. Thankfully, Jesus paid a huge penalty to free us from our sins so we can freely forgive and love others.
    Lori Alexander recently posted…A Tale Of Two FamiliesMy Profile

    • Being honest about our own faults and foibles isn’t easy, but necessary.
      Lisa Hall-Wilson recently posted…I Did Not Marry My One True LoveMy Profile

    • Just a few observations. It could be said that a man’s interest in photos of women in varying states of undress stems from his God-given ability to be easily visually stimulated. But that is not a defense, of course, for the use of porn. The most attractive part of a woman is her face, and the face is normally visible in most cultures. Should we require all women to cover their faces, too ?
      Does being unsubmissive, manipulative and controlling stem from an attribute given by God to women ?
      Should we include romance novels, the Bachelor and other tv shows in this discussion ? These provide an alluring escape for women away from husbands, maybe a form of “emotional porn”. Should we require both men and women to be fully covered while on beaches, from neck to ankle, as was the custom over 100 years ago ?
      Do you think a man and woman dare not desire each other prior to the wedding, even if they are engaged ?
      Wouldn’t their thoughts of desire be a form of adultery too, since they are not yet married ?

      • It would certainly be easy to fall into legalism with this discussion. I’m reminded of a story (can’t find it in the book at the moment) by Gary Thomas in the book “Sacred Marriage” where he prayed that God would change his heart and desires so that his wife was always the most beautiful woman he would ever meet. He says God answered that prayer. Not that he never notices an attractive woman, but that the attributes he finds attractive in other women are those his wife already possesses. I like his thinking.
        Lisa Hall-Wilson recently posted…I Did Not Marry My One True LoveMy Profile

      • Jim, I understand your viewpoint, but I’m a little confused about the point of what you’re saying.

        Quite often when I put up posts about porn, people comment in a similar way: but what about romance novels? What about TV shows? What about looking at other guys?

        And I agree–these things can be harmful, and indeed I’ve written about these things.

        But the point of this post is porn, and porn does tremendous damage to a marriage. It is not that these things do not also do damage, but I do believe that porn is in a league of its own in this realm.

        And I worry that the comment comes off as sort of an equivalence argument–these things are all bad, so why pick on porn so much?

        Perhaps that is not what you meant, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that you did. But in reading the comment, and so many others like it on posts about porn, it does seem to come off that way.

        Porn is wrong. No ifs, ands or buts. It really doesn’t matter if other things are also wrong; porn is horrendous and sinful and wrecks a marriage. And I think to say anything OTHER than that about porn is also dangerous.

        I just wanted to make that point for the sake of others coming here. Yes, we can sin in other ways. But that in no way means that porn ISN’T horrendous in a marriage.

        • It looks like i posed too many questions when the topic was specifically about porn and cheating, and it is assumed to be about nude pics of women. But where do we draw the line ? Men can often be attracted to fully clothed women. Will wives need to cancel their own magazines and clothing catalogs and basic cable Tv and newspaper subscriptions ? Because those all feature oftentimes alluring photos of women, and can be a real temptation to husbands.

          • Jim, certainly if these are a big temptation than the wives should cancel. But I think that if a man is that tempted by fully clothed women–who are everywhere–then it is also incumbent upon him to do something about his self-control. 1 Corinthians 10:13 clearly says that there is no temptation that we can face that we cannot also beat, because God gives us a way of escape. I think that if a man is overcome by seeing women’s faces and women’s bodies, which you absolutely can’t avoid, then he likely has something far greater going on that really needs to be addressed by some serious prayer and confession.

  4. Lisa, Thank you so much for this article. The decision to divorce is something most Traveler’s Wives have to look at. I know so many who have taken the ‘eye for an eye’ approach (very few Travelers or their wives are Christian or have even heard of the Gospel), or who have taken the ‘he cheated, he’s wrong’ view. It is wonderful to see someone write about the other side. Because without God’s grace and mercy, none of us should wake to another day. We are all sinners. Is any one sinner better than another? I have been criticized so many times for staying married to a Traveler (with a divorce rate over 90%, I must be either crazy or have no self-esteem). But I believe we are to love like Jesus in our marriage and our life. Your writing is beautiful. Thank you.

    • Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. Having your guy away so much must be crazy hard. *tips hat* Continue to be a light in the dark, sister. :D
      Lisa Hall-Wilson recently posted…I Did Not Marry My One True LoveMy Profile

    • ButterflyWings says:

      I can understand why many wives divorce over infidelity. The question about is any sinner better than another is interesting. The question really is any SIN bigger than another.

      I’m sorry but I must admit I don’t know the term traveller….

      But in regards to infidelity, I won’t even go into is one sin worse than another, but the bible does give specific grounds for divorce (infidelity and abandonment, and some people include abuse in abandment but I won’t get into that debate). And I believe there is a very good reason Jesus only spoke about the case of infidelity. Whether or not infidelity is “worse” than any other sin morally, the danger is definitely worse. The bible talks about how sexual sin is different from other sin because it is a sin against your own body (and your spouse’s).

      Other sins can be devastating but infidelity can kill. I didn’t seek a divorce, I tried to fight for my marriage til the last (even going to court to fight it), but I do know how close I am to death. My cheating exhusband gave me HPV, I developed precancerous cells and needed surgery last year which could have left me infertile (praise God it didn’t), but because I refused the more invasive operation because it would definitely leave me infertile, I will have the fear of cervical cancer hanging over me indefinitely until I either decide to no longer try for more children and get the more invasive operation, or it turns fully into cancer and the choice is taken from me and I get treated (I try not to think of the alternative).

      Few sins can kill. Infidelity can. So while no sinner is worse than any other, some sins have far more devastating consequences. I’m all for forgiving and giving further chances, but an unrepentant adulterer? sometimes you have to leave the relationship forever to save your life, for you and your kids.

      For this reason, I don’t think it’s biblical to seek a divorce based on repeat porn use. Yes it’s a great betrayal and mental adultery, but it’s not physical adultery and I don’t think it’s reaches the threshold of serious enough grounds for a divorce. Just my interpretation of the bible anyway…

  5. Lisa thank you for sharing your journey. I love how you allowed God and His standards,revealed to you, to lead your decisions. Obviously it wasn’t an easy process. nonetheless you wrestled through and allowed your decisions to be God-led. This is a big encouragement and challenge to many that are facing the challenge in their marriage. At the end of the day it needs to come down to God’s revelation to you as a person, not what is popular, or what we can get away with, or what somebody else did.
    Thanks for this today
    Ngina Otiende recently posted…The Hardest Person to Convince When it Comes to Success?My Profile

  6. Coming from someone who not only personally experienced the betrayal of pornography but also now counsels women suffering it’s effects, I completely agree with you that it feels like, and is, adultery. Bless you for making the decision to stay. Even though adultery gives us a reason TO divorce, it doesn’t mean we HAVE to. Unfortunately for me, my husband chose not to repent and he ended our marriage. However, I work with couples who are rebuilding and repairing their marriages, and it is hard work but no more harder than separation and divorce. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Thank you for bringing up the fact that none of us are without sin.

    That doesn’t make the pain of sin easier, but remembering how much God loves us even through our faults (over and over again), helps us know we can love others, only through Christ, with this same kind of love.

    I adore my husband, even as he struggles with this addiction. I have been tempted to build up walls, but who would that help? He genuinely needs HELP. And my love for him goes deeper then the pain, if that makes sense. God is teaching me about a love that is not based on feelings. Is it easy? No. But it’s not impossible and it’s something I know I couldn’t drum up on my own.

    More Christian men struggle with this then I think wives realize. And I’m certain there are many wives out there who have no idea their husband is struggling with pornography. I was one them. It does no good to get angry or brush it under the rug, though. Take it to prayer and really see what God would have us do.

    We live in such a fallen and evil world and evil is becoming more and more acceptable and promoted. It just drives home the Truth that we cannot save ourselves by our works. Only Christ can save us through His unconditional love.

    I apologize for my anonymity — I did it to protect my husband.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. What a beautiful story of forgiveness and restoration! And what a thought-provoking reminder that none of us are without sin.

    But I am very concerned about this thinking in Christian circles that divorce is “Biblical” in certain situations. I think that teaching is ultimately very harmful to marriages and discourage people from being truly committed.

    At best, the Scriptures that are used in this argument are unclear. And Jesus was clear that any “permissions” were given because of the hardness of their hearts. He said that from the beginning this was not God’s plan. Furthermore, marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church, and divorce has no part in that picture.

    When we get married, we make a solemn covenant. We promise to love each other no matter what – not “for better or for worse unless you cheat on me.” If we don’t really mean “till death do us part” then maybe we should rewrite our vows…..

    I’m not trying to judge those who have gotten a divorce. Every one is responsible for their own decisions, and I know things are not always simple. But I just think we are way to quick to say “it’s okay to get divorced if your spouse is unfaithful.” We serve a powerful God who can work in our lives to amazingly provide restoration and forgiveness, but too often we don’t even give Him the chance.

    There was a lady at our church whose husband (who was on staff) left her (pregnant) and her children to be with another woman. But against the advice of everyone, she would not divorce him. For years she remained married, although he had abandoned her. After 8 years, God worked in their lives, and they started to reconcile. It’s incredible to see them now living as a family.

    God truly can do amazing things, and I just wish we would spend more time talking about trusting God to restore than trying to escape a difficult situation.

    Thank you again for sharing your story – it’s a great example of how God can heal.

    • Yes Linda, I agree with you! Far too many are so quick to jump to divorce, instead of being willing to do the hard work of reconciliation. (Thankfully, Jesus will never divorce us for our unfaithfulness to Him.)

      My wife and I committed adultery against each other, many years ago… and yet, here we are today, serving the Lord side by side, and just celebrated our 26th anniversary a week ago. Once upon a time, I tried with all my might to break my love for her… and instead, the Lord increased my heart towards her making it impossible for me to leave. He has been SO good to us, in spite of what we did to each other back then. Not to mention turning our backs on the Lord Himself.

      I am SO glad he helped us do the hard work. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else today but in the arms of my beloved. She is mine! (Song Six 3)
      Jason@SongSix3 recently posted…On 26 Together, An Open Letter…My Profile

    • Linda and Jason – what great stories of redemption! Thanks for sharing.
      Lisa Hall-Wilson recently posted…I Did Not Marry My One True LoveMy Profile

  9. Fortunately, a spouse that only looks at porn does not bring home any STDs, father (mother) other children, or ruin someone else’s family. A porn habit is sin that shatters trust, but a physical affair is more devastating. I appreciate Lisa’s biblical look at the cost of divorce, and applaud her for doing the hard work necessary to pull her marriage out of the ditch. Forgiveness can release a miracle!

  10. Thank you so much for this article. Lisa’s insight is much appreciated.

  11. Excellent post. I went through these exact emotions, struggles and thoughts when I discovered my husband’s porn addiction after 6 1/2 years of marriage. I stayed, too. In the beginning, I stayed because I felt God required me to stay…. much the same thought process that Lisa laid out. As time went along, I came to forgive, truly forgive. Slowly, over time, the trust began rebuilding. And then…. then… the most miraculous thing happened; love began to break through the steel walls I had built around myself to protect my heart from further betrayals. I knew I would stay…. I had wrestled with that and made my decision… but would I ever love him again? I wasn’t so sure about that. Then one day he laughed and my heart skipped a beat. Then the next day he smiled and my stomach fluttered. A few months later was an occasion that would normally require gift giving and I started joyfully and sincerely looking for a gift that would please him. It had been 5 years since I had bought him a gift because in that span of time I had no desire to give him a gift. Soon after, I began wanting his touch, his attention, his time. It’s still hard, I can’t deny that. I still get “triggered” and it still affects our lives in all sort of ways. The healing process is still a work in progress for us. I’ve thanked God many times for saving my marriage. I’ve thanked Him for giving me His guidance in His word that allowed for this marriage to be saved… that allowed for me to give the time required for real healing to begin. We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary a week or so ago. I, too, wish things had been different but I, too, honor and cherish the history we now share… the trust we have now is different. It’s, at the same time, more fragile and yet stronger then it’s ever been. I know you understand that weirdo statement, Lisa. Thank you for sharing your story. I don’t feel so alone now.

    • I felt very alone for a very long time, so I’m glad sharing my story encouraged you. Though it’s been 7 years since he confessed to his addiction and got clean, there continues to be fallout from those choices on at least a weekly basis – but we’ve rebuilt our relationship enough to tackle those issues together and learned to love each other through it. It was more than two years before I could say the words, “I love you” to my husband. The betrayal is so deep, it’s impossible to expect yourself to bounce back and trust him in everything without a good amount of time to pass. Knowing what we almost lost helps us treasure and work at what we have now even more.
      Lisa Hall-Wilson recently posted…I Did Not Marry My One True LoveMy Profile

  12. well written! so thankful for your voice of truth!
    praising God with you for restoration… & your decision to surrender to the Lord’s ways & not simply follow your heart.
    my husband & i often work with college students & as we counsel them we often share the concepts you laid out (ie. other than death, no biblical grounds for remarriage).
    since you conveyed these issues so poignantly i’ll be archiving this post (in pinterest) for future reference. :)
    thank you again!

  13. I’m always heartened by the stories of marriages that went through terrible times and came out the other side with greater wisdom and commitment.

    It seems to me that attitude and pattern matter with this issue. I’ve often thought that I could deal with a few porn infractions or even a one-night stand much better than a pattern of porn use or a long, drawn-out affair. Continuing to sin against your spouse over and over erodes the trust day in and day out and seems to communicate that the person values their porn/affair more than the marriage. It takes real effort and commitment to rebuild the trust in the relationship.

    And since Christian sexuality is what I specifically write about…it’s takes a long time to feel secure in the marital bedroom. I’ve talked to plenty of wives who are plagued with worry that their porn-addicted husband is thinking of other nude women when they make love, and it’s a painful process to become vulnerable and intimate once again. But it can be done.

    God bless you for sticking it out and sharing your story! And some kudos to the hubby for coming clean and staying clean; let’s hope that man knows what a treasure he has in you!
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…Using Your Body in Marital Intimacy: Your HandsMy Profile

  14. you did such a beautiful thing! I am absolutely certain it wouldn’t have been easy yet you did it. I bless God for you!

    This is something many face yet rather than follow God’s standard of loving through the bad times we jump ship like we are any better than those who do what we do not.

    Thanks for sharing. May many be touched by your profound words.

  15. Been there says:

    “As someone who lived through this, I considered it cheating. Would it have been worse if he’d physically gone out and committed adultery?”

    Yes. It’s worse. I’ve lived through both. But I chose not to divorce either. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and am still doing. But God will carry you through it if you allow him too. He can heal broken hearts and relationships!

    To Jim: you say women’s faces are the most attractive part, so those should perhaps be covered to avoid temptation… Seems like you’re trying to justify something. Seriously, how many men masterbate while looking only at a pretty girls face?

  16. I used to have a problem with pornography. I entirely agree with your article and especially your reasoning. I think there are some very important mental health issues that you didn’t mention, though. If your husband is “of good will”, and he certainly is if he’s trying to change, it may help to understand the psychology and brain chemistry of porn use and of addiction.
    Addictions are easy to get and HARD to break. For me it was about a ten year struggle.
    Now my wife just had a bout with cancer (though she’s only 33) and we are offering up our suffering and the prolonged complete abstinance this has entailed for all those addicted to pornography.
    Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us poor sinners!

  17. Thank you for the candor, transparency and desire to please God throughout this trial in your marriage. My oldest daughter married a “Christian” young man who is a preacher, but he also has turned out to be a porn user and is also verbally abusive, physically abusive, and emotionally abusive. She had to leave for two and a half months in their first year due to fear for her life, but since has returned and now has a baby boy. Do you have any words for a young woman in this situation? She wants to do the right thing! We (her family) believe an addiction to porn helps to fuel his abusive behavior making her his “object” of control, rather than a companion to be cherished. Pornography and abuse tend to go hand in hand. I ask respectfully, and would invite Biblical advice when I submit these questions: What does a woman do when her husband chooses this combination of behaviors? How does she respond Biblically when the porn addiction, coupled with his abusive behavior, seem to be what he defaults to and is who he is privately, but publicly, he is considered a wonderful person by most? He is two different people in a way that has been dangerous and the porn is a driving force behind his chameleon-like personality. Thank you for considering my comment. I truly do seek a Biblical perspective.

    • Wendy, that’s a terrible thing! I’m so sorry for you and your daughter. I did write an article a while ago on what to do when your husband is in the ministry and he uses porn, and it may prove helpful.

      A few key thoughts: If she is in danger, she simply must leave, with her son. If she doesn’t feel in danger, it sounds like she still is in an abusive situation, and if she feels like she must stay, at least please have her see a counselor, either alone or with her husband. I’d also read some good books like Boundaries in Marriage about standing up and setting boundaries and saying, “if you do this, I will respond in this way.” You don’t have to take it. A counselor may be able to help her set these boundaries and protect herself and her child.

      But regardless, she should tell someone else who can help her. Keeping things in the dark never helped anyone, and often enables people to keep doing wrong.

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