I feel God has delivered me from pornography, but after I have sex with my wife, I feel like I’m fighting those same demons again! Right now we expect different things from sex. However, I feel the most victorious when we abstain all together. How can we move to our sex being more love centered and intimate?
SEX THERAPIST’S ANSWER
I am so glad you are not looking at pornography! I don’t know how long you have been free so it makes it hard to answer your question. But let me say a couple of things. It takes a wife 9 months to a year after her husband has quit looking at porn to feel like she can begin to be vulnerable with him. I don’t know your story, but I want you to remember what it is like for your wife. Put yourself in her shoes. If she did not know about the porn and found out, it was traumatic for her. Her whole world has been turned upside down! In fact, we are finding that spouses of those who are sex addicts – and I am not saying you are one since I don’t know you – need to be treated for PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, which is the same disorder soldiers have when exposed to the horrors of war.
Real intimacy has to have vulnerability and trust. For her, that might be impossible until she is convinced that her husband has changed. She will need to see behavior over time which means she will need to see her husband change and keep that change over time. Sometimes guys who look at porn and stop, just stop the behavior and do not deal with the underlying issues. So it feels the same to his wife – he might not be looking at porn but he still is not kind or loving. So she doesn’t trust it. Then she finds it hard to let down her guard and be vulnerable enough to be intimate. Again, I don’t know you so I don’t know if this is true for you. It might be a good conversation for you to have with your wife, where you listen to her heart and begin to restore intimacy. Just a warning though – really listen and persevere. Ask questions and don’t defend yourself. The goal is to understand her heart, not to be right!
When you say that after you have sex you are fighting those same demons again, I am not sure exactly what you mean. But it sounds to me like you are saying the lack of intimacy with your wife when you have sex triggers a desire to act out with porn. You say it is easier just to abstain. When someone has been addicted to porn, sometimes they swing to the other extreme, to a place of just not having sex because it is easier to stay sober – it’s called sexual anorexia. It is unfortunately very common. But it is not a place of freedom; it is actually the same disorder (an intimacy disorder). It is just the opposite extreme. So I am so glad you are wanting to have love-centered and intimate sex! That is the place of freedom. Hopefully, your wife will be willing to work on that with you. A good sex therapist, if you have one available, can help you with intimacy exercises. There are a couple of books you might want to read with your wife if she is willing. Two Become One by the McCluskeys or Sheet Music by Kevin Leman are good places to start. Reading together, having conversations about sex and intimacy, doing the exercises really will be a help to your relationship.
Intimacy is so much more than having sex – knowing her and understanding her heart, as well as physical affection, are just as important as having intercourse. Talk to your wife about what you are wanting. Be tender and compassionate. If she is not ready, then you need to be able to deal with your lack of intimacy in a way that is helpful to you and not triggering. Abstaining from sex is not the answer. You can stay present when you have sex even if your wife is not. Maybe that can be your goal along with learning to be more and more tender with her. Tools that deal with anxiety-maintenance will help you. They are readily available on the internet.
Let me encourage you. Learning to be intimate yourself is not a waste of time even if your wife cannot be intimate with you. Intimacy allows you to know God, others, and yourself in ways that are deeply satisfying and freeing. So keep moving forward yourself in learning how to be truly intimate. If you will do this, you will have the best chance of having what you want: an intimate relationship with your wife. Hopefully your wife will join you on the journey.