When James* married his wife nearly three decades ago, he knew he would never seek a physical relationship with another woman. Four years into the marriage, however, several circumstance collided and he found himself turning to pornography for gratification. “I don’t put any blame on my wife,” he said. “I didn’t look at my wife’s situation in our early marriage affectionately. We had young children and my wife stayed at home.” With young children, James said his wife was exhausted and the physical aspect of their relationship began to slip “so I looked for other places to satisfy myself.”
The rejection of marital affection cut deeply. “When the rejection came, I took it personally,” he said. “I didn’t once think about looking outside my marriage with another woman,” but magazines and videos seemed like an easy solution … at the time. And with a “boys will be boys” culture, it was easy to justify to himself. “I heard the whispers saying ‘You deserve this,’ ” he said. “I wanted to feel good about it and would say ‘This is not cheating on my wife.’ ”
Yet even as he was ensnared in the visual trap of pornography, he was still outwardly living his Catholic faith. “The real part I had a problem with was going to Mass on Sunday and receiving Holy Communion,” he said. “I felt like such a traitor. “I would not even think about going to Confession and confessing it at that time,” he added.
For nine years he struggled through the use of pornography. There weren’t many highs, but he can remember the lows vividly, including a time when his wife was out of town with their children. James remained home due to work commitments. “I would go to the video store and rent DVDs,” he said and explained he would sometimes dub the movies. On that particular weekend, he became sidetracked by other projects and inadvertently left the DVD in the family’s living room player. “The TV was off and my son was three or four. He came downstairs and I was in a room and I hear ‘Dad, there’s something really gross on TV,’ ” James said. “I dropped what I was doing, I ran over and shut the TV off right away. “It makes me shake when I think about it. My son was so young, he doesn’t remember it, thank God, but still. It was a horrible, horrible thing. As a father, I let that evil come into my home.”
The use of pornography was something that continued until he began leading weekend retreats for men. On one of those weekends, a fellow retreat staff member stood in front of the group of more than 60 men and gave a personal testimony about his pornography addiction. “When I heard that, I thought to myself ‘I gotta do this. I cannot ride the fence on this,’ ” James said. “We got into our small groups. I started talking about it and the tears flowed. It was a moment of reckoning. I promised my Lord I would work on this.” Yet acknowledging the problem was only the first step of a slow process. He began with the sacrament of Reconciliation. “That was one of the first steps,” James said. “It took me awhile to be able to talk to my wife about what I was doing. Then I went to my wife and told her everything.” As he worked to free himself from the chains of pornography, however, the temptation became more intense.
When James finally told Megan* about his pornography use, she said she was completely unaware of it. “I felt bad that he felt so rejected but at the time I just wasn’t interested,” she said. Megan added that after several children, her hormones were out of whack. After seeking medical assistance to straighten them out, her interest in intimacy resumed. “It definitely took us quite awhile to get back on track,” she said. “But me seeking medical help was an answer to our prayers.”
The accountability and support from his peers also assisted James as he journeyed out of his pornography use. “James had started to turn more to his faith during this time which also had a major impact on our relationship,” Megan added. “He became involved in (leading retreats). What a difference this made in his life then ultimately mine and our children’s.”
James said it took about six months for him to untangle his eyes and mind from pornography. “It was hard for me to put away,” he added. Yet James said he is thankful his struggle with pornography was limited to magazines and videos. “Now, with it being on the Internet … I thank God that I didn’t have that accessibility,” he said.
Staying away from visual temptation is key. James choses to turn his eyes away from sexualized commercials, as well as not watch shows or movies that contain sexual scenes. “In our culture, on TV, there are always things that show nakedness,” he said. “I cannot watch that. What it does is reminds me of a place where I was and I have to run away from it.”
Shortly after he decided to discontinue his pornography use, he was on a “guys trip” with some friends. “The guys wanted to go out to eat, and one was like ‘Let’s go to the strip bar,’ ” James said. “It was early on in my conversion and I said ‘Guys, I don’t want to go to a strip bar.’ My best friend said ‘Seriously, you just ruined it for everyone.’ I felt about an inch tall and it was awkward.” Instead of going to the strip club, the group went to a restaurant down the street, avoiding temptation for James.
He also made a conscious choice to avoid sexual images, as well as sought accountability from trustworthy peers. “They need to pick somebody they can trust,” James said. “A friend, a male friend. It has to have somebody who will hold them accountable. When we meet and pray, we talk about ‘Have you fallen?’ ”
Guys do fall, he said, but with encouragement, and professional counseling and guidance, they get back on a more healthy path. “The biggest thing is when you feel guilty, the first thing you will start to do is run away,” from an accountability partner, James said. “You won’t want to talk to that person who is holding you accountable. Some guys get mad at me and say ‘You’re judging me’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about it anymore.’ “I have brothers in Christ who I listen to and try to work with who cannot get over the hump. A man has to be ready to make a commitment to change.”
Yet the commitment to change is essential. Through his retreat work, James said he has spoken with many men whose pornography use broke up their marriage. He has also seen men whose use went beyond magazines, videos or internet use. They sought relationships, including with prostitutes, to seek their increased sexual appetite. “My story is horrible,” James said, “but I know a man’s struggle with pornography can get a lot worse.”
In addition to encouraging other men to break free from the chains of pornography, he began talking to his children about the dangers of it. “When the boys got into high school, I took time individually and talked to them about pornography,” James said. “I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my experience, but talked about how it was an intrinsic evil. When they got older, I talked to them personally about the problem I had experienced. Sometimes they feel awkward, but I felt it was important to talk to them about it so they don’t go down that road.”
Megan said having the initial conversation with James was difficult, but she is glad they addressed the pornography use. “Being open and honest, talking about it and not judging,” she said was helpful during those discussions. “Both husband and wife should visit with a physician/therapist about their sexual issues.”
James said as they worked through it as a couple, their relationship improved. “After I talked to my wife about it, our intimacy grew,” he said. “I remember thinking many times ‘God you are so good. This is what marriage is about!’ Not the sexual experience, but the relationship where we could talk about things.”
*Because this couple lives and works in our diocese, their names have been changed to respect their privacy.