What is my role? My husband is addicted to pornography…

I have been married for 5 years.  3 months ago I discovered my husband was looking at pornography.  He finally admitted he has been addicted to pornography since he was a teenager, but as it became more accessible (through internet, smart phones, etc…) the problem increased. 
I obviously had a hard time with this discovery but reached a point where I felt I was able to forgive him.  He has been “clean” since my discovery, but from everything I’ve read there will most likely be relapses.  Our sex life has never been great.  I’ve always felt like it was very “mechanical” and “passionless”.  Understanding the effects pornography can have on intimacy, I now understand how this played into our poor sex life. 
Since discovering his addiction, a new problem has emerged in our sex life… I panic.  I’m not exactly sure why I panic, but I think it might be when I sense he is getting aroused.  As soon as I sense he is getting aroused, even if we are just kissing, my brain completely disengages and I panic.  I understand that it is okay for a wife to arouse her husband, but I have a hard time differentiating from the arousal he would get from viewing porn, to the arousal he gets from me.  I feel like I am no different from the porn he would view and the idea of having sex makes me feel sick.  I have caught myself purposely showering when he isn’t home because I am afraid if he sees me naked that he will become aroused and want to have sex, and in my mind that is the same as him viewing pornography and getting aroused and then wanting to masturbate.  I understand that bonding chemicals are created through intimacy and orgasm and it is obviously better for him to be bonding with me, than with pornography, but I still feel uncomfortable.
Things got to a point where I was having a panic attack (yes, I have a history of anxiety) that would end in tears any time we were remotely intimate because I would feel bad for being a “bad wife” and not wanting to have sex with him.  I know it is his responsibility to get his addiction under control, but I feel like if I don’t have sex with him that he will be more likely to have a relapse, so I pressure myself.  A few weeks ago I finally instituted “Monday Sex”.  I know that on Monday’s we are going to have sex before we go to bed and I have all day to talk myself into it.  In my mind I can then feel like he is getting a somewhat regular “release” and won’t be as likely to relapse and then don’t feel as bad (“as” being the keyword) during the week when we don’t have sex. 
Trust is obviously another issue.  I feel like everything he does or says is done in order to have sex with me.  I figure that he was getting regular stimulation and arousal through pornography and an orgasm through masturbation, and so he must be missing that.  I feel like he is trying to figure out a “legal” way to get the same stimulation and orgasm with me.  He assures me that his actions aren’t preconceived and he isn’t plotting and planning, but if something he does or says leads to us having sex he is obviously okay with that.  I feel like he would only want to kiss me or cuddle with me if he thought it would lead to sex, otherwise he wouldn’t be interested.  And then if we do kiss or cuddle I feel bad that he is aroused and then feel pressured to have sex with him, so I just avoid all intimacy. 
I’ve done google searches for hours trying to find information on other wives that have a hard time having sex with their husbands after they discover the addiction.  I can’t find anything about this.  It makes me feel like I’m the only one with a problem, and maybe my issues go deeper. 
My questions are, 1)- Is it “normal”, or at least somewhat common for wives to be reluctant to have sex with their husbands after the discovery of pornography addiction? If so, does this issue resolve itself in time, or is there something I’m supposed to be doing? 2)- I’m not sure why I panic.  Do you have any other ideas why I panic other than the mental conflict about arousal and feeling manipulated?  and 3)- How much pressure is healthy for me to be putting on myself to have sex with him?  Do I need to “grin and bear it” every time he wants to have sex?  I want to help him overcome his addiction and want him to feel loved and supported.  At the same time I can’t ignore my own needs and concerns. You speak very well to the delicate balancing act many couples are trying to navigate as they deal with the disclosure of pornography usage within their marriage.  Hurt, confusion, and meaning attached to the behavior are all complicated things to sort out.  Here are some basic thoughts:

  • Finding out your spouse has acted in a way that betrays the trust and understanding of what it means to be faithful to your sexual relationship can be devastating.  In fact many spouses who find out about hidden pornography usage experience similar feelings as to those going through infidelity.  So, yes, your feelings are normal and you are both going to need to make room for your grief.
  • Your feelings specifically around not wanting to be intimate with him sexually are also normal.  You are feeling betrayed – in a way that attacks your sense of sensuality from a personal, cultural, and religious perspective.
  • It sounds like you are willing to forgive your husband and be part of the team approach needed between couples to figure out what role pornography is playing and why.  At the same time, forgiveness is a process.  You may intellectually feel like you understand these issues, and that his pornography use does not have to do with you – but it may take time for your heart to follow your brain.  More than likely you have your own stigmas and biases as to how you perceive pornography that also need to be worked through. And trust just takes time to reinstate.
  • The words which are impeding for both of you to get what you want out of a mutually healthy sexual relationship are: pressure, fear, anxiety, panic, etc.  These feelings are not compatible with sexual abandon and safety.  The best place to start is with the acknowledgement, normalization and communication of these feelings with one another.  It’s OK to currently find yourselves in this situation.  You won’t stay here as you move forward together.
  • If I was working with you I would want to have more clarity on how you guys define “addiction.”  Sometimes this label can be useful and other times it is more shaming and inappropriately used.  The visual stimulation pornography offers is effective in getting most adults aroused – there is some research to suggest that men are even more visually stimulated than women.  And since sexual drive is biological and cyclic – it is not surprising that pornography becomes a repetitive behavior.  I would also want to know how you define pornography versus erotica.
  • If your husband truly has an addiction or impulse problem (meaning it would be diagnosable), then you can see this as a journey to “sobriety” you can take with him and come out at the other end closer than ever before.  It is through facing our weaknesses together that an entirely different type of marital intimacy can be reached.  Secrecy, shame and fear feed compulsion and addiction.  So at least this is out in the open now – that’s a great first step for both of you.
  • I’m glad you say “I can’t ignore my needs.”  It will be important for you to be open in expressing your needs to your husband throughout your sexual life together.  I would not encourage you to put pressure on yourself to have sex with him.  Give yourself time to heal.  If you want to be close to him, be close to him.  If you don’t, don’t.  As trust and openness increases – your desire to be intimate will return on its own timeline – and genuinely so instead of artificially.
  • A pornography problem is not something you are going to be able to fix for your husband.  It is not your job to give him enough sex so he won’t look at porn.  It is not your job to lose or gain weight so you can compete with porn.  Pornography is not about real sex.  It is not about real intimacy. Pornography use is stimulating and often a coping mechanism.  It can serve as your common enemy – instead of turning on each other. What you can offer your husband as his “helpmeet” is a compassionate, loving and respectful approach to his sexual development, anxieties, and understanding of how he views himself through a sexual lens.
  • Often secret pornography usage is a sign of sexual immaturity or an immaturity in our ability to be as vulnerable as it takes to be truly intimate with another person.  And we tend to be somewhat sexually immature in our LDS culture – it remains a taboo topic with a lot of mysticism and not enough access to relevant or helpful information.  So I’m not surprised that your sex life has been somewhat lackluster up until now.  You’re not alone!  Sexual maturity comes when we are able to redefine a successful sexual encounter as more than just intercourse, ejaculation and/or orgasm.  It comes when we are able to communicate our needs and respect our partner’s needs.  It comes with the ability to withstand an understandable rejection, to reject respectfully and to compromise when libidos differ significantly.  There are many types of sex one can have with one’s spouse which don’t leave one feeling they need to do something they don’t want to be doing.  Attaining sexual maturity can be a fun and exciting venture you can both look forward to.
  • Pigeonholing your husband into the “he only wants sex” label is dangerous.  The most common side effect of doing this – is the rejection of all other types of physical intimacy, in fear it will lead to actual sex.  This is why it is important to have a repertoire of “sexual tools” you can both use to take the pressure off of the actual sexual encounter.  Once you can say something like “I’m not in the mood to have intercourse tonight but I would be comfortable with watching you self-stimulate,” then it gives you both freedom and a sense of even being closer together.  And in the meantime you can enjoy and ask for touch you enjoy such as cuddling, holding hands, a back rub, etc.
  • Many women I work with who have found out about their husband’s pornography use report feeling fear around becoming pornography themselves in the minds of their husbands (i.e. what are they thinking about while having sex with me?).  I talk often about not letting pornography steal your inner sexual diva; your sultriness; your sexiness; your playfulness; your inner tigress; your fantasies; etc.  As your husband hopefully moves from the secrecy of pornography usage to learning how to embrace the intimacy potential within your relationship – the goal would be for both of you to move towards a more rich, communicative and honest sex that has room for both “naughty” and “nice.”  Sex that has room for nuance and exploration – not held hostage by the pornography industry.  Don’t give porn this power!  If you’re talking to each other during sex you won’t have to wonder what either of you are thinking.
  • Go see a good sex/marital therapist to help you both through this process and unearth any possible underlying issues for either of you.  A good therapist, whether LDS or not, should help you both feel comfortable and treat your religious values with respect. AASECT or AAMFT are good places to find a qualified therapist near you.
  • As far as reading material: I recommend The Porn Trap by Wendy Maltz.  I also recommend her website.
  • I would encourage you to talk to your doctor about the fact you are having panic attacks.  Medication may be part of helping you through this time and he/she would be able to assess for that.  Also, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook has a good chapter on dealing with panic attacks.

Porn is naturally arousing and peaks people’s curiosity.  It doesn’t have to have more power than that.  My main concern within the LDS culture has to do with us giving it much more power than it deserves.

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