“Is divorce ever an option? Sure it is. Adultery always makes divorce an option, and if your husband will not repent and refuses to turn from an ongoing, regular porn habit, he is an adulterer.” This is a quote from an article on charismanews.com entitled “4 Ways to Respond to Your Husband’s Porn Addiction”.
Brenda Stoeker is the author of this article and she was a co-author with her husband Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn along with Mike Yorkey of the book “Every Heart Restored”. Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn are famous for their book entitled “Every Man’s Battle”.
I chose Brenda’s article on this because her views on how Christian wives should respond to their husband’s porn habits have become very popular in churches across America. You as a Christian wife may have heard teachings like this in your ladies Bible studies.
To be fair to Brenda’s views – she is not telling women that they must divorce their husbands for their porn use but rather she presents it as an option if the husband remains unrepentant about his porn habit. She does state that she believes there can be damage to a wife and her children in either case – whether they opt for divorce or opt to stay in the marriage.
The goal of this article is to help compare Brenda’s (as well as many churches) teachings to Christian wives on how to respond to their husband’s porn habits and contrast that with what I believe the Word of God actually teaches Christian women their response should be in these kinds of situations.
Are women called to take an active role in spiritually confronting their husband’s sin?
“As wives, God has given us two roles to play in marriage. One role relates to submission, and the other involves our responsibility to be our husband’s helpmate. The trouble is that we too often play the wrong role in the face of sexual sin, submitting quietly in the messy tide of events, alternating between wringing our hands in worry and folding our hands to pray while we wait for our husbands to turn.
This is time to play the other role…. confront your husband, telling him what a Christian wife expects of a mature, Christian husband in marriage and holding him accountable to become that very man.”
Later she writes:
“Refuse to be muzzled verbally. Your husband needs your complete honesty so that he can feel the full extent of the damage he is causing.
Insist that he bring his “church image” in line with the truth—that his sin is damaging his ministry in the spiritual realm. If he is on the church board, then he must step down. If he is on the worship team or missions board, then he must step down.
Clearly define what trustworthy means to you. If you need him to read a book and he won’t, that will set back your trust.”
Brenda tells Christian women that part of their role as their husbands help meet is to “confront your husband, telling him what a Christian wife expects of a mature, Christian husband” and that they should “Refuse to be muzzled verbally”. This entire statement by Brenda may make some Christian women feel empowered but it is in DIRECT contradiction to the Word of God:
“1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” – I Peter 3:1-2 (NASB)
God does not tell Christian wives to confront their husband’s disobedient behaviors. Rather God call’s women to win their husbands “without a word” by their pure and respectful behavior.
Let me clarify here what I am saying. I am not saying a wife can never bring her grievances to her husband but rather she can do this based on the Job 31:13-15 principle that those in authority should hear the grievances of those under their authority. A husband should hear his wife’s grievances whether it be about porn use or any other subject. However how he responds to that grievance is up to him. He must weigh what she has said by the Word of God and act as he believes God would have him act.
But Christian wives must face the truth that sometimes their husbands may not see where they are wrong or a sin they are committing. A wife after sharing her respectful grievance must leave her husband’s spiritual walk in God’s hands. It is not her job to continuing nagging him into what she believes would be obedience to God’s Word.
In a previous post we had a discussion in the comments section where I talked about the I Samuel 25 exemption to I Peter 3:1-2. In that story we see that God does allow for a woman (Abigail) to disobey and not enable a husband (Nabal) whose wishes would place her family in physical jeopardy as his actions were about to do.
I talked about how if a wife is being physically abused or her children are being physically abused or put in a dangerous situation she can separate herself from that situation and ultimately if her husband does not repent she may divorce him. I based my belief in this area of physical abuse or physical harm on the principle that God commanded that slaves be freed from their masters for physical abuse (Exodus 21:26-27) and wives had more rights than slaves did.
This same principle would apply to a husband whose addiction to alcohol or other drugs was creating an unsafe environment for the children then the mother would not be expected to let the husband drive her or her children while impaired and if he had violent outbursts or failed to provide because of his addiction she could divorce him on those grounds. Also in the example of an alcoholic husband a wife would not be expected by God to go and purchase her husband’s alcohol.
Is it unsafe for a Christian wife to remain married to a husband who uses porn?
Brenda made this statement to Christian wives regarding a husband who has a porn habit:
“Staying married surely isn’t safe. His sexual sin poses huge spiritual danger to the whole family, and compromises his spiritual protection over you. I was chased regularly in nightmares by Satan until Fred turned from his sexual sin. I haven’t had such a nightmare since.”
So here is the real question. Was Brenda having these nightmares about being chased by Satan because of her husband’s sexual sin or because of her own self-imposed belief that her family was in spiritual danger because of his viewing porn and it was her job to reform him to save her family? I think Biblically speaking the answer is the latter.
Is there any instance where a husband’s porn habit would cause direct damage to his family? Yes. If a man leaves out nude magazines or leaves movies laying around where young children would be exposed to them this would not be a healthy environment mentally speaking for children to be in. But if a Christian woman’s husband engaged in his porn habit with discretion away from the presence of his children then there is no danger to his children.
Again let’s say this was not a porn habit – if a man were what is known as a “functional alcoholic” where he never drives drunk and he keeps his drinking private and he still works and provides for his family then while this is still a problem it is not something that rises to the level of creating an unsafe environment either spiritually or physically for his family.
The fact is we are all sinners. Some of us are bigger sinners than others. We all have bad habits. Some habits have more shame attached to them than others. Some habits do actually pose a risk to the health and safety of a family – but a husband’s porn habit in and of itself does not pose such a risk.
Now we will discuss the biggest question raised by Brenda’s post regarding a wife divorcing her husband for his porn use.
Does the Bible permit women to Divorce their husband’s for their porn use?
Here again is Brenda’s statement on divorce in regards to porn use:
“Is divorce ever an option? Sure it is. Adultery always makes divorce an option, and if your husband will not repent and refuses to turn from an ongoing, regular porn habit, he is an adulterer.”
Again like her previous statement on women confronting their husbands about what they expect of their husbands this statement may feel very empowering to a woman whose husband uses porn. She may feel hurt and she may feel trapped in a relationship with a man has what she and many others would consider to be a shameful and disgusting habit.
But God does not allow wives to divorce their husbands for their bad habits including porn habits no matter how disgusting they may be to a wife.
The only reasons God allowed women to divorce their husbands (be freed from them) are for failure to provide food, clothing, sex (Exodus 21:10-11) or if he physically abusing them (Exodus 21:26-27) or if he abandons them (I Corinthians 7:15).
If a woman’s husband denies her sex as a result of his porn habit or for any other reason than that is cause for divorce. But if he regularly has sex with her but he also has a porn habit a Christian wife biblically speaking does not have cause for separation or divorce.
Brenda is absolutely WRONG when she states “Adultery always makes divorce an option”. This is most likely the passage that she would point to saying that women could divorce their husbands for adultery:
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” – Matthew 19:9 (KJV)
We cannot take gender neutral approaches to Scripture where it is not gender neutral. For instance the Exodus 21:10-11 allowances for divorce are for woman only while I Corinthians 7:15’s abandonment exemption is equally applied to both men and women. But here in Matthew 19:9 it clearly speaks of how a husband could “put way HIS WIFE” – it is not speaking as to how a wife can put away her husband. So like Exodus 21:10-11 is specifically speaking to women in regard to reasons they may divorce their husbands Matthew 19:9 is specifically speaking to men as to reasons they may divorce their wives.
Also Brenda fails to recognize that physical adultery ALWAYS consisted of a married woman having sex with man other than her husband. The most literal definition adultery in the Bible is actually found in Ezekiel:
“And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy.” – Ezekiel 16:38 (KJV)
“Women that break wedlock” is the most literal definition of the Hebrew (“naaph”) and the Greek (“Moichao”). So a woman is adulteress when she has sex with a man other than her husband and a man is an adulterer when he has sex with another man’s wife. This flies in the face of our modern gender neutral definition of adultery that would say a man is an adulterer if he has sex with a woman other than his wife. But this is not what the Bible says.
To be sure it is still a sin when a man has sex with a woman he is not married to but this is the sin of whoremongering – not adultery. Hebrews shows us this distinction:
“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” – Hebrews 13:4 (KJV)
The Bible never presents a man having sex with a woman other than his wife as an act of adultery against his wife. Rather it is an act of whoremongering against God himself.
Now Christ does give us a new form of spiritual adultery in Matthew 19:9 and this has to do with a man wrongly divorcing his wife. See my post “Is there such a thing as an adulterous marriage” for more on this kind of adultery.
But then we have Christ’s comparison of lust to adultery which is also found in the Gospel of Matthew:
“27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28 (KJV)
Remember again that physical adultery (as opposed to spiritual adultery) always has at its center a married woman having sex with a man other than her husband. She is an adulteress and the man who sleeps with her (whether he is married or not) is an adulterer. But now Christ is taking the 10th commandment’s prohibition against coveting a man’s wife and classifying it as a spiritual form of adultery. The word Greek word which is translated as lust here is actually the same word that is translated as “covet” in many other passages.
To covet or lust is to desire to unlawfully possess or use something that does not belong to you. A man finding a woman desirable or even imaging a woman naked or what it would be like to have sex with her is NOT lust.
Let me give you one simple example and then I will refer you to an entire article I wrote on this subject of lust. A man asks a beautiful woman out on a date. Over several months of dating he falls madly in love with her and imagines what she looks like naked and then what it would be like to have sex with her but he has absolutely no intent or desire to have unlawful sex with her – sex before marriage. Most Christians would say this is ok and not lust. But many Christians believe if a man has this same type of sexual thoughts about a woman whom he does not have a close relationship with and a possibility of marrying that somehow these same thoughts become lust. There is no Biblical support for such a distinction. Neither scenario is lust.
See my post “What is Lust?” for more on this often misunderstood subject.
The point of all this is a man looking at pornography is NOT him lusting and therefore he is not committing spiritual adultery in doing so.
Now it may be wrong for a man to look at certain types of pornography when they depict sex that is outside of God’s design for sex like homosexual acts, group sex and bestiality but even then that is not adultery but rather the sin of taking pleasure in something God considers to be evil.
Even if looking at pornography was lust and therefore spiritual adultery no passage of Scripture gives a woman the right to divorce her husband for adultery. Matthew 19:9 is very specific – a MAN had the right to divorce his WIFE for fornication (sexual immorality which includes sins like adultery and sexual defraudment) but a wife is never given the right to divorce her husband for adultery or whoremongering.
I know this is a hard teaching and most men and women today would reject it. Women would reject it for obvious reasons that they believe God would not have them to have to remain married to a whoremonger. Men would reject it because they would not want to think of their daughters having to stay with a whoremongering husband. I know for me it would be VERY difficult to tell my daughter she cannot divorce her whoremongering husband. But the Bible does not allow divorce in this case.
The difference between a porn habit and a porn addiction
One of my regular commenters to this site Alex (who incidentally is a Christian woman) gave a great summary distinction between what a porn habit and a porn addiction looks like:
“I’d also like to clarify that when I talk about porn addiction, I’m not talking about just looking at porn or even frequently looking at porn. There’s some scientific debate now as to whether or not porn addiction even exists because there’s not sufficient evidence to demonstrate neurological dependence. But there are definitely men and women who develop enough of a dependence on porn that it interferes with their lives, relationships, and obligations. By that, I don’t mean their spouses getting jealous. I’m talking about getting to the point where they use porn so frequently that they begin regularly denying their spouse sex or start neglecting their other duties because of it.”
The key phrase she uses is that porn viewing because dangerous when “that it interferes with their lives, relationships, and obligations.” I have said similar statements elsewhere on this blog. And Alex is absolutely right that the whole “porn rewires your brain” fad is not supported by solid scientific evidence.
Consider these statements from psychologytoday.com in an article entitled “Porn is not the problem you are”:
“Porn is not addictive. Sex is not addictive. The ideas of porn and sex addiction are pop psychology concepts that seem to make sense, but have no legitimate scientific basis. For decades, these concepts have flourished in America, but have consistently been rejected by medicine and mental health. The media and American society have accepted that sex and porn are addictive, because it seems intuitively true – we all feel like sometimes, we might do something stupid or self-destructive, when sex is involved. But, this false belief is dangerous, and ultimately not helpful. Because when people buy into the belief that porn is addictive, it changes the argument, and all of a sudden, it seems like it is porn and sex that are the problems. Porn addiction becomes a label, and seems to be an explanation, when in fact, it is just meaningless words and platitudes that distract from the real issue. But sex and porn aren’t the problems. You are.
Why is this? Because one part of this issue is an attack on aspects of male sexuality, including masturbation and use of pornography, behaviors which society fears and doesn’t understand…
It is getting increasingly difficult to find men in our society, who’ve never viewed pornography. But, if porn were the problem – if porn were addictive, then the problems of porn would be far, far greater than they are. In fact, in recent studies, fewer than 1% of people report that they have had problems in their life due to difficulties controlling their sexual behaviors, including watching porn. Now – higher numbers, around 10%, report “feeling” that their sexual desires are hard to control, but it is very different to feel something, versus ACTUALLY being out of control…
But, if you are a man who likes sex, and likes porn, is that something you’ve ever really owned? I’m sad to say that our society has not taught men how to identify and negotiate their sexual desires or needs.
We treat sex like a dirty secret. Then, when men get caught, they feed into that dirty secret mentality, and treat sex like it’s the problem.
Those other men, who like sex, watch porn, and don’t get in trouble – How do they do that? One thing is that they understand themselves, and their desires. Sometimes, they sit down with their wives and girlfriends and have a real, open discussion about their use of porn, their interest in it, and what it means, and doesn’t mean, about their attraction to and interest in their partner. That’s a hard, scary discussion (and not one for the first date, please), because it requires a man to stand up for himself and his sexual desires, to be willing to negotiate for those needs, to be willing to compromise, but stay true to himself, while asking for the same in return.”
Also for more on the debate about the supposed “neurological dependence” and “Rewiring of the brain” that porn does see this article:
Your husband’s porn habit is NOT about you
Brenda talks about feelings and thoughts many women have when the first discover their husband’s porn habit:
“Your husband’s addiction to pornography has just been discovered. The aftermath of this betrayal leaves every precious memory grimy and tainted. You muse back on your wedding night. Was he thinking of some porn star as he touched you? When you were working to conceive a baby together by night, what had he been conceiving with his computer monitor by day?
Your dreams are shattered. You despise him for how his sexual addiction makes you see him, and you’re panicked by how it makes you see yourself…
When a sexually addicted husband is unrepentant, a wife begins to heal by learning the sexual differences between men and women. The real root of his sexual sin lies elsewhere. Once you understand that his problem is not about you, your beauty or sexiness, you can quickly recover your sense of worth and focus on restoration.”
There is one phrase here that Brenda uses that I completely agree with and women need to accept.
Ladies your husband’s porn use “is not about you”
Now it may or may not be a problem depending on what a man is viewing and if it is interfering with other areas of his life whether it be his job or his desire to have sex with his wife or if he is leaving sexual materials around that children might find. But in either case it truly “is not about you” as his wife.
If he is denying you sex then that aspect of his behavior is about you and that is an area you can rightly address with him.
But what thoughts he has running through his mind is NOT your business. There is a reason that God did not give us as human beings the ability to read each other’s minds and know each other’s thoughts feelings. It is because we would literally go insane if we could hear all of each other’s thoughts and feelings. God even says about someone who utters every thought and feeling they have:
“A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.” – Proverbs 29:11 (KJV)
God is the ONLY one who can hold a person accountable for their thoughts and feelings. We as human beings can only hold each other responsible for our actions.
Most men actually understand this concept far better than most women. There is a time when should share our feelings and thoughts and there are some feelings and thoughts that should not be shared. We don’t want to know every thought that goes through our wives minds and we certainly don’t want share every thought and feeling that goes through our minds nor should we.
I had a woman email me a while back asking if she was accountable to her husband for her thoughts and feelings and I said “absolutely NOT!” She is only accountable to God for her thoughts and feelings while she is accountable to BOTH God and her husband for her actions. Now do people sometimes share their thoughts and feelings in wrong ways or in wrong places? Yes. But it is the action based on the feeling that one can be held accountable for, not the thought or feeling itself – that is God’s territory and God’s alone.
You as a wife may say “But his viewing porn on a computer is an action not just a thought!” I will concede that this is an action and not just a thought or feeling. However your husband is not accountable to you for his actions but rather he is accountable to God. You are not his spiritual authority – he is yours.
Why women often react poorly to their husband’s porn use
Most women react very poorly to finding out that their husband views porn because of one of the following reasons:
- They were never taught growing up the difference in sexual natures between men and women that women tend to be more emotionally and relationally oriented in their sex natures and men tend to be more visually and physically oriented in their sexual natures.
- They may have been taught and accept the visual and physical sexual nature of men but they were never taught the polygynous nature of men.
- They may have been taught some differences between men and women in regard to sex but they were taught to view the male sexual nature as a perversion of God’s original design for sex.
Many women go into relationships with their blinders on. They think things like “I know some men look at other women and are more physical and visual but those men who do are just pigs. This guy I am dating is not like that.”
What they fail to recognize is that all men are drawn to the beauty of women around them but some men are just far better at hiding it than others. So then a few years into the marriage when this same woman discovers her husband’s porn use her romantic bubble is shattered!
Other women have a much more realistic view of the men and they realize that all men do in fact look but they believe it is their job to keep their man in line. These women believe (and perhaps even their husbands believe this as well) that God meant a man’s sexual nature to be more like that of a typical woman. They believe a woman’s emotional and relational view of sex is what God also meant men to have and that just got corrupted when sin entered the world.
Still some women will even go as far as allowing for the fact that God made men with more visual and physical sexual natures but they reject the polygynous nature of men as a sinful corruption of their sex drive. So in essence these women believe God meant for a man to only be physically and visually attracted to one woman. If he is visually attracted to more than one woman this is only as a result the sin corrupting his nature.
This brings us to some hard truths that Christian wives must embrace if they to truly accept how God has created men.
10 Hard Truths that Christian wives must learn to accept about their husband’s and porn
Some truths in life are hard to hear and even harder to accept. For women when it comes to understanding and accepting their husband’s sexual nature as well as how men love differently than women this can be an especially daunting task. This is why I call these “hard truths”.
Hard Truth 1
God created man’s sexual nature to be more visually and physically based than woman’s more emotionally and relationally based sexual nature. This means a man does not need to talk to have sex and he does not need to feel close with a woman first to have sex her. In fact if a man is going to emotionally connect with a woman it is more likely to occur AFTER sex than before sex.
Hard Truth 2
God designed men with the physical and emotional capacity for polygyny while he designed women to be strictly monogamous both physically and emotionally. What this means practically speaking is your husband can be attracted to other women and still be attracted to you at the same time. He can even think sexual thoughts about other women and still completely love you and sexually desire you. Technically speaking your husband has the God given capacity not only to be attracted to more than one woman but he also has the capacity to love more than one woman but he has chosen though to love you. See my articles on polygamy for more on what the Bible actually says about polygamy.
Hard Truth 3
Your husband using porn does not mean he will want to have sex with you less. In fact while the majority of men view porn in some shape or fashion most do not see their desire for their wives lessoned by it.
Hard Truth 4
You and your response to your husband’s porn use as well as how you treat him in general actually have a much greater chance of decreasing his sexual desire for you than his porn use does.
Hard Truth 5
While most married men view porn this does not mean they do not still find their wives attractive. In fact most wives are harder on their physical appearance that their husbands are. Most men accept the natural aging process that women go through and all that entails.
Hard Truth 6
While most married men view porn you may directly contribute to your husband viewing it more by neglecting your physical appearance. If you gain an excessive amount of weight or fail to properly groom yourself or wear nice clothes your husband may look more to porn than he normally would for the feminine beauty that he is naturally designed to crave.
Hard Truth 7
Even if you take great care about your physical appearance if you are harsh, critical, disrespectful or less than fully receptive to your husband’s sexual advances he may view more porn than he would have otherwise. Most women fail to realize that men do not view porn only because of the bodies of these women or the sex acts themselves. Many men also view porn because of the enthusiasm these women show toward sexually pleasing the man they are with.
Hard Truth 8
Even if you as a Christian wife take great care of your appearance and you willingly and enthusiastically have great sex with your husband he may still look at porn. I refer you back to hard truth number 2 about men and their sexuality – men are designed by God with a capacity for polygyny. So this means even if your husband is thrilled with you in all these areas he will still be drawn to enjoy the view of a variety of women’s bodies.
Hard Truth 9
Even if you deny most or all of the hard truths I have just stated the Bible nowhere gives you the right to deny you husband sex because is he doing something sinful. Remember that the same Bible which you believe says men viewing any kind of porn or thinking sexual thoughts of other women is wrong also says very clearly that a woman may not deny her husband sexually.
Hard Truth 10
Even if you deny most or all of the hard truths I have just stated your husband is NOT accountable to you for his thought life or his actions. Even if you feel he is being disobedient to God in his porn use you are not his spiritual authority and you have no authority to confront him in this spiritual matter.
Brenda’s full article can be found here:
4 Ways to Respond to Your Husband’s Porn Addiction