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Sidebar: 'The pornography filled a void'

A United Church minister describes how a pornography dependency hurt his first marriage and how he recovered a healthy sex life. The 50-something church leader spoke to The Observer on condition of anonymity.

By Trisha Elliott

Q When did you first notice that consuming pornography was interfering in your marriage?

A Pornography was in our relationship before we got married. My wife introduced it into our relationship when we were dating in our late teens. That was back when you rented tapes or bought magazines. The pornography filled a void. We had no intimacy in our marriage. We didn’t have an emotional connection. The pornography use escalated to the point that each time we had sexual intercourse, we were watching porn and couldn’t achieve orgasm without it. When we went to marriage counselling, our counsellor told us that we were consuming pornography independently. We were doing it solo in parallel. It wasn’t about deepening our relationship. It was about compensating for something that wasn’t there.

Q What prevents people who have pornography addictions from getting help?

A  I think that when there are intimacy issues in a relationship, it’s extremely difficult. People have physical, spiritual and emotional needs. They are all connected. If people are not satisfied intimately, pornography is there to satisfy some needs. It’s everywhere today. A click away. There are huge taboos around sexual dysfunction. Who wants to stand up in a room and say, “Hi, I’m a sex addict”? There is a lot of shame. The church has had a role in promoting sexual taboos, so people think the church is going to be judgmental. Pornography addiction isn’t just physical. It’s psychological. Generally, the lack of compassion around sexual addiction makes me angry. Even when people try to get better, who is applauding that? It’s hard for people to recover from anything when no one is in their corner.

Q How did you stop consuming pornography?

A  My marriage didn’t end because of pornography, but the pornography itself was a major impediment to our marriage being rehabilitated. Eventually, I ended the marriage and moved to another province. I had to relearn what a healthy sex life is. Eventually, I married a woman I felt a deep spiritual connection with. The solid relationship made it safe to really “want” her physically as well as emotionally. If you de-sensationalize pornography addiction and take all of the taboos away, it really comes down to healthy relationships — not just healthy relationships between two people, but all the people in our lives who help us understand what real intimacy is.

Q So how does anyone know if their sex life is healthy and — dare I say — holy?

A  You just know. You feel a sense of peace, freedom and mutual respect. Do I feel God in the midst of sexual acts? Not so much. But I would say that the morning after I feel acceptable before God. At no time is my wife being substituted for someone else on a screen.

Q How do you try to help people who have sex addictions?

A  The first step to overcoming any addiction is to bring it to a place where it is morally neutral, free of judgment. So I wait for people to test the waters with me and give them the
space to take ownership over the process of their own healing, to “name it, claim it, tame it,” as I once heard a Jesuit priest say. I intentionally send out a soft message that it’s okay to talk to me. And people do.

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