Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Battle with “Me”—How to Help a Husband Addicted to Pornography

Leslie Basham: If your husband is addicted to pornography, it’s important for you to open up to a godly friend. Here’s Dannah Gresh.

Dannah Gresh: Don’t do this alone! Don’t walk alone. Don’t believe the lie that you can do this all by yourself, because the enemy walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (see 1 Peter 5:8). I don’t know a whole lot about lions and how they hunt, but I’m pretty sure they don’t go after a whole herd. They go find the one that’s all alone, right?

So don’t be alone in this. Run to your pastor’s wife; run to your godly good girlfriend. Tell them, “Battle with me on my knees in prayer for my marriage!”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for April 5, 2019. All this month we’re tackling some of the tough issues we face in a world plagued by sin. But there are things God’s Word talks about, and we need to talk about them, too.

In light of that, if you’re with a small child, be aware that today we’ll be discussing some grown-up themes. We’re in the middle of a conversation with Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery. You can listen to earlier parts of this conversation at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I am so, so thankful for the conversation we’ve been having this week with Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery. It has been helpful for me. It’s been encouraging; it’s been challenging. I’m just picturing that, over the last several days, the Lord has been poking (in His gentlemanly way) at the hearts of many of our listeners.

Maybe He’s saying, “This is something you need to deal with; this is something that you’ve kept buried or hidden that you need to bring to the light.” Or maybe He’s giving hope for past failure, past shame or help for how to help others who are dealing with the topic of this week—rethinking sexuality. We need to talk about it; we need to think about it.

It’s sad that in many cases over recent decades, the world was talking way more about sexuality than the church was. And so, even many who have grown up in the church have grown up with misunderstandings, wrong thinking, or just twisted thinking—distortions, lies—about sex and sexuality.

What a job the Enemy has done, starting in Genesis chapter 3 (we talked about that yesterday) to the current day in putting people in bondage as they are led to believe things that are not true about this area that’s intended to glorify God and be a part of connecting our hearts and our understanding to the gospel.

So when Satan steals the truth about sexuality and sex, he’s stealing the truth that he doesn’t want us to know about the redeeming covenant love of God . . . and that is huge! So let me be quiet here and introduce our guests: Dannah Gresh and Juli Slattery.

Juli, you’ve written this wonderfully helpful book, Rethinking Sexuality, and I hope that our conversation has just whet the appetite of people in every season of life, every situation. You cover so many of those. This is not an encyclopedia to give all the answers to every problem.

It’s laying a foundation for sexual discipleship, for discipling us to think God’s ways, renewing our minds to think God’s ways about God’s design for sex and why it matters. So thank you for writing that. Thank you for joining us to talk about it here on Revive Our Hearts.

Dr. Juli Slattery: Thanks for having me on and giving me permission to talk about these things. I know they’re courageous conversations!

Nancy: We’re very grateful for the wisdom and grace, the love and truth that I hear coming from you and from my longtime friend, Dannah Gresh. Dannah, we’ve talked with a lot of women over the years. We’ve ministered at conferences together. We’ve written books together. You’ve had such a heart for women, teenage girls, and even young girls, to get God’s Truth in this area!

Dannah: Yes. I hope that in planting the truth when they’re ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen that we’re circumventing some of the pain that they might otherwise experience. I just love, love, love planting truth in them when they’re little girls!

Nancy: And not just circumventing the pain, but also helping them to enjoy the fullness! That’s what we talk about in Revive Our Hearts: “freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness” in Christ. We want that in every area of our lives!

So freedom from bondage as it relates to our sexual past or our sexual present addictions, shame, guilt. But then fullness, experiencing the fullness of what God intended for us to have. And then fruitfulness. We’re going to talk about that in the next program.

We intended to end today, but there’s more we want to talk about, so we’re going to go one more program to talk about how we can help others experience freedom and fullness and fruitfulness in Christ, in relation to their sexuality.

Now, as promised, I’m putting you girls on the “hot seat” today, and I’m going to throw out some questions. I know that both of you receive a lot of emails and letters and calls from women—primarily church leaders—who are asking questions about hard things related to sexuality, either out of their own experience or out of trying to help others.

Juli, you do a lot of Q and A sessions when you go out to speak on reclaiming this area of our lives. We’re not going to deep dives into these questions today. We’re not going to do full answers, but I just would love for both of you to respond, to get us started in thinking biblically.

So I want to just start by praying, because we need God’s wisdom. And Dannah, I’m going to ask you to open this conversation and say, “Lord, help us! Help us to do this well.”

Dannah: Okay, yes. I would love to do that!

Lord, thank You so much for the opportunity to just gather together as girlfriends, some of us spread out by miles and even continents, but Your Spirit is with each of us. Guide us as we speak words, guide us as we hear words; let nothing be distorted. Let everything be filled with truth! And may we not be afraid of these topics Lord, because as I look at the Scriptures, You’re not afraid of them! So give us a peace as we approach these hot topics and give us Your truth. In Jesus’ name, amen!

Juli and Nancy: Amen! Let it be so.

Nancy: So, in no particular order . . . Juli, I know that some of these are questions you said you get asked a lot. So if they’re asking you, then I think a lot of our listeners may be asking some of the same questions.

Let me start with this one, and you wrote it this way: “I think it’s crazy,” someone might say, “to marry someone you haven’t slept with! Sex is really important, so what if you’re sexually incompatible? Don’t you need to have a ‘test drive,’ a trial run, to see if you’re going to have a good sex life together after you get married? Shouldn’t you try it beforehand?”

Juli: Well, in response to any of these questions, I want to make sure that I refer to the conversations that we’ve already had earlier this week. Because when we take a question out of context and just give an answer, it feels very superficial. You have to get grounded in the thinking behind the questions, the theology behind the questions.

Nancy: Which is why, go to ReviveOurHearts.com, pull up the last four days of programs. Listen, read the transcripts, and then get a copy of Juli’s book Rethinking Sexuality, where she is so careful about laying this foundation.

So, yes, we’re doing this a little bit out of context today, but for those who’ve been listening, we’ve laid some foundation. Help us respond to this: “Why not try it out before marriage to see if it’s good for you?”

Juli: Yes. Well, first of all, let me just say: I don’t think God designed us to be sexually compatible out of the gate. And some people might have been like, “Where do you get that!?” You just look at men and women and the way their bodies are designed, the way their sexual functioning is, the way they experience pleasure.

Nancy: They’re different!

Juli: They are! And, in some ways, incompatible—if you look at the list of physical differences. And I really believe that many of those, if not all those differences, existed before the Fall. Why? Why would God put us in a sexual relationship where we’re not sexually compatible?

I think there’s a reason why . . . because God is very interested in how we love each other in marriage. If I’m sexually compatible with my husband, it doesn’t require me to learn to love . . .

Nancy: . . . sacrificially.

Juli: . . . yes, for us to be sexually fulfilled. God wants us to experience sexual pleasure in marriage, but through the journey of learning what it is to love as He loves. I would tell a woman asking that question, “Your thinking is distorted. The purpose of sexual intimacy within marriage is not just this, ‘We’re going to have fun together!’ It’s a laboratory of love!”

Whoever you marry, you’re going to be—at some level—sexually incompatible with. You’re going to argue about sex. You’re going to want it at different times than he does. You’re going to have your own burdens and barriers that you’re bringing into the relationship.

God wants to teach you in a tangible way what it is to love each other through your sexual relationship. If you think that sleeping around and finding somebody who’s sexually compatible with you will guarantee a good marriage . . . the research doesn’t even support that!

Dannah: No. The research really suggests that great sex has less to do with hot bodies and youth and all that stuff and more to do with communication. It has much more to do with being able to get past those emotional intimacy barriers, to where we’re really communicating, and that’s hard! Maybe that’s the hardest, most intimate part of the act of sex, right?

Juli: It is, but it’s what teaches us what love really looks like! You know, I’ve been married for almost twenty-five years now, and I would say that sexual intimacy in our marriage is the thing that has taught us to love each other—more than parenting, more than finances, more than how we study the Bible together—because it’s real!

It touches into the deepest parts of who we are, forces us to be vulnerable, forces us to extend grace. We learned to love much more deeply because we haven’t been compatible.

Nancy: You’ve pressed through those things and determined that the covenant-keeping love of God could have an impact in your marriage and help you to love each other well, even when it was really hard.

Juli: Yes, and it has taught us to love God. You know, God loved us sacrificially. He loves us sacrificially. So in the reflection in that love—marriage—why would we not be challenged to do the same?

Nancy: Let me take us in a little different direction now. Again, I’m just going to throw these out. We could spend a whole program on each of these. I know Juli and Dannah and myself as well, we hear from women who say, “I have a higher sex drive than my husband does.” That’s not so much the norm, but it is not unusual.

For that woman who’s saying, “I have a lot more desire for this and drive for this than he does,” how do you encourage that woman? I’ll let either of you jump in here.

Dannah: The first thing that comes to my mind is: I am going to ask God about this when I get to heaven! (laughter) We do see that men peak sexually in their late teens into their twenties, and then they begin to decrease in sexual desire, and women peak sexually, generally, towards their late thirties into their forties.

Now, there are all kinds of things we could learn from that, but the point is that, at some point in your life, your sex drives are probably going to be different from one another. So how do you communicate through that so that you can enter more deeply into the intimacy and friendship that God means for you . . . Juli?

Juli: I think some of it is normalizing this, because a lot of Christian women feel like they’re the only ones that have this situation in their marriage. They feel something must be wrong with them. They get together with their friends who are talking about, “Oh, my husband is chasing me around!” And, “I’m too tired!”

And they’re like, “I wish my husband would chase me! I feel rejected! I feel like something’s wrong with me, or something’s wrong with him.” I think that’s a big first step is recognizing that our bodies are different, our pasts are different, even the neurology of our brains is different related to sexual drive and desire. Hormone levels, stress, grief . . . all these things impact sexual desire.

And for seasons of our marriage (or maybe for our entire marriage) a woman can have a higher sex drive than her husband, and there would be nothing wrong with that. And accepting that, “This is just the way we’re made; this is the way we’re wired. How do we love each other in the midst of this? How do we communicate and not let the enemy use this as something that is going to divide us instead of unite us?”

Now, having said that, I do think that whenever there is very low desire—on either a man’s part or a woman’s—you have to ask the question, “Why?” Is it physiological? Low testosterone? Are there some forms of emotional barriers where there has been sexual trauma or abuse in the past that needs to be addressed? Pornography, used by men or women—ironically—will decrease your sexual desire for real intimate relationship.

Dannah: Yeah, even a lot of secular magazines and media sources are recognizing that factor now and saying, “Hey, if you want to have a great sex life, you should push ‘pause’ on porn.” That’s counterintuitive to the lie that a lot of women are believing (and men) that, “Hey, if I want to spice up my bedroom, maybe this will work!” Nope, that’s exactly the opposite.

Nancy: And they may not think they do it through porn, but through erotic novels, and that is promoted as a way to get more spark in the bedroom. What say you?

Juli: It rewires your sexual desire and sexual response in a way that means you can’t enjoy normal sex anymore. You know, it’s like being doped up on sugar and Fritos and then, all of a sudden, not being able to enjoy a very healthy, delicious meal because your tastes have been . . .

Dannah: Yeah, you can’t taste the carrots anymore because your taste buds are deadened!

Juli: Right! So what God would invite us to do is to confess that and to rewire our sexual desire in a healthy way. But there are an awful lot of men and women—particularly young marriages—that are finding that they have no sexual desire. They can’t even respond to one another sexually because their brains have been trained to respond to things that aren’t real.

Dannah: There’s a really interesting analogy that Dr. Judith Reisman developed to help us with an understanding of this. You might remember, Nancy, in the seventies/eighties, the gypsy moths. You remember gypsy moths? You’d drive past trees, and they would be just full of these tents. They were like webbed tents, and they were full of moths.

Gypsy moths were from another country, so they didn’t have any predators, and they were destroying our forests. They were trying to use pesticides to kill them; that wasn’t working. The stronger pesticides were killing the trees. That was counterintuitive. And so somebody said, “Well, let’s disrupt the reproductive cycle of the gypsy moth.”

They created gypsy moth pheromones, and they would drop these pheromone pellets into the trees. It was so powerful that the male gypsy moth went flitting about: “Where is that wonderful scent? I can’t find that wonderful scent!” They would fly right past real gypsy moths that they could breed with because they couldn’t find that real scent.

And that is how we got rid of a terrible destructive pest in our country. And that’s exactly what’s happening with pornography! It’s creating this false, untruthful, doesn’t-even-exist sense of what sex and pleasure could be. Men and women are so enamored with that that they’re moving right past the real gift that’s right there in front of them.

Juli: That’s a great word picture!

Nancy: So let me just springboard off of that: for the wife whose husband is addicted to pornography, using pornography, and she’s feeling like that’s stealing intimacy in their marriage . . . how are you going to encourage that woman?

Juli: Well, first of all, you’re not alone. There are an awful lot of marriages going through that right now. And second of all, there’s hope! God invites us to freedom, but as we talked about in an earlier program, the journey of sexual wholeness and freedom—for many of us—is a very long journey, and it requires perseverance.

But here’s what I would tell that wife: “You have to hold together two things that seem to be contradictory: empathy (which is really rooted in humility), not shaming your husband.”

Nancy: He’s not the only sinner in this relationship.

Juli: Right. And part of it is also that when you hear men’s stories, most men who struggle with pornography were introduced to it when they were very young—nine, ten, eleven years old. They didn’t even know what it was, and they didn’t know how to respond to it. There are a lot of godly men who hate the fact that they struggle with porn. They’d do anything to get rid of that struggle!

So when a wife addresses it like, “How could you do this!?” She adds shame on without the understanding that there are godly men who are in a battle for their Christian lives (for their souls, it feels like!). They can’t be an adequate helper to that man that’s struggling. They can’t share the journey with him. So that first thing is just empathy, that humility, that grace.

But the second thing is accountability. In any Christian relationship, we do not engage so much in compassion and empathy that we write off sin or we write off brokenness and pretend it’s normal. I think some wives are in the situation of being so empathic for their husband, or saying, “It’s every man’s battle, so I guess we just give up fighting it,” that they don’t say, “This is not acceptable. We have to get help. If you won’t get help, then I will. We are going to address this. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.”

I think all that comes directly out of Scripture and how we address sin with one another, with the humility, with compassion, but also calling each other towards purity and righteousness.

Nancy: Because you’re not only husband and wife, you’re also a brother and sister in Christ. You have responsibility to each other for each other’s sanctification.

Juli: Yes, and the last thing we want to do in marriage is enable each other to sin and call it “love.” That’s not love.

Nancy: So you’re encouraging the woman to say to her husband, “We have to get help!” What might that look like?

Juli: The first thing I’m encouraging a wife in that situation to do is to get on her knees and ask God for His wisdom.

Nancy: Which He promises to give!

Juli: Yes, and for His timing and for His words in confronting this. Because so often we confront these things out of our own anger, out of our own hurt, and we end up doing more harm than addressing the problem.

And then, when God shows you it’s the right time, gives you the words, you express out of love—out of love for God, out of love for you and our marriage—this is not okay, and we have to get help. What is that going to look like?” And tangibly work out what it looks like: Do we go see a counselor, do we tell our pastor? Are you joining a men’s group that’s addressing this? Am I getting involved with a wives’ care group that can help me walk through it?

You’ve got to define tangible steps and not just say, “Oh, someday we’ll get help for it,” because it won’t change then.

Dannah: This is a story that Bob and I have walked through, and I think that our first piece of advice is always, “You need to tell someone.” And for a wife, that’s very difficult, because you might have a husband who is still in denial, who’s still telling you the problem isn’t as big as you think it is.

But I don’t think that God means for us to walk through our sin and our pain and our shame alone, even when that’s our husband. That doesn’t mean you go broadcast it, you tell on him. That means don’t do this alone. Don’t walk alone.

Don’t believe the lie that you can do this all by yourself, because the enemy walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (see 1 Peter 5:8). I don’t know a whole lot about lions and how they hunt, but I’m pretty sure they don’t go after a whole herd. They go find the one that’s all alone, right?

Don’t be alone in this! Run to your pastor’s wife, run to your godly good girlfriend. Tell them, “Battle with me on my knees in prayer for my marriage!”

Nancy: Let me bring up one more, and Juli, you said that this is one of the most commonly asked questions you get. Women—married or single—are asking about self-pleasure, self-gratification. Is that okay, is that a sin, is it necessary for single women to have an outlet and sometimes even within marriage, women will think that? Help us think through that issue.

Juli: First of all, it’s not mentioned in the Bible. It very well could have been. I mean, there are so many places where Scripture spells out what sexual sin is, what sexual immorality is, and it lists certain behaviors. We don’t see that mentioned at all. It’s not affirmed, and it’s not mentioned as something that’s wrong.

What is mentioned that is sinful and not good for us is lust, sexual fantasies. For a lot of people, self-pleasure is combined with pornography, combined with fantasies that we’re indulging in. We’re giving ourselves permission, as single women or even within our marriage, to go with our fantasies and lusts that don’t involve our husband or do involve other people.

We know that Scripture says that’s wrong. Jesus even said that if you lust after someone in your heart, it’s the same as committing adultery with them (see Matthew 5:28). That we’re clear on. But this idea of self-pleasure: the fact that it’s not mentioned in Scripture (and I’m sure it was a struggle for men and women in biblical times) makes us say, “Well, what does God really think about that?”

I think that, based on the Scripture, we not only need to ask, “Is it wrong?” Because it’s not defined with morally good or bad. I think we also need to ask, “Is it mature?” And what I’ve found in working with women who are struggling with self-pleasure—even addiction to it—is that they feel a lot of shame about it. That’s usually a symptom of something else.

It’s a symptom of depression they’re not dealing with or anxiety or sexual memories or traumas that they, and they have nowhere to go with that. It’s a symptom for their longings and their loneliness, and I would rather focus on, “How do we help this woman mature in the underlying questions and issues and wounds?” . . . rather than just being focused on the symptom of, “Let’s get her to stop in that behavior.”

I think a lot of this is a question of maturity—of spiritual maturity, of sexual maturity, of growing in our understanding of what God designed our sexual desire to be and what it really symbolizes for us at a deeper level.

Nancy: And also, growing in our understanding of God’s design for sex: “The two shall become one.” (see Matthew 19:5). It’s about relationship; it’s not about “me and me.”

Juli: And so often, our understanding of sexuality is immature. As we mature in our understanding of sexuality and in our sexual wholeness—whether you’re single or married—I think that symptom begins to lose its power.

Dannah: So, Juli, what you’re talking about is going after the root. Instead of saying, “Don’t do that!” You’re saying, “Why are you doing that?” That’s going to probably be more effective. You don’t cut a dandelion off at the top and expect it not to grow back, right? You go after the root.

Juli: Yeah, and there are so many women that are struggling with some pretty profound wounds in their sexuality. Then when they hear a message that makes them feel even more shameful for even having sexual desires or sexual longings that they don’t know what to do with, it makes them feel like, “What do I do? Do I just shut everything down?” So, instead, let’s get to the deeper questions and the deeper wounds and the deeper needs.

Nancy: And ultimately, to Christ. This is not just a Sunday school answer, but to relationship with Him, intimacy with Him, that then expresses itself in every area of our lives. So again, we come back to, sexual discipleship is learning to follow Jesus and to walk in oneness with Him in every area of our lives . . . including our sexuality.

That’s the passion behind this book, Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters. I know that many of our listeners have been helped by this conversation, but they want to go deeper. They want to be able—for their own lives, for the people around them—to be more compassionate and more wise, more helpful.

This is a book that will help you on that journey, as I know it has been helping me as I’ve been reading it. The book is called Rethinking Sexuality. Be sure and ask for a copy, and we’ll be glad to send it to you as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Just give us a call at 1–800–569–5959, or visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Now, we had intended to end this series with this program, but we’re going to do one more. Call it a “bonus” or whatever. I want us to talk about something that I know is a burden on both your hearts, and that is: “How can we be missional in this world that’s so broken and chaotic when it comes to our sexuality in discipling those around us—our kids, our grandkids, friends, people whose lives have been hijacked by thinking that is not biblical? How can we be helpful? How can we point them to God’s way of thinking? How can rethinking sexuality actually be a part of a process of God sending revival?—which is what this ministry is all about!

You say, “Revival and sexuality? What do those two have to do with each other?” Well, be sure and join us on the next Revive Our Hearts, and we’re going to talk about just that.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been in conversation all this week with Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery. They’re bringing up some important topics women need to talk about, and they’re not done yet. We’ll hear more from them again on Monday, but first let me tell you how you can get a copy of the book Nancy mentioned.

Dr. Juli Slattery is the author of Rethinking Sexuality. She wrote the book to challenge and equip us to think and act biblically when it comes to our sexuality. You can get her book when you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size.

To give online go to ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. Be sure to ask for a copy of Rethinking Sexuality.

On Monday Dannah Gresh and Juli Slattery will be back to answer questions many moms wrestle with, such as, “How much should I share about my past with my children?”

Dannah and Juli say you can make some important connections with your kids when you’re open about your failures. Find out why, next week on Revive Our Hearts!

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you find hope for your marriage. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.