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There are things that you or I may take for granted as adults in healthy marriages. Fundamentals of trust, vulnerability, respect, mutuality: the things that make up healthy intimacy. For the recovering porn addict, he or she may not really know what healthy intimacy even looks like. So we need to be prepared to educate them about this.

The Need for Intimacy

When I use the word intimacy, I am speaking of relational closeness. With God, this is a spiritual and emotional relationship. With one’s spouse, it it is emotional, relational, sexual and spiritual (ideally). With a same-sex friend, intimacy would be emotional, relational and spiritual; there may be an appropriate level of physical closeness for closer friends, such as a warm hug upon greeting.

I am also working from the assumption that intimacy is an essential part of our human experience. In fact, I believe that it is one aspect of the image of God expressed in humanity, though greatly disturbed by sin. As a triune God, our God is fundamentally relational. It was God who declared in the Garden of Eden that “It is not good that the man should be alone…” (Genesis 2:18, KJV).

When it comes to the matter of pornography addiction, some who work in the field have described it as an intimacy disorder. I don’t feel this description is the best, but it offers the very helpful suggestion that there is an intimacy problem in the life of every porn addict.

Indeed, it has been my experience that the porn addicts I have worked with usually do not have any intimate relationships. I think I could probably say — though this is just anecdotal observation — this is universally the case with male addicts. With females, there is often a close friend or sibling although they would not usually be aware of the addiction. It is definitely more of an issue with men.

Consequently, what God said is actually true: it is not good that the man should be alone.

Now, let me state very quickly here that the solution is not marriage. Please: underscore this reality with your addicts. A real sexual partner is not the correct antidote for virtual sex. Getting married does not stop the addiction. Contrary to what the addict may believe, it is not the lack of sexual intercourse that drives pornography and masturbation. No, it is a combination of faulty beliefs, neurological reward pathways, a shame-based identity, the flesh and lack of healthy intimacy with others that leaves a person unable to break the grip of this sin.

I have a lot of addicts tell me that they expected the addiction to stop when they got married, and it did not. As I’ve mentioned in other parts of my recovery plan, this is not a libido problem. So giving the libido an appropriate outlet does not resolve the addiction. In fact, it is more likely to cause more profound intimacy problems.

This is why Step 5 of my plan involves a lot of work helping the addict find appropriate intimate relationships: with God, with good same-sex friendships, and, if present, with his or her spouse.

Let’s look at each of these more deeply and help the addict understand what their goals should look like in these areas.

Same-sex Friendships

I keep emphasizing same-sex friendships for a couple reasons. One is that there is a risk that the addict will take this closeness idea and run with it and end up somewhere inappropriate with someone of the opposite sex. The other is that it is far more difficult, and far more worthwhile, to learn to create intimacy in a friendship where sex is never on the table. This would actually leave the addict better prepared for heterosexual intimacy should they already be married or have the opportunity to get married.

You see, creating intimacy when sex is not on the table forces the addict to confront their loneliness and isolation in a genuine, relational manner. This is probably going to be a new experience and require a new skill set for the addict. It will require some investment of time and energy but should help meet the yearnings for intimacy in the addict’s heart.

A healthy same-sex friendship can look much closer than what is accepted in our culture today. We often speak about the need to be counter-cultural as Christians: here is an opportunity in the realm of friendships. Let us look at this in case of David and Jonathan.

How comfortable are you with this statement of intimacy? “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant you have been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26, ESV).

Is that healthy intimacy? Yes and no. I think it shows the potential of a healthy same-sex friendship. At the same time, in David’s case I believe it is a reflection of problems in his marital intimacy.

Consider the fact that his friendship with Jonathan started before marriage. That’s great. It seems that David would likely have been an isolated, lonely young man prior to this. Now he grows very close to Jonathan after defeating Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.

He soon marries Michal but as Saul becomes jealous he must leave her behind and eventually, he is cut off from Jonathan as well for the sake of his own safety. Though David now becomes a outlaw with a band of followers, no close friendships are seen as he evades Saul through the next several chapters. However, in chapter 25 he begins to try to fill that intimacy deficiency by taking Abigail to wife, and then Ahinoam.

A few chapters later, his best friend is killed in action. David is anointed king and in 2 Samuel 5 we read that he took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem.

It is interesting to note that while he has his mighty men and, later, advisors there is no replacement for Jonathan. Further, we see in 1 Samuel 6 that he has no intimate connection with Michal — the early disruption in their marriage is never healed.

If you’ll allow me to ask a somewhat blunt question to prove the point: is David the King having sex? Yes, he is. Even outside his marriages. But does he have intimacy in his life? There is no evidence to suggest he does. How interesting is it that after the loss of Michal and Jonathan (where there was some genuine love/intimacy) David begins a moral decline by taking more wives, concubines, and eventually, an affair partner?

I think I have made my point: healthy, same-sex friendships are an essential component of recovery from pornography addiction.

Emotional & Relational Intimacy

What David gained — and then lost — in his friendship with Jonathan (and possibly his marriage with Michal) is emotional and relational intimacy.

Emotional and relational intimacy are characterized by the sharing of personal feelings and personal information in a safe relationship. Here is a helpful definition:

A process in which an individual expresses personal feelings and information to another and as a result of the other’s response comes to feel known, validated, and cared for. Most theorists use the term to refer to a process that incorporates affection, warmth, self-disclosure, closeness, and interdependence. Distance, in stark contrast to intimacy, is associated with anger, resentment, criticism, insensitivity, and inattention. 

Most addicts, particularly men, will not have had a relationship like this before. Your work with them to date has given them a taste of what it is like to be known and accepted. You have validated their feelings, shown care for them by shepherding them and you have not rejected them despite hearing about their most shameful moments.

Now, if possible, it is time for you to help them find a friend who can do the same thing.

Granted, if you are an a smaller, isolated assembly, you could be that friend. But there is probably a significant age difference between you so if you are in a larger assembly, it may actually be most helpful to have the addict find another friend. You will guide him on this journey.

It is easy for “Messiah complex” to come in here and for you or I to think, “I’ll be your friend!” Perhaps you yourself are lonely. However, if your addict is not the same gender as you then this depth of intimate friendship is inappropriate. Even if you are the same sex, there is a power differential between you and it may be more suitable for the addict to find someone of the same sex in his own generation who he learns to become friends with and, eventually, to be emotionally and relationally intimate.

This process is very important to the development of healthy intimacy in the life of the addict.

Addictive vs. Healthy Sex

If the addict is married, then you amy need to educate him or her about healthy sexuality. Again, there is a cautionary note that it would be unwise for you to engage in sexual coaching of an addict of the opposite gender. Especially if the terms of your engagement are not clearly defined, as they would be in a formal counselling relationship. Working with your wife or with the addict and her spouse is recommended.

It is important to know that the pornography your addict has been watching has distorted his or her view of sex. This impact is so severe and so damaging that educators are trying to counteract this distortion in young people. The sexual education curriculum in Denmark is moving towards showing pornography to students. Why? So the students, 92.5% of whom have watched pornography by age 16, will know the difference between normal human sexuality and what is depicted in the porn they’ve been exposed to.

Now, I do not endorse this approach! However, the point is there: what is normal and healthy has been distorted and needs to be restored. This reality is particularly evident if the addict has been watching hardcore pornography (depictions of sex acts) and not just soft porn (depictions of nudity).

Things that you may take for granted in sexuality are foreign to the addict: respect, loving touch, gentleness, focusing on connection and not just genital stimulation. These kinds of things are missing in the world of pornography.

Here’s a table that outlines some of the essential differences between addictive and healthy sexuality.

Addictive Sexuality Healthy Sexuality
Feels shameful Fosters positive self-worth
Is illicit, stolen or exploitative Has no victims
Compromises values Operates within a value system
Draws on fear for excitement Uses intimacy for excitement
Reenacts childhood abuse Cultivates a sense of being an adult
Disconnects from oneself Fosters sense of self
Creates a world of unreality Expands reality though being in touch with the present
Is self-destructive and dangerous Relies on safety
Uses conquest or power Is mutual, consensual, and equal
Serves to medicate and kill pain Fosters self-regulation of emotions
Is dishonest or requires a double life Originates in integrity and authenticit
Becomes routine, grim or joyless Is spontaneous, fun and playful
Demands perfection Accepts the imperfect
Suffocating, demanding, clinging or disengaged Is respectful of boundaries, accepting and intimate

* I have to apologize; I have lost the source from which I obtained this table. It was material related to my CSAT training.

But My Wife is Overweight

Some difficult but useful conversations will flow from broaching sexual intimacy with the addict.

You will need to teach him or her that emotional intimacy is a necessary precursor to sexual intimacy. He must learn to touch his wife’s heart before he touches her body.

However, since the addict has been living in a fantasy world, his views are probably so distorted that he may question his attraction to his wife. This is a delicate conversation and one best handled one on one with the addict. Quite possibly, she has been very wounded by things he has said. If so, he will need to make amends once he is grounded in a healthy, biblical view of marital sexuality.

The primary task for the addict in this area is to move past fantasy and realize there is a world of amazing pleasure to be enjoyed within marriage that is not shameful, sinful or displeasing to God.

The addict must be taught that his brain is capable of loving his wife as a whole person: body, soul and spirit. God has designed the human brain to make this possible. Pornography says that younger, leaner bodies provide a better sexual experience. However, reality teaches that older, married, intimate couples are having fantastic sex! How is it possible that the quality of sex they experience is improving while their bodies are not improving?

As part of this process, he must unlearn the lies that pornography spreads. One lie is that a better body results in better sex. This is due to the objectification that exists in the pornography world. However: it is totally unrealistic to think that God would create the world so that only a tiny subset of men, who happen to married to ideally endowed women, are having great sex while the rest of the world of men are living in disappointment. This notion is also based on the assumption that you have sex with a body, not a person. It is flawed at so many levels and must be uprooted from the belief system of the addict.

The addict will also have likely bought into the lie that a greater variety of sexual partners is more sexually satisfying than sex within a monogamous, long-term relationship. However, the research shows that long-term, monogamous marriage is where the best sex is happening. The idea that more partners is better is a lie.

There is also the lie in more recent pornography that some violence, bondage or use of force increases sexual pleasure. This is not true either. Typically, this belief either has resulted from the addict connecting anger to sexual arousal or because the addict came to a place where ordinary, vanilla pornography was no longer stimulating enough and has had to seek out something more intense to reach the same highs. At this point, if the addict cannot overcome the link to anger it would be prudent to refer him to a qualified therapist.

The lies go on and on. It would be healthy just to ask the addict: what are the lies you have come across in pornography that you need to undo or refute in your mind?

Erectile Dysfunction and Other Problems

In your work with pornography addicts you may come across sexual disorders so that the addict cannot properly engage in sexual intimacy with his spouse.

The admission will likely carry a lot of shame with it. Your best bet is to acknowledge how difficult that must be and to refer him to a qualified therapist, preferably a sex therapist or a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.

Intimacy with Christ

We have discussed the full spectrum of intimacy.

However, the most important relationship in the addict’s life is with God. With the Father, and the Son.

Most addicts, and I think most believers too, have never realized that an active intimacy with God is a real possibility in our day to day experience. I know I forget this for vast stretches of time, too.

The same activities are necessary as in a human relationship: sharing personal feelings and information to another. Teach your addict to converse with God. To pray throughout the events of the day about details great and small. To share feelings and information with God. To pray through the reading of Scripture so that God can respond to him or her as well.

The ultimate intimacy is not sex with one’s spouse. It would be difficult for most of us, but we could actually survive without marital intimacy (I mean the whole spectrum: physical, spiritual, emotional and relational).

However, it would be impossible to survive separated from God. Separation is death. This is the ultimate intimacy: relationship with God. And in every addict’s soul is a desire for the infinite. Shepherd them toward a real, active, thriving relationship with God. That is the ultimate healing.


Bibliography

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About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.