By Rosie Makinney
While the world was preoccupied with trying to prevent a global health crisis, the largest pornography company was busy unleashing another one.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic spread worldwide, traffic to the site was already globally higher than usual, but on March 24, the company offered its premium subscription service free to the entire planet for 30 days.
In the following days, subscriptions shot up by unprecedented numbers.
On March 25, traffic to the site in the U.S. increased by 22.6%, and in Canada the figure was 21.5%.
Europe experienced an increase of 24.5%, and countries with the highest increases in traffic included Mexico 41.5%, Russia 53.2%, Spain 61%, and India, 95.3%.
Pornography searches are up (among males and females of all ages), in part, because a lot of people are at home with more free time than usual.
But more than that, this is a time of unprecedented fear and anxiety.
Porn is a powerful and immediate way to medicate oneself out of a relentlessly stressful reality. And now, courtesy of the largest pornography website, no credit card is necessary.
Our heightened state of anxiety is creating a whole new wave of porn “converts,” who may or may not be able to extricate themselves from this highly addictive coping mechanism once the 30 days is up.
In short, the promise porn is making to help people numb the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will end up being something worse that’s far harder to escape.
Although it might seem unkind for pastors and church leaders to choose now to alert their flocks to even more invisible threats in their world, this is exactly the time they need to encourage and equip their congregation to tackle the porn use in their homes.
A month of internet porn is more than enough time for someone to become dependent on this supernormal stimulus, and developing a porn addiction will continue to negatively impact marriages and families long after this worldwide pandemic has subsided.
Internet porn is not called the “crack-cocaine of sex addiction” for nothing. Internet porn is not something to dabble in, and it’s certainly not something spouses should ever turn a blind eye to, no matter how difficult life seems at the moment.
As so much research has made clear, pornography addiction rewires the brain and destroys its ability to build real-life, relational connections with loved ones.
It doesn’t help the situation; it actually harms. It doesn’t aid boredom; it makes it worse.
Porn creates a desire that’s never satisfied. Consuming porn doesn’t help you let off steam; it creates irritability, unavailability, and defensiveness.
Just like any other addiction, porn addiction devours the attention, affection, and energy of those in its grip.
What’s more, matrimonial lawyers say 56% of divorce cases involved one person having an obsession with pornographic websites.
Not only does porn make individual marriages worse, but it also eventually destroys more than half of them.
The damage doesn’t stay contained. It moves beyond just one family and takes a toll on the greater society.
In order to assess the impact of COVID-19 on couples dealing with porn addiction I recently sent out a survey to 50 wives.
The responses were not entirely unexpected, but heart-breaking, nonetheless.
Fifty percent of wives knew or suspected their husband’s porn usage had increased since the COVID-19 crisis began. Thirty-eight percent had been arguing far more frequently, and 68% said they felt lonelier now than before.
I also asked them about how their church currently approaches the issue.
Sixty-two percent of wives said they had never been told to set firm boundaries around porn, and 42% had never been told that having a porn-free marriage is possible.
Seventy-eight percent said it wasn’t made clear who they should approach for help with this issue, and 62% were worried about being blamed and shamed if anyone found out.
Here are four positive and helpful messages to tell couples dealing with porn addiction.
1. More or “better” sex is not the answer.
People aren’t using porn because there’s something lacking in their sex life.
The real reason they choose porn is to experience the cocktail of highly pleasurable neurochemicals their brain releases when they watch it.
Yes, of course, marital sex can certainly make you feel good, but because of the way the brain responds to the supernormal stimulus of porn, it’s a bit like comparing a satisfying Sunday roast with cocaine.
Spouses are never going to be able to compete with the supercharged artificial high of porn.
Even porn stars themselves have come forward and admitted that in real life they can’t compete with their partner’s porn habit.
Porn addiction needs to be taken seriously. It always causes dissatisfaction with a spouse, and in about half of cases, it leads to users becoming sexually avoidant.
Porn addicts don’t need more marital sex; they need qualified help.
2. Deception is equally (if not more) damaging than the betrayal.
Husbands must tell their wives if they are looking at porn (or vice versa). Porn addiction is an intimacy disorder, and lying about it doesn’t help anyone.
Even if spouses don’t initially know about the porn use, they’re always affected by the lack of intimacy porn causes, and oftentimes the lack of truth leads them to blame themselves.
Spouses desperately need validation, encouragement, and support for the deception in the marriage as well as the betrayal.
Rigorous honesty is key to maintaining sobriety from porn, and it’s also the foundation for rebuilding trust in a marriage.
3. Zero tolerance is the only way.
A porn-free marriage is possible, but wives need to understand the only effective way to help a husband who struggles with porn is to draw a firm line in the sand (or vice versa).
Any advice that has them doing anything other than putting up strong boundaries—no matter how “Christian” it’s made to sound—is actually enabling the hook of addiction to sink in further.
Early intervention is tough love. But to a person in captivity, it’s exactly the kind of love they need.
Zero tolerance on porn is essential for a joyful, trusting, and intimate marriage.
4. The sooner spouses can take action, the better.
The sooner a couple can get into recovery, the better. Heavy porn use not only hijacks the reward center of the brain, but it also impairs the prefrontal cortex.
In other words, people who are addicted to porn are literally unable to think straight and make rational decisions.
Even though a person who uses porn may dearly love their spouse and is desperate to stay married, their weakened impulse control cannot compete against the cravings.
Absolutely, a husband should desire God more than he should desire porn, and he should have more self-control than he currently does at present, and he should lead the charge in getting his marriage healthy again, but that’s like expecting a drug addict to think clearly about his state before the Lord while severely under the influence.
It’s possible for an addict to have a healthier spiritual and marital future, but they’ve got to get sober first so they can think straight, which usually requires firm boundaries laid out by those in the family.
A wife who waits for her husband to reach out for help when he’s metaphorically drowning in porn isn’t only hindering God from speaking to her husband through her; she’s also risking further damage.
Porn addiction is progressive in nature. Just like with any other drug, users eventually develop tolerance and are required to take a stronger and stronger dose to achieve the same hit.
In the case of porn, this means seeking out darker and more extreme material, and in some cases, violent or illegal content that the user never thought he’d watch when he started.
This is how porn users end up in over their heads—sometimes doing things that violate their own values and moral beliefs.
When so much about the future is uncertain, now is the time to come alongside people to remove anything that will jeopardize God’s anointing on their lives or their witness to the world. That most certainly includes porn.
ROSIE MAKINNEY (@RosieMakinney) is the founder of Fight for Love Ministries, a community of women who offer biblical tools to fight the effects of pornography use on marriages. She’s the author of Fight For Love: How to Take Your Marriage Back from Porn.