Life After Porn: Reconstructing a Healthy Sexuality After Pornography

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By Andrew Bauman

This letter was received from an individual struggling in the aftermath of active sex and porn addiction.

Dear Andrew,

Before marriage, I struggled terribly with porn. Porn was a struggle in the beginning of our marriage as well, but over time I have learned how to remove it from my life. However, a problem remains: I have no idea how to have sexual intimacy with her. I recognized that my lustful desires were problematic, therefore, I have repressed them, effectively killing my sex drive. The thought of sex with my wife practically disgusts me – not because she is not beautiful, but because love and lust were two entirely different things in my mind. I objectified women for my selfish pleasure for years; I love my wife too much to do that to her. When we do have sex, I have to mentally take myself elsewhere to achieve an orgasm; I have to think of porn in order to meet her sexual needs.

Everyone warns about what porn can do, but no one seems to know how to fix the damage it has already caused. My wife says I look at her like a sister or a roommate, not as someone I sexually desire. She knows I love her, but also knows I don’t lustfully desire her at all. I am glad everyone warns about the dangerous nature of what porn can do to you, but no one talks about how to fix yourself or your marriage after the damage is done. How do I create good healthy sexual intimacy with my wife after sex and porn addiction? Is it possible?

Sadly, this type of letter is not a rare occurrence. This man’s sorrowful realization regarding his sexuality is very common, but few men have the courage to admit they need help and seek solutions to remedy their history of broken sexuality.

A new generation of men is growing up in the grip of internet pornography, and consequently developing a pornographic style of relating and a pornographic mindset toward their world. There is now an abundance of men looking for a clear way to redeem their wayward sexuality after decades of porn use. Realizing that healthy relationships and unwanted sexual behaviors cannot co-exist, they are attempting to reconstruct a healthy sexuality within a committed partnership. Although these men see the importance of a healthy, mature sexual relationship that could last a lifetime, they are at a loss for what to do to transform their sexuality after the porn and other unwanted sexual behavior is gone.

Healthy sexual intimacy after having sexual compulsive behaviors is possible. However, it will require courage, perseverance, and hard work. Here are some action items to get you on the path towards healthy sexuality:

Reconnect with Your Story

Our sexuality is never disconnected from our life’s story. If you want to begin the healing process, you must begin story work. What is your story? How was sexuality handled in your household?  Write out your memories and experiences around sexuality in explicit detail. What do you feel as you re-enter the scene? Using your five senses, can you bring your body back into those moments? Can you humbly and kindly acknowledge the trauma without shaming yourself?

Tend to Your Wounds

Our sexual brokenness is always connected to the brokenness in our story. Whether you were the victim or the perpetrator, your objective is the same: reconnect with your wounds. If you can locate your wound, you can locate the doorway into your sexual healing. After locating the wound, what will you do to tend to it? Imagine your own young son failing off his bicycle, scraping his knee. How will you care for him? Will you yell and curse? Will you use shame? Or will you kneel next to him and hold him closely? Will you love what has been bruised and bloodied? Will you bless rather than curse the pain, the mistake? We must first honor ourselves through love before we can grieve our innocence lost. We can only grieve our wounds in the extent to which we love ourselves adequately.

Begin Living Authentically

Living authentically means fully living in truth. This is easier said than done: no more secrets, no more manipulation, no more hiding uncomfortable feelings. No more lies or duplicitous living. You are to be the same person at work, at home, at church, and behind the computer screen. It takes much more effort to wear and change masks than it does to live authentically. Once you are doing your story work and tending to the woundedness that drives your compulsive sexual behaviors, living authentically and with integrity will become your most obvious choice.

Practice Healthy Sex

You have spent decades with unhealthy pleasures; now it’s time to practice healthy, intimate, present sex in all its glory.

First, admit your sexual struggles to your partner, knowing they have little or nothing to do with her body or lack of sexuality, but rather are a result of the brain damage that your pornography use has caused. When your partner has a clear picture of where you are in your journey, you will be more able to enter fully into emotional intimacy.

So, what do healthy sexuality and intimacy look like in practice? Can you start with 5 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact? Sit a foot apart from your spouse and look into each other’s eyes. No words; just lock eyes and hold the other’s gaze. After the 5 minutes are up, talk about the experience. What did you see? How do you feel? After emotional connection is established, you can begin to explore connecting sexually.

Explore each other’s bodies, each communicating what brings you pleasure and what does not. Will you go slowly, practicing simply being with each other? Can you lay hands on each other’s bodies and pray for each other? Will you learn the stories of each other bodies? Each body part has a story to tell. Will you learn the stories of each body part? Will you hold each other closely while naked? Will you and your partner hold eye contact while having intercourse?

The only way out of these damaging patterns that you have created is to fight for new healthy ones. I am reminded of Bruce Cockburn’s 1984 song, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” when he sings, “But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.” Will you fight for healthy sexuality with your partner and step into the uncomfortable space of genuine intimacy and connection?

New healthy sexuality, not in isolation with your hand and the internet, but in relationship with your committed partner, requires much of you. Much heartache, brokenness, and pain. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Your sexuality can be restored and reclaimed into the beautiful, holy, and divine gift it was meant to be.

***

Andrew J. Bauman is Co-Founder & Director of the Christian Counseling Center: For Sexual Health & Trauma (CCC). He is a licensed mental health counselor with a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. He is currently working on his doctorate from Northeastern University. Andrew is the author of four books, Floating Away: A Book to Help Children Understand AddictionStumbling Toward WholenessThe Psychology of Porn, and (with his wife, Christy) A Brave Lament. You can find out more about his work at www.andrewjbauman.com and www.ChristianCC.Org.