My Fiancé Is Addicted To Porn

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Warning: Today's post deals with sexual content and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.

Today they're talking about what may be a more common problem in the digital age: porn addiction. A woman writes that she has discovered her fiancé is addicted to pornography, which has led to problems in their sex life. Even worse, he has lied about it, leading to trust issues in their relationship. Now she's facing an upcoming wedding and has to decide what to do.

The Sugars are joined in this discussion by Noah Church, a self-described former porn addict and author of Wack: Addicted to Internet Porn.


Dear Sugars,

I am currently engaged to a wonderful guy — we laugh, we have adventures, we travel, we exercise, we cook. I love being with him and love so much about him. After we moved in together after a year of dating, a significant problem came up: He watched porn and masturbated almost every day. He had been doing this since he was 13, and he's now 35. He was quite open with me about it, and we talked about how it made me feel and how it affected our relationship.

After a few months — and finally an explanation for the mediocre sex we'd been having — he admitted that he might have an addiction to porn. This made sense to me. I often caught him staring at other women and he was often unable to sustain an erection through sex. I also felt that he was a bit emotionally disconnected and our relationship was lacking intimacy. We saw a couple's counselor for a few months, which he says he "hated every minute of," although I found it helpful.

My fiancé said he would stop watching porn. We checked in almost every night, as I was his accountability person to help him through this. I thought he was doing well. Fast forward to now, a year later — lots of porn watching, girl staring and arguments. He recently conceded that he had hit "rock bottom" when I found him lying about watching for the third time. He is now "serious about getting better" by reading a porn addiction book and listening to a podcast. He refuses to see a counselor as he "doesn't believe that works."

After the realization of this over a year ago, my self-confidence has plummeted. I have gained weight, and I've found myself back in the middle of an eating disorder that I worked three years to overcome prior to meeting him. I don't trust him and I feel angry, sad and disappointed. I also feel unwanted and ugly and believe that he'd rather have sex with himself and the porn fantasy than with me.

I have kept this all to myself. I haven't told anyone close to me, as I think it's such a personal problem. I know I need support, but just don't know where to get it without severe judgment.

Our wedding is coming up. I'm hesitant to go into a marriage with someone I don't trust. I want to feel wanted and sexy and have the confidence I had before. I see him trying to get better and want to believe that he will succeed and it will help our intimacy. I've made lists about everything I love in this relationship and so much of it is great. I just feel this tug of uncertainly about our future.

Am I being weak by staying in this relationship? Should we postpone the wedding until we have a better foundation to enter marriage? How can I regain the confidence I have lost?

Signed,

Unsure

Steve Almond: The issue here is not just Unsure's partner's porn use, but the dishonesty around it and the unwillingness to recognize that it's really hurting her deeply. She's falling into unhealthy patterns that are born of distrust and humiliation resulting from his porn use.

Noah Church: Unsure's problem is a very common one. But Unsure, you have to realize that porn has been influencing your partner since he was 13 years old, so it's had a grip on his life for a long time. It's absolutely possible he will quit using porn and find the help he needs.

But it's also a very significant possibility that he's not actually in that place and the addicted part of him is lying to you and to himself to protect that behavior. Deception is a symptom of addiction.

Cheryl Strayed: Unsure, I hate to be cynical, but there's a big difference between somebody who realizes they've hit rock bottom when they've been busted and somebody who actually has that moment of truth. I do think sometimes a partner saying, "You must change or I'll leave you," can be the inciting incident. But pretty quickly after that, the person who needs to change needs to be the engine of his own change.

Steve: Unsure, you've been involved with this guy for a while and have invested a lot. You're planning a life together. If you don't believe him — especially when it comes to a behavior that sends you into an incredible, unhealthy shame spiral — and he's not able to hear that and go to a counselor or do whatever he needs to do, I don't think that's a person you make that long promise with.

Noah: Unsure, it sounds like your gut is telling you that he is not being fully honest with you. He's reading a book and listening to a podcast, but if he's not willing to have a fully open and honest dynamic with you, that is a sign he's still hiding things. Maybe if he learns about the brain science and how he is physiologically affected by his porn habits, that could be eye-opening for him.

Steve: I also think it's very dangerous for Unsure to be the accountability person here. That puts her in the position of being the scold, the superego, the buzzkill. Unsure and her partner need to have a long-term relationship with somebody professionally who will help them work through this.

Noah: Oftentimes a romantic partner is not the best accountability partner because an addict doesn't want to make his partner feel betrayed, so he'll just hide it. It really helps if he can tell a therapist or some friends and have them on his team. There's also software out there that will send a report of his activity to his accountability partner.

Cheryl: I'm curious about what a lot of people would call "normal porn use." Is all porn use destructive?

Noah: There are absolutely people out there who use porn in moderation and they're in healthy, happy relationships. We know about 85 percent of young guys and 31 percent of young women use porn regularly. Porn doesn't always destroy lives, but there are a lot of people for whom it does cause problems. For people who self-identify as addicts or who have developed porn-induced systems like erectile dysfunction, in my opinion you have reached the level where porn is absolutely incompatible with a happy relationship.

Cheryl: One of the questions to ask is, "Is porn bringing about negative consequences in my life?" In this case, Unsure isn't sure she wants to marry this guy, so this is definitely having negative consequences on the relationship.

Your partner is not really taking your concern, or his own problem, seriously. My advice to you is to hit the pause button. It doesn't mean the relationship is over, but you want a partner with whom you'll have a baseline of trust and sincerity and — I'm just going to say it — more than mediocre sex. Sex is an important part of a marriage, and you're starting off pretty poorly if you're having mediocre sex — which is probably caused by your partner's porn addiction — from the beginning.

Noah: Unsure, if you and your partner are able to break through these barriers and heal together, you can have a relationship that's closer and more beautiful and more satisfying than you've ever had together before.

You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear more about how porn can affect relationships.

Have a question for the Sugars? Email dearsugarradio@gmail.com and it may be answered on a future episode.

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