Help, My Husband Has a Sexual Addiction

Question: “I’ll be as concise as I can, but this is a bit of a complicated situation. I have known my husband since we were both 17 (we are now approaching age 50). We have been married for nearly 25 years. We have 4 children, and became members of the LDS Church when we were about 29 years old. A year later, In 1990, we were sealed in the temple. I thought my husband and I were best friends, faithful to one another, honest with each other, and quite content with our lives in general. We did face loss and grief: financial loss, loss of my father-in-law and mother-in-law, suicide of 2 of my husbands nephews, and the difficulties that raising very spirited (sometimes very difficult) children brought us. These occurred over the course of a couple of years. When I noticed my husband having difficulty functioning as well as he had in the past, I assumed it was because of these difficulties. He seemed to move past them in time. Three years ago I was helping my husband organize his desk when I noticed something wrapped up in a bag. I opened it and found a self-help tape called “How To Overcome Sexual Addiction”. I called my husband at work and questioned him about it. He said that he used to have a problem with pornography, but that he was over it. He had just been given the High Priesthood and put in as Second Counselor in the Bishopric in our church ward. Over the next few days I found out that he had still had problems just a couple of months prior to my finding that tape. He didn’t offer to counsel with the Bishop, but I mentioned that I needed to talk with the Bishop about this, and we both ended up counseling with him. Our bishop was new and quite inexperienced in this area, and assumed his repentance was complete, and kept him in the Bishopric. Over the next year I was shocked repeatedly as I found out the extent of his problem. He had not “slept” with anyone, or had emotional relationships with anyone, but he had many “lap dances” at clubs, obviously with topless and mostly bottomless women, he had phone sex, he had done other things that were offered at sex shops. This was much more extensive than I originally thought, in fact I didn’t even realize that some of these things existed. I was sheltered growing up, and just wasn’t exposed to this sort of thing. During this year my husband read a 12 step book, which he worked on diligently, and he assured me he was a changed man, fully repentant. The real shocker for me came when I said I needed him to take a lie detector test, about a year into this whole discovery. I needed to know if he had molested our children (any children), had intercourse with anyone else since our marriage, and other things. Anyhow, he came out clean on those points, however before having the test he told me that for half of this second year he was back into the pornography. I was devastated. I was also shocked to learn during the following year that, although my first sexual experience was with him at age 18, his first sexual experience was with a prostitute at age 17. I had been previously traumatized when, after having sex with me (a virgin who expected that he was one too, having had a conversation about that before hand), he told me the next morning that he had already been with someone else (aside from the prostitute, who I just recently found out about). I went haywire and became promiscuous for a couple of years before marriage after finding out about him, and realizing that a marriage proposal was not going to happen any time soon (as he made clear to me). I felt totally ruined, as virginity was sacred to me. Ok, so after marriage, I assumed that all of our old sexual childishness was over and that we would always keep our vows with complete fidelity, which I did, but obviously he didn’t. Recently, he has assured me that he was totally clean from all of this, but I found out that he lied to me again, saying that he hadn’t been on a particular website (Real Housewives of New York City), when he actually had been. He didn’t see “anything”, so he assures me, but he was on the site at 1 in the morning, and the woman he showed interest in was this coming playboy’s cover girl. He insists he was interested in their gossipy lives. Ok, then, why the lie? I lost it at that point, and suggested a trial separation, but during a temple recommend interview the stake president assured me that separation is not the answer and that complete assurance and peace about a divorce is the only way that it is acceptable. Well, I have neither assurance from above or any peace at this point. I have a family counting on me to do what’s right, which is likely to stay and make this whole thing work. My worry is a selfish one, what about me? I feel trashed and humiliated and cheapened. Help???”

Answer: I appreciate your question. The pain and trauma that you have experienced during the continued discoveries of his sexual encounters must be so painful. From what you stated it appears that you are dealing with a mountain of hurt and betrayal. I know that must be so difficult as you had hoped and felt he was faithful but clearly is not at this point. He clearly does have a sexual addiction and is not sober, at least not now. His justifications about being interested in gossipy lives and saying he has it under control is clearly a denial as to the problem since if he were really working on it he’d of included you and the Lord in his own recovery. Sexual addiction is powerfully, as it involved God-given drives, chemical changes in the body, and can become a crutch to cope with emotional challenges. Beginning with his sexual encounter with a prostitute at 17 and then the series of lap dances, bouts with online porn while alone, and the rationalizations he is offering you indicate to me that he is in fact not sober and if in recovery is likely failing currently at getting a handle on his addiction. I imagine he must be in a world of shame and hurt as well. Shame as he knows that he is living a lie and lying to you as well. He likely is coping with the porn and hoping that it’ll go away but as the research indicates pornography addiction does not ‘go away’ without significant clinical intervention. Oxytocin and Serotonin are released in the brain during sexual arousal while he is engaging in this erotic and fantasy laden sexual encounters. His brain is an organ, and the power of these chemicals, in addition to his own emotional needs are part of what rivets him to his addiction.

My counsel for you is to confront him. He is in denial and needs more than a talk tape or book. The stories you shared and likely the ones you don’t know about are fueling his addiction and it will likely continue as it is just that, an addiction and addictions don’t stand to reason as the brain (not his spirit) is amoral and just wants more and more. I recommend you confront him that he get help, serious professional help. Part of his recovery will be working through understanding how he is benefiting from the porn and encounters and helping him get out of denial and into working through it, not avoiding it. For you I recommend you read this book titled, Confronting Your Spouse’s Pornography Problem.

I also recommend you find a solid LDS counselor that has training and a history working with sexual addictions. You need support and help as you navigate the pain you are bearing with the news that your husband is addicted and thus acting out in ways that jeopardize the marriage covenant and the future of the marriage. You are not alone. Please see my other inquiries that others have made regarding this topic of pornography and sexual addiction. You are not selfish for speaking out, but courageous. It is imperative that you draw a line in the sand. Your demanding respect, virtue, and love from him is one of the only ways for him to hit bottom and then realize he is in need of help. His problem will not go away and it is up to him to get the help and work through it.

Feel free to contact me and I can assist you in finding a therapist in your area with the right training to help guide and support you as you confront and work with you husband.