Talkin’ About Hard Stuff: Pornography and BDSM

Hello again! We get a lot of questions about what is right, and what is wrong in a marriage. Although we won’t be able to decide for you what is right in your marriage (see our post What’s Okay?), we can offer insight into what can be healthy and what attitudes are not conducive to an intimate marriage.

Here, Get Your Marriage On! Founder Dan Purcell shares his thoughts on Porn Addiction and BDSM. 

Dan, What are Your Thoughts on Porn Addiction? 

Thank you for asking. 

I don’t want to downplay at all the hurt and grief pornography use causes individuals. The pain is real and disrupts the intimate connection between a husband and wife.

I get that pornography is compelling. People choose to use pornography because it does something for them. Pornography use lets you be sexual without being intimate. It evokes strong emotions, which can temporarily drown out other unwanted emotions. It’s cheap, shallow, and counterfeit love. The user doesn’t share bills, live with, raise a family with, or have any depth of a relationship with the porn star on the screen. 

Two Ways to See It

When it comes to those that speak out against pornography, I’ve found from my experience that there are generally two camps: 

  1. those that see habitual pornography use like an addiction to a substance (e.g. alcoholism), 
  2. and those that see habitual pornography use as more of an emotional, maturity, and intimacy problem.

I personally believe habitual pornography use isn’t an addiction in the clinical sense, like a meth or opioid addict would be addicted to their drug. 

My friend Dr. Cameron Staley studied this in depth for his PhD dissertation. He looked at brain scans of “porn addicts” and compared them to brain scans of drug addicts. He discovered very different patterns. If anything, those that considered themselves “porn addicts” had higher activity in the emotional centers of the brain while viewing pornography.

I personally believe there are moral issues with pornography use. However, if you can put the moral issues aside for a moment for sake of debate, I believe most people turn to porn as a coping mechanism, similar to how someone else might turn to food, binge watch Netflix, or mindlessly scroll social media for hours. 

What is a Healthy Attitude? 

I think we can be more compassionate to those struggling with habitual pornography use. Those that struggle and want to stop are usually really good people, hence making their struggle even more difficult as it goes against who they think they can be.

A problem with calling pornography use an “addiction” is it gives too much power to the porn and doesn’t empower the individual. For instance, if I were labeled an addict, it gives me an out – I could excuse my behavior because it was my “addiction.” I believe we’re much stronger than that and prefer to not use that term.

There are also those in the “anti-porn” industry that use language to paint pornography into such a powerful scary monster that it makes the problem more powerful that it really is. It’s as if they’re using a fear tactic to control behavior. It reminds me of characters in the Harry Potter books that were afraid to say “Voldemort” because it might give him more power.

I think these messages do more harm than good – it gives too much power to pornography than it should. It puts those that have real struggles with pornography use farther from getting the help they need because of the shame surrounding these messages. 

I personally don’t buy into the “pornography rewires your brain” story  – so does learning a new skill, language, or emotionally strong experience! I also don’t buy into the “it releases Dopamine, which is a drug to the brain” (well, so does prayer, scripture study, and accomplishing a goal — all release dopamine too).

What Can We Do? 

So, what really does work? Deciding what your core values are, and living a life of honesty and integrity in line with those values. See the pornography industry and its creators for what it really is, and don’t give it more power than it needs. Get to know your God-given sexuality and your innate eroticism, and be the one in charge of how you want to use it for good. Build a REAL intimate relationship and don’t settle for cheap counterfeits. And learn to really love another person. Use the Life After Pornography app if that helps! And don’t count yourself out.

Dan, What Are Your Thoughts on BDSM?

BDSM stands for Bondage, Discipline, Sadism (finding pleasure in inflicting pain on others), and Masochism (finding pleasure in others inflicting pain on you). I DO NOT support the idea of finding pleasure in inflicting pain on others – especially your spouse!

Good sex is wholesome and whole-hearted. Regardless of the sexual activity, I recommend you commit to only engage in what’s connecting and pleasurable for both people. The fruit of your activity should bear closeness, intimacy, fun, and a healthy way to express your innate sexuality. 

Big parts of any type of intimate play are communication and consent. It’s really important that both of you are enthusiastically on board with any sexual activity and spend sufficient time talking through exactly what you will do. Both of you should agree on a safe word or gesture ahead of time, and commit to immediately stop if one of you gets uncomfortable.

It’s all About Intention

The specific sex act alone isn’t what makes sex great. The important question is, do you find it exciting and connecting? For instance, a couple could be doing “vanilla sex” yet use sex to emotionally disconnect from each other or worse, emotionally abuse the other. On the other hand, another couple could find some more *playful* forms of BDSM extremely connecting, trust-building, bonding (no pun intended), and connecting.

We recently wrote a post all about playful bondage that might answer more of your questions! Playful Bondage in Christian Marriage

Don’t be afraid of the hard questions and conversations. Our sexuality is one way God provides us the opportunity to learn and grow. If you have more hard questions, email me at getyourmarriageon@gmail.com or DM me on Instagram. 

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<h3>Amanda Severson</h3>

Amanda Severson

Hi, I'm Amanda! I'm a grad student on her way to becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist. I'm a wife and a sex enthusiast. I am a psychology nerd whose life goal is to help every couple find the absolute joy of sharing your life with someone else.

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