July 13, 2024

By Mikaela Pannell

This month, we wrap up our three-part series about pornography and marriage. If you missed the first two installments of the series, you can find them in the April and May issues. Before we dive back in, it’s important to acknowledge that pornography is a difficult, triggering and/or sensitive topic for many people. If that’s you, take heart! Know that God loves you and wants you to live the most fulfilling life possible. He is the ultimate healer.

The short answer to that question is yes! Healing is absolutely possible. The first step in healing, though, is acknowledging that there is a wound.

What if you and/or your spouse are using pornography? What if you’re stuck in a rut and think that looking at porn will help you get out of it? What should couples do?

Breaking free

Fr. Kevin O’Dell is co-founder of the Chastity Support Group.

“Confession is always the first line of defense,” Father Kevin O’Dell, parochial vicar for Pastorate 18, says. Whenever we are stuck in sin, we should run to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Inviting God into our most wounded places will make the healing process move forward.

As spouses, it is important to support your partner in the pursuit of healing. Father Kristopher Cowles, parochial vicar for Pastorate 22, observes that this is a real call for spouses. “Allowing that person to actually receive healing … and enter into this with a real sense of true intimacy.”

With Father O’Dell’s background in addiction work, he offers a reason for hope. Certain behaviors create neural pathways, making those habits difficult to break. However, “over time, if you stop doing it, those shortcuts disappear. And that’s in the brain,” Father O’Dell says.

He explains that the pathways, or shortcuts, in the brain that are forged by porn use can be healed when a person completely stops using. This shows that it is possible to break free from pornography addiction, and that you can have a healthy marriage even after having used pornography in the past.

He does issue this reminder, however. “If you’re addicted to pornography, and you’re a male, how are you going to resist the temptation to look at a woman you know with lustful eyes? How are you gonna be able to avoid that? The only way that I think you can avoid it is number one, be sober. Number two, be about the process of building virtuous behavior in your life,” Father O’Dell says.

Because porn destroys self-control, curbing the appetite can only help your marriage. It is an exercise in employing the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which is a necessary quality to have as a married person. You can build holy behavior on your own, but it is much easier to cultivate a virtuous life when you have support from like-minded people.

“Having others who walk with us is so incredibly important, and who keep us accountable,” Father Cowles says. Contrary to popular belief, pornography use affects both sexes. For men, having other men who acknowledge the harm of pornography and want to see you succeed in fighting the good fight is imperative. Similarly, Father Cowles acknowledges that for women struggling with pornography use, it can be “very, very isolating,” which makes it critical for them to also have support from others as they fight it.

There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Father Cowles gives this piece of hope for those working through the healing process: “Oftentimes, as they’re coming off of it, while it’s very very hard, what all of the sudden begins to happen is they rediscover the beauty and the gift of their spouse. They begin to appreciate the reality that is in front of them once again, and to love the person in front of them in an authentic way.”

In breaking free from pornography, couples are almost regifted their spouses, because they’re beholding them or are themselves being beheld in a way they may not have been in a long time.

Spicing it up

Adding porn to the relationship is not necessary. Reviving your marriage is possible without it by using other ways to spice up your romantic life. Father Cowles has some advice.

Father Cowles is co-founder of the Chastity Support Group

“For a lot of people who are looking to spice up their relationship, the spicing up the relationship can obviously happen by adding spontaneity to their dates, planning out and doing things they haven’t done since they were engaged or before they were engaged,” he says. “Surprising each other with gifts and with dates and with locations and doing things they haven’t before. Of connecting on that much deeper and profound level.”

In fact, taking pornography out of a marriage will help regain a fresh perspective on the relationship. Keeping porn out prevents immeasurable harm to your marriage.

If couples feel like they aren’t on the same page in their marriage, or perhaps even like they’ve fallen out of love with each other, it would be a good idea to re-examine personal motives and goals within their hearts.

“If the ultimate goal within the intimacy between a couple is purely pleasure, then they’ve probably lost sight of love … and if the ultimate goal is love, then the pleasure that comes from that is typically going to be much more enjoyable,” Father Cowles says.

It can be really easy to fall into habits that place your desires above those of your spouse, so at times, a reality check is necessary to make sure you’re loving your spouse in the best way possible.

Stay strong

For those who have never used pornography but are feeling tempted, or those who have used in the past and are feeling the tug to go back, make sure to seek support. The Church is full of people who are here to see each other succeed in the journey toward sainthood. There are many resources to help you succeed, starting with the Chastity Support Group, which both Father O’Dell and Father Cowles are involved with. Reach out to one of them to get started.

We serve a great God whose forgiveness and healing know no bounds. If you and/or your spouse are struggling with pornography use, come to the Lord now to begin your journey toward healing.

Mikaela Pannell is a freelance writer and a parishioner at St. Therese Parish in Sioux Falls, where she serves as a lector. She is married with two young children.