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The Truth About “Porn Addiction”

by | Abuse Literacy

The Truth About "Porn Addiction"

When a woman discovers that her partner has been secretly using pornography, the sources that she seeks help from, including clergy, therapists, family and friends, may direct her to the pornography addiction community for support.

Joy Forrest joins is back on the BTR podcast to discuss abuse in faith communities – particularly the truth about “porn addiction” and how pornography use is an abuse issue. Listen to the BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.

Betrayal (Whether It’s Porn Or Another Form Of Infidelity) Is Abusive

“They see us more as objects and possessions than partners. It’s just a really difficult thing to deal with.”

Joy Forrest, Called to Peace

When men betray their partners with porn and it’s glossed over as “addiction”, they aren’t being held accountable for the abusiveness of the betrayal.

At BTR, intimate betrayal is viewed as a serious form of psychological and emotional abuse.

Secret Pornography Use is a Consent Issue

Further, when a man doesn’t give his partner the information that she needs to give her full consent to a sexual experience with him, he is committing sexual coercion.

“If you’re in a relationship with a porn user, with an active porn user, then there’s going to be some kind of abuse going on. At the very least a consent issue if you’re not aware of his porn use. If you’re religious and you think, oh, our relationship is healthy because you’re going to church and he’s not giving you the opportunity to give consent because he’s withholding information. At the very least that’s a sexual coercion issue.”

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

When Porn Use Is Solely Treated As An Addiction Issue

“I’m just so sick of pornography use being an addiction issue, although it is addictive. It’s definitely addictive, but the way that the pornography addiction recovery community and the way that pastors or therapists are asking the victims of abuse to interact with their abuser. Instead of seeing it that way, they’re saying be supportive of his recovery, he is going to have relapses. Well, that’s just another abuse episode. So, you’re essentially asking an abuse victim to tolerate abuse and you’re not really wanting to hold this abuser accountable. And it’s super dangerous for victims.”

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Treating porn use as an addiction issue is dangerous for women – the abusive nature is not addressed, and often, clergy and therapists urge women to continue to engage, often in close quarters, with their abuser. They are subjected to gaslighting, manipulation, sexual coercion, and sometimes physical violence.

BTR Is Here For You

We understand what it’s like to seek support, validation, and help when you have been betrayed but only find minimization and excuses. It’s a terribly lonely and scary place to be.

The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group offers group sessions with trained trauma coaches who can help you navigate the realities of betrayal and abuse. Join today and begin your journey to healing.

Full Transcript:

Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, called BTRG for short, is a daily online support group. We have over 21 sessions per week for you to choose from. You don’t have to wait for an appointment, you don’t have to leave your home, you can join from your closet or your parked car in your garage. We are here for you. We’d love to see you in a session today.

I have Joy Forrest back on today’s episode. If you didn’t hear last week’s episode, go back and listen to that first. You’ll hear her bio there and all the amazing things she’s done. We’re just going to jump right back into our conversation. 

Emotional Abuse, Psychological Abuse, and Sexual Coercion

You and I both have physical abuse, right, as part of our stories. Mine is a very minor incident and yours more so. Some women have a lot of it and some women have none. So, let’s talk about victims of emotional abuse and psychological abuse, and sexual coercion, which results in betrayal trauma for the victim. Can you talk about what services you offer for victims of that type of abuse?

Joy: Well, basically, I really don’t differentiate. I used to run support groups at the domestic violence shelter, and the women would say I would rather he hit me. I would much rather he hit me because at least I know he’s going to back off. And to me, emotional abuse can be so much worse than physical depending on the type of physical abuse from time to time.

Coach Renee Can Help You If You’ve Been Physically Abused

Anne: Well, because it’s very clear if someone punches you in the face. But when someone is gaslighting you and manipulating you and lying, you feel like you’re going crazy, and you don’t know what is really going on. And I think that is why it’s worse. I don’t differentiate either, other than if someone is being physically abused here a Betrayal Trauma Recovery then we also ask them to schedule an individual session with Coach Renee so that she can help them get physical services from law enforcement or a physical domestic violence shelter in their area. Simply because it’s really scary. 

But I think any emotional or psychological abuser can start physically abusing at any time. So, I don’t want women to think oh, he’s not physical and so I’m physically safe. I would say there are so many stories of men who are psychologically and emotionally abusive only until they murdered their wife or something like that. And so, I don’t think that we should say that okay, well, if he hasn’t hit you, then we are “only dealing with” emotional abuse and so you’re physically safe. So, I just want to put that out there because no one is physically abused, without being emotionally and psychologically abused.

It’s Never “Just” Emotional Abuse

Joy: Yes. And actually, the thing is that we don’t know. It’s usually when you decide to leave them or something like that, that it becomes far more dangerous, but I have seen situations where there was never any incident of physical abuse. I’ve got a friend here whose husband was just emotionally abusive, “just” emotionally abusive for 11 years. She left and went to her parent’s house. He stormed in and killed her parents and left her for dead. And then we had a woman on our board a while back and the same thing happened. He came in and just shot her, and so we never want to take it lightly. And if you’re living in fear, then there’s always that potential and there’s something called a lethality assessment that you can take. I just recommend that even if it’s solely emotionally painful, it still behooves you to look into how dangerous it could possibly be. Sometimes people think I’m done, I’ve had it, I’m getting out, and that can actually endanger you by going and saying to them, I’m leaving. So, we just want them to know the potential.

Anne: And that’s why we, at least at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we have our groups, and we have other things. But if that fear is there, getting help from your local resources is really important. Like law enforcement or other things because you really need a team of people to help you escape. I think it is really important to know what all the risks are. So, talk about betrayal trauma at Called to Peace Ministries. How do you guys’ view that?

Is Betrayal Abuse?

Joy: Well, I mean, I think that just the abuse in and of itself is a huge betrayal of the bond that we are supposed to have. It is our most intimate relationship usually, and clearly where domestic abuse happens. And so, there’s nothing like that. It’s such a deep wound, but it’s so beautiful to me. When I was going through it, I had a really terrible incident happen one day, and I’m saying, Lord, nobody knows what this feels like. Nobody understands what I’m going through right now. And I’ve just felt like the Holy Spirit dropped all over me and I could feel Jesus say I know; I know what it’s like to be betrayed by somebody I love. I know what it’s like, you know, to have somebody that I trusted to turn on me. He was betrayed, so we have a God who understands. So, what we do is we just focus on reconciling them to God. Letting them know that he understands the pain that they’re going through. 

“They See Us More As Objects & Possessions Than Partners”

Honestly, when we’re experiencing betrayal trauma, a lot of times it’s from people who don’t appreciate us. They see us more as objects and possessions than partners. And so, it’s just a really difficult thing to deal with. But we do look at restoring them and their relationship with God quite often because I haven’t seen a woman yet who’s come through this kind of thing that came out with their faith intact fully, and a lot of them may have faith. I still have a lot of faith, but I also was really questioning God’s goodness. If he’s good, then why is he allowing this to happen to me? And so, you know, helping them move past the sting of that betrayal and to understand that there is somebody who is on their side.

Anne: Especially if you followed all the counsel of your church, you know. In my church, it’s that you obey the commandments, and that you got married in the temple, or that you made these covenants or whatever, and that you were chased before marriage, and you picked a godly man. You’re like I did all those things, and now, it didn’t protect me. None of those things protected me, and so that is a really tough place to be. 

Pornography Use is a Domestic Abuse Issue

Here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we talk about pornography as a domestic abuse issue, repeatedly. I take a lot of heat for that, a lot of people are like oh, she’s gone too far. Or are like what are you talking about? It’s not abusive. Can you talk about the correlation that you see between pornography and domestic abuse?

Joy: Yes. I would say that I have had some kind of interaction with at least 2000 victims of domestic abuse, and I would say that 95% of their husbands were involved in porn and sexual infidelity, things like that. And the interesting thing is, I definitely think they go hand-in-hand whether or not somebody wants to define it that way. They go hand-in-hand because the heart behind domestic abuse is basically objectifying. The partner is objectified. They are not seen as people, but they’re seen as possessions, and that is exactly what porn does. It is looking at women as objects. I mean, we know that even pornography changes and rewires the brain in the way that men can’t have intimacy with women if they look at it enough, right. But we know that abusers have mindsets, that are again, they’re loaded with pride and entitlement. And again, porn to me is also an entitlement issue. Like I can look at anything I want to any time, there are no rules for me when it comes to this department, right. So, again, I just think that there is a very strong correlation, and it is definitely the same mindset that you see. With everything that’s listed there on that power and control wheel that I talked about, it is the same kind of mindset.

Pornography Use is a Consent Issue

Anne: Yeah, and that’s what I say. You may not say this, but I think that it’s better to view pornography as an abuse issue because of those reasons. Because you’ve got the objectification, the feeling that you don’t have control unless you have control over. That type of mindset means that if you’re in a relationship with a porn user, with an active porn user, then there’s going to be some kind of abuse going on. At the very least a consent issue if you’re not aware of his porn use. If you think oh, our relationship is chaste because you’re going to church and he’s not giving you the opportunity to give consent because he’s withholding information. At the very least that’s a sexual coercion issue.

Joy: Yeah. Well, and especially these guys who are addicted to porn. I haven’t heard it described that way, so it’s something for me to think about it. It really is because again, I know that they’re extremely interrelated. They go hand-in-hand, and they have with almost every case I’ve ever seen, and in the ones I didn’t see, I always suspected it.

“There Should Be Zero Tolerance For Abuse”

Anne: Absolutely. Yeah. Personally, I’m just so sick of it being an addiction issue, although it is addictive, right. It’s definitely addictive, but the way that the pornography addiction recovery community and the way that pastors or therapists are asking the victims of abuse to interact with their abuser. Instead of seeing it that way, they’re saying okay, be supportive of his recovery, he is going to have relapses. Well, that’s just another abuse episode. So, you’re essentially asking an abuse victim to tolerate abuse and you’re not really wanting to hold this abuser accountable. And it’s super dangerous for victims, and it also doesn’t do the abuser any favors. It’s really not helping him change at all.

Joy: Yeah. Absolutely, there should be zero tolerance for that. Just like there should be zero tolerance for abuse. Now how that looks is also very carefully navigated because it can endanger you when you say no or when you say no to certain things. So, I totally agree with that.

Trauma Mama Husband Drama

Anne:  I am going to take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So, it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it, it’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations, as well as infographics at the back.

And now back to our conversation.

When Abusers Manipulate Clergy

Anne: We talked a bit about the church and the trouble that the church is having in recognizing abuse, responding to abuse, and in holding abusers accountable, as well as not being manipulated by the abuser, right. We see so many pastors, bishops, and church leaders who are being manipulated and groomed by abusers in order to see them as the really good guy. With your work with churches, how is it going? What do you think are the specific challenges that churches are facing?

Joy: Just like you were mentioning, abusers can be extremely charming and charismatic, and they can quote the scripture very well. And so, that’s the hardest part is when you got an abuser who was so convincing, but we have seen a difference just in the last four or five years. Well, three to four years, maybe more so. I don’t know what did it. It might have been the Me Too Movement, but suddenly I felt like; you know, I’ve been doing this work since 1997. When I worked at the domestic violence shelter, we reached out to churches and basically, they said well, we don’t have that kind of problem in our church. And I said I beg to differ. 

How Is Called To Peace Working to Change Things?

But in recent years, we have had so much more interest and more people coming to our training. In fact, we have a training coming up; we do a quarterly training for pastors and ministry leaders, and we have one coming up this week. And we have about 130 people signed up. When I used to do this at the shelter, we would be lucky if five people showed up. So, it is changing. They’re starting to listen now, I think. And I’m not saying that they’re all getting it because every week we hear a story about somebody who got kicked out of their church for leaving an abusive person. We still hear those stories, but more and more are hopping on and they’re starting to try to learn, and they’re starting to differ and refer out to people who have expertise in this area. We tell people that it is counter-intuitive because a lot of times the victim will look so scattered, so stressed that they don’t seem to be very stable and you’ve got an abuser who is such a conniver and a manipulator that he looks very stable, and so it can be very confusing.

Domestic Abuse Training

That’s why you really need to bring in outside resources like advocates and domestic violence experts who can help you navigate the situation, and that’s kind of what we’re doing at Called to Peace. We’re trying to help the churches navigate those murky waters where it’s just not clear. Where I see there is still a problem is sometimes people will go to one two-hour training and go okay, well, we had a training on domestic abuse, let’s get started. And they are still not equipped because it is a very complex issue that you cannot just get a very short training on and then jump into. You want to involve people who really know what they’re talking about.

Anne: I agree. A lot of people will say well, okay, so tell me how porn is abusive or something. Or they’ll be like, what do I not know about domestic abuse? And I’m like, you’ve got to go in 10 minutes or a half-hour or something, or it’s just an hour training or just talking to someone is just not going to help because you have to know what that grooming looks like and what it sounds like and what it is because it’s so hard. It’s even hard for victims to recognize the difference between a safe person and someone who says they’re safe. So, for example, an addict in “recovery.” It is very difficult for a victim to be able to decipher those things, and if they’re checking off all the boxes, they’re going to 12-step, they’re going to church, you know, it’s very difficult for people to really ferret out what’s going on. 

“We Need People To Get On The Frontlines”

Joy: Oh, absolutely. That is one of the reasons we started the church partnership program so we can go in with them and talk to them. One thing we also recommend is that if a church really wants to get a better understanding and handle domestic abuse well, is that they send people from their congregation to become advocates. So, we have a lot of churches who are actually sending people through our advocacy training and that is making a huge difference in churches because we’ve got to have boots on the ground somewhere. You know, you and I, we cannot do it all from our desk wherever we may be. Even with our support groups, it is great, but we need people to get on the frontlines and help these folks and that’s what advocates do.

Anne: It’s so interesting to me that we both have a similar, as I mentioned this before, but I mentioned it again, that we tried to go for help. We couldn’t find it, and then basically we’ve dedicated our lives to helping women get the resources that weren’t available for us. You know, I wanted to get the word out that don’t go down the pornography addiction recovery road without being well educated and understanding abuse. Go down the abuse road, and then your questions will be answered, and you will be safer more quickly. That was my goal after being in that pornography addiction recovery space for years and years and years and never being able to get help and never having these things identified as abuse. For me, that was a big deal. 

“We Have To Admit The Ugly Truth Before We Can Embrace The Beautiful Truth”

So, to conclude, if a woman is kind of concerned that abuse might be too strong of a word for the “great husband” that she has, who just has a couple of problems maybe, or his only problems are he’s got an anger problem, in her eyes, and a porn problem, but really he’s a really good guy. And also, it’s because when he was a kid, you know, he was abused or some other thing. For women who can see these abusive behaviors but can’t quite wrap their head around that this is his character, that he has an abusive character. What would you say to them?

Joy: Well, you remember I talked about going out to Omaha, Nebraska to this program, and I told the guy who was facilitating our little workshop, it was a week-long intensive. And I said, you know, he just loses it. He can’t control his anger. He just flips out and he starts breaking things. And he goes what? Wait a minute. So, when he’s breaking things, who’s stuff does he break? Your stuff only or his stuff and everybody’s stuff? And I said, well, it’s mostly just my stuff. And then he says, does he flip out on people at work like that? And I said, no, not really. He said, well then, that tells me that he’s got control over this. He’s choosing this behavior. Again, back to what I talked about earlier. Step number one to healing is admitting the truth, and a lot of times the truth is ugly. We have to admit that ugly truth before we can embrace the beautiful truth, and the truth is that he is using kindness to manipulate very often. It is not that he’s losing control at all. It’s that he’s using, whether it be anger or kindness, he’s using both to control.

Anne: Yeah, he’s not out of control. He is asserting control in those moments. Yes.

Joy: Yeah, and that was a very painful eye-opener to me. It was a very needed one for me to finally move towards healing.

Support the BTR Podcast

Anne: Yeah, I agree. That was a big one for me, too. All of these concepts are really, really important. And like we said, it’s not something that you can just get, you know, from one podcast episode or two podcast episodes. But a really good Bible for abuse is, of course, Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That? And also, organizations like Joy’s and Betrayal Trauma Recovery and other organizations whose whole purpose is to educate women about abuse and help them move towards safety. 

Thank you so much for coming on today’s episode, Joy.

Joy: Well, thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.

Anne: If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.

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