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QUESTION: Is Habitual Pornography Grounds for Divorce?

I have been married almost two years. It is hard to explain the deep unhappiness of my entire marriage in a short question.

My husband has apparently been deeply involved in internet pornography (including chat rooms) our entire marriage. I knew he had struggled with pornography prior to our marriage, but he convinced me that he had repented and let God change him. I now believe that his “change” was merely an act intended to lure me to marry him – he seemed to think being married would take care of his “problem.”

Recently, I began to track his online activity, revealing that he is seeking out extremely perverted sites, but the most disturbing part is that he seeks out “teen” sites. Also, his MySpace account, which I easily located, lists him as “single,” “doesn’t want children” and “no preference” in regard to his sexuality. He goes to many local singles sites, etc. I have hundreds of pages of documented visits to hardcore porn sites.

I have two teenage daughters from a previous marriage that live with us, and although he has never, to my knowledge, done anything inappropriate toward them, I am concerned that his mind has been severely affected by his sin. I am going to ask him to move out in order to protect my children and I am also going to ask him to seek help from our church for his problem while we are separated, but in the past, he has denied that he needs help.

My question is this: if my husband refuses to repent and allow God to heal him, is Matthew 5:28 Biblical grounds for me to divorce him?

I sense a great deal of understandable pain, disillusionment, and anger in your question. You are to be commended for wanting to take your daughters out of a potentially dangerous situation. You are also right to insist that your husband get spiritual help for his addiction, for that is what it is. It is also, as you say, sin. From what you say, it is obvious that pornography is controlling his life.

You are also right to fear that it will have so corrupted his mind that he may possibly (not necessarily) never be able to have a godly relationship with a woman. I say not necessarily, because the grace of God can work wonders in the heart of those who truly seek Him and his presence in their lives.

Your question for me, though, has to do with yourself and what your Scriptural options are. I appreciate that you are, at least at this time seeking separation, not a divorce. That suggests that you have at least some hope for your husband. But I certainly understand why you ask if you are “stuck” in this relationship, which definitely is not a marriage according to God’s ideal for his children!

There is no unanimity among students of the Bible in answer to this question. You are not asking what students of the Bible say, but what does the Bible say? All I can do is point out to you that pornography most certainly is included in “looking at a woman lustfully” in Matthew 5:28. Jesus says that this is “adultery…in his heart.”

Adultery is covenant breaking, particularly breaking the marriage covenant. In marriage, the partners vow to keep themselves for each other and for each other alone. If he has broken the marriage covenant in his heart, he is an adulterer – especially if his life revolves around this breaking of covenant. It is sophistry to cry innocence because there has been no physical intimacy! What happens is that the pornographic images super-impose themselves on the wife, so that even in the marriage bed, he acts out his lust for the women viewed pornographically.

Not only this, but the very word Jesus uses, translated as fornication, sexual immorality, unchastity, or marital unfaithfulness in various translations of Matthew 5:32, is one of the two root words for pornography. The Greek word is pornia. When it is put with the word graphe (which means, a writing), you get pornography.

This Greek word has a meaning much broader than the English word fornication. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that addiction to pornography is included. In Matthew 5:32, Jesus says that anyone whose spouse is guilty of pornia is innocent in a divorce for this cause. (I am sure you could find some people who would disagree with this answer, but I am confident there is ample theological and linguistic support for what I have said.)

This horrible epidemic of pornography is wreaking destruction in the lives of many. Pornography is found with virtually every sexual predator who is arrested. My prayers are with you and your girls in the disaster this addiction is bringing into your lives.

I hope these few words give you peace of mind about what our Lord says about your situation. May He be with you, and may you go with Him as you face your future. If I can be of any additional assistance, please feel free to contact me.


7 Responses

  1. I read your thoughts on “is pornography grounds for divorce”
    I have had a battle with pornography for 3 plus years. $ different times I went to the porn sites on a regular basis and I would get caught, repent, stop for a while and then start again.
    The going to the pron sites included e-mails to addresses listed on these sites. Certainly this is sin and just to give the whole picture I struggled for years before this with problems of lust thoughts about different women I had contact with through everyday life situations.
    Now I have been caught/confroted again. I had stopped using the site several days before I was confronted because of the intense conviction from God about my sin.
    Long before the use of the website porn I felt my marriage was terrible and was very discouraged with marriage, I had lost all hope of having the kind of marriage other have.
    This is not an excuse I just would like some help here.
    I have removed all software from my computer to erase website activity and have my son checking my history daily to confirm I am not going to porn sites and he is allowing me to do the same for him.He also had this sin in his life. I wasn’t aware of it at the time.
    My wife thinks there is no hope for me and wants to divorce me over this.I have asked her to forgive me and also for another chance to work out our marriage.It doesn’t look like that will happen. Any ideas?

  2. Jeff,

    Thank you for your comment and question. From what you said, you could be the husband of the woman who asked the question I answered in my post above. I’m not saying that you are, but that you are the male part of what she asked about.

    I am glad you have entered this discussion. You show that men are victims of pornography as well as women. It is something that is extremely addictive and is a growing problem with men of all ages – even including many ministers.

    Thankfully, you are taking steps to overcome this addiction. The first step is confession, which in the Biblical sense simply means acknowledging that this is a problem and that you cannot handle it on your own.

    The next step is finding someone who can help hold you accountable. In your case, this is your son.

    Do I have any other ideas? I just recently came across a source that I will be recommending to others as well. A correspondent of mine has a blog where he listed some good posts from another blog he reads. I have not read all of these, but the ones I have read are very good. You can find this list at http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/tim-challies-on-sexual-detox/.

    I believe that if you read these posts and follow the suggestions there you might find them helpful.

    Whether you will be able to “save” your marriage or not is problematic. Your behavior has brought it to the place it is now, and whether your wife will be able to forgive you is very iffy. For now, you need to work on your addiction. If you can “detox” from it, then you will be in a better position to work on your marriage.

    I will be praying for you – and ask all who may read these comments to join us in prayer. If any others have any suggestions, I will be glad to see them in comments on this post. Let us hear from you.

    Again, Jeff, I am glad you are taking steps to overcome. Sin is powerful – but our God is mightier and His grace is stronger. With His help, you CAN overcome this addiction and have a more fulfilled, abundant life. That, after all, is why Jesus said He came.

    Jerry Starling

  3. Jerry,

    I was hoping you could help me out with this statement

    “This Greek word has a meaning much broader than the English word fornication. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that addiction to pornography is included. In Matthew 5:32, Jesus says that anyone whose spouse is guilty of pornia is innocent in a divorce for this cause. (I am sure you could find some people who would disagree with this answer, but I am confident there is ample theological and linguistic support for what I have said.)”

    I 100% agree with everything you have said in your article, but I am hoping that you do have the theological and linguistic evidence for this article so that I may supply it to the elders of my congregation. We have been disagreeing on this point for some time and I am trying to very respectfully debate with them.

    Your help would be most appreciated.

    Thank you,

    • Jennie,
      Thanks for the question, and please accept my apology for not responding sooner. I’ve sat down and started this reply several times – but have been called away. My wife and I are now living with my parents and this has turned our lives topsy-turvy.

      The linguistic rationale is that, whereas the English word fornication refers to sex between or by an unmarried person, the Greek word pornia has a much broader meaning. It refers to any illicit sexual activity. Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon (a long-accepted standard work) gives the first definition of porneuo, the verb partner of the noun pornia, as “to prostitute one’s body to the lust of another.” Note that lust is in the heart, not in the overt act. The second definition is “to give one’s self to unlawful sexual intercourse, to commit fornication.

      With these definitions in view, to deny that they include pornography would be akin to saying that Bill Clinton told the truth when he said, regarding his affair with Monica Lewinski, “I did not have sex with that woman” simply because they was no actual intercourse.

      The theological justification for my position in the blog is in the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount just before what he said “except for fornication” with reference to divorce: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, KJV). Note that this action is looketh. In the KJV, the eth suffix indicates action that is continuing; it is not a casual, fleeting glimpse (though that glimpse could be replayed continually in a man’s mind). This is a look with the intent to lust after her.” Remember that lust takes place in the heart. It does not necessarily involve an overt act. In this context, it is deriving pleasure from the thought of the action.

      If Jesus’ words here do not describe porn as it is shown today, I do not know how it would have been described more clearly. Watching porn may not be the actual act of intercourse with someone other than your spouse, but one who is addicted to it does look for the purpose of lusting. Jesus said that this is adultery.

      I pray that these few words will be of some assistance to you.


  4. Thank you for your post. I much appreciate the care and the compassion you show the victim — excellent. The man in this case is certainly not sinless. However, I question your handling of the Biblical text: there are several articles handling the text differently, in particular

    – Jeff Olson, Does a Wife Whose Husband Views Pornography Have Grounds for Divorce?, http://questions.org/attq/does-a-wife-whose-husband-views-pornography-have-grounds-for-divorce

    – Brad Hambrick, Is pornography a biblical ground for divorce?, http://www.bridgehavencounseling.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/BCA_Pornography-Marriage_Hambrick.pdf

    I’m in the process of writing a synthesis of these points of view (plus a few other observation) in french. If interested, you’d be glad to provide an english translation.

    • Thank you for your comment and for the links in it. Each of these articles is written in a gentle spirit that shows deep commitment to God’s Word and to the marriage relationship. I believe that I have both of those same commitments, though we come out at different points in addressing the specific question.

      I believe that part of the difference is in our understanding of the phrase in Matthew 5:28 “looks at a woman with lustful intent” (ESV) or “looketh on a woman to lust after her.” Jeff Olson wrote, “if Jesus meant to imply that sexually lustful thoughts were grounds for divorce in every case, then every husband could be divorced on that basis. What husband can say that his mind has never wandered into sexual lust of some kind.” Similarly, Brad Hambrick’s excellent listing of steps in a progression from objectifying a person as a sex object to full gratification of sexual impulses outside a marriage begins with very subtle stages.

      But isn’t Jesus’ point that adultery begins in the heart? The point at which he says the man has committed adultery with her in his heart is not in a casual, or even a lingering look that creates sexual attraction. It is at the point when the man is looking in order to lust. Both the KJV and the ESV get it right, as do most major translations. This is far beyond the point where a man sees a woman who is sexually attractive to him. He has begun to look for the express purpose of lusting.

      The woman whose question I was answering had a husband who had progressed at least to Brad’s 6th of 11 steps. This step involves an relationship with a real, live person. Intercourse does not occur, in Brad’s progressions until step 9, which is a one-time affair. He says later in his post, ” I do not believe there is evidence for biblical grounds for divorce until there has been sexual intercourse with another lover.”

      But isn’t this what Jesus is speaking against, that is the idea that any kind of looking, touching, lusting, etc. is o.k. until the magic moment of actual intercourse occurs? I’m confident Brad would want the man’s progression to end long before it reaches this point. I admire his desire to find reconciliation and restoration to a healthy marriage. I also commended the asking woman on her desire to get spiritual help for her husband and for the hope she still had for her husband’s “cure” of his addition. This, I believe, is in keeping with the entire tenor of Scripture.

      But I am not willing to say that a woman who is in a marriage such as my questioner described must stay in the marriage until she has incontrovertible proof that her husband has had intercourse with another woman (or man).

      –Jerry Starling

  5. […] Starling, QUESTION: Is Habitual Pornography Grounds for Divorce?, https://committedtotruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/question-is-habitual-pornography-grounds-for-divor…, accedé le 10 Sept […]

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