Skip to Content
    MCC Canada        MCC U.S.

Stories

 

Some things we just don't talk about

Anonymous

One of these is pornography - and other forms of sexual addiction. Is it really true that Mennonite men succumb to these temptations in the same proportion as men in the general population?

About nine years ago I got a phone call late at night from my best friend's husband. "Sue just got the worst news of her life, and she needs someone to be with her," he said.

Now part of the reason Sue and I were best friends was because we had both experienced the death of a child. I couldn't imagine what news could be worse than learning that your child had died. My hands shook on the steering wheel as I drove to their house that night.

John met me at the door. "She asked me if I had ever been unfaithful to her, and I had to tell her the truth," he said.

I found Sue face down on the bedroom floor, numb and not speaking. Eventually she groaned, in quiet rage, "How could he ever have done this to me?"

Sue's husband was involved in various forms of pornography - peep shows, massage parlors, and "adult" literature. He turned to his pastor for help, and the pastor felt compelled to report the behavior to John's employer, a church-related agency. John lost his job, and the family began a series of moves and job changes related to John's ongoing problem.

I never revealed their secret to anyone except my own husband in all these years, but I never forgot about it either. Little did I know how common John's problem is, even within the church.

Nor was I aware for many years just how closely my life was parallel to Sue's. Then several weeks ago, my husband also confessed, "While I have been faithful in the spirit of our commitment, I have not been faithful to the letter of our marriage commitment."

"What in the world could he be talking about?" I thought. "This is craziness! This can't be true."

But it is true. My husband - the church council member, the song leader, the Sunday School teacher, the Christian businessman, the "model" Christian husband - has been cheating on me in various ways for most of our married years. It started with topless bars and X-rated movies and then grew into frequenting massage parlors and using in-room "services" at hotels.

Somehow he still thought he had been faithful "in spirit" because the behavior had never involved vaginal sex. Yes, he felt guilty and dirty and hypocritical and always thought he would never do any of those things again. But when the opportunity came, sometimes he succumbed to what had become an addiction.

So how can I deal with this terrible news? I feel so alone! My instinct is to turn to my husband for comfort when I'm in such pain, but he is the source of the pain! I have been working with a therapist, but it costs $80 an hour to talk with her. I need a friend.

But what will our friends think if I tell them? How could my parents ever bear knowing this about the son-in-law they love and respect so much? What if this gets out - he too could lose his job with a church-related agency! His career would be ruined. Where can I turn for support?

Ah! There's Sue! I know she will understand, all too well. We haven't seen much of each other in recent years, but who cares about the cost of a long-distance phone call in the face of this crisis? I can call her now because her husband called me to be with her nine years ago. She's the only person I know who has dealt with this before.

Such a trap! Just when I need friends the most, the stigma of the problem I face keeps me from going to the people nearest and dearest to me. When I asked the marriage counsellor, "Who can I talk to about this? Who can I tell?" he said, "No ones needs to know about this! I always tell pastors and teachers not to tell, because it causes so much pain and mistrust".

"At best, all you'll get is pity," he continued, "and no on will understand that this has nothing to do with your relationship with your husband. That is a separate issue, but everyone will think it is partly your fault."

Our pastor told my husband, "I understand that she needs to talk about it, but don't tell your friends. They will feel they have to take sides, and it will always have an impact on your relationship."

So where is the Christian community at a time like this? Why are the men I've looked to for guidance so very reluctant for this issue to be aired? Why don't we hear more about this problem from the pulpit? Could it be that the men in the church really do struggle with the issue of sexual fidelity just as much as the men in society at large, and none of them is ready to "cast the first stone"?

How many women in the congregation are in my shoes - overwhelmed with the load, and reluctant to share it because this particular sin is somehow too secret or too terrible to talk about? Is this commitment to silence doing anyone any good?

My approach to dealing with something that seems impossible is to read about the problem. I went to the library to learn more about sexual addiction and to try to understand how men think. Recent studies report that about 25 percent of married men have had extra-marital affairs of some sort, and about 6 percent of all adults (that's one out of 17) have some sort of sexual addiction, which would include pornography, prostitution, and multiple affairs.

I want to believe that the statistics would be very different if the study included only church members, but the literature says this probably isn't true. That means that maybe a quarter of the married men in church on a Sunday morning have indulged in some sort of unfaithfulness. At the very best, it means that at least 25 percent of the men in church have a real struggle with temptation in this area.

Do they every talk about it? Do they help one another with it? Do they talk about how to conquer the temptation? My husband says they don't - or not much, anyway.

We have come to the point of having support groups in church for people who are grieving for the death of a loved one, for people who want to lose weight, for people who want to develop a more healthful lifestyle. But this most devastating behavior remains unmentionable. We just don't talk about the tragedy of unfaithfulness in marriage - and use of pornography in particular.

Men who indulge, and the women they hurt, suffer in silence, afraid to turn to even their best friends and families for help. If the statistics are true, most of us have a friend or relative who is dealing with the pain of sexual immorality. So why keep the silence?

In all those years, my husband never gave one clue that he had an addiction similar to John's. And even now, Sue has decided not to tell John about my husband's problem; she fears John will think his own problem isn't so bad if my husband, a person he admires, has also fallen. So the conspiracy of silence goes on, and the cycle of abuse and misuse continues.

I dare ministers to start addressing this issue boldly from the pulpit. Our children are exposed to all kinds of sexual messages on television and in the print media. They should also be hearing a balancing message from the pulpit and in their youth groups: a clear call to purity and help with the constant struggle against immorality. Adult men and women need the support of their peers in the same struggle.

Grief used to be unmentionable, but we've learned to handle it better now that we've started to talk about it. The same thing happens with pornography and other sexual temptations - just having told me about his behavior and having the topic open for discussion has helped my husband be strong and resist temptation when he could have gone to a massage parlor.

There is no benefit gained from keeping the pain and struggle a secret. God help us all!

The day for openness about pornography and other forms of sexual addiction is not yet here. For this reason, all names and circumstances in this article, while real and true, have been altered to protect the identity of those involved.

Gospel Herald, January 10, 1995, Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, PA 15683. Used by permission.

 

Back to top

 

Thinking about Pornography

Anonymous

These are the reflections of a woman who has been struggling with her husband's addiction to and use of pornography.

In thinking about the specific issue of my husband's addiction to pornography, I was able to move from feeling depressed, angry and terrified to a position of taking some leadership. This has led to some change in our situation.

I began by owning up to the secret of my husband's use of pornography with friends in my women's group, admitting my distress about sexual objectification, and the way in which his use of pornography made me feel like a victim and led to feelings of sexual undesirability. I needed to recognize that it had very little to do with me personally, and a lot to do with how men are socialized in our society.

I discovered that we as women need to keep talking with each other about the feelings that our partner's use of pornography brings up for us (e.g., we are not bad or deficient because our husband has a problem in this area.) Second, we need to remember that men are good, and that we can support them to give up this addiction by maintaining a loving attitude toward our husbands.

I began by listening to my husband on this issue. What was the attraction for him in viewing such material? I was able to ask him questions in a relatively relaxed manner. It soon became clear to me that, in part, his secrecy about his addiction kept it so powerful. After a while I decided to confront some of my fears by looking at some of his pornography with him. While I in no way found it arousing, the reality was not as bad as I had feared, and we continued to talk about it.

Then I decided to set policy for the household. My husband and I talked for a long time about the issues and reached agreement on some conditions for moving forward: that his pornography would be kept out of reach, that it would incur no cost to our family, and that he would continue to meet with a pastor or therapist for support and accountability toward giving it up.

Since then I have kept pointing out that real closeness for men - including both sexual intimacy with women and close non-genital friendships with men and with other women - is more important than pornography, no matter what it feels like. Feelings of competition, anger, and early sexual hurts get attached to this compulsion. My general view is that pornography as a substitute for real intimacy is a huge area for many men to work on.

 

Back to top