I have been with my husband for five years and we have just had a baby. He has always used pornography and he has quite specialist sexual tastes. At the start of our relationship, he was very honest and we tried to incorporate this into our sex life quite successfully.
However, over recent years, his use of pornography and masturbation has come at the expense of our sex life. He rarely instigates lovemaking yet masturbates and uses porn daily. He will look at it on his phone when I am in another room. He also confessed recently that he had been masturbating to porn at work.
Things came to a head with our new baby; he would hold her and still have his phone with him. I asked him not to look at porn when he was with the baby. He said of course not, but over the following weeks would still constantly have his phone with him when looking after her. Last week, he admitted he was looking at porn while he was looking after our daughter.
I was horrified and there were rows and tears. He was very sorry and ashamed and I have pushed him to go to counselling. I cannot move forward until I understand how he could do this.
I am angry and ashamed of his behaviour. We did have a very good relationship outside of his porn problems; it was loving, respectful and supportive but now I fear I can never see him in a sexual way again as I am haunted by the image of him making himself sexually aroused with our sleeping daughter feet away from him.
He disgusts and sexually repulses me and has shown himself to be a very weak man; he either knew it was wrong and yet did not have the strength of character to stop or he did not think it is wrong, in which case he does not have the same moral code as me and thus I am wary of co-parenting our daughter if our moral values are so far apart.
I do not want to be a single mother but even with counselling I think I can never see him in a positive sexual way again. He has tainted our child by bringing the adult world into her innocent life, even though she was unaware of what was happening.
Should I seek divorce or try to save my marriage? He refuses to give up his porn collection completely but since this came to crisis point he has at least cut down on his daily use.
I’m taking it for granted that his “specialist tastes” don’t involve child abuse images (nothing you said in your longer letter led me to believe this), because, obviously, my advice then would be completely different.
In cultures where parents co-sleep with their babies/children, people do have sex with sleeping babies in the same room. But that’s not what this is about. I understand how you must feel, not least because you are in that new mother “babymoon” stage, and your husband has introduced something very adult into it.
I consulted Vanessa Oliver, a psychotherapist who works with people with addictions. She thinks it sounds as if your husband has an addiction. “Sex addiction is known as an intimacy disorder and can be very, very isolating,” she says. “Addiction is often used to anaesthetise feelings that may have been repressed for years. The addict may not even be aware of what they are any more.”
Addictions are powerful, compulsive and complex, and it really may not be as easy as your husband simply promising not to do something any more. He needs specialist help.
The worry – in the short term – is not so much what your husband is looking at/doing but that he is doing it to such a degree that his attention isn’t focused on the baby when he is in sole charge of her. I would address this first. Your main priority is you and your baby’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Oliver has worked with couples in very similar situations to yours and she emphasises not to do anything drastic. “You will be in shock. Don’t panic, don’t do anything reactive. You need time to come to terms with this.”
Oliver also suggests getting individual support, as well as joint support. (But if your husband doesn’t want to get help, please don’t let that stop you.) In therapy, a specialised counsellor will work with your husband to find out what is behind his addiction (bacp.co.uk or atsac.co.uk).
Vanessa Oliver’s suggested further reading/resources for sexual addiction:
Books for the addicted person:
Don’t Call It Love by Patrick Carnes
Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes
A Gentle Path Through the 12 Steps by Patrick Carnes
She Has a Secret: Understanding Female Sex Addiction by Doug Weiss
Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men by Robert Weiss
Untangling the Web: Breaking Free from Sex, Porn and Fantasy in the Internet Age by Robert Weiss
The Porn Trap by Wendy and Larry Maltz
Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction by Paula Hall
Books for partners:
Intimate Treason: Healing the Trauma for Partners Confronting Sex Addiction by Claudia Black
Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts by Stefanie Carnes
Love, Infidelity and Sexual Addiction: A Co-Dependent’s Perspective by Christine Adams
Co-Dependent No More by Melody Beattie
Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means
Before the Dust settles: Eight Mistakes to Avoid Immediately After Discovering Your Partner’s Sex Addiction by Margaret Stone
Groups for partners
Recovery Nation, recoverynation.com
Sex Addiction Help, sexaddictionhelp.co.uk
How porn affects the brain: yourbrainonporn.com
Sexual addiction and compulsivity: sexaddictionandcompulsivity.com
Sex addicts anonymous (for groups): saa-recovery.org.uk
Sex and love addicts anonymous: slaauk.org
Help with sex addiction: sauk.org, atsac.co.uk
Shame – a film starring Michael Fassbender struggling with the isolation of sex addiction.
Thanks for Sharing – a film about three sex addicts in a recovery group and their journeys.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 13 March 2015.