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I wanted a professional's opinion. I'm already pretty convinced that my husband is a porn addict, but I want to get a second opinion.

Ok, since I met my husband 4 1/2 years ago, I knew he had some porn pictures/videos on his computer and looked at it on occasion. It didn't really bother me because we were having great sex and having it a lot! As the years went by, I found porn sites on the computer more and more; I chose to ignore it. We recently got married (in March 06) and he is looking at it more than ever. I see everything he looks at on the internet and it is ridiculous! He doesn't initiate sex nearly as much as he used to, and he isn't affectionate to me like he used to be.

Lately, I have been going nuts! As soon as I leave the house to go somewhere, I come home and either see all the porn sites he was on, or I catch him in the act. He also does this late at nght when I'm sleeping. He thinks I don't know, but I do. it has affected me mentally, physically, and emotionaly. I feel horrible about my self image. I have been holding my anger in so long that I don't know what to do.

If I confront him, he's just going to blow up and say I'm insecure, freaking out, or every guy does the same thing. What do you suggest I do and do you believe he has a problem or do you think I'm being crazy?

Thank you so much for your time.


ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman

Dear Lisa--

The subject of addiction is complex, so before getting to pornography specifically, I would like to present a list of the formal criteria which some psychologists believe should be used to determine whether or not a patient is addicted, not just to pornography, but addicted to anything. These criteria are based on The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, and comprise a list based on the kind of factors used by many psychologists to diagnose alcohol and other substance addictions:

Now it is only recently that these criteria for addiction, which used to be applied only to the use of substances, have begun to be applied to behaviors not involving ingesting alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, but simply to activities. In other words, in just the last few years, the concept of addiction has begun to be extended to include not just chemical substances which are physiologically addictive, but behaviors which do not involve habit-forming substances, or any substances at all. Thus, one now hears talk of people being addicted to such activities as vigorous exercise, computer games, sudoku puzzles, watching TV, listening to gossip, and the like, including viewing pornography.

Usually, there are two kinds of people who like to extend psychiatric criteria in this way. In the first place, psychiatrists and psychologists may have a vested interest in extending these definitions because most insurance companies will pay for psychotherapy and psychiatric medication only if the patient can be formally diagnosed according to the DSM, so the more diagnoses, the better the pay. Secondly, various interest groups which have social agendas for controlling the behavior of others like to define behaviors they dislike as addictions because that classification demonizes the behaviors and thus makes them seem harmful by definition. For example, what is the difference between an avid golfer and a golf addict? At root, the difference is simply one of point of view. Someone who approves of golf as an activity, or at least is more or less neutral towards it, might define the person who plays several times a week as an avid golfer, but to the person who disapproves of golf might call the very same person a golf addict.

In the case of on-line pornography (which, by the way, makes up a very large percentage of all use of the internet--I do not know the exact figures) conservative Christians particularly have been extremely eager to define pornography as a problem, and those who enjoy viewing it as addicts. For example, Senator Sam Brownback, who now seems interested in running for the US Presidency in 2008, chaired hearings in which pornography was called "the new crack cocaine." But is this true? Is looking at something, looking at anything, really similar to smoking a highly physiologically addictive drug which has profoundly destructive effects on the heart, brain, and all the other organs of the body? In my view, much more harm than good comes from conflating or confusing two such very different behaviors by calling both of them addiction. For example, viewing pornography may be harmful to one person (harmful, not physically, obviously, but harmful to relationships or meeting other responsibilities), but not at all harmful, or even helpful to another person. But smoking crack is simply bad for anyone since delivering that much of such a powerful chemical so suddenly is highly toxic to the human body, no matter whose body it is.

Sorry to be so long-winded, but this topic seems important to me, for if people like Brownback, James Dobson who testified at the Brownback hearing, and their fellow Christian religious zealots are able to get their hands on medical and psychiatric terminology, and to distort it for the purpose of furthering their own social agendas, we are moving one step closer to the kind of abhorent theocracy which characterizes so much of the Muslim world.

Now to your question. Based on your letter, it appars that your husband might meet enough of the addiction criteria to be considered addicted to pornography (if one can be addicted to an activity such as looking), but this really misses the point, it seems to me. What seems important here is not whether or not your husband is technically addicted to pornography or not, but that his interest in pornography is impacting your marriage in ways that seem hurtful and harmful to you, and you avoid discussing this with your husband. In fact, although you have been suffering with this for some time now, your husband does not even know that you are aware of his "addiction." And, you fear to discuss it with him because "he's just going to blow up and say I'm insecure, freaking out, or every guy does the same thing." So, your husband is keeping his "hobby" a secret from you, and you are keeping your suffering a secret from him. What kind of relationship is that?

In other words, you are asking me if I think your husband has a problem, but that is the wrong question. You have a problem, as I see it, and it has not much to do with pornography. The problem is that you have not yet understood that sooner or later married people are going to get down to the truth about each other and their relationship, and that trying to postpone this will only make a real marriage impossible.

In my opinion, you should stop holding in your anger, as you wrote, and stop worrying about what your husband might say when you confront him. Instead, you should not even think of a "confrontation," but rather a conversation in which you express your real concerns about the effect that his interest in pornography has on you, and on the love which, I assume, prompted you two to marry in the first place. And when I say "real concerns, I do not mean your anger, but your deeper concerns such as his having, perhaps, lost his love and desire for you sexually. Then the conversation will not be about your husband and whether or not he is addicted to pornography, but about the two of you, and how you are getting along together.

If you are now so angry or so insecure that my suggestion seems unworkable or impossible to implement, then I suggest you find some counseling help (not for the two of you, at least not at this point, but for you personally) aimed at bringing you to the frame of mind from which you could have a real, honest, heart-felt talk with your partner.

Be well.

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