tags of your document. ]]> -->
What Does the Bible Say About..? Logo

What Does the Bible Say About..Pornography as Infidelity?

I know of a young Christian couple who are separated and preparing to divorce. According to the wife, her husband regularly views pornographic materials (primarily over the Internet) and masturbates to the point that he no longer has sex with his wife at all. This reportedly has been the pattern since the first month or so of their marriage. Both have gone to various counselors individually and together, but to no avail. The wife says that her husband has repeatedly lied to her and others throughout the marriage. She suspects that his admission to pornography and masturbation is only a cover-up for perhaps other sinful activities such as homosexual acts, sex with animals, etc. The wife believes without a doubt that her husband's persistent viewing of pornography and masturbating constitutes "marital unfaithfulness" and that she is at liberty to divorce him (and later remarry, if she finds someone). Her parents argue that pornography is not adultery and that she would not be free to end the relationship or remarry at any point. What are your thoughts on this matter?

Answer

Yours is not an easy question. I admit my first reaction was that his actions could be considered marital infidelity, and that a divorce might be an option. It is not that easy, however.

On the one hand, if he is denying her the marital rights she should expect then he is not obeying God. ""Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." (1 Corinthians 7:2-5) Thus, denying her that which is due is called fraud. But fraud is not a reason for divorce.

If he were addicted to drugs or gambling, rather than pornography, the question would not be so difficult. One could say that she promised to stay with him "in sickness and in health." But this is not just another addiction, although it is a very powerful one. With other addictions there would not be the question of adultery. So the real bottom line is whether his addiction, by denying her marital rights, constitutes fornication. Can one have "illicit sexual intercourse" (to use the definition in Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words) without a partner? "Intercourse" implies a relationship between two people. One of the problems many people have had with the biblical story of the "woman caught in adultery" (John 8:1-11) is that they only brought the woman to be judged by Jesus, when the law said both parties were guilty. There should have been two people to constitute adultery.

On the other hand, Jesus said, "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) While this does not say, as some contend, that merely looking at pornography (or a beautiful woman) is the same as adultery, it does say that the thought is the parent of the action. In the case you cite, it appears that he has taken some action toward another woman, even if she is not physically present. That is not to say that everyone who masturbates to pornography would commit adultery if the person were actually there; many wouldn't. But to take it to the point of denying the one you promised to "cleave to" and be "one flesh" with (Matthew 19:5) certainly indicates that he might carry through the action. (Or it might indicate that he is incapable of sex without what he may see as a "forbidden" stimulus.)

There is also the consideration as to whether the condition of "fornications" that Jesus puts on divorce considers actions taken after the marriage, or only applies if one married someone who presented themselves as a virgin and then later found out that they actually got "damaged goods." For those who take that interpretation, there is nothing that happens after a marriage that justifies divorce; only fornication before the marriage would do so. In such a case, she would have to show that he misrepresented his sexual actions before the marriage took place. After all, Jesus does not say adultery is a proper reason for divorce; the word used is "fornications" in the plural, which may or may not include adultery.

Suspicions of other actions that would definitely count as "fornications" are meaningless, of course, in the question of divorce. If he is acting this way to "straight" pornography, then the chances are good that homosexuality and bestiality are not among his problems.

Adding to the difficulty of the question is the idea that she is considering whether such a divorce would allow her to scripturally remarry at a later date. This might, or might not, indicate that she is looking for a "safe" way to get around the possibility of remarriage. She has to consider her own motivations, whether they be right or not.

Ultimately, it sounds as if he has broken the marriage vows. Whether that justifies her breaking hers is something that only she can decide. Whatever she decides, God can forgive her if she gets it wrong. Her parents probably will, too.

(You asked for my thoughts on the matter. I'm glad you didn't ask me to give a clear-cut judgement one way or the other.)