I’ve been asked this question a few times, and was asked it again last week: “Is heavy use of pornography grounds for divorce?”

Until last week, I’ve usually come down on the “No” side, but having seen and heard more and more about this kind of sin, last week, for the first time, I found myself moving towards a hesitant “Yes.”

Before I explain my reasoning, let me offer a few qualifiers.


First, I’m not saying porn use requires divorce. Just as in the cases of abandonment and adultery, the woman may divorce her husband on these grounds, but does not have to.

Second, with the already weakened state of marriage in the Christian church, none of us want to be responsible for further weakening of it by making divorce more common. However, as with adultery and abandonment, God gives biblical grounds for divorce not only to protect the innocent, but also so that husbands and wives may know that there are lines they must not cross, thereby strengthening marriage. If more husbands knew that their porn use gave their wives grounds for divorce, perhaps less marriages would be devastated by it.

Third, we’re not talking about one-off porn use or even a few times. We’re talking about unrepentant and heavy use of hardcore pornography which the man refuses to stop.

Fourth, this does not mean we pastorally abandon the man, but rather we continue to minister to him and counsel him.

Fifth, separation without divorce would still be my preferred option in most of these extreme circumstances, with an ultimatum to the man to cease using porn, a time limit on his compliance, a promise of the woman to return if the conditions are met, and an agreement that one further use of porn will mean permanent separation and probably divorce.

Sixth, I am aware that there is no explicit biblical verse to support this position, but I believe it is a valid practical application of biblical principles. However, with it being an application of principle, Christians are likely to have different views on its validity. Notice, I said earlier, I’m in the “hesitant yes” category. I’m open to correction on this.

Seventh, although for some this approach may be unprecedented, we have to recognize that we are in unprecedented times with the unprecedented use of porn by some professing Christian men. The church has been slow to recognize these changes and to work out how God’s Word applies in these circumstances. We need to catch up.


These are my qualifiers. Now, my reasoning. And it’s really quite simple. It’s adultery.

“Oh, but there’s no real woman involved,” says an objector.

Really? Of course there is. In fact in some ways it’s worse than “ordinary” adultery in that it involves multiple women, many of whom are nothing less than sexual slaves, forced to satisfy the adulterous desires of porn users.

“Oh, but this is all in the man’s mind, it’s not real adultery, involving two physical bodies.”

Well, it certainly involves his body; repeatedly. And it certainly involves many women’s bodies. Just because there is a screen between them, and many miles may separate them, does not mean that two bodies are not being used adulterously.

“Oh, but every married man commits adultery in their minds.”

Maybe. But this is different in kind and degree. Is there no line we can draw anywhere, when porn use eventually crosses into divorce-justifying adultery? No amount of porn, no kind of porn, eventually equals adultery that would permit divorce?

As I said, I’m open to correction. I’d like to hear your arguments for and against. I’ll be especially interested to see if there’s a male/female split on this, as my own “polling” has found women more in the “Yes” camp than men.


1. I used the example of a man, but obviously the principles equally apply to a woman.

2. Most helpful extra piece of information is that porneia/πορνεία in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 means more than just “ordinary” adultery (moicheia/μοιχεία). It covers a wider range of sexual immorality.

3. #2 means that we must use wisdom to distinguish between certain kinds of porneia when considering whether there are grounds of divorce. There is porneia, and there is divorce-justifying porneia.

4. The question of degrees of porneia applies to non-digital porneia as well. For example, if a married woman kisses a married man (not her husband) in a sexual way, porneia has taken place, but few would say it is divorce-justifying porneia.

5. On the other hand, divorce-justifying porneia can take place without going the full way of sexual intercourse (e.g. President Clinton & Monica Lewinsky).

6. Even in the worst-cases of porneia, we should use counseling and church discipline first to try to save the soul and the marriage before considering divorce.


This has been one of the most helpful blog discussions I’ve seen in the Christian blogosphere. Thank you to everyone who contributed and for the generally respectful, moderate, and constructive tone of most of the comments. Lots of helpful insights for us all to consider as we seek the Lord’s mind on this vexing issue. As I’m not seeing too much that’s new in the comments, and I don’t want the good that has come from the discussion to be lost,  I think it best to close the comments now. I didn’t answer all the questions raised, partly because others answered them, and partly because I don’t have all the answers.

  • David from England

    I agree with you. Accessing pornography is clearly sinful and persistent access of pornography is a breach of the marriage covenant and approximates to adultery. It seems to me disgraceful that any Church should expect wives to tolerate this.

  • Elizabeth

    I as a married woman of thirty years and the mother of five grown children and sixteen grandchildren I must agree that pornography use as described by David in this post would constitute grounds for a biblical divorce. The Lord made it very clear that our thought life matters. I have had the experience if counseling many who are victims in this terrible evil. Sadly both men and women are caught up in this self deceiving sin. And the Church has dropped the ball once again. Tim Challies wife wrote a post not too long ago and she nailed it. I know God can restore all that locusts have eaten in any situation but repentance must proceed it.

  • Steve Carr

    I agree with you on this. You are correct to say that this is different in kind and degree from adultery in the mind. It is an intentional betrayal of the marriage vows. Porn addiction, too, is linked to other forms of sexual and domestic violence and abuse. By looking the other way on this issue the church is enabling abuse, not to mention the fact that many of the women and even children portrayed are, as you pointed out, are sex slaves. Marriage is sacred, but Christians need to learn to think through the implications of these things. We don’t have to protect the sanctity of the institution at the expense of the individual.

    • Laura Mitchell Fortney

      Great points. Porn addiction usually leads to physically acting out in some way – strip clubs, sexual abuse, affairs, prostitutes. It is truly an addiction and offers many possible physical dangers to the wife and/or others! This should be dealt with very seriously. Even if it is “only” a porn addiction it creates much emotional abuse for the wife.

  • Steven Birn

    I don’t know that I buy that porn is grounds for divorce. First of all, Christ says divorce is acceptable only for adultery. He wasn’t talking about adulterous mind games, he was talking about the physical act with another person. What you’re proposing is a form of moral relativism, which muddies the divorce waters. A little porn viewing is not cause for divorce but a lot of porn viewing is. Where do we draw the line? It strikes me that the line could be different for each individual and each marriage. It could vary from pastor to pastor. You might say that x amount of porn viewing is grounds for divorce. Ian MacLeod might say y amount of porn viewing constitutes such grounds. As such, the advice given between pastors can be different, even to the point that within our church a person might pastor shop in order to get sanction for whatever result they may be after.

    I don’t think that’s what scripture teaches and it certainly isn’t what God is after. Scripture ought to be a unifying document, one that we can point to and cite with clarity. Christ’s teachings on divorce are quite clear, only a physical act with another person is grounds for divorce. We ought not stretch that to the point where viewing a person 10,000 miles away and potentially years removed in time is grounds for divorce but only if that person is viewed too much with too much being determined by the aggrieved party with guidance from the pastor or elder they’ve hand selected for the result they’re after. There are other ways to deal with this matter short of the nuclear option. Christ limited the nuclear option, Joseph went so far as to not invoke the nuclear option with Mary. It seems to me the church shouldn’t expand the nuclear option past the line Christ drew.

    • Mike Waters

      You are correct Steven. I fear there is a small, but very loud clause in David’s post that says much, “We need to catch up.” What are we to catch up on? Does morality, does Scripture, change with the times?

      • David Murray

        No Mike, but we are facing some different problems compared with previous generations. It’s not catching up in the sense of changing Scripture but catching up in our application of Scripture, which admittedly is more difficult and debatable than simply interpreting it. When I compare out Scriptural applications with the Puritans, they are different because of the different problems they faced compared to us. The Puritans were in some ways more up-to-date with their generation than we are in that their applications are often more current, more specific, more personal. That’s where we need to “catch up.”

        • Mike Waters

          Thanks, David for your response. But hasn’t porn been around for a very long time, and how does its easy access and rampant addiction, change the two lawful allowances for divorce. Doesn’t this seem similar to the person who wants to stretch 1Cor.7:15 to include all forms of “abandonment” (mental and psychological)? How much porn watching does the impenitent person need to watch, to be lawfully divorced?

          • Steven Birn

            Porn has been around from the beginning. If you go to Italy, there are Roman artworks depicting sex acts to be found all over the place. Mike, you get to the heart of the problem with Doc’s position. How much porn watching is too much? Occasional watching doesn’t appear to be grounds for divorce but at what point is the line crossed between occasional watching and marriage severing porn watching? There is no clear standard and that strikes me as extremely problematic and potentially dangerous to marriage.

          • Mike Waters

            I totally agree, Steve. While I am sympathetic to this entire subject, and in no way want to seem indifferent to the innocent party, I find it much safer to limit adultery to physical sexual infidelity.

          • mel mariner

            How about hypnosis? What would you tell a woman that wakes to her husband whispering in an effort to hypnotize her into doing the things in his porn. Not only is he speaking disgusting things but he is doing it as the voice of God calling her to the cross at the same time.

          • Evie

            This sounds very disturbing to me, although I don’t quite understand what you’re describing, I hope you have a pastor and his wife to meet with over this issue.

          • mel mariner

            I know, right?
            Yes it was handled and I wish I could have posted it anonounmously but it posted before I could figure out how to get my name off. It’s not my story and while I have permission to discuss it, it’s uncomfortable because it is so dark. Most people have to Google it to even comprehend it’s a real thing.
            We know hypnosis (especially against your will) is occult. We know porn is bad and progressive. But is there a verse to deal with this specifically? Especially if we claim it’s not really adultery?
            My understanding is you don’t divorce an unbelieving spouse but what if someone claims to ba a believer does that? Can anyone who has the Holy Spirit do such a thing?

    • David Murray

      Good points, Steve. Here’s one problem I have with your reasoning. Even in cases of physical adultery, there are degrees that we have to consider. Obviously if there has been straightforward full adultery, it’s simple. But what about a man and woman who are having regular sexual contact with one another but stop short of sexual intercourse? Think something along the lines of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Would something like that be grounds for divorce on the basis of adultery, even though adultery in the fullest sense had not occurred? If yes, what about just one encounter of that nature? My point is that even where there has been physical sexual contact between two people, there are still degrees that have to be weighed wisely and prayerfully and in consultation with fellow-elders.

      • Steven Birn

        I’ve always taken the term adultery to include all physical sexual acts with another person not your wife (or husband as the case may be). Oral sex is sex and as such would fit under the definition of adultery. Hillary Clinton could have lawfully divorced Bill based on his conduct with Monica Lewinsky.

        • Steven Birn

          For the record, just because someone can lawfully divorce (or demand execution as the law of Moses allows) a cheating spouse doesn’t mean that they should. That’s a separate issue entirely. In the case of pornography, something should be done but divorce isn’t in the cards so far as scripture is concerned. There are plenty of things that can be done short of the nuclear option, including church discipline and separation.

          • Melody

            What if we put it in the context of that time period? A man frequenting a temple or maybe just looking through a window at the temple prostitutes. He’s not touching them, only himself. He’s not even speaking to them. He’s watching the sin but he isn’t physically participating.
            Maybe when he is caught he cries and says how sorry he is….only to return and having the whole scenario played out again.

            How would Paul have treated that situation? Seems to me that becomes relativism when you down play the sin instead of seeing it as yeast that invades the marriage, family, and church.

          • Steven Birn

            I’m not playing down the sin or offering anyone excuses. I’m simply saying that scripture does not allow for divorce absent actual physical contact (adultery) with another person. We are not permitted to divorce because our spouse is unrepentant or unsaved.There are other avenues for aggrieved parties to go down, including church discipline. Until the other party has sexual contact with another person, the vows of marriage are in place and the church has no right to endorse the breaking of those vows. We cannot be more loving than Jesus.

            There are only two grounds for divorce: Adultery and abandonment. If we expand the definition of adultery to include obsessive viewing of pornography why not expand the definition of abandonment as well? After all, the woman married to the sociopath has been emotionally abandoned by her husband. Shouldn’t she have grounds for divorce? The husband of a woman who falls away from the faith has spiritually abandoned him. Shouldn’t he have an out? It seems to me that by expanding the definition of adultery the church is creating a slippery slope that will lead to what amounts to no-fault divorce.

          • mel mariner

            Including all the things that mean adultery could never be the same as no-fault. There is definitely fault involved.

  • Bill

    Jesus taught the “principle” of “adultery in your heart” in the sermon on the mount to implicate the self-righteous, but the same Jesus clearly had a literal, physical adultery in mind in his teaching on grounds for divorce. The point is Jesus himself did not “apply” his own principle of spiritual adultery to his discussion on grounds for divorce, so not clear what underlying biblical “principle” you have. Further, how is one-off or a “few” uses of hard core porn not adulterous under your rationale for why porn usage is adultery (I.e., it involves women’s body, involves depiction of sex, etc.)? And why can a wife not divorce a repentant porn user but can a repentant adulterer if they are both adultery? You cannot be results-oriented in your counseling, teaching, or biblical exegesis just because you don’t like what is happening. If a man is addicted to porn his sin will continue to fester and grow depraved and very may well lead to him leaving his wife or committing physical adultery

    • Mike Waters

      We said, Bill. I totally agree.

    • Melody

      Or molesting children….people don’t like to think about how far a sin can progress in this area.

  • Chris Gensheer

    Hey David, thanks for writing this. I share the “hesitant” yes with you. I also am not fully there though in application (there with you in principle). Here’s my hang ups:

    1) Why restrict it to “unrepentant”, persistent, hardcore use of pornography? By that distinction, one could almost apply the principle in the other direction and say, “Well I only cheat on my spouse once every 2-3 years, so it’s not that bad, is it?” Either its adultery, or it’s not, regardless of frequency and kind committed.

    2) What are the more female-oriented parallels to the male-oriented problem of pornography? This is a over generalization, yes I know, but do we not do a disservice to our husbands and wives when we do not go deeper with them in their marriages and help each spouse learn to love the other well? Could wives for example be brought up on charges for withholding sex from their husbands, in much the same way we might discipline husbands use of porn? Not trying to excuse anyone or any sin, but sin is rarely simplistic and one-sided in any ones life, let alone a marriage.

    • Melody

      One of the suggestions that are given to wives is to have more sex with their husbands. Or they give validity to his claim of her withholding. What is not considered is that the man who uses porn in this way is not able to perform normally. He requests more and more perverse activities. He gets angry when her period starts because she didn’t give him warning so he could have sex one more time. He suddenly shaves off all his body hair. Any type of friendly behavior is taken as an invitation to sex. Affection in public brings anger because it is seen as a tease. She just does that because she knows they can’t have sex. I could go on but I hope you get the idea. More to the point, these are all shameful embarrassing things the woman is living with and not as likely to share with you. At the same time she is buying into what he is saying about it being her fault. She knows she is having frequent sex with him but in her heart she knows how much she hates it. She knows she hates being touched by him. She feels dirty. All things that she feels guilt over. Why? Isn’t that Satan’s perversion of the situation?

      • Evie

        melody, Chris wasn’t saying that a wife’s withholding caused her husband’s porn use. He was bringing up a parallel problem that women are almost never called out on – withholding sex or saying “no” frequently. NOT tied to porn use, separate issue. If you re read what he said, he was calling out a double standard that we will discipline a man for porn use (rightly so) but not a woman for withholding sex. I’m pretty sure he was NOT trying to say “why don’t we point the finger at the wife for contributing to her husband’s porn habit.” No no no no… that is never OK, like you said.

        • mel mariner

          “Not trying to excuse anyone or any sin, but sin is rarely simplistic and one-sided in any ones life, let alone a marriage. ”

          That is still claiming that the other spouse a part in it. Ordinarily I would agree there are three sides to a situation: his, hers, and the truth but not with porn.
          When my friend explained what all she went through in her marriage there were still people demanding to know her part in it. The fact that she had the support of church leadership didn’t matter at all. They did not want to hear anything about what she went through if it didn’t come with some kind of confession. Adultery, murder, assault, robbery, rape all have victims that do not carry responsibility.

  • http://PilgrimSteward.HamilitonHome.net/ VRH

    I greatly appreciate the spiritual warmth of your labours, good sir. If you are open to correction here, how much more am I! In this spirit, may I offer some disagreement with your analysis?

    We should certainly agree that this sin is horrible, heinous, destructive, and dehumanising. The results of this sin practised as you’ve described are enormously painful, cruel, and traitorous. But when Christ identified the sin of lust as ‘adultery in the heart’, He was not giving us warrant to remove the distinction between lust and adultery. Scripture is clear that both sins deserve hell, but Scripture is equally clear that only one of these sins carries the potential penalty of divorce. We may not dissolve the distinction between these two. This may be more apparent if we consider the parallel in the case of hatred and murder. On your reasoning, if one is vicious enough in his hatred, may he not be put to death for the crime of murder?

    Let me highlight very briefly just a few additional points that seemed to me to indicate some further weakness in your case. Qualifier # 2 seems to rally the ends as some justification for the means. I know we’d agree, that is not a right method of moral reasoning. Qualifier # 6 admits that there is no explicit scriptural text to warrant this but then appeals to a ‘valid practical application’ of unstated biblical principles. This seems to me to be an insufficient and vague ground for certainly and concretely putting asunder what God has joined together. In reason # 1, it seems to me that you deny that a distinction remains between the actual act of physical adultery and certain heinous and habitual sins of lust. As much as I agree that this sin at this severity is extremely heinous, I cannot agree that if the lust is heinous enough we may disregard the distinction between lust and physical adultery.

    In your conclusion you ask the critical question at hand — is there a line that can be crossed in the sins of lust at which point we may treat such sins as though they were identical to physical adultery. It seems to me that in terms of biblical warrant we must answer that question with no. Although a man engaged in such heinous sins of adulterous lust is guilty of grave sin, the gravity of his sin does not give us biblical warrant to ignore biblical distinctions between different kinds of sinful actions. Again, this may be more obvious if we compare the parallel case of hatred and murder. Can someone be angry, vengeful, and hateful enough that we may charge him with the crime of first degree murder? No, these two sins are not the same. Murderous hatred, no matter how severe, is not identical to murder. Similarly, heinous and destructive adulterous lust is not the same as adultery. We cannot turn lust into adultery for purposes of ratcheting up the consequences.

    A few words of clarification may be in order. I am deeply sympathetic to the concern over the unprecedented destruction this sin is unleashing at every level of our society. I agree that the shepherds of the church need to be considering how we may bring every facet of God’s word to address this horrible sinful plague. I agree that separation may be necessary in such situations as these. I think it is likely, though, that one trapped in such wilful addiction will be guilty of abandonment or actual adultery in short order, and those are certainly causes for lawful divorce.

    Respectfully submitted for your consideration, I am your grateful brother in Christ.


    • KC

      Beautiful response!

    • 1luisa

      Let me say that murder in the heart and engaging in porn is not the same. Porn always involves masturbation and we know the end of that. In short it is self sex which is physical and not within the confines of marriage. Next, hardcore repeat offenders always want to take it a step further. It is never satified and looks to be more stimulated. Like a drug addict starting with marijuana and then ending up using cocaine. Most men in jail used porn and many violent criminals guilty of sexual assault started with porn. Heavy users bexome less interested in their wives and it is hard for them to be aroused. I could say more but I am seeking to refrain myself. You have no idea just how bad this is where it leads. Honestly, I think it is treated so lightly in the churches is because many Pastors use it. Women who come forward and speak to leadership about their spouse’s use are told to put up with it and are sometimes chides for telling or making an issue of it. Men protect each other and leave women in the lurch. Its not right. How is the Christian man different from the unbelieving man when both do not reign in their lusts and expect their wives to overlook it? The church had better stop playing footsies with this. That stuff is demonic.

  • Scott Youngman

    David, I think it would be helpful if you would first summarize what Biblical grounds justify divorce, then say how unrepentant use of pornography fits within those grounds. Thanks.

  • Derek Baars

    This kind of behavior is a violation of the marriage and a
    perversion of God’s good gift of sex within monogamous marriage. it pollutes
    the marriage and profits from the violation of others. The weak and vulnerable
    person in this marriage is the wife. Since God cares that she receives justice
    and that her marriage is protected, the church can do no less than promote these
    things and safeguard the marriage with the warning of serious consequences for
    unrepentant sin. Where is the righteous outrage over the harm this does to the victims
    of the porn and the devastating impact this has on the marriage?

    • Steven Birn

      Why do you assume that the wife is the victim? Statistically speaking 33-40% of those viewing porn are women. This is not by any means a problem limited to men. Maybe within the church it appears to be an exclusively male problem. The church clings to Victorian cliches about the sexes and sex and miss a large portion of the problem as a result. Also, I suspect that men are less likely to run to the church or confide in a pastor or elder about their wife’s porn habit. Women may be hurt by their husbands porn viewing but they aren’t ashamed to take it to the church. I rather suspect men are ashamed and not going to the church as a result. The end result is that the church sees a skewed version of sexual sin and ends up missing a significant problem in the process.

      • Derek Baars

        Thanks for the pushback. It certainly takes two people to
        commit adultery and/or sexual immorality, and women are involved in these sins
        too. I understand that verbal pornography is a significant temptation for
        women. The church needs to deal with these things as well. It made my blood
        boil to think of people trapped in marriages where the person involved in the
        sin had no desire to break with it. It grieved me to think of professing
        Christians doing this.

        • Steven Birn

          I don’t know what verbal pornography is. The fact is there are legions of women looking at actual pornography online, be it pictures, videos or whatever else is out there. Married women are porn addicts and presumably it causes their husbands as much hurt as when the roles are reversed. The difference, I suspect, is that husbands are too ashamed to go to the church for something like this. That, coupled with lingering victorian views of sex within the church, skews the preaching to the point where pornography is viewed as an exclusively male problem when in reality a third of the porn addicts are women. For each two men who are hauled into a meeting with a pastor or elder for porn viewing by their wife, there’s a woman in the church with the same problem who never gets counseled by the church because the church doesn’t know about it. That strikes me as a significant unaddressed problem.

          • Derek Baars

            By verbal pornography, I
            was referring to things like “fifty Shades of Gray.” The trilogy has
            sold 125 million copies. Reading this kind of “literature” is sin and
            it will cause problems in marriage. Heidelberg and Westminster rightly forbid
            it. that said, unrepentant continuous use of pornography by professing
            Christians, men and women is sin and must be dealt with strongly.

          • Steven Birn

            I haven’t read 50 shades of gray and have only the barest understanding of the plot. I would suggest there’s little difference between reading trashy novels and viewing pornography. One involves express images, the other allows the imagination to run wild. I’m not sure which is worse.

            This entire subject strikes me as one that shouldn’t be discussed within the context of divorce but rather within the context of church discipline. It seems to me that many believers are quick to jump on the divorce bandwagon when church discipline is available. Why is the church so afraid to discipline believers these days?

      • mel mariner

        The assumption that women aren’t ashamed to take it to the church is horribly wrong. Yes there are women that will run to leadership but there are so many more that are embarrassed and ashamed. You see we see it as a direct reflection on us when it happens.

  • David Feddes

    Some comments state that Jesus clearly had physical adultery in mind when he spoke of a legitimate reason for divorce. That is not so clear. In Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, Jesus did not say “adultery [moicheia/μοιχεία]” is a reason for divorce. Jesus said “porneia/πορνεία” is a reason for divorce. Porneia is a broader category than adultery. It is variously translated as fornication, unchastity, or sexual immorality. If pornography is a contemporary form of porneia, then David Murray may be correct to suggest that it constitutes a legitimate reason for divorce.

    • Richard K. Wendt

      Pornography and adultery are similar. They both begin in the mind. As theologian Frances Schaeffer said, “We live in our thought lives”. Adultery may be a physical act, but the desire for another starts in the mind.

  • Reformed Presbyterian Woman

    Pastor Murray, thank you for your article! I’m glad a reformed minister is writing on this topic as there are not many that have addressed this issue within our circles. Although lust and adultery have been around since the fall of adam, we are truly facing an epidemic in the church today with the accessibility and anonymity that comes from the internet. I would have never considered lust in the heart as grounds for divorce, but as a married woman whose husband has been involved with pornography for several years and shows little evidence of true repentance, I’ve begun to really question this and pray and seek wisdom from Scripture. As others have mentioned Matt 5:32, uses the word “Porneia” which includes all forms of sexual immorality. I do believe it’s a form of adultery, depending on the degree of sin, whether it is habitual or not, and whether there is fruit of genuine repentance or not. Pornography doesn’t just stop when a man is done viewing it on a screen. It effects his affections for his wife, it effects his relations with her (often imagining others, comparing her, or not fulfilling her needs). How can the marriage bed remain undefiled when others are continually brought into it? How can there be mutual satisfaction when a spouse is looking outside of the bounds of marriage? One of the commentators below tried to draw a one to one comparison from the commandments regarding hatred and murder. The problem with that comment is that it falls short. Hatred in the heart and even murder are not as grevious a sin as adultery because of the nature of marriage and how it correlates to the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. Pornography is a flagrant violation of every one of the commandments, it’s a form of idolatry first and foremost. There is also a covenantal relationship here unlike hatred and murder. The question isn’t so much whether mental adultery is the same thing as physical adultery. The question is, has the covenant of marriage been broken? And I would say that it could very well be so. There is no oneness or unity in a marriage when there is habitual use of pornography. There is no fidelity to the vows made. It is both adulterous and abandoning at the same time, which according to the Westminster are grounds for divorce.

    • Flip the Switch

      I agree. When I discovered my husband’s porn habit, it felt like I was punched in the stomach and I felt sick and cried often for a week. I can’t image it would have felt much different discovering a real-life affair. (I wonder how many people would say a man going to some sort of real-life peep show and participating the way he does with porn isn’t adultery. It’s the same thing except there’s no screen.) So much about our marriage troubles, our sex life, etc. suddenly made sense. It was destroying us without me even knowing what was really going on. I wrestled with divorce being an option, but praise God, my husband was repentant and as far as I know has not looked at porn since then, five years ago. But it was certainly on the table, and he knows that if I ever find out he’s looking at it again, I would certainly consider it an option. It took, I would say, two years for our relationship to be healed, and I still struggle often with issues that came out of my husband’s porn use–things I don’t think will ever really go away.

      • Reformed Presbyterian Woman

        Yes, thats the thing, it would make no difference to me if it had been a real life affair. The damage done and the effects would have been exactly the same regardless if it were a real life affair. In some ways its worst because its with multiple women and repeatedl. I would have guessed there was a problem with pornography based on problems in our relationship as well as our sex life. I don’t think people realize that porn use will directly effect intimacy with another person. The two can’t be separated. It’s done some serious damage to our marriage. We have no trust anymore, no honesty and openness. It’s damaged both of us as individuals. It’s destroyed me as a woman and the way I view myself. It’s destroyed him with shame and bondage to sin. Even if he were to stop viewing porn, the damage done is still there and I’m not sure that we cold ever get past that. At times, I’m hopeful that there’s repentance and hopeful that restoration can be made. At times, we are making progress by God’s grace. Other times, I feel hopeless and completely defeated. Thank you so much for your prayers, please continue to pray for us! The one thing I can say is that the Lord has certainly used it to sanctify me. It’s made me realize that I made an idol out of my husband and marriage. It made me realize how dependent on Christ I really am.

      • Evie

        Im heartbroken for what you’ve been through. Thinking about this issue, though, myself… Physical adultery in my opinion would feel much much worse. I can’t imagine discovering a porn habit (although terribly devastating and I don’t want to play it down) would feel the same as knowing/seeing a real woman my husband had his hands on. I mean, what if I knew her? What if she were My friend? What if I had to see her in public? Like Reformed Pres said in a reply as well “it makes no difference to me”, I am fairly sure it would make a difference.

        Again, I don’t want to downplay what either of you have had to endure. I caught my husband watching a movie on a streaming service (Similar to Netflix, not a porn site) that had A sleazy story with nude women in it and I thought I may die of Heartbreak to even think about him seeing those images, intentionally! I was disgusted and it forever changed how I see him, although we reconciled within a few days. A true porn addiction would be even more disgusting, however I still feel like discovering he’d slept with a real live woman at sometime and someplace would be profoundly crushing.

        We must be careful equating the level of heartache with what is justifyable for divorce.

        • Laura Mitchell Fortney

          I respect and agree with the basics of your last sentence. However, your first 2 paragraphs show that you actually don’t think that the “level of heartache” in the case of porn addiction is as bad as it would be in the case of physical adultery. According to your last sentence, that is irrelevant and therefore makes your 2 paragraph explanation irrelevant. It also makes those 2 paragraphs uninformed and insensitive since you have not experienced the situation we are all discussing. I appreciate your first sentence but I would caution you to please be much more sensitive in how you discuss this with those who have lived through it. I am sure you didn’t intend to be insensitive that but please be careful.

    • Flip the Switch

      And I’m really sorry that you are going through this. You are very patient and longsuffering. I hope you have talked to your pastor about this. I just prayed for you and your marriage.

  • PJ

    As a woman, I’m in the “Yes” camp to the situation you describe. I agree fully with the cautions of your article.

  • Roger Robart

    I would be in the “no” camp… But that is b/c I hold to the permanence view of marriage.

    • 1luisa

      That view is not held by Christ. In the old testament the offender was executed. The widow/widower would then remarry if they chose.

  • David Murray

    I’m not closing this down, but I do want to thank everyone who has written. It’s been helpful to me, and I’m sure to others, to see how others wrestle with Scripture and how to apply it to complex situations.

    • Sean Lucas

      This was so well-said David. After 13 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve come to similar conclusions. The family wreckage from regular porn use (I typically talk in terms of sex addiction) is vast.

  • Kathleen A. Peck

    Definitely believe repeated infidelity by the use of porn is grounds for divorce as Jesus describes it. He clearly states whoever looks at a woman & lusts HAS committed adultery in his heart. A one time here or there, no but a continual repetitive pattern of sexual gratification through women online is seriously deviant.
    The bible couldn’t address this situation in specific because there wasn’t such a technology then but clearly the standards & principles were laid out for our guidance to navigate these terribly difficult situations.

  • David from England

    I’ve read these comments with great interest and have been surprised by some of them. As well as believing that pornography is a sin and the persistent use of it constitutes adultery, I also believe that domestic abuse constitutes abandonment; the very act constituting a divorce. If labels must be used I’d call myself Reformed Baptist. Would my American brethren and sisters consider me unsound?

    • Mike Waters

      David, though I may not agree, I do not consider you unsound :)

      • David Murray

        Phew, that’s a relief! I can sleep better tonight :)

  • Timothy Allchin

    I do not beleive that pornography is grounds for divorce, but unrepentant hardness of heart towards your marriage covenant is. Could repeated hard-core pornography use constitute hardness of heart and demonstrate the desire to leave the covenant and willful abandonment of the marriage covenant? I think it could reach that threshold but determining that will take time, wisdom and the execution of a biblical restoration process. We have to be careful that we do not say that any impurity in mind or thought is grounds for divorce because that would be a clear violation of the heart of what Jesus was teaching about the permanence of marriage and the tragedy of divorce. I would encourage anyone who finds themselves in such a position to seek wisdom from their church leadership if they are unsure of how to proceed. Intent to keep the marriage covenant is proved by both words and actions over time. When one spouse is more committed to their pornography than they are to their marriage covenant, it may be indication that they really want to leave the covenant. However, the response of a person who spouse who is married to someone who is hard-hearted is not first to seek divorce, but rather speak the truth in love over time and increase the circle of people around their spouse who are seeking to do the same (Mat 18). See if they are wiling to listen to how pornography is destroying their marriage covenant and if they are willing to take steps to change and pursue purity of heart. God’s heart is for restoration, always. Those involved in pornography can be restored if they are willing to listen and get help.

    • Claire

      Very good analysis. Porn use usually includes abandonment: spiritual, emotional, financial, etc. When attempts to intervene by the spouse, church, family members, friends, etc are not successful in producing change, we allow the offender to avoid consequences. I would first recommend separation, then, with good counsel, options for divorce. When looking on a woman with lust is considered adultery, every man is guilty. But when he engages in adulterous behavior over and over at the expense of the well-being of his spouse and children, to the extent that it causes much overlapping harm, we must speak and act as God’s church to protect and encourage the abandoned.

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  • Laura McDonald

    As a woman I am in the NO camp on this. There are other options for the porn addict… church discipline and separation are ways to protect the woman. To encourage a woman to divorce and eventually re-marry I would need to be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt the Bible is clear. Otherwise, if I were to recommend that a woman get divorced for a less-than-clear reason, I could be signing up both her and any future husband for a lifetime of sin (Matt. 19:9). The waters on this topic seem very muddy.

    What are we talking about when we say “porn”? R (and even PG-13) rated movies contain porn. Are we going to say divorce is ok if a husband watches too many R rated movies? What if a man (or woman) struggles with inappropriate self touching, without porn? Porn destroys marriages, yes, but so do many other addictions (video game addictions, hunting addictions… and yes, even book/facebook addictions).

    I am convinced that our happiness-is-everything society has greatly twisted our views of divorce and remarriage. We have to be careful to guard against emotional reasoning trumping biblical reasoning.

    • Melody

      I’m sorry but comparing PG-13 is like comparing acne to cancer. It’s not comparable in terms of living hell. You think you are siding with a Holy God but really you are down playing sin and it’s invasiveness.

    • Laura Mitchell Fortney

      I respect your opinion of pornography addiction being grounds for divorce if it is based on scripture but simply being concerned that the “permission” to divorce could be abused by ones whose spouse has a “facebook addiction” is incredibly insensitive to those who are struggling in this kind of marriage. I don’t know you and will not judge your heart or motives, but your reply above “sounds” incredibly self-righteous and insensitive.

      • The Predestined Blog

        This is really a an emotionally charged topic and I have a serious question and not just a snide remark. I understand the destruction this can bring but we cannot be making up new rules for divorce. It appears to me that many here forget that you can be separated for a lifetime and not divorce. Nobody is asking these women to stay in the same house and be stepped all over. You can live separately and if he decides to leave and be unrepentant then yes based of 1 Corinthians you can grant him a divorce that is you do not initiate the divorce. The vow of marriage is not to be broken. What I think you are confusing here are legitimate reasons for a woman to leave the home and separate such as porn or physical abuse and conflating that with divorce where you can then find another spouse. The vow of marriage a covenant before God is so serious that you can live separately but not dissolve this vow you made to Him. It is hard and I am not sure I could do it.

  • http://vfm360.wordpress.com VFM 360

    Another hit piece on men. Well done.

  • Jeremy Edgar

    I am with you 100% David.

  • LukeGilkerson

    Hey David. Great question. As it turns out, I wrote my Master’s thesis on this very subject and just finished it. Would love to get your thoughts on it. Let me know if you want me to sent it to you.

    • LukeGilkerson

      And in case you’re wondering, my answer in my thesis is “Yes” (or, more preferably, “It depends”).

      • David Murray

        Luke, I’d love to read that. I think you have my email address.

        • LukeGilkerson

          Just sent it your way!

      • ebayjim

        @Luke Gilkerson – As a budding biblical counselor, I would like to read your thesis as well. ebayjim@yahoo.com

        • LukeGilkerson

          Just sent it to you!

    • Michael

      Hi Luke. If you’re willing, I would also enjoy reading your thesis. As a pastor over small groups and biblical counseling, this is a common question ~ samuelhoch@gmail.com

    • BWouda

      HI Luke,
      I would appreciate reading your thesis as well. I’m studying B.S. in Religion and look forward to pastoring or other full-time ministry. Trying to work through many controversial issues right now! Email is benjaminwouda at Hotmail dot com

    • Laura Mitchell Fortney

      I would love to read your thesis! lemfort@gmail.com

  • LukeGilkerson

    I think we often get the wrong answer because we’re often asking the wrong question.

    If Jesus had said that adultery was grounds for divorce in Matthew 19:9, then we would be right to ask, “Is pornography use adultery—and of a type that is a divorcable offense?” But I believe that is not the exact question we should ask, because Jesus did not use the term “adultery” in his exception clause. He used the term “porneia,” of which adultery is a common manifestation.

    In other words, the better question is, “Is pornography use porneia?” To answer that, we need to know something of the term itself and its use in the Roman empire at the time of Christ.

    Unless the context demands something specific, porniea comprises all unlawful sexual behavior, not just physical adultery. Porniea is of course related to adultery, but porneia is the violating act where as adultery is a common effect of many porneia acts. Other works of ancient Greek show porniea is not synonymous with adultery, but is rather the disposition and behavior that often leads to adultery. In the New Testament, the term porniea often implies not just isolated acts of sexual immorality, but habitual immorality and an attitude of lasciviousness. Thus many define porniea beyond physical intercourse to include any sexual uncleanness, licentiousness, or sexual wrongdoing.

    The porn- word group has its origins in prostitution and frequently occurs with notions of revelry and debauchery. In Greek culture, the complexes where prostitution took place were called porniea, thus the practice of prostitution in the Roman empire at the time of Christ helps to inform our understanding of how we should think of the term. More specifically to the situation of modern pornography, prostitutes in the time of Christ were not merely women one could hire for sex. Many of them were also public entertainers. These entertainers had been common at Athenian banquets and private parties of ancient Greece. Ionian and Phrygian woman were widely know and well paid for their skills: a performance of flute playing, zither playing, or drumming combined with erotic dancing that amounted to a striptease. This tradition continued and grew greatly in the Roman Empire. Ionians, Lesbians, Syrians, Egyptians, Nubians, Indians, and especially Spaniards came to Rome year after year to perform. Erotic poets of Rome described in vivid detail the sensuality of their performances.

    The parallels between the modern porn industry and the symposia entertainers of ancient Rome demonstrate the porn- word group was not limited merely to behaviors involving sexual intercourse, but all kind of licentious behaviors, embracing both activity and attitude.

    I truly believe, given the vivid nature of modern hardcore video pornography today, that someone entrenched in a lifestyle of porn use could very well be guilty of porniea.

    Of course, there are many more issues that need to be raised about this. Just as in cases of physical adultery, Jesus permits divorce, but this is not to be pursued lightly. Divorce is a grace from God for the victims of hardheartedness, not just single acts of indiscretion (Jeremiah 3:6-4:4).

    • The Predestined Blog

      Good post and I bet even better thesis. Please see my post above. I do have some questions for you if you don’t mind entertaining them, since you obviously have looked deep into this issue. I am definitely not challenging you , but really would like to hear your opinion.
      1) I think the danger in this idea is that the definition of how much is “too much” is way too subjective. Physical adultery, is not subjective. What if my wife thinks that looking at porn one time is too much? Two times? Three times? What if another woman thinks a man who has sexual thoughts, not even looking at porn, once a day for 10 days, 100 days, whatever (oohh… how many of us are then clean…) is adultery ? Why can’t one instance of watching porn be grounds for divorce? No seriously? There is no reference to “unrepentant / constant porneia” in the exception verse and it obviously entails that if you physically cheat on your spouse once your do have grounds for separation. I think that is why it is primarily physical adultery, which goes onto my next question…
      2) The one thing I have not seen addressed is the fact that physical adultery unites two people metaphysically. You can watch porn every day all day, but once forgiven and you overcome those sins you are not spiritually united with any of those ladies or imaginations (if you watch anime movies or read books). You could return to you and your spouses one flesh union intact. With physical adultery however, you cannot and are forever tied with the other person you had intimate contact with.

      • 1luisa

        After the Lord spoke about lust He also said that if we want to go to heaven we should cut off our hand and gouge out our eye if it offends us and enter heaven maimed rather than lose our souls. Is the offender taking painful, inconvenient steps to guard his eyes and heart? Getting rid of internet, tv, drubing a different route to work, praying for grace? Repenting of his sin regularly? Maybe staying away from the mall? Staying away from the beach? Not participating in certain venues? Not reading most magazines? Redirecting your eyes? Being transparent? I think the real issue is that you do not believe this to be adultery. You keep going back to intercourse because you think that is the only instance if adultery. That is what the world says. Its ok to look, but don’t touch. Mr. Clinton played down what his adultery by saying he did not have sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky. Lets not play games like the world. How many men will dace a Christless eternity because of pornography? How many Pastors will have spiritual blood on their hands for not exercising church discipline? How many female sheep in the care of Pastors have been abused emotionally when she went to her Pastor and received no protection but was chided and told all men do it it and to be quiet? I hope more women start to stand up to their husbands and start leaving them.

        • The Predestined Blog

          My friend. I know the pain is deep, the ravages of sin real, the destruction of marriage and family, yes all because
          of pornography. Yes yes yes this can all happen because of this sin. You need to realize how are divorce also brings that kind of destruction. All sin is that bad and praise God Christ came to warn and die for our sins. Now what you are doing is trying to overcome one sin by allowing another sin. We cannot be giving out certificates of divorce like the Pharisees when we subjectively feel looking at a screen becomes equivalent to intercourse or when the silent treatment is abandonment. God hates divorce. We need to tread extremely carefully especially on something like this by allowing divorce one the greatest plagues on modern society. You are correct this is something worthy of the flames of hell but we are discussing different things. Would I understand if a wife would leave her husband because of pornography yes!

          • 1luisa

            Pharisees gave it out only to men and for unbiblical nonsense just so they could have a new woman and not sexual impurity. Divorce leaves carnage. I know. My parents split when I was 9 and divorced when I was a teen. My mother did all she could but my porn, drug addicted, philandering father never gave those things up. He will face an angry, holy God for causing the demise of his marriage and his children being fatherless if he doesn’t repent.

          • 1luisa

            Let me add that I needed to be protected from him and provided for. We were poor because of his sin and at risk. He took me with him to get high one day, smoke marijuana with me in the car, and I found his porn as a child. This is a fallen world and women and children are always vulnerable with husbands and fathers like this. My mother did right. I am sorry they got divorced, but I understand and do not blame her. She had biblical grounds. We all might have gotten killed or molested. Mom is well, Dad is a mess. He has 7 kids by 5 women and o ly two of us speak to him. I am one of the two. May God save his soul.

          • The Predestined Blog

            I am deeply sorry to hear that I know the pain is real. I am again not saying that I do not understand the destruction porn can bring nor down playing that it is a sin dragging many people down the road of perdition. What I am saying is that the vow of marriage is so serious God will not allow such an ugly thing like divorce to solve it. Separation I totally understand even if it means to live separate until death does you part. THAT IS THE VOW. I am a big believer in the sanctity of marriage. God wants us to keep our marriage vows even if it means living apart from an abusive spouse, drug abusing spouse, or unrepentant use of pornagraphy. By means live separate apply church discipline until this resolves and it may not. But you are not to give up on this person in your prayers and not to divorce them. Only under three circumstances does God allow the dissolution of marriage and allow you to find a new partner death , Physical adultery, and if an unbelieving spouse leaves.

          • 1luisa

            Yes a vow my father broke. Pharisees always added to the law. Kind of like when Eve said she could not e a t or touch the tree. God did not say she could not touch. Nor does Paul teach that if you join yourself to a harlot you are forever joined. Scripture says that nowhere. Porn always is accompanied by self sex whixh is outside the marriage bed. It is wicked and not God’s design. All sexual activity outside of the heterosexual marriage bed is immoral. If God wanted Adam to have self sex he would have given him porn and not a real woman to be intimate. God said it is not good for man to be alone and that he needed a helper. Porn thumbs its nose at God and His design for marriage. It is sexual anarchy and selfish.

          • The Predestined Blog

            Honestly, I am not sure this debate is healthy for us given the suffering you have went through. I will pray for you and your family right now however my sister in Christ!

    • Laura Mitchell Fortney


  • AndyB

    Before actually dealing pastorally with situations spanning near a decade I would have said “no way”. Now I’m in the “probably yes” category. For all the reasons you mention above.

  • Ken McLain

    There are no biblical grounds for divorce – Moses allowed divorce for the hardness of men’s hearts. Seperation may be required – church involvement – but no guilt-free, the bible said I could divorces.

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  • http://www.applevalleynaturalsoap.com Natalie Klejwa

    “If more husbands knew that their porn use gave their wives grounds for
    divorce, perhaps less marriages would be devastated by it.”

    Amen. I really believe one of the reasons there is rampant abuse of all kinds in Christian marriages is because there are no consequences. Men know if they marry a Christian woman, they’ve got a free ticket to do whatever they want – and popular “Christian” opinion is on their side. Based on what God’s Word teaches about sowing and reaping, the law of love, and the fruits of the Spirit – I seriously doubt God sides with the crowd that says the woman (or man in some cases) is stuck in a living hell with an unrepentant, unchanging spouse. We apply these principles in every other social relationship but marriage. Why is that? I get so tired of seeing all the “grace and compassion” for the out-of-control abuser and nothing for the victim. There are many books out there to help clear up “muddy waters” for people who haven’t studied what the Bible says about divorce. Not Under Bondage by Barbara Roberts, and Divorce and Remarriage in the Church by David Instone Brewer are two places to start. I grew up saturated in the “no” camp until I studied it for myself. Now I’m a 100% YES. Thank you for opening up the conversation with this article.

    • lisa

      After 6 1/2 years of dealing with this from my husband: I have to mention the fact that so many of the pictures and url ‘s are still with me. You keep finding it and some of it never goes away. I never should have had to see any of it. That’s just another aspect of the pain and misery of infidelity.

  • Tara

    I have lived through this issue, and while I did not divorce, I am in the “yes” camp. After finding out my husband was involved in this for more than a decade of our marriage, I went into a several-month long grief process. All that I had believed our marriage was, turned out to be false. I cried daily for weeks on end. Like you have said, the only thing separating this from “traditional” adultery is a screen. Through much counseling, and my husband’s true repentance, we are moving on. But only after years and years of unexplained poor treatment of me and the marriage, followed by a year of hell trying to forgive and start over. The only thing that kept me there was our infant child. Thank God provided her to get me through.

    Further, after reading the statistics of how many Christian men are entangled in this sin, I have very little use for a Christian man to tell me what I should or should not have done in this situation. I no longer trust you, Christian men! I also get angered when they (usually to cover their own guilt) want to discuss how some women read romance novels. Or even worse, when they imply that the woman should have done more sexually for their spouse. I can assure you that you can give 100% of yourself to your husband and still be the victim of this sin.
    And for all you men reading this who struggle with this sin, STOP IT NOW. You have no idea the harm you are doing to your wife. Get accountability partners TODAY! Please, if you love your family, do it now.

    • http://www.applevalleynaturalsoap.com Natalie Klejwa

      “I no longer trust you, Christian men!” The ranks of women feeling this way are growing exponentially. Men in the “no” camp are especially suspect. And by the way, my husband doesn’t use porn that I’m aware of, so I’m not speaking from a place of bitter experience with this. I do know countless women who are suffering with this though, and I speak for them.

    • 1luisa

      Ma’am I am coming to the realization that most of these men aren’t saved. Ist Century christians were fierce about abstaining feom sexual immorality in a sexually perverse Roman society. Men in the church can hide their lust by using a computer and lie and say its not adultery while other men give a hearty amen. We need a revival and women need to start divorcing unrepentant use. Then the men will get the message.

  • Matthew Johnson

    I agree with Pastor David, Yes. and came to the same conclusion as Luke did by thorough study of the Biblical and cultural use of pornea. Of course, the cause for my prolonged study was in counseling a woman whose husband was quite unrepentant and his cravings and tastes becoming more and more dangerous. It occurred to me that trying to have a good understanding of the purpose of the certificate of Divorce and the possible two exceptions in the New Testament also needed to be thoroughly studied. And I came to view that as another point in favor. Today, UNREPENTANT AND PERSISTENT pornography use is the same thing as unrepentant and persistent prostitution in the first century. Paying money for selfish sex without consequence, while being able to maintain my family life, job, and influence is the idea behind prostitution. And that is quite the same as pornography. Some have said that we should not be advocating divorce for “lust.” But I do not believe the notion that pornography is lust alone. Lust is a strong, illegitimate passion or desire. Pornography addiction begins with lust, but it indeed manifests itself beyond the mental. It produces masturbation, buying of women (or men) pics and vids (prostitution), support of sex slavery (consciously or unconsciously), breaking the marriage covenant, avoiding sexual intimacy with one’s spouse (unless there is the visual stimuli), etc. Pornography is not an thought alone, it is multiple adulterous actions. Thus when we say we are advocating for the possibility of divorce for pornography, it is not the same thing as advocating for divorce for lust. I appreciate a few comments back what TimothyAlchin said. In the end, it is the unrepentant nature of the sin that allows for the divorce. And as an aside, using the same good logic so far, should not then unrepentant pornea use be grounds for church discipline. Perhaps not as many men would allow themselves to become addicted to this sin if they considered not only how it might ruin their marriage, but their involvement, ministry, and relationships in the church as well.

    • Laura Mitchell Fortney

      Thank you for this excellent reply. While I am glad for the article above (and there need to be many more like it), I feel that your reply has clarified this issue in a much better way! Only those who have been through this (either themselves or as a counselor/pastor) have this kind of understanding. Every woman in a situation of unrepentant and persistent pornography addiction (continual fantasy and masturbation) by her husband should be told that she does indeed have the option of divorce! If this is not adultery, I don’t know what is! She should also be assured that she doesn’t have to and offered a great deal of help and support! I even have questions about the “unrepentant” part of this qualifier. What about the situation where a man is supposedly “repentant” but after counseling and a few months or years of good behavior continues to go back to the habit each time and this cycle continues for years? I agree with the comment above that whether or not the man is repentant, adultery has occurred and the marriage vows have been broken.

  • Joseph Hansen


    I have couple questions:

    1. If porn use is grounds for divorce, why only “heavy use of hardcore porn”? So, neither heavy use of softcore porn and occassional use of hardcore porn provides grounds for divorce? Why not? If the reason that unrepentant hardcore use of porn provides grounds for divorce is because “It’s adultery,” then how do we know it’s adultery? Is it not because Jesus told us that if we look upon a woman so as to lust we have committed adultery in our hearts (Matt. 5:28)? By Jesus’s definition, do we not committ adultery *whenever* we lust after a person who is not our spouse?

    2. Also, why are we only “talking about unrepentant” instances? If a husband has actual bona fide sex with a woman (not his wife), would not that provide the man’s wife grounds for divorce regardless of the man’s repentance or lack thereof? I have never heard anyone take the position that repentance from literal bona fide adultery removes any grounds for divorce that the offended spouse may have had. Thus, why a different rule for use of porn?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. Though I haven’t read all the comments, I’ve read enough that I think I should share something that might bring some “light” into this situation.

    I’ve been married for more than 20 years and for 15 of it, suffered from my husband’s pornographic addiction. Some of you say that it’s not the same as physical adultery…let me tell you from someone who knows first-hand, it most certainly is, and honestly, it can be worse, because as David Murray so thoughtfully points out, pornography is sex with multiple women rather than just one or two at a time.

    Let me share with you what I endured for those 15 years: a husband who was almost always angry about something, distant not only emotionally but spiritual and even physically. He expected and often only desired that I do the disgusting things those women did when he virtually had sex with them. He also yelled at our children for not taking good enough care of things so that we had to spend money on new clothes, and other necessities because at the time, unbeknownst to me, he was spending thousands of dollars a month on pornography and other sexual (phone sex) services he’d become addicted to. So our kids got yelled at for not being good stewards of what God gave us and though I’m very frugal, I was regularly falsely accused of being a spendthrift and an unbiblical wife and poor steward and ungrateful for his hard earned money. It was out of love for Christ and my husband that I believed all this, repented of any poor stewardship I was guilty of (though I couldn’t think of any ways that I was), that led me to began to research our bank statements to check on my spending so I could see how I could be a better steward and less wasteful.

    As I prayerfully sought God’s wisdom, I carefully reviewed our bank statements only to find some strange charges to various companies for large sums…that weren’t mine. I looked up the information that was provided by our bank and through some research, to my heartache, found that my husband had been spending thousands of dollars on his “virtual” adultery. After many heartwrenching tears mixed with anger and despair, I prayed and ask the Lord to help me confront my husband in truth and love. Then I called my husband at work and said, “Hello darling, I want you to know that I take very seriously all that you’ve shared about my lack of gratitude for your hard-earned money and your thoughts about my poor stewardship. First, I want you to know that I am grateful for how hard you work so that I can stay home with our kids and I apologize if I’ve ever said or done anything to make you feel differently. I’ll purposely work hard to make my gratitude more evident to you. In that vein, I wanted to tell you, that because I am grateful for your hard work and want so much to be a godly wife and mother, I’ve been looking at my spending in our bank statements and I discovered a way that we can save a couple of thousands of dollars a month.” He was very excited and thanked me for being more considerate of him. Then he happily said, “So you found a way for us to save a couple of thousand a month? That’s great honey! How?” Then I told told him that we could stop investing in the services of ____ and ____ companies. He was very silent. We sat there silently for what seemed like forever. Finally, in a small voice, he said, “Can I come home and talk to you about this right now?” I said, “Yes, I think that would be best.”

    This led to many more years of his lying, anger, and eventually to years of no sexual contact. As a matter of fact, we’ve only had sex once in about 5 years.

    I have not left him and never plan to, BUT I would NEVER tell another woman who’s suffered from her husband’s real adultery from pornography, that she does not have the same grounds for divorce as those who’s husbands have committed physical adultery, because as you can see, the defilement and destruction of the real marriage bed is the same with both.

    Till this day, whenever I see my husband looking anywhere in the vicinity of an attractive woman, I am sure he’s lusting after her. It’s a hard thing to shake after he’s been unfaithful for most of our marriage. It’s a continual heartbreak for me when my husband will not have sex with me because he can’t live with how he’s defiled our marriage bed and the constant reminder of his adultery seems to be around every corner. Though he’s fought his addiction (as far as I know) well these past 5 years, I daily live with the irrevocable pain of his rejection, his still seemingly roaming eyes, lack of intimate affection and so much more.

    Many of you may think pornography is only “virtual” and not real. But I hope in sharing a little of what I’ve endured for 15 years will open your eyes to the real pain, the real destruction and the real devastation that this “virtual” sin causes.

    • Sean Lucas

      Wow. I’m so sorry for all of this hurt and pain for your husband’s sin. I’m praying that your faithfulness will woo his unfaithful heart back to Christ, whom he desperately needs and whom alone can satisfy him.

  • The Predestined Blog

    I agree this is a very serious sin, but we need to exercise much caution before given out certificates of “approved divorce” in Christ’s name. Divorce is something God hates so much, I think we should real examine if pornography is a reason for divorce. I am unimpressed here by the exegesis of porneia. Why? B/c we are able to divorce over one instance of physical adultery not multiple repeated instances are “heavy use of adultery.” He did not allow it simply for lusting in the heart though the sins are equivalent. In order to be consistent, you would need to say even one instance of pornography would suffice. Remember, physical adultery does something adultery of the mind cannot – the metaphysical union of two human beings. When one commits physical adultery, you take your oneness with your spouse, and mar it by uniting your body with another. This seems to be much under appreciated in these arguments and one needs to seriously consider what the implications of this means for the church with the trouble people have with pornography, and the right you are giving many spouses to walk away (not that we would recommend that, but essentially we are giving that Biblical license). Also, it should be very obvious that an online porn addiction is devastating and no doubt can cause divorce (unlawfully) is very different than having physical relations with another living being!

  • Daniel

    Thank you for your thoughts David. I agree that this needs to be a case by case basis. As sinful beings we need to be careful of using large brush strokes and saying “everyone involved in sin above this point” needs to get divorced–and you said this in your first qualifier. I also believe that the key word in this is “unrepentant”. If unrepentant use of pornography involves no desire to change, to seek accountability, and put boundaries in place to limit the porn–I would say yes this is grounds for divorce. But if the man or woman shows brokenness over the sin and a repentant heart I would be far more gracious.

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  • Fred Jonkman

    David, I agree with your all your qualifiers and reasons, and strongly believe that addiction to porn is adultery!

  • Courtney F.

    I would have to say yes, it can be grounds for divorce. What we are talking about is actively seeking sexual satisfaction in something or someone other than your spouse. That seems to be the crux of adultery – and pornography. It makes a mockery of God, the institution and covenant of marriage that He set up, and the spouse who was betrayed. I am so sick and heartbroken over the lack of seriousness that we use to address this sin. I’m sick of it and I’m done.

  • Anonymous

    I want to begin by thanking you for delving into heart of the pain and devastation this issue causes instead of merely addressing it from some distantly removed theoretical vantage point. It brings tears of
    thankfulness to my eyes to consider your reflection of the heart of God demonstrated in just this attitude alone. It has been my experience that far too often in the name of zeal for God’s word and the upholding of the marriage vows we in the reformed world zero in on the “thou shalt not divorce” passages to the exclusion of the rest of scripture and so like the Pharisee strain out the gnat and swallow the camel (Matt 23:23-24).

    Derek Baars rightly highlights the following truths that must also be given weight in addressing this matter. 1) The spouse as the weak and vulnerable person in the relationship and the church’s obligation to protect her and her children as a reflection of God being a father to the fatherless and a protector of the oppressed. 2) A righteous outrage over the harm done to the victims and the marriage. To focus solely on the ‘sacredness of marriage’ while neglecting these equally as important truths is to present a false view of God and scripture.

    Another thought I’d like to add to the discussion involves the allowance for separation but not divorce under various circumstances. Sometimes I believe we permit the first but not the second because it allows us to toe the line of not permitting divorce (because that’s what our wooden interpretation of scripture seems to dictate to us) while at the same time allowing us to protect the vulnerable. While I’m thankful for the protection such reasoning affords, I’m not sure scriptures delineates long-term separation from divorce. Is it possible this is more of a cultural distinction? In the country
    in which I live one can remain perpetually separated from their spouse. However, in some countries this is not the case; after a specific duration of separation the separation legally rolls into a divorce. Would Christians in such countries assume the same distinction between separation and divorce?

    • Laura Mitchell Fortney

      Excellent points!

  • Camilla

    As I read the comments by Anonymous I had a visceral reaction….for she described most of my life more than 20 years ago. I had no idea that my husband was involved in pornography, until I popped a VCR tape into our player for a toddler son who liked to watch Andy Griffith shows we had taped. What at first looked like a Saturday Night Life Skit in poor taste, came into focus as graphic pornography that I had never seen in my life. Thankfully my son was out of range. I was nauseous and horrified. I couldn’t understand where this came from. I called my husband at his place of work and he told me that one of his evidence tapes must have gotten mixed up with blank tapes he brought home for family use. He was in a position of evidentiary forensics in a large city so his story was credible; and as a trusting, committed Christian wife I wanted to believe him. Our times of marital intimacy were to become marked with strange requests and odd behavior that I knew in my heart were “off” and foreign. I will say for those men who have defended other men by saying how a wife let her appearance “go” or who was not demonstrative or warm, that is not an excuse for adultery. Because of my own insecurities and parental acceptance while growing up that was based on my appearance, I was always striving to look attractive and friends, family, and husband assured me I was. So sad that my identity was bolstered by this rather than my identity in Christ. I was warm and receptive to my husbands needs and wishes. However, I was to continue to see behavior that indicated deep deception and continual lying. Throughout our marriage we were in Bible Believing Churches, my husband always a close friend to the pastors, and until the last years of our marriage very involved in church leadership. As Anonymous shared, finances were always an issue, anger always an issue too throughout the marriage. Finally, after we had almost lost our home, I again went to the Pastor, (friend of husband who had benefited from Final Four Game seats etc.due to his position), and the more honest I was, and the less protective I became of the image I had allowed to be fostered, the elders then moved in to help where the Pastor had not. The more the light shined on why the financial problems, why the anger to me, the more dangerous my husband became to me and our children. Finally, the elders counseled me to take our children and leave but I was too frightened. He had too many connections. Thankfully the elders were strong men of GOD who saw what was going on. I waited on my elders and accepted counsel and exhausted every avenue for reconciliation with Professional Christian Counseling for us, Pastoral Counseling, mostly separate at his insistence, and even Psychiatric for him. In the end, to sum this up, he was unrepentant, and his mask came off, He threatened the pastors and the elders, and me. I had to obtain a restraining order, and divorce occurred. I was to learn that pornography went back in his life to before we were even married, and always had been in his life since a young adult man. I now am remarried to a wonderful Christian man, and we love each other deeply. But, I will say the scars remain. I struggle with depression, I am still hyper vigilant whenever conflict any place arises, and I say to you dear brothers and sisters who have no understanding of the way the marriage bed can be defiled, please know I did not want to be divorced. I NEVER considered it an option. Yes, God hates divorce, but before that verse HE also says in Malachi 2, “Do not be treacherous to the wife of your youth.”To close, when I learned that the elders would not exercise discipline on me but recognized that I had been abandoned, and adultery by porneia had occurred, my Psalm for that night was Psalm 124. When I read it, I wept with relief…..
    6 Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth.
    7 Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.
    8 Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

    • 1luisa

      You did right. I am glad your elsers supported you. I know of a women where her Pastors turned on her and threatened church discipline for her if she divorces her unbelieving husband who was sorely addicted to the stuff. She left the church and suffered greatly for standing up to her husband.

  • Camilla

    P.S. Sadly I am in the YES camp, and I thank Dr. Murray for his love for brothers and sisters in Christ that he labors so diligently to bring these hot button concerns out for discussion.

  • EB

    After reading many of the comments, I am looking for someone to speak more to the way hard core pornography mars the beautiful picture of the oneness of Christ and his bride, the church, of which marriage is supposed to be a type. Hearing the heartache of many women on these posts makes me weep for two reasons, the bitter betrayal of a loved one and the separation it causes, and the picture this reflects of God’s heart when His children go whoring after other gods. Does this reflection have any merit to this discussion of divorce?

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