Relationship Connection: How can I control my thoughts during sexual intimacy with my husband?

Photo from Pixabay, St. George News

Question

I used to struggle with an addiction to pornography that came about during a period of clinical depression.

While I overcame this addiction and married a wonderful man, I am still haunted, years later, by images and dark sexual fantasies when I am intimate with my husband. At times, it seems I cannot be intimate with him without relying on these thoughts. It didn’t help that a couple of therapists were quick to dismiss my feelings of guilt for these addictions and claim that these behaviors are normal and healthy.

I have learned to control my actions, but I am at a loss for how to control my thoughts, especially when my husband and I enjoy and need marital intimacy. I’ve fought these thoughts for years, and it’s a war that feels hopeless. What can I do to start winning, to defeat these thoughts and be free to love my husband without these after-images plaguing me?

Answer

It must be so frustrating to have these unwanted images continue to haunt your most private and intimate moments in your marriage. Please know that this doesn’t have to be a life sentence for you. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help heal the effects of the pornography and draw closer to your husband.

It’s important to note that healing the effects of pornography doesn’t mean that you won’t ever encounter an errant thought or feeling from your past. Experiencing unwanted thoughts is one of the difficult realities of healing. Just because you have unwanted thoughts pop up on occasion doesn’t mean that you’re not healing. Knowing how to respond to them makes all the difference.

I will share two resources that can help you respond to these distressing images and feelings that surface.

The first resource is the concept of acceptance. This doesn’t mean you agree with what’s happening to you but, instead, that you gently acknowledge that an unwanted thought showed up in your mind. It doesn’t mean you allow it to linger. It means that you don’t get reactive when it shows up so you can eventually dismiss it. Sometimes our response to the thought does more damage to our peace than the actual thought.

You can respond gently to the unwanted thoughts when they show up instead of trying to force them out of your mind in a frenzied way. Battling thoughts directly, as you know, is a losing battle. Our mind is programmed to prioritize threats, so if you have a random thought and then identify it as an unwanted threat, this alerts your mind to focus on it more so it doesn’t harm you. That’s a problem, obviously, because you’re trying to eliminate it. It’s the same idea as not wanting to let a threatening person out of your sight until you know you’re safe. The challenge, however, is that there’s no place you can go to escape your own thoughts.

Instead of trying to push the unwanted thought away, I recommend using a technique called “Surfing the Urge” that is commonly used to help deal with addictive cravings. It’s a mindfulness exercise you can practice the moment the unwanted thought shows up. Read more about it here or listen to an audio recording of it here.

The other thing you can do is open up to your husband about the triggers when they surface during intimacy. You may feel this would spoil the mood or you may feel ashamed for even having these thoughts in the first place. However, the goal of sexual intimacy is to deepen your connection with each other. If you’re stuck in your head trying to fight a battle all by yourself, this will isolate you from your husband.

It can be helpful to take time prior to your next sexual experience to talk with him about this struggle so you can both decide what to do when these thoughts surface. You might decide that when the thoughts show up, you’ll pause during sexual intimacy and hold each other close while you allow yourself to accept the trigger and gently redirect your attention back to the present moment. Knowing that he can stay with you and allow you to take as much time as you need to return to the present moment will allow you to respond in a healthier way to these triggers.

You can reassure your husband that these thoughts have nothing to do with him or his adequacy as your lover. As you turn to him for support, you can be stronger together. Please note that I’m only suggesting this because you’re not active in your addiction. If you were, I wouldn’t suggest that you take this approach. This only works because there is stability and safety for both you and your husband in the marriage.

Continue practicing mindful responses to your triggers and allow your husband to comfort and support you. Then, you will see that these triggers don’t overwhelm and distract you from the beauty of marital intimacy.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Instagram: @geoffsteurer  

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

9 Comments

  • theone March 14, 2018 at 11:15 am

    Or, you can skip past the guilt by realizing we are wired for sex, and having an imagination is part of our very being. Sexual oppression is quite common in the religious realm of rules.
    Porn addiction is made up BS. We wouldn’t have porn if not for the human imagination and our desire for ultimate sexual pleasure. It’s not just for reproducing. You and your mate should most definitely engage your imaginations so you can have a fulfilling relationship. Trying to find some kind of balance through arbitrary rules for sex is stupid.
    I’m sorry Geoff, but you should be consulting on other issues and stay out of the bedroom of imaginations.
    The other councilors who informed you that it’s healthy is the correct bridge to good sex without guilt.
    America is one of the most sexually uptight countries on earth because of religious rules and any idea of what is normal in sex. Don’t rape and have fun, that simple!

    • comments March 14, 2018 at 12:46 pm

      Porn addiction is very real. It doesn’t state whether this is a woman or man asking this question; it could very well be a gay marriage. You have a very narrow little perspective of sex and porn, and, as a woman, you have absolutely no idea how porn affects men, or even other women for that matter. You are simply projecting your view onto others in an unfair and shallow way.

      • theone March 14, 2018 at 2:10 pm

        Male or female, I stand by my view.
        Porn addiction is a bunch of BS made up by religion to control their flock.
        Get a life bob

      • Striker4 March 15, 2018 at 1:09 am

        ha ha this is funny the Mormon Prophet Bob is whining to someone about projecting their view on to others in an unfair manner. OMG this is to funny ! the most hateful blow on here is complaining about someone posting their view about an article. Ha Ha ha ha ha. LOL. ! This is funny stuff. !

  • PatriotLiberal March 14, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    I agree with all three of the commenters here (comments, theone and Geoff). Porn can be addicting and you allow it to become addiction, it can destroy a marriage. Porn is not a good thing, IMHO.

    With that said…
    It sounds as if your current situation is getting a bit stale to you and that is OK.

    Have you tried mixing it up a little bit?

    • comments March 14, 2018 at 7:18 pm

      how can you agree w/ both me and “the one”? We have completely opposing views. “the one” is very much in support of smut and porn and promiscuous casual sex. I still need to read Geoff’s.

      • PatriotLiberal March 15, 2018 at 12:41 am

        I meant that I agreed with parts of what each said. I should have been more clear.

  • comments March 14, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    Ok, I read geoff’s answer.

    I have no answer or advice to this person, really. The things that turn someone on turn them on, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it. I think this being “haunted” causes them distress because they still are very much aroused by this mental imagery from all this porn. I would never advise going back into a porn habit, but what can even be done w/ this? Some of the darkest and most violent tendencies of human nature come from the sexual drives– “the one” is very naive of this, childishly naive. Society is nowhere close to having a handle on these animalistic lusts and drives. It’s part of human nature and what can you do…

  • Kyle L. March 14, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Our humanity will always be influenced by what we have experienced and seen. Things that we don’t want to have be part of our most intimate lives need to be addressed, both mentally and between partners, and then work with each other to make your relationship into something that is satisfying to both of you. I know that this is not politically correct but God is a great help with these issues. Just ask Him to help you focus on other things. Make sure that you nurture the relationship between you and your spouse so that you can be open and honest so that you can work together to truly enjoy each other. If you see pornography as being bad then it is. Ask for forgiveness and move on. God says that when we ask for forgiveness that He casts our sins as far as the East is from the West, Psalm 103:12. Look it up and be at peace with yourself.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.