SALT LAKE CITY — A 36-year-old woman looked at the bright stars outside her Sandy home and wondered what she should do. Her husband's words burned in her mind. Pornography. Infidelity. Prostitution.
She was surprised, but didn't know why. The behavior had defined their almost 16-year marriage. Still, she had missed the red flags.
As a new bride, she had expected a fairy tale. Instead, her family — which ultimately included five children — had traveled a road to "extreme unhappiness."
She felt inadequate. He blamed his problems on her. She focused on the children. He withdrew from all of them.
Now she knew one thing: "I was vulnerable."
She went inside, walked into their bedroom alone and locked the door.
The next morning he left.
It was six months before he moved back home. It was longer before she could look him in the eyes.
"I am still sickened by how deep and dark it had become," she said.
'Out in the Light'
The story of her marriage and her husband's addiction to pornography, which she and other women agreed to share anonymously in this article, is replayed in homes across the United States.
Today, 47 percent of families in the United States report that pornography is a problem in their home, according to the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, an Ohio-based nonprofit organization working to promote Christian values.
It is no surprise, considering the breadth and reach of pornography; according to Enough is Enough — a Virginia-based nonprofit organization formed in 1994 with aims to make the Internet safer for children and families — worldwide pornography revenue is estimated to be more than $97 billion dollars with $13 billion of that spent in the United States. The porn industry in the U.S. rakes in more money than ABC, NBC and CBS combined. Every second, 28,258 viewers are watching pornography and 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines. Every 39 minutes, a new pornographic video is made in the United States, according to Enough is Enough.
This week Deseret Media Companies — Deseret News, KSL-TV, KSL Newsradio, Deseret Digital and Deseret Book — are rolling out an initiative to educate, direct and unite women whose husbands have a problem with pornography. Through the initiative — titled "Out in the Light: women uniting against pornography" — Deseret Media Companies will combine resources to shed light on this problem that is impacting families.
In addition to the series of articles that will run in this week's Deseret News, a new website — www.outinthelight.com — and reports on KSL-TV and KSLNewsradio will tell the stories of the silent victims of pornography: the wives of consumers.
'I felt worthless'
An Oregon woman remembers reading an article in her university's student newspaper about men who compulsively view pornography. "Why would a woman marry a man like that?" she asked herself.
Back then, pornography seemed like a problem that impacted other families.
But it wasn't.
When she and her husband moved into a new apartment with unfiltered Internet access, he immediately resumed his habits from his teens. Later, he confessed.
"I had no clue of the depth or breadth or scope of the problem," she said. "I assumed that was the end of it."
But when they moved to a different state to attend graduate school, it persisted. Instead of doing graduate research, he spent hours and hours on the computer viewing pornography.
She didn't tell anyone about his behaviors. "I felt betrayed. I felt used. I felt alone. I felt crazy because there was nothing out there to justify those feelings," she said.
She lost 40 pounds. "I thought, 'Maybe if I lose weight it will fix the problem.'"
Ultimately, she spent hours sitting in the closet of her small apartment and dreaming about running away. "I was so miserable," she said. "I felt worthless."
She stayed for their two small children. "I struggled," she said. "I felt like a bad person because I hated him. I hated him. I hated him with a passion so deep it was as strong as the feelings when I loved him."
Dorothy Maryon, a licensed professional counselor with the LifeSTAR Network in Salt Lake City who specializes in counseling the spouses of those who compulsively view pornography, said it is a betrayal for women to discover their partner has been looking outside the marriage for sexual gratification — even on a computer screen.
"I can't overemphasize the trauma part of it," said Maryon. "It changes the way they view their partner. The damage that has been done changes the way they view themselves."
Maryon said the vast majority of the women she works with have multiple symptoms of trauma.
"It creates a relationship for her that feels very unsafe," Maryon said. "She wonders what is real. She doubts her own intuition, her own judgment. ... It throws her faith into crisis. She views her body differently. She asks herself, 'How can I compete?' "
Maryon said most women don't distinguish between an affair, an escort service, and pornography. One client, trying to help Maryon understand the scope of her husband's betrayal, said she knows of men who have only "been with one woman." Then she added, "My husband has been with thousands."
Looking back, a Midvale woman said she never saw it coming. She had to read a letter confessing her husband's viewing of pornography and visiting sex parlors over and over again before she really believed what she was reading.
She immediately called his parents. Her father-in-law's words were biting: "You don't understand men and their needs," he told her.
In a desperate effort to solve his problem, she posted pictures of herself and their children in his car and at his office. She tried to make herself more attractive. She received breast implants.
"The thing about pornography that is so bad is that he is cheating on you every time with someone imaginary," she said.
Worse yet, she added, "It makes you feel like you are nothing, that you are just an object for another person's desires."
Sexual, emotional, spiritual betrayal
Jill C. Manning, a marriage and family therapist in Colorado who testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the harms of pornography in 2005, said when a North American woman — who views herself as her husband's equal — learns he has been viewing multiple images of other women, it is a sexual, emotional and spiritual betrayal.
"We have ceremonies called weddings that give witness to the exclusivity of that relationship," Manning said. "We are to cherish and honor one another. The sexual relationship is the one thing that makes that relationship different than any other relationship."
She said pornography use is not just a bad habit, but something that has systemic rippling effects.
"We know that pornography is intricately linked to organized crime, prostitution, sex trade, sex tourism and it forms an evil web of oppression and abuse and crime that too often we don't discuss because we're uncomfortable associating — linking — this pornography use to those wider spheres of effect," Manning said.
At home, she added, it destroys families.
She believes there is a disconnect in the thinking of married men who view pornography — which objectifies women for their own pleasures.
"I do not understand how human beings can be using and denigrating women in one area of their life and claiming to love and cherish a woman in another area of their life."
'I thought we would be heroes'
Sitting on a couch in her Springville home on a recent day this August, a 61-year-old woman talked about how her husband's addiction to pornography had impacted their 42-year marriage and her own happiness. "I thought the papers finalizing the divorce would arrive Monday," she said.
But, she added, with half relief, half lament, they didn't.
"I see my husband as so entrapped," she said. "He has a hard time seeing the picture. He says, 'If you would just take me as I am.' "
But she can't.
Pornography creates darkness and confusion in a home, she explained.
She recalled the night she found him at his computer at 2 a.m. The images on the screen made her nauseated.
There were times he blamed her for all his problems and countless nights he came home late causing her endless worry. He lied to her so often, she lost the ability to know if he was telling the truth.
"Even in the house we were parading around this elephant," she explained, noting that pornography led to infidelity and even prostitution.
Now she catalogs his losses — his job, his LDS Church membership, his home, the trust of his children and, finally, his marriage.
She always thought their ending would be different, that they would overcome.
"I thought we would be heroes and you would be interviewing us as some who walked out of it," she said.
Lies and secrecy
Dan Gray, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the LifeSTAR Network in Salt Lake City, said many men who compulsively view pornography are very good at compartmentalizing their life. "They have a dual life going on."
On one side a man can be outstanding in his community or church, a good dad and a provider. "But on the other side he is engaged in pornography or other sexual behaviors that he has been able — for a period — to keep separate or secret."
Talking about the problem is often something these men do not want to do. They become ambivalent.
"If you disclose it and bring it forward, you are going to have to face the reality of having to carve this out of your life," Gray said.
But eventually, he added, many men with this problem get tired. "The dual life is very draining," Gray said. "It is emotionally exhausting. It is hard work to cover the lies and the deceit."
Many wives of those dealing with pornography also get tired of keeping up a good public face when their private lives are in crisis, said Gray.
"Most women can say, 'I can deal with him, even if he has a relapse or a problem. What I can't deal with are the lies and the secrecy.' "
'That is not OK'
The voice of a woman from West Jordan in her 40s softens as she talks about her husband. "He is not living here right now," she said. "I don't know when I will let him come back."
Then she acknowledges this day is a crazy time for an interview about her husband's pornography use and infidelity.
He had been in recovery for a year and a half before he relapsed just two days earlier.
"It is very hard to hold him to those consequences," she continues. "I am home with seven kids who are not happy with my choice."
But, she said, she won't go back to the way things were, to the years she knew something was wrong but didn't know how to articulate her fears.
"I would check phone records. I would check mileage on his car. I would follow him. I would arrange my schedule so I could drive by his work. I was trying to find truth that I could take to him. I was always trying ... to catch him. Looking back I didn't need that proof. I knew something was wrong."
The entire process drained her of self esteem.
"I had a lot of pain. The main thing was, 'Where the heck was I.' All this stuff is going on around me. How could I have missed such huge things. ... You don't get married to get divorced. That is what I believed and hoped I could have. I denied a lot of things."54 comments on this story
Now, she says, there are things she knows. She loves him. She wants to stay married. She wants him to be healthy.
And she knows something else. She won't live a lie.
"I can't go back down that road," she said. "That is not OK."