Is Pornography Grounds for Divorce?

God’s Perfect Plan 
According to the scriptures, and contrary to conflicting opinions in today’s society, God ordained marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman, in which “the two are united into one”(Genesis 2:24). During his earthly ministry, Jesus also taught that, “Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Mark 10:9-10). One man, one woman, united as one flesh, forever — this is God’s desired will, out of his infinite wisdom and because of his great love for His children.

Our Broken Reality
When sin entered the world in Genesis 3 and tainted all that was pure and good, this picture of marriage would not be immune to its devastating effects and consequences. Because we are sinners who marry sinners, and live in a sinful world, it is not difficult to understand why God’s perfect plan for marriage is often not realized even among Christians. Jesus himself references the fact that Moses granted the concession of divorce because of the people’s “hard hearts” (Mark 10:5). In fact, born again Christians are “indistinguishable from the national average” in that one out of every three who has married becomes divorced (Barna Group, 2008).

Biblical Grounds for Divorce
Though the issue of what constitutes a justifiable divorce is debated among pastors and theologians, a general point of consensus is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32). It is important to note that the original language translated “unfaithful” here has a much broader connotation. The Greek word “porneia” in this context is commonly translated as “fornication” or “sexual immorality.”

Does Pornography Qualify?
Whether or not pornography qualifies as a biblical justification for divorce depends upon how one interprets the meaning of “porneia.” Generally speaking, religious liberals hold to the narrow definition of fornication, which is restricted to actual sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to expand the meaning to include various other sexually immoral acts. If the latter is the case, then it could be legitimately argued that viewing pornography is biblical grounds for divorce.

God’s Standard for Purity
While Christians tend to categorize sin and use others’ behavior as a standard to measure their own performance, the Bible repeatedly calls us to look to the righteous requirements of the law of a holy God alone. Jesus took the scope of “porneia” to a new level in his Sermon on the Mount by declaring that “anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). What does this tell us? According to God’s perfect standard, when it comes to sexual immorality, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23). The sad reality is this: we are all adulterers.

The Good News
The good news of the gospel is that, in spite of the fact that we struggle with lusts of the flesh, Jesus Christ was victorious for us in his sinless life and, therefore, the perfect sacrifice for our sexual sin — all sin. For those who are in Christ, the price was paid on the cross. No matter what the degree or frequency of immorality, Christ’s record is the believer’s record. Sanctification is a process — one over which God is sovereign, and one in which we can be confident that “God, who began the good work…will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).

Statistics and the Church’s Response
Until that day, the body of Christ must face the realities surrounding today’s pornography epidemic and seriously consider the impact the church’s response will have upon individuals and marriages. The statistics are alarming. With the nature of the internet, numbers are constantly changing, and survey reliability varies; however, it is estimated that up to 50% of Christian men and up to 20% of Christian women have some kind of struggle with pornography. 47% of families said pornography is a problem in their home (Focus on the Family Poll, October 1, 2003). 51% of pastors say internet pornography is a possible temptation; 37% say it is a current struggle; and 4 in 10 pastors have visited a porn website (Christianity Today, Leadership survey, Dec 2001). Depending upon its response, the church’s view regarding pornography as a grounds for divorce — or even for breaking an engagement — will have a far reaching effect upon the chronic singleness that exists in our society, as well as the potential for skyrocketing divorce rates because of the prevalence of the problem.

The complexities of the nature of this sin call for prayerful consideration of approaches in individual situations. There are many questions to ponder in the search for biblical solutions. How will we bring sin to light without condemnation? How will we model the truth that it is the Lord’s kindness that leads to repentance? How do we counsel, equip and properly care for spouses wounded by the devastating effects of pornography? How will we fight and become victorious over a thief that seeks to steal, kill and destroy? The church has an advantage over secular society in the battle against the problem with porn: we know the real enemy. “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We also know the only victor: our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The battle is his, and he has already won. May we live in such a way that demonstrates we believe that.

Dawn blogs regularly at Follow her on Twitter at @dawn_coates.

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9 Responses to “Is Pornography Grounds for Divorce?”

  1. motheatenmary

    Let’s bring these things together then. All have sinned; we become one flesh through physical sex; lust is adultery in the heart. Divorce is only permitted for adultery.

    Taking the last point first – this “rule” arises simply because only adultery breaks the one-flesh union. Since God says, “don’t put them asunder”, it follows that breaking the union is not impossible, but is definitely against God’s command.

    Thus the grounds for divorce are that the union which God said “do not break” has been broken. And the way you break the union is by creating the same union with someone else.

    So what is this union? Clearly it’s created by sex – Paul reminds the Corinthians that even casual sex with a prostiture creates the same union. But we do not become one flesh with someone by day-dreaming about sex with them, it needs the physical act to create the union. So if there is no forming of the union with a third party why should an immoral day dream actually break your union with your spouse? Of course it may harm your relationship, but actually shatter the union? No.

    But what of committing adultery in your heart? If it’s adultery then surely it breaks your marriage? Of course that is nonsense. It’s adultery in your heart which is sin, it’s not a new union with someone in the flesh. So it needs to be sorted out with God. But it doesn’t of itself undo your marriage.

    Let’s face it, the slightest bit of wrongful lust is sin and should be recognised as such and repented of, but if all lust is adultery then every marriage on the Earth is already broken whether the priesthood and the law recognise it. But if a momentary “Cor!” at an attractive person, hastily repented of and earning nothing more serious than a dig in the ribs from your spouse, is not grounds for divorce then neither is pornography as such.

    Remember, God made our union to be robust. ONLY actual adultery can break it, the way some people rant against “sins of the heart” you would think they are looking for every possible excuse to break up perfectly good marriages! It’s bad enough that normal human nature is so sinful when God’s standards are perfect – let’s not demand the same standards “or else your marriage is broken!”

    God bless you all.

    • Pornography is used to masturbate. This means the man is not only imagining himself with a woman onscreen he is doing a sex act from the lust he feels for the pictured woman. Having a private sex lief is infidelity, It damages the spouse who believes that forsaking all others means all other women. the women in the pictures and videos are real women working as sex workers and this also makes it a deal breaker. Wives should move on in these cases. Once started Porn habits are almost impossible to break. You are expecting the women to share her husband;s desires and sexual activity with a person on video etc. who is being paid to get him aroused. This arousal belongs to the spouse not another woman,

    • Cristina

      I am a christian and I do believe that no one is perfect however I think that if a christian purposely views porn then they are sinning against God. In viewing porn you are disrespecting yourself and the opposite sex. If you are married this is a deliberate sin against the marriage and should be seen as adultery. Lust of the mind when deliberately done with the intent of pleasing ones self when the bible says not to please the body. Porn should not be justified. It is in no way ok in God’s eyes. If you disagree please read the bible again.

  2. Nicole11

    So, what happens when a spouse has been using pornography for the entire marriage…years and years? In my case, my husband has been caught multiple, multiple times…everything from meeting up with other women to watching porn on the internet. He has promised to never do it again just as many times. I have given him my heart over and over, and he has broken it over and over. What it boils down to is he doesn’t really see the harm in it. I have no physical or emotional attraction to him any longer. I am here for the kids.

    • Dawn Coates

      I just discovered this comment. It makes my heart sad because I can feel your grief in your words. I wonder how you are, and I pray you are in a better place now. As I mentioned in the latest comment, I can relate somewhat, though none of us can relate to another completely–only Christ has that ability. Grace and peace to you.

    • I can relate. My husband was addicted to pornography long before we were married, and he confessed the addiction to me when I was pregnant with our first child. Nine years later, he is just starting to take baby steps toward help, but I have been emotionally and physically I attracted to him for a long time now. We still have sex occasionally, but it has become mechanical and not intimate whatsoever. I am also just here for my kids for now. I am planning on separating soon and spending some time working on my own healing. We’ll see what God does with all of this…

  3. You have not experienced the ongoing rejection, loneliness, deceit, and manipulation of reality that a porn addict brings to a marriage. It can be catastrophically different than a one time episode of adultery (and repentance!) please rethink this for the health and benefit of your brothers and sisters in Christ who find themselves in this insidious brokenness that many do not want to recognize. It is a broken oneness when the other party constantly gives themselves over to demonic sexual gratification outside of marriage!

    • Dawn Coates

      Actually, I did experience it. And it does have devastating consequences–in my case, I believe it contributed to my ex-husband’s involvement with an underage girl. My point here was that this should not be “automatic” grounds for divorce, since none of us are without sin, and there are those who may/can be genuinely repentant. I apologize if I did not convey that clearly enough. Thank you for your comment. Grace and peace to you.

    • Sidney

      I agree. with above. If you have not experienced it, it is one of the utmost betrayals. Mine did it for years and years and as a pious judgmental person told me “all men do it”. We had many counselors (he picked all of them) as he would change when they didn’t agree with his thinking. He kept promising he’d get an accountability partner, but never did. I ended up with a 17 yr eating disorder over the period of 23 years, while nobody made me do it, this def had some bearing….as I needed work in this area or that (physically). For my own sanity, I got out – he still to this day (while being remarried 10 years now) says we had no biblical based divorce. Constant immorality, that he denied for many years until I finally figured a way to prove it, and of course, it was always my fault….it was always my fault.

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