Case study 5 – Love you hate the porn
Alfred and Simone had been sexually precocious young people. Alfred had been sexually abused as a child by an older boy. As a married adult he had a porn habit. One day he left an image on his desktop at home, where one of their kids had seen it. This resulted in their first serious marital arguments, and depression followed. He sought relief in one night stands. Simone caught him and they came for help. I referred him for individual therapy and saw them for nearly 40 sessions of couple’s therapy. They both made huge changes in their lives and after a five year follow up, continue together and are back on track
Alfred was the eldest child in his family. He and his siblings attended a community youth organisation weekly and for trips away from home. He was 11 yrs old when he was introduced to mutual masturbation and anal play by a 16 year old boy in the tents at night out on a bivouac. This went on for some time. It seemed normal, ‘it was okay at the time’ he said, but left him with ‘a bad feeling in his guts that hung around for days’. The older boy told him he should never tell anyone about this otherwise they would all get into trouble. The ‘bad feeling’ was healthy shame.
Alfred learned to shut the yucky feeling out and kept the secret. Still, he didn’t look forward to going on bivouac with the group and later found ways to avoid it by getting sick or injuring himself just before a jamboree. The older boy was an ongoing victim of a pedophile in his family’s church community. He was ‘obliged’ to keep a dark secret by threats from the pedophile. These included that he would be taken from his family by the police if he told. He never told – anyone.
Neither did Alfred or his siblings talk about it. It was all to come out years later in a prominent case about about a Brisbane priest.
As a teenager and young man Alf was sexually precocious but not predatory. He had mostly forgotten about how he learned to masturbate himself and others but became very skillful at bringing others to climax. He was ‘much in demand by girls wanting safe sex’. Not all liked his interest in anal play but many were happy to share some of the pornography he collected. As an adult he collected that material, and the web turned it into an inexpensive ‘hobby’.
He met Simone at a sex and consciousness festival in Byron Bay. She had come from a similar family background and fortunately, or not, was very happy to share all his interests in the variety of sexual monogamy, and some of the porn. Simone described her sexual appetite as ‘voracious’.
He sometimes spoke about the youth group but dismissed it as having no significance in his life. Neither had understood the impact of early traumatic learning to keep sexual secrets and suppress healthy shame.
They married after a two year long, passionate honeymoon period. All this was fine until they started having children. One day Alf left inappropriate images on the computer screen whilst the eldest girl sat on his lap playing with lego on the desk. This freaked Simone out when she wandered in. He genuinely didn’t get it. His unconsciousness about it freaked her out even more. They started having fights for the first time and, as an aside dear reader, this is usually the best predictor of the time of onset for depression – a start to or a significant worsening of marital arguments. And so it was for them.
Thinking about the issue he didn’t put the two things together in his mind that would have made watching porn with a child on his lap as appalling as he later realised. He had numbed out the childhood sexual abuse to the extent that he didn’t even think of it as abuse. Like many trauma survivors he used to minimise stuff in order to cope with it.
She asked him to get rid of all the material in the house. He agreed but in fact continued in secret. Their marriage became rockier: unresolved conflicts; a big mortgage; trouble with the in-laws; sick kids; a car accident, and finally retrenched as a project manager in a large national building company. He easily found a new job but the secretive way in which the company went about laying off staff in Brisbane and in the rest of Australia unhinged Alf. The CEO had lied in a telephone hookup about his future the day before.
Alf sought out other women, always the flirt this time he took it further and never told Simone. The discovery of this profoundly affected her trust in him and her own judgment of just about everything that mattered.
The marital healing of his serial affairs was held back by the part of his life he had frozen out as a child. The habits of denial and lying to himself that he had used to forget about the abuse. Simone struggled to believe another affair would not happen because he couldn’t give a full account of what he did with the other women. He was likely in a trauma orginating dissociative state when he acted out but he could lie to cover that absence of awareness. Lie so well that she believed his lies until later they were exposed by the evidence. He tried to find ways to explain the evidence. He couldn’t bear to admit feelings of shame. He was so out of it at these times that he couldn’t give a full account of his actions so he invented some of them.
They both went into individual therapy in Brisbane with clinical psychologist specialists in trauma providing EMD*R on a GP’s Mental Health Care Plan. We continued in couple therapy at Spring Hill. It took about 40 sessions of evidence based, trauma informed emotion focussed couple therapy over a two year period. I see them for bi-annual reviews. Now into their fifth year of recovery they are back on track. He now trusts his body’s healthy shame response, and they have found a monogamous boundary around a variety of shared, unconventional, sexual experiences that work for them without porn.