This story is one of a series of stories and interviews relating to prostitution and it’s effects on the community and families. Is it a “victimless crime”? Or is it just the tip of the iceberg, leaving a string of destruction in its pathway? Many therapists define sexual addiction as obsessive behavior that puts marriage, family, career, health and personal safety in peril.
We also will be examining in future stories sex trafficking, pornography and child prostitution and pornography. In some instances, like this one, the names have been changed to protect the family who agreed to be interviewed. In other pieces, the names will be changed to protect the people being interviewed because of the potential danger they place themselves in by going public.
Karen and Mark’s story
For those who think prostitution is a victimless crime, Karen and her family wouldn’t agree.
There are few things more devastating to a spouse than the betrayal of infidelity, which is intensified if it is made public. Experts say there is a psychological difference between paid sex and other types of infidelity. Visiting a prostitute is usually only about the sex. It isn’t about friendship. It isn’t about ego, or admiration, or conquest. It is a cold and emotionless one-sided business transaction.
Karen and Mark from outside appearances are an All American family. Karen stays home and has a home-based business that allows her to be with the children, and Mark is a career man. He loves his wife and his kids. They all go to church on Sundays and worship together. But there was an addiction that was secretly tearing their family apart.
Karen’s perfect world fell apart after finding out that Mark had been frequenting local massage parlors, right here in Fallbrook on Main Ave. She described her feelings as raw. She felt betrayed, deceived and disgusted. Her world was shattered and she wasn’t sure if she had any blame. She wasn’t sure if they would ever be the same again. She loved him, but wondered, “How could he do that?” She had a lot of questions, but wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answers.
Mark started going to massage parlors in search of relief. He had chronic pain and didn’t want to take prescription pain killers. As his visits grew into something more, he says fantasy fueled it and he never meant to hurt his wife, his family or himself, but his double life began and he was just looking for some “me” time.
What fueled Mark’s perfect storm was a porn addiction. Next week we will examine what experts are describing as the pornography epidemic.
The sex industry as a whole has an excess of 25 million websites. Why is this relevant? All of the people we interviewed said their sex addiction started with pornography. It is estimated that as many as 79 percent of men age 18 to 30 view porn at least monthly. Some experts believe that the addiction is stronger than cocaine in adolescents ages 11 to14. Meaning, the pathways developed in a young person’s brain upon seeing the pornographic images at that formative age has an even greater addictive effect than the actual drug.
Karen took great care of herself and looked great but she said, “He wasn’t really interested in me physically.” She knew something was wrong, but was shocked to find out that he was bypassing her to be with “weird looking women.” She said, “Ultimately, I represented guilt and shame because the intimacy between a husband and wife is based on love, so how can you have that when you are off having interactions with ‘who knows what.'”
She said, “Lust is about taking – and love is about giving.” Mark agreed.
Karen said, “When I found out I wanted to die. I was so devastated, disgusted by something that was meant to be beautiful. It was now dirty and disgusting. I had a self hatred and then a hatred for even being a woman. It’s interesting how I turned it inward towards myself. Logically you realize it’s not your fault but there’s a sense of control over the situation if you believe that a change of something about yourself can make a difference. But there’s really nothing you can do.
“And I never once turned him down for sex, so it wasn’t because he wasn’t given attention at home.
“I broke down and fell apart. If it wasn’t for the grace of God, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed. In my head, even though it wasn’t conscious, I wanted him to see what he was missing. I would think, ‘look what you are giving up – your family, a wife who adores you, and your future.’ But trying to rationalize with someone who is in the depths of that is impossible because their mind has become so warped. It’s like trying to rationalize with someone who wants to believe the lies they’ve told themselves to continue the behavior. The wife is blaming herself and the husband is blaming her too [and the prostitute may also be blaming the wife]. It’s so emotionally and mentally draining.
I tried to guilt him, shame him into repentance.
“The more anger and breakdowns I would have the less he could hear God. Yet he would still continue to frequent the massage parlors. His justification was ‘he wasn’t paying for it, he was just tipping them.'”
She continued, “I would say, ‘It’s so degrading. How could you?’ We continued to pray together and go to church. So I gave him one year. Within that year there were highs and lows and at some point I knew something wasn’t right and some of the old behavior started to return and there were some nights where I couldn’t relax around my husband and then I was in the position where my biggest trigger was my husband. He was still hiding something and he also realized that things weren’t going to get better.”
Karen was giving up hope as he would say, “I went to get a massage but I didn’t pay for anything.” The only way she seemed to reach him and get him to see was to say, “Ok we can go to the pastor and talk to him.” She said it was then that she left because she didn’t believe anything would ever change. Leaving for the support of her family in another state, she was giving up on their marriage.
“I knew as soon as I got in the plane that I was supposed to leave,” said Karen. “The best thing I ever did was to let go and walk away. Then he sought help on his own.”
Mark called her after she left and said, “I’m a coward. I did receive services.” Karen said, “I will not be coming home.”
“I had friends step forward who said my kids and I could stay with them but none of this I wanted for our family, and I was angry at him for doing this to my family,” said Karen.
But while she was out of town with family, Karen found out she was pregnant with his baby.
Karen said, “My biggest lesson was the Refiner’s Fire – when you’re faced with that type of adversity and devastation. I could have gone and cheated or justified alcohol or other self medication. There’s a lot of temptation to gratify yourself. There’s an emptiness and grieving and loss. It’s like a death I really was faced with and self has an insatiable appetite. Where doesn’t it end? One thing that kept me from seeking attention from other men was the thought, ‘Just because my husband lowered his standards doesn’t mean I need to.’ Or to compromise my standards for myself.
“But I found it very difficult,” continued Karen. “There was temptation. I was able to ask myself, ‘How would it end? What I found is, you don’t regret saying ‘no,’ but I would have regretted saying ‘yes.’ It was a time of self-revelation. There were some things in me that surfaced that I didn’t like.”
Mark found an inpatient program in Kentucky called Pure Life Ministry that specialized in the addictions he faced.
Karen said, “After he moved back to Kentucky and was there a few months, the counselor was calling me asking if Mark could be here during the birth of the baby. I said no, because missing the birth is a small price to pay for what he did.
“Then he asked me to just pray about it. The next day I was driving and I felt a tugging on my heart and I felt like the Lord was asking me, ‘Karen, what does forgiveness look like?’ After that God validated me. Does Mark deserve to die of AIDS, or have a lifetime of misery that he deserves? Yes, but forgiveness is taking all those things and rolling them up in a ball and throwing them out the window. He doesn’t deserve to see his daughter be born. But forgiveness is a giving up of one’s right. God has taken all that and nailed it to the cross.
“So I went back to the house and called his counselor,” continued Karen. “Bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness would have grown and grown and eventually taken over if I couldn’t forgive him. I can only deal with me. I don’t think there’s anything in Karen that could have forgiven that man. It’s only with the love of Christ.”
How were you able to be intimate again?
“It was awful,” said Karen. “Visions of other women were in our bedroom. I had to accept it and get past it. Sometimes I would break down and cry. I would think I could never go back and do that again. But the change in him was what started to bring the real intimacy back. It was his desire for his wife and the design of intimacy between a husband and a wife that brought it back. In physical intimacy there is a bond and we had lost that. It was no longer an intimate experience that I could share with my husband, but one that would now entail battling repulsive images.”
Will things ever be the same?
“I think that it’s a delusion to think you’re going to get through life or marriage without experiencing something of the caliber where you’re going to ask yourself that question,” said Karen. “Rape victims feel that way, people who lose children feel that way. But the [grace] is that Christ makes all things new.
“What I wasn’t prepared for was the spiritual intimacy that would become a new part of our marriage,” continued Karen. “It was an intimacy that ran much deeper than the physical. A cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). When we aligned our lives in submission to God’s will, we met on a spiritually intimate level and everything else for me became second. That is what drew us closer. The closer we both came to God, the closer we were to one another. This was new in our marriage.
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ (Revelation 21:5)
“And this was true of our marriage. There was a sense of peace I had in knowing there was never or ever would be a prostitute who could share that with him. It belonged to us and to me that was sacred.”
Studies indicate that men who hire prostitutes are only slightly more likely to be single than married. And furthermore they do not appear to differ much from the general population of men.
Mark, What do you think was the reason you visited prostitutes?
“It was an offshoot of fantasy,” he said. “Some people have taken their own fantasies different ways, but for me, my body constantly hurt. My back, knees, and shoulder and I was looking for some relief. I saw what prescription drugs do to people and I didn’t drink, so I justified it in my own thinking that this is just a brief moment of reprieve, ‘me time’”
Was it all that you hoped and fantasized it would be?
“The reality is that [paying for sex] is fleeting, the outcome is never what you hoped or expected it to be,” Mark said. “The outcome leaves you with guilt and condemnation and a bit of ostracizing. And now it’s a thing that you can never talk about. You’ve opened the door to a separate life or a different you, and you are who you are. You become very plastic. You start to care a lot less about people.”
Mark said he started paying for services before he was married.
“I was feeling the void of no girlfriend, no intimacy, no relationship and at the same time I was all that much more bitter towards women (he had gone through a divorce from his first wife),” Mark said.
Mark says because he was so angry and bitter, that it was a miracle that he actually dated during the beginning stages (of “massages” and extra services”).
The favors at the end (of the “massage”) I didn’t consider sex, it was just the outskirts,” said Mark. “And the problem is, if you feed your soul that junk, that’s the only thing that’s going to grow. Intimacy isn’t sex, but that’s what pop culture had (to offer).”
Was pornography a precursor?
“Yes, from a young age,” said Mark. “And if you research it enough, you will find it is ALWAYS a precursor to sexual misconduct or sexual crimes.”
He added, “Actually taking the step to pay for physical sex is much easier after viewing pornography and visualizing it for months. You’ve already done it in your head and you’ve justified it to yourself. You just need the right time and that always comes when you are so willing. The adrenaline is there and it’s not that you don’t love your wife, it’s different. I knew it was wrong. The guilt had no power to overcome the desire for self gratification.”
Mark says he eventually felt trapped and wanted out but didn’t know how to escape its grasp on him.
Mark admits paying for sex doesn’t replace Intimacy. “Intimacy is a deep level of friendship – a man and a wife have intimacy in a healthy relationship,” he said. “And for instance, two guys can have intimacy without having sexual relations.”
Several years later, after you were married and it all came to light, how did you feel?
“I felt hollow,” he said. “I was tired of trying to maintain a front that wasn’t real. In some ways I had already known that my family was gone and that was part of the hollow feeling. I was existing in that lie.”
For all intents and purposes, Mark was a “good guy.”
“There was work that I was trying to do correctly and I was still trying to be a good guy at home, but emotionally I was quick tempered, always frustrated, had unreal expectations for everybody around me because I didn’t know what a real relationship should be like,” said Mark.
How did it affect Karen?
“She went through periods of depression, anxiety and panic attacks, because of not being able to trust me, and finding out one day that I was not who she thought I was,” said Mark. “Even at that point I had a hard time being repentant. I was sorry. I didn’t want to see her get hurt. I was sorry I hurt her. I didn’t want to hurt her. I loved her, or I had a sense of what I thought love was for her. So in my thinking, according to my definition, yes (I loved her), but in that love I still cheated on her. I didn’t take care of her. I always put her below my needs. Obviously my definition of love was screwed up at best.
“Some time after the initial confrontation I recommitted my life to Christ,” continued Mark. “Karen and I got baptized in our church but I still lacked power because my spiritual roots hadn’t grown deep enough.
“A comment that she made was something to the effect of, ‘If you don’t find a way to get some help or work this out, it’s going to kill you or you’re going to kill yourself.’ Immediately I could say, ‘You’re right.’ I knew she was right and I researched on the internet for residency programs for sexual addiction. And I knew the only real solution was going to be through God because I had already seen a sexual addiction therapist for about three months.
“When I went to Pure Life Ministry, I met lots of great guys but some of them just wanted to ‘fix this little thing.’ The difference for me and what I knew was that if it didn’t work for me, I would be dead. I would end up diseased or dead and I was at the end of my rope, and God was able to use that.
“I was shocked to learn that my sexual addiction was really sexual idolatry and that was just a fruit of a whole tree of sin where pride was at the roots. And my pride was saying ‘It’s all about me. I want what I want when I want it.’ When you’re not focused on Christ, you can justify anything.
“But the reality is if what we are doing is not for the glory of Jesus Christ, it won’t last. We’ll be left at Judgment grasping at straws for what we did for selfish reasons.”
In asking Mark if he had any parting shot, he pointed me to a Bible verse – Luke 8:38-39 (NIV). “The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him [Jesus], but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”
Mark said, “You see, I am that man. Not everyone wants to hear these things. I pray the soil of men’s hearts are not so hard and rocky as to reject the seeds from the Spirit of God. True change is impossible without Him.
“Today I can love my wife with a real love not my broken misconception of love,” continued Mark. “I can love my wife because of Christ inside of me. He has shown me how to love and now I just need to follow his example.”