Thursday, February 21, 2013

dating + pornography + talking about it

If you didn't know, CJane has been doing some pretty awesome guest posts about pornography addiction on her blog. Read here and here and here (those are my favorites so far). I thought it might be useful to give people practical suggestions for discussing the topic in dating relationships, instead of you know...guessing about likelihoods or hunches or being generally suspicious...or just not thinking about it all. 

This post is written with my friend Kendyl, and comes out of a 3 year conversation I've had with bishops, therapists, friends (both male and female), and books. I'm by no means an expert, but it's a place to start—if you have any suggestions for materials people can read or access, please post them in the comments section. And, hopefully, this list might be helpful in talking to your son (or your daughter).

The goal: Talk about this issue a way that is full of love, without judgment, and without increasing the shame and guilt people who struggle with pornography already feel. Ultimately, so there will be more healing and more access of the atonement (on both sides of the conversation).

If you take anything from this post, I hope it is this:
  1. Pornography viewing occurs on a spectrum. Viewing it doesn't mean addiction. Addiction is one specific part of the spectrum.
  2. The men we are dating deserve for us to approach this issue with mercy and love. 
  3. We need to discuss this topic with all the guys we date seriously regardless of whether or not we think they have a problem with it.
  4. We need to be researching on our own so we can approach these conversations from an informed place (and, interestingly, the more research & reading I do about this topic, the more mercy and love I feel for those affected by it). As my friend Kendyl points out, she would never try to have a real discussion about baseball with anyone unless she understood the game. And, when you understand something, it makes it a lot easier to talk about.
  5. Pornography isn't a one-time conversation. Within mormon culture, it's a topic filled to the brim (and more) with shame. In order to create an environment of safety and love, it might take many conversations. And, we need to be willing to be also be vulnerable and discuss things that might be difficult for us to talk about as well (i.e. eating disorders, abuse, insecurities, etc). 
  6. Please don't begin a conversation if you don't feel genuine empathy for people who struggle with pornography (or other things, food, self-image, etc). If you don't feel empathy, you're not ready to talk about it in a way that will be helpful. But, if you can talk about pornography with love and understanding—even if the conversation goes up in flames of awkwardness—the end result will ultimately be constructive (even if this is just establishing that it's normal and okay to talk about pornography).
Okay, let's begin with some extremely unhelpful questions. DO NOT ever begin the conversation with any of these questions:
  • Have you ever looked at pornography? When shame is involved, yes/no questions aren't going to get you anywhere. And, we've all seen pornography somewhere on the spectrum even if it wasn't something that aroused us [commercials, music videos, the lingerie section of the Sears catalogue]. The average age of exposure is 9 years old. And, the exposure doesn't always happen online. I have a friend whose school custodian showed him pornography in elementary school. 
  • When was the last time you looked at pornography? This question is disrespectful, presumptious, and totally destroys any chance of openness or love. It's only appropriate as a follow-up question. If you hear someone suggest this question, please suggest a better one :)
Possible helpful questions for beginning a conversation:
  • What has your experience been with pornography? 
  • Can you tell me about the first time you ever saw pornography? Remember how the average age of exposure is 9? Share the first time you ever saw it. And, if there is a story from his side, you can ask something like, What has your experience been since then?
  • What is your theory about pornography?
  • How do you deal with pornography? What are your strategies?
Questions to ask if there is a current or past problem: 
  • How often?
  • For what reason? (what were the triggers and/or holes being filled by pornography).
  • What kind of content? 
  • What is currently being done to heal? Going to the bishop for a serious pornography problem is not enough. There should be therapy happening and involvement in a 12-step program. 
It's strange to say that if a guy has ever looked at pornography, you'd break up with him. If that were true, we'd have guys breaking up with us. We live in a pornographic society. It's everywhere. The kind of men we want to date, men who are good, and will be awesome husbands and fathers, are doing the best they can to fight it even if they aren't perfect in the battle. Clearly, the whole spectrum of pornography viewing is problematic. But, aside from the objectification and the exploitation, the saddest part is the shame that can prevent healing and progression.

As women, we can at least help alleviate that part—as we help men be more open and honest about it. In that way, we all lift where we are standing. And, we can make more informed, healthy decisions about relationships.

If you aren't comfortable talking about this yet. It's okay. Practice. Talk to your dad or your brothers. Or talk to good guy friends if that is the easiest. Practice bringing up the topic in relationships where both sides know they are safe and loved—it will make it easier to discuss when you are truly seeking a meaningful relationship with someone you're dating.

Doing research will also help open natural discussions. There are many resources, but I have two that really helped me begin learning:
  1. He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of pornography addiction through the Atonement of Jesus Christ by Donald L Hilton. He's a doctor who specializes in neurological surgery, so he knows about brains. You may think, well I don't know anyone who has an addiction to pornography and I don't plan on marrying someone with this addiction, but it helps you understand the problem. And, it will make you better able to understand how addiction works and how it can be prevented (in terms of your family). 
  2. Confronting Pornography There's a chapter in this book that explains what happens in the brain while viewing pornography and the cycle that occurs because of it, and it's awesome.
  3. Read the Cjane posts I linked to above, but especially this one.   
Okay, rock on people. Forgive me if this post isn't perfect. It's better than silence right? 



  1. Great ideas, great conversation.

    I see the question (that a church leader might pose) "If you hear a leader at church suggest this question, raise your hand and correct him/her—it's not a fair or respectful question to begin a conversation." more as a way to, after knowing that there has been pornography consumer, give them a way to not lie.

    All too often children and teens are uncomfortable talking about pornography, but if posed in that way it can bring up the least uncomfortable way of talking about a hard subject. If that group knows that others are seeing and confronted with similar things, it brings up the way of how to deal with it rather than thinking that a person is "bad" or "evil" because they saw it.

  2. Absolutely! thank you for clarifying that point. it's important to be proactive but also understand that everyone is trying to do their best.

  3. LOVE THIS! I think another good book is Pornography, Drug of the New Millenium. This book also discusses the increase in women's addiction to chat rooms, books and such. I am all for opening a dialogue on this.
    My ex husband had a serious problem with this addiction. I supported him in the 12 step program for years. The program is amazing and is helping many. This ongoing struggle needs open, frank, loving discussion.

  4. Thank you! I will be thinking about this and returning.

  5. Thank you! Just a great deep heartfelt thank you.

  6. I think compassion is the best tool in facing anything difficult. We're all too busy shaming each other about everything. It's no wonder this is such a huge problem. Thanks for writing this.

  7. Perfect words, emilia! Here's a resource that I've heard great things about. I know one mother with older teen sons who is going through the video lessons in FHE each week--just as a preventive mental health measure:

  8. You are an amazing writer! thank you for taking on a difficult subject and doing it with so much love and concern for all.

  9. Excellent post! This is so good to remember. Your words are perfect, as always. :)


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