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:
- Pornography viewing occurs on a spectrum. Viewing it doesn't mean addiction. Addiction is one specific part of the spectrum.
- The men we are dating deserve for us to approach this issue with mercy and love.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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 :)
- 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?
- 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.
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- Read the Cjane posts I linked to above, but especially this one.