Safeguarding Yourself, Your Partner, and Your Marriage:
Principles to Discussing Pornography in Dating and Beyond[1]

By Thomas Alvord[2]

Posted here.


Pornography is pervasive and pernicious. Nearly 70% of college-aged men and 10% of college-aged women have viewed pornography in the last month.[3] Over 50% of divorces involve one spouse having an excessive interest in internet pornography.[4] Pornography can decrease sensitivity toward women.[5] It can decrease the desire to get married and to have children and raise a family.[6] It can decrease your trust in your partner.[7] It increases the risk of becoming sexually abusive toward others.[8] It increases the risk of becoming sexually dissatisfied with your partner and even cheating on your partner.[9] It encourages unhealthy and distorted views about sexuality, such as the belief that sex is nothing more than a physical, recreational activity or that reserving sexual relationships for marriage is unrealistic.[10] It also increases the risk of experiencing difficulties in serious, intimate relationships.[11]

Nobody ever wants to experience these or the many other negative effects of pornography,[12] but every individual and relationship, including you and your current or future marriage, is at risk. The situation, however, is not hopeless. By openly discussing pornography with your partner, you can go a long way in safeguarding yourself and your marriage from pornography.[13] This article addresses seven questions to help you discuss pornography with your partner:

  1. What is pornography, really?
  2. What are the reasons for discussing pornography?
  3. What things should you discuss?
  4. When should this discussion take place?
  5. How should you approach discussing pornography?
  6. What things should you understand before discussing pornography?
  7. Who should have this discussion?

While these points are addressed to couples who are dating, many of the principles also apply to married couples. I invite you to seek the guidance of the Spirit to know how to apply this information to safeguard yourself, your partner, and your current or future marriage from pornography.

What is Pornography, Really?
It is critical to have a correct understanding of what pornography is. Some people consider pornography to be only the nude depiction of the human body. However, pornography is much more than this. One thorough definition of pornography is anything that “depicts or describes the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings. It may be found in written material (including romance novels), photographs, movies, electronic images, video games, Internet chat rooms, erotic telephone conversations, music, or any other medium.”[14] Thus, even a PG-13 movie may contain pornography even though there is no nudity shown. A good question you can ask yourself to ascertain whether material is pornographic is “Does this arouse sexual feelings?”

Consider what type of material you listen to, watch, and engage in, and if under the standard just mentioned some of the material is pornographic, I invite you to give it up. By so doing, you will invite a greater portion of the Spirit into your life; you will protect yourself from pornography; you will be living the standard you should expect your spouse to also be living; and you will set an example that your children can follow.

What Are the Reasons for Discussing Pornography?
The extent of a person’s pornography use can fall into one of only three categories: Currently using pornography, previously used pornography, or never used pornography. A primary reason to discuss pornography is to see what category your partner falls into. Once you know what category your partner falls into, you can better know how to proceed with the relationship and what aspects of pornography you may need to further discuss.

First, your partner may currently be using pornography. If your partner is currently using pornography, you must proceed slowly with the relationship. An individual that is using pornography needs to be sober for at least seven to twelve months before being on their way to establishing sobriety. The seven to twelve month time frame is very important. Research has shown that relapse is very common amongst recovering porn users at the six- and twelve- month marks. Therefore, the seven to twelve month period is a starting indicator to see how someone will begin, handle, and maintain sobriety. After that time period, it can then take between two and five years to become completely sober and to purge and heal from pornography’s effects.[15] Yet even after this time, people who have stopped using pornography need to be on their guard and ensure they are maintaining a healthy lifestyle and implementing positive coping skills. Thus, if your partner is using pornography and stops for a few months, it is wise to wait before proceeding to something more serious, such as marriage. Wait at the very least seven months, but be aware that this does not mean the problem is over. A healthy, loving relationship is still possible but complete recovery requires time.

Stopping the active use of pornography is a critical first step, but most people erroneously think the problem ends there. It is important to understand that healing from pornography use also entails other issues. These issues include unlearning what unhealthy sexuality is, relearning what healthy sexuality is, addressing issues that lead to pornography use, learning relationship skills, learning to deal with life in a more mature and constructive manner, and addressing unresolved problems in one’s life, like abuse. Thus, if there is current pornography use, you will want to see where your partner is in regard to these other issues.

Do not be mistaken. Pornography use does not stop just because somebody gets married. Pornography is not a substitute for sexual intimacy. Unresolved addictions to pornography not only carry over into marriage, but can even worsen.

If your partner is currently using pornography, make sure your partner begins to receive counseling. In some cases, such as those involving mild involvement in pornography, ecclesiastical counseling may suffice. Yet, in other cases ecclesiastical counseling alone is not enough, but should be coupled with professional counseling. Pornography is not just a spiritual issue but is also an issue of the body, psychosocial-sexual development, relationship skills, stress management, and more. These are issues that sometimes only professional counselors can best address. If several attempts to stop using pornography all prove unsuccessful, strongly consider professional counseling. If your partner refuses or continually fails to start counseling, you should seriously consider breaking off the relationship. Do not trust that your partner will change in the future. Your partner may stop later on, but there is no guarantee. Because it is far too risky to put your marriage on the line like this, do what is best for yourself in the long run instead of gratifying your immediate interests. Also, while you can help your partner through the process of quitting pornography use, over-involvement can be detrimental. For example, asking everyday about your partner’s pornography use and continually prodding your partner to stop can make the situation worse. Thus, if you are very involved, you might consider talking to a counselor to determine how much involvement would be helpful.

Second, your partner may not currently be using pornography but may have used pornography in the past. In this situation, many of the principles just stated still apply. For example, you need to know how long it has been since your partner stopped. Make sure there has been sufficient time for recovery. You will also want to know how your partner has healed, or is healing, from pornography. Has your partner unlearned unhealthy sexuality and relearned healthy sexuality? Has your partner learned to deal with life in a more constructive manner?

Usually, the default in talking about past sins is to not bring them up if they have been resolved; however, pornography is different. Pornography is an issue that you and your partner will have to safeguard yourselves against throughout your entire lives. Understanding your partner’s past pornography use (or current use if that is the case) can be very helpful, even critical. By knowing what triggers influenced and fueled pornography use in the past, you can know better what to shield yourselves against in the future.

Third, your partner may have never used pornography. Even in this situation, you still want to discuss pornography. Everybody is exposed to pornography to different degrees and in different ways, whether on the internet, television, billboards, or elsewhere. You need to know how your partner deals with and avoids pornography. There are many instances in which a spouse that has never used pornography begins to use pornography after marrying. Although these spouses had no history of pornography use, they had not safeguarded themselves from pornography. By knowing how your partner deals with and avoids pornography, you can determine what measures your partner has taken to protect him or herself against future pornography use.

Thus, regardless of whether your partner has never used pornography, has used pornography but only in the past, or is currently using pornography, there are many reasons for knowing where your partner is in regard to pornography.

What Things Should You Discuss?
Depending on where your partner is in regard to pornography, there are certain questions you should discuss. The answers to these questions will help you gauge more precisely where your partner currently stands in relation to pornography. They will also help you understand your partner’s level of sexual maturity and development, or lack thereof.

If your partner is currently using pornography, you might ask the following:

  • What has been your involvement in pornography?
  • How did you get involved?
  • How long have you been involved?
  • Do you want to stop?
  • Have you tried to stop?
  • What’s the longest you have been successful at not viewing pornography?
  • How and where do you usually view pornography: Internet, magazines, phone, etc.?
  • How do you see it affecting your life?
  • How do you see it affecting our relationship?

If your partner has previously used pornography, you might ask the following in addition to some of the questions already mentioned:

  • What did you do to stop using pornography?
  • Did you stop it on your own or with the help of a counselor?
  • Have you had relapses? If so, how long ago?
  • What are you doing now to protect yourself from future involvement and exposure?
  • What is your policy for internet use?

If your partner has never used pornography, you might ask the following:

  • Where have you been exposed to pornography?
  • What do you do to avoid exposure?
  • How do you deal with pornography when exposed to it?
  • Is it ever difficult or a temptation for you?
  • What are you doing now to protect yourself from using pornography?

There are many other questions that you might discuss. These questions are only ideas to help you brainstorm about what might be useful to talk about.

When Should This Discussion Take Place?
The timing for when you should discuss pornography varies as much as individuals and relationships vary. Some people have suggested bringing up pornography by the second date. While that is probably too soon for many, it is a personal decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis. Here are a few questions you might ask yourself to help guide your determination:

  • Are you dating, i.e. boyfriend and girlfriend?
  • Is the relationship such that you can talk, or have already talked, about other significant personal issues?
  • Are you looking to advance your relationship by becoming engaged or married?
  • Does your partner know and trust you enough yet to disclose and discuss personal challenges?

If you cannot answer yes to any of those questions, the time is probably too soon. If you can answer yes to one or two of those questions, now might be an appropriate time. If you can answer yes to all of those questions, it is most likely an appropriate time to discuss pornography. This is only a guideline and nothing more. Yet, whenever you decide to have the discussion, make sure it happens before you marry. Consider having the discussion even before you have a wedding date set. Thus, if additional time for recovery from pornography is needed, you will not have to disrupt any plans, which probably would be difficult to do. Also, realize that sometimes more than one discussion may be necessary, especially if you feel you are not getting the whole truth.

How Should You Approach Discussing Pornography?
Discussing somebody’s personal involvement in pornography is probably not something you do regularly. For many people, it is an uncomfortable topic. Also, it may be a hard topic to discuss in a serious and important relationship. Yet, beginning the discussion is probably the most difficult part.

So, here are two ideas to initiate a discussion. First, you might read with your partner this article or another similar article. This sets the stage for discussing pornography. Second, you might share a previous challenge you have personally dealt with. This sets the stage for discussing things of a personal nature. These are only ideas. Do what you feel is comfortable and appropriate according to your personality and the dynamics of your relationship.

Once you have taken the first step and initiated a discussion, it is absolutely critical that you be sensitive in at least three respects: Asking, listening, and responding. First, you must be sensitive in asking. If your partner is using pornography, your partner may never have told anyone. Unless your partner feels trust and love from you, your partner might not share something so personal. Second, you must be sensitive in listening to discern the truthfulness of your partner’s answer. If your partner is using pornography and has been hiding it, there is a very good chance your partner has lied to others and will lie to you. Unless you are sensitive to the spirit, it may be hard to discern the truth. Third, you must be sensitive in your response. Every person’s tolerance varies. What you can tolerate with your partner’s pornography use is likely different than what the next person can tolerate. Yet, if you have a very low tolerance, be prudent in how you respond. For example, before you rashly and immediately break up with your partner after discovering your partner was previously involved in pornography, consider how that could affect your partner in sharing this information in the future. This does not mean you should not break up or pursue a course that may be difficult. Rather, it means you should be wise and consider the consequences of how you respond.

On the flipside of asking your partner about pornography is personal accountability. With personal accountability, a couple honestly and openly accounts to each other when they have been exposed to or viewed pornography without having to be asked. As was mentioned earlier, regardless of the extent of a person’s pornography involvement, we are all exposed to pornography at different times, in different places, to different degrees. By sharing what you have unintentionally been exposed to, or even what you have spent a few minutes too long looking at, the discussion remains open and you protect yourself from going too far into the soul-destroying arena of pornography. Secrecy feeds addiction. By being open, you can better clear your mind of the things you have seen and protect yourself against pornography.

If you are currently involved in pornography and are either married or looking to soon get married, have the courage to tell your partner. Have the dignity to tell the person who has committed or will soon commit his or her life to you what you are doing. The fact that such a disclosure may be difficult is irrelevant, for it will never get easier and someday your partner will learn of what you are doing. Do not let fear or shame impede you from taking the steps that will allow you to begin healing. Begin on the path to repentance and forgiveness now. Listen to your conscience that is pleading for you to stop.

What Things Should You Understand Before Discussing Pornography?
Realize that your response to your partner’s pornography use, if there has been use or if there currently is use, is going to be influenced by how you understand pornography and think of people who use pornography. To provide some perspective, consider the following two real-life stories. The names have been changed to preserve privacy.

Jon had internet growing up. He stumbled upon pornography once or twice in sixth grade. His dad found out, talked to him about it, and Jon stopped looking at pornography. Jon did not know much about sex, sexual terms, or what was appropriate and not appropriate. In seventh grade, one of the kids at school talked about masturbation. Jon, not knowing any better, went home and masturbated. For the next two years he would look at his mother’s lingerie and fitness magazines and do the same thing. Before he realized that masturbation was not appropriate, he was addicted to it and could not stop. That then led into pornography use, which was a struggle for him for the next three years. Finally, in twelfth grade, he talked to an ecclesiastical leader for the second time and was able to stop using pornography. For the past six years he has not had any problems with pornography.

Mike went to Europe for a year when he was in middle school. In health class one day, the teacher mentioned some sexual terms he was unfamiliar with. That day he went home, searched for the terms online, and then unintentionally found pornographic images. That was the beginning of his pornography involvement that lasted until his freshman year in college. For the past five years he has not had any problems with pornography.

The purpose of these stories is to illustrate that there are people that get involved in pornography unintentionally and even ignorantly. Not all people’s pornography involvement is such, but for some people pornography happens to them before they even realize what happened. In such cases, these individuals are almost more the victim than the aggressor. Of course this does not eliminate the potential harms the pornography may have caused, nor does it alleviate the disappointment you may feel in knowing that your partner has not kept himself or herself as clean as you may have, but hopefully it gives some perspective and compassionate understanding as to how some people get involved in pornography.

Who Should Have This Discussion?
All of these principles apply to both men and women. Everyone needs to discuss pornography use with their partners. In a recent study, 87% of men, ages 18-26, reported using pornography at some level. And nearly 50% reported using pornography at least weekly.[16] Clearly, women should be concerned about their partner and whether their partner has previously used or currently uses pornography.

What most people do not realize is that many women use pornography as well. In the same study, 31% of women, ages 18-26, reported using pornography at some level. However, only 3.2% of women reported using pornography at least weekly.  So although it is not as prevalent among women, men still need to be concerned about their partner and whether their partner has previously used or currently uses pornography.  This is an issue that affects both genders and one which everyone needs to discuss.

Just because your partner might seem like, or even is, a great and amazing person is not reason to forgo discussing pornography. A friend who recently discovered her boyfriend was using pornography commented: “He seemed like such a good man, and so pure. How did I not see this?” Likewise, some women, even those that are great and seem so virtuous, have viewed and do view pornography. Everybody needs to have this discussion.

To conclude, both men and women need to discuss pornography use with their partners. A partner’s pornography use can seriously and adversely affect you, your partner, your marriage, and your family. You have the prerogative to discuss the issue with your partner. Be wise in choosing the timing, but make sure the discussion happens when necessary and before you marry. If you discover there is current pornography use or recent past use, make sure there is at least seven to twelve months of sobriety before proceeding to anything serious. Be sensitive. Follow the whispers of the Holy Ghost and the Lord will lead you aright. If you are currently in a serious relationship or married and are using pornography, do what you know needs to be done. Remember that beautiful relationships and marriages can be formed even when there has been pornography use.



[1] A special thanks goes to Dr. Jill Manning for her input on this article and her research that inspired this article.

[2] Thomas Alvord graduated from BYU with a degree in Home and Family Living. While there, he was president of the Students That Oppose Pornography club and has since been involved in pro-family activism. He can be contacted at ThomasAlvord@gmail.com

[3] Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults, Jason Carroll, 2006.

[4] J. C. Manning, “What’s the Big Deal About Pornography? A Guide for the Internet Generation,” 26-27, citing J. Dedon, “Is the Internet Bad for your Marriage?”

[5] Ibid. at 40.

[6] Ibid. at 39.

[7] Ibid. at 40.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. at 43-44.

[11] Ibid. at 48.

[12] The purpose of this article is not to delineate and discuss the effects of pornography, but rather to provide information on talking to your partner about pornography.

[13] Although not a focus of this article, educating yourself about pornography and its harms can greatly help you safeguard as well.

[15] The seven to twelve month and two to five year time frames are based on Dr. Patrick Carnes research and clinical observations regarding relapse. Dr. Jill Manning suggests and emphasizes these time frames. In the LifeSTAR groups for recovering pornography users, counselors regularly refer to these time frames when planning relapse prevention plans.

[16] Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults, Jason Carroll, 2006.

 

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