What Do You Do When the Person You're Dating Struggles With Porn?

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Dear Juli,

I'm currently in a season of singleness, but I've had two serious relationships with godly guys before this. Both (not right away) admitted to struggling/having struggled with pornography. At first, I was shocked and a little disgusted. Talking to them, they admitted they'd never met a man who hadn't dealt with this battle and it opened my eyes. I realize now we live in a fallen world, and this seems to be THE struggle for men. 

Both of the young men that I dated were very active in their pursuit to battle this. They weren't settling for less - and they fought to stay pure. However, both times I felt ill-equipped to handle them telling me. We agreed since we were dating that we needed our accountability outside of each other (so we didn't cross emotional boundaries) and we'd save the deep stuff for our friends. However, if I am deciding if the person I am dating is someone I am going to spend the rest of my life with, I feel like I need to have some sort of idea of what this struggle looks like for my potential husband? But I also don't want to be hurt by knowing he's looking at other women? What is my role as a girlfriend while my boyfriend struggles with porn? How much should I know? When do I know if it's time to jump ship?

- Alisha

This young woman’s questions echo what I often hear from singles in today’s culture. Pornography is a significant struggle for most men and many women. With the increasing acceptance of porn and increasingly more advanced technologies to deliver it, this trend is not going away. So how do you navigate the realities of pornography and other sexually related struggles in dating relationships?

Tweet: While we feel despair & hopelessness in light of the sexual immorality & struggle in our culture, our God is not outmatched. @DrJuliSlattery

What to share and when?

I respect and appreciate Alisha’s wisdom in setting emotional boundaries in her dating relationships. At no time should you be your boyfriend’s accountability partner. Even within marriage, he will need a guy to ask him the hard questions about sexual purity. However, as a relationship progresses, it is appropriate and necessary for you each to share struggles and past experiences. I’m going to break down dating relationships into four categories, knowing that not all relationships fit so neatly into classifications.

Stage 1: Just getting to know you. At this stage, I wouldn’t recommend asking about or sharing sensitive information. You have not yet established any level of trust. This is a time to observe and learn about a man’s personality, relational style and character through spending time together alone and in groups. If you have been single for awhile, this stage may feel like a waste of time. You might be tempted to jump ahead with serious discussions to find out whether the relationship is even worth pursuing. I would advise against this. Having fun together and sharing casual conversation is a necessary part of evaluating your comfort level with a person and discerning whether or not he is trustworthy.

Stage 2: This has potential. Whether you have the big DRT (define the relationship talk) or not, you are in this stage when you sense that there is a potential for trust, good communication, and a long-term relationship. At this stage, you are willing to take some risks to get to know each other. I wouldn’t recommend asking flat out a question like, “Have you ever looked at porn?” but your interactions should foster a deeper level of sharing and vulnerability. It may be wise to share guarded statements about what God is teaching you through struggles in the past or areas of weakness today. You will also want to set clear boundaries for your physical relationship which may bring up some sensitive topics related to temptation and past relationships.

Stage 3: Considering marriage. At this stage, it is necessary to begin sharing more specifics about past experiences and current struggles. I highly recommend “pre-engagement counseling” with a mentor couple or counselor to help keep this process appropriate and to prevent over sharing. A couple gets involved in pre-engagement counseling to work through potential red flags in the relationship, including current and past sexual issues. Before you commit to marriage, you must each know the broad strokes of any sexual trauma, sexual sin, and current temptation. Moving into engagement without these conversations undermines trust.

Stage 4: Premarital. This is the stage of preparing for marriage and for a lifetime of sexual intimacy. Premarital work should include questions and information about sexuality. If pornography is an issue, how do you plan to address that as a couple? What accountability will be in place? How will you have sensitive conversations without hurting each other?

Godly men and women fight sexual temptation, including pornography. We know from Scripture that it is not a sin to be tempted. A man who was exposed to porn at a young age may struggle with the temptation to dwell on those mental images or to continue to view porn. A man who loves the Lord and loves his wife will be honest with his struggle, seek accountability, and actively fight against the temptation. For many godly men and wonderful husbands, pornography continues to be a battle throughout decades of marriage. They may experience seasons of relief, but loneliness, depression, loss, or insecurity can trigger old thoughts and desires.

What a porn struggle means for marriage?  

My advice regarding a future marriage to a man who struggles with porn is threefold:

  • Understand the difference between a sexual struggle and a sexual addiction. While the lines may be a bit blurry, sexual addiction is characterized by “compulsive participation or engagement in sexual activity, despite negative consequences.” Sexual thoughts and actions have a compulsive nature that won’t go away despite efforts to address them. I would not advise marriage to a man who is involved in any addictive behavior, including sexual.
  • Look for character. God can use a sin struggle to make us humble, compassionate and dependent upon Him. Do you see this man growing closer to the Lord because of the struggle or is he defensive, dishonest and judgmental toward others?
  • Anticipate that you will be battling as a team. In marriage, one person’s struggle can never be isolated but affects the relationship. If you battle anxiety, your husband will either make you more anxious or can be a part of your healing. The same is true of sexual healing and redemption. Our ten- week bible study Passion Pursuit was created to help wives understand how to be actively engaged in reclaiming healthy, God-honoring sexuality in marriage.

While we feel despair and hopelessness in light of the predominance of sexual immorality and struggle in our culture, our God is not outmatched. I have seen Him use even a battle with pornography for the “good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” We don’t know what the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” may have been, but Paul saw the strength and glory of God in his weakness. The same can happen when a man or woman is willing to yield all of life to the Lord.

 

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  • Ivy San

    Ivy San

    Hi Julie, any advice when the struggle is with the woman?
  • Sabina

    Sabina

    Yeah, what about the other Side?

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