When Your Boyfriend Struggles with Porn

After my last post about boundaries, I got a letter from a young woman asking about how to deal with a pornography habit while dating. She gave me permission to share what she writes.

My boyfriend has been using porn since adolescence. During college he began to seek help by attending Sexaholics Anonymous meetings and being very involved with accountability and mentoring through that organization.

We are both Christians in our mid-20s, and he has read many other books over the years and prayed so much. He was open with me about his struggle before we started dating, and explained that he was getting help, but purity would probably always be a struggle in his life.

We are considering a serious relationship now, but my question is this—I know he’s serious about gaining victory in the area of sexual purity, and I know it’s going to be difficult, but what should I look for before considering a more serious relationship with him? Complete victory (i.e. not viewing porn and not masturbating) for a specific length of time? Improvement but not complete victory? I believe in God’s power to transform his life, and he does too, but this is still scary.

Most material I find is aimed at wives, and thus encourages them to stay and fight for the marriage, but there seems to be very little material for people considering marriage. What healthy expectations should I have?

My boyfriend struggles with porn

First of all, I love that this young couple has already done a bunch of things right:

  • He initiated the conversation about his struggle with a pornography habit.
  • He got help.
  • He continued to be honest about ongoing struggles.
  • She listened.
  • She educated herself.
  • She’s thinking hard about her boundaries before she takes another step down the road to commitment.

That’s pretty impressive, in light of the harsh realities about today’s dating world.

7 Harsh Realities About Dating and Porn

  1. Almost every young man—Christian or not—has been significantly exposed to pornography. Therefore, many men you date are dealing with this on some level. Realistically, you can either date a person who’s honest and tells you about his experience with porn, or you can date a person who’s pretending. Or you’ll find someone in the 1.5% of guys who has apparently been living under a rock.
  2. You can promote honesty in the relationship by educating yourself and being open to the truth. You can’t guarantee honesty, though. You have to weigh the words you hear with the behaviors you see. If you’re not comfortable with what you’re hearing, if you don’t understand what you’re seeing, then let yourself understand that this is a problem. Don’t proceed until you feel comfortable and you have a good understanding of what’s going on.
  3. You may very well need to start the conversational ball rolling, and you will need to keep having tough conversations as the relationship continues. Women have to be strong and courageous. We can’t wait around for someone else to do the right thing. If we know the right thing, we have to take action, even though that can be scary and hard. (See my suggestions below.)
  4. “Instant victory” is a nice thing to hope for, and maybe sometimes it happens. Most of the time, though, I think you have to support your partner through a series of ups and downs as he learns to manage his issues. How much of that you want to do while dating is difficult and serious. Individual questions need to be honestly addressed and not glossed over. The truth is, he may not be ready to do the work, and you can’t do it for him. On the other hand, he may be working really hard and still struggling. Be real about what’s going on. Work to understand.
  5. He won’t suddenly stop looking at porn if you get married and have lots of sex. It’s not about you.
  6. He won’t suddenly stop looking at porn if you are skinny enough, pretty enough, sexy enough, funny enough, forgiving enough, overlooking enough. It’s not about you.
  7. Porn will stop having a huge hold on his life as he does the practical work of prevention and becomes more honest, open, vulnerable, and emotionally intimate with the important people in his life: God, friends, mentors, family, and you—if you decide to stick around.

Need to have a difficult conversation? Try these questions on for size.

  • “Pornography use is a real issue for lots of people these days. I’ve been reading some about it, and I’d like to hear about your experience with it.” Hint: You want to know at what age they were exposed, how frequently, and what their current use is like. You’re not looking for intimate details, just the outline of the issue.
  • If the person tells you they don’t use porn, and never had have a problem with it, here’s a follow-up question: “I’d love to hear how you’ve managed something that most other people find really difficult to deal with?”
  • To check if they have a prevention plan, you could ask: “How do you protect yourself on a regular basis from everything that’s out there on the Internet?”
  • To see if they’re accountable and emotionally connected: “Who do you talk to about this? Who supports you?” “How do you think God feels about you?”
  • To see what their expectations are of you: “What do you think my part should be with you in this issue?” 

7 Healthy Habits to Strive For

That brings us to the questions: What should I look for? What healthy expectations should I have?

Here are some healthy habits for any couple: dating, engaged, or married.

  1. You should each be able to identify and take responsibility for your own issues. He has a habit, and you have emotions about that. While he does his work, you do yours as well.
  2. You should understand how pornography affects the other person in the relationship and have emotional empathy for your partner’s struggle. He should understand your pain, and that it takes time to work through those emotions. At the same time, it’s important for you to see him as a person with deep needs, not just a jerk who’s trying to make you miserable.
  3. The person with the habit has a plan for prevention and a plan for recovery after a relapse.
  4. The person with the habit is consistently and voluntarily doing whatever he can, in terms of practical prevention: Internet blocking, filtering, and regular accountability. These things should be an ordinary part of everyday life.
  5. There are people in your lives who are aware of what you’re working on, and who are able to talk with you, give feedback, and offer support. This goes for both parties.
  6. You are growing in the ability to have normal, non-crisis conversations about how you are doing with your issues, and how the relationship is impacted.
  7. We bring our mess to God and to our community of faith rather than trying to hide it or pretend it away. We trust that He is with us, and that our community is with us, on the journey.

One Absolute Guarantee

Here’s the thing: I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what choices he’s going to make. I don’t know if you’re going to get the happily ever after that you want.

There is only one thing I know, for sure—one absolute guarantee—God loves you with an everlasting love, and whatever happens, you are safe in that love.

Knowing that, be wise, be strong, be courageous. Live in truth and freedom.

Photo credit: d2k6