If you’ve discovered your boyfriend watches porn, you’re not alone. I got a letter from a young woman asking about how to deal with her boyfriend’s porn 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?”
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 his 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 in today’s dating world.
7 Harsh Realities About Your Boyfriend and Porn
Again, these are harsh realities, but the best time to hear them is now while you’re dating–before you’ve made a more serious commitment.
1. Almost every young man has had significant porn exposure.
Christian or not—most guys have 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 have apparently been living under a rock.
2. You can’t guarantee honesty.
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 in the relationship until you feel comfortable and you have a good understanding of what’s going on.
3. You’ll likely need to start the conversation about porn.
Not only will you likely need to get the ball rolling, but you will also 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” rarely happens.
It’s 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. Marriage and sex won’t fix his porn problem.
He won’t suddenly stop looking at porn if you get married and have lots of sex. It’s not about you.
6. A different version of you won’t fix his porn problem.
He won’t suddenly stop looking at porn if you are skinny enough, pretty enough, sexy enough, funny enough, forgiving enough, or overlooking enough. It’s not about you.
7. Victory from porn is possible!
Porn can stop having a huge hold on his life, but it requires that 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.
Questions to Ask Your Boyfriend About His Porn Use
Because most guys have had porn exposure, it’s a topic you really should discuss before making any high-commitment decisions. 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. Here are some questions and conversation prompts you can use:
- “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.”
- If the person tells you they don’t use porn and have never had 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?”
5 Healthy Habits for a Porn-Impacted Relationship
That brings us to two questions: What should I look for? What healthy expectations should I have?
Here are some healthy habits for any couple impacted by porn – dating, engaged, or married.
1. Take responsibility for your own issues.
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. Understand porn’s effects on the other.
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. Have a prevention plan and a relapse plan.
The person with the porn habit has a plan for prevention and a plan for recovery after a relapse.
He’s 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.
4. Invite others into this part of your relationship.
Make sure there are people in your life 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.
We need to 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.
5. Grow in your ability to talk about these issues.
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.
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.
Bonus Questions About Your Boyfriend’s Porn Use
Note from the editor: Since Kay’s post was first published, we’ve heard many more questions about a boyfriend’s porn use. Let’s look at a few.
1. Should I be upset my boyfriend watches porn?
It’s understandable if you’re upset by your boyfriend’s porn use. Finding out he watches porn may bring feelings of betrayal, personal insecurity, uncertainty about the future of your relationship, and more.
Here are a few helpful things to remember: most guys were first exposed to porn at a young age when their brains were more susceptible to porn’s addictive nature. His porn use is not about you. It likely started way before he knew you, and likely won’t stop because of anything you do or don’t do.
This doesn’t make his porn use right or even mean you need to stick it out while he recovers (if he decides to). Remembering those few things will help you have more understanding and empathy as you discuss how his porn use impacts the relationship going forward.
2. Is my boyfriend addicted to porn?
Wondering how to tell whether your boyfriend’s porn use falls into the addiction category? We go into depth elsewhere on the symptoms of porn addiction, but here they are at a glance:
- He uses porn to ease or avoid deep emotional pain.
- He has developed a tolerance that’s led to more deviant forms of porn.
- He gets angry or irritable when he can’t watch porn.
- He’ll do things he normally wouldn’t in order to watch porn.
- He’s consumed by an urge to watch porn.
- He feels helpless to quit or has tried multiple times without success.
It may be hard for you to identify these in your boyfriend, depending on your relationship. And ultimately, whether or not you call it an addiction doesn’t matter so much. If he’s watching porn consistently, at some point, it will have a negative impact on your relationship.
3. Is it normal for my boyfriend to be addicted?
There are two underlying questions here. First, is it common for my boyfriend to be addicted to porn? Again, based on the prevalence of porn exposure among guys, yes, it’s common for guys to be addicted to porn. The second underlying question here, though, is: Should I be okay with my boyfriend’s porn addiction? To this question, we’d say “no.” Porn is harmful, and it tends to negatively impact relationships where it’s present.
4. Why does my boyfriend watch porn?
We’ve written in-depth elsewhere about why people watch porn, but in short:
- It feels good.
- It seems harmless.
- Previous exposure to porn.
- Few real relationships.
- It’s used to cope with boredom, anxiety, or depression.
- It’s addictive.
- It makes plenty of false promises about important life issues.