We’ve already considered the severity of pornography in the life of the follower of Christ, and we’ve offered a way to counsel this topic. In this article, we will consider a way of approaching these topics with your spouse and with your children.
Discernment: signs of porn use
One of the keys to battling pornography in the home is to develop discernment. That is, we should try to see the signs of porn use. While it is often difficult to discern if a person has been using pornography, after the truth comes to light, we can usually see that something was wrong. We should watch out for potential several signs:
Relationally distant. The guilt and shame of porn leads users to retreat from their other relationships. Maltz and Maltz write, “Many porn users tell us that one of the worst side effects of porn is how lonely and isolated from the important people in their lives they have become… Given this dynamic, it is easy for porn users to start choosing porn over people.” Laaser writes,
Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder. Sex addicts are not able to be emotionally vulnerable with other people. They would never tell anyone how they’re honestly feeling, for they are probably not aware of how they feel themselves. Generally, their feelings are painful and to be avoided at all costs. Sex addicts have great difficulty relating on a deep, personal level with other people. They may lie to cover up their behaviors, delude themselves and others about themselves, and generally lead a double life—one life everyone knows and the secret life only they know… One feature of the double life of sex addicts is their ability to tell some of their feelings to strangers yet not be able to talk at all to those close to them. This creates considerable anger for spouses, family members, and others who would like to get closer, can’t, and then see their sex addicts opening up to others. But the sex addicts are less afraid of losing the stranger… [Sex addicts] have lots of acquaintances but no friends. They may be the life of the party but no one knows them. They might have wonderful reputations, but it would shock many to know what they do sexually.
As porn addicts continue to lead this “double life,” it becomes more and more difficult to truly connect with others in honesty and vulnerability.
Anxiety, depression, or anger. Lust is only one cause for porn addiction. Often, the person is utilizing the stimulation of lust to avoid other problems in their life—namely anxiety, depression, or anger. Laaser writes, “While sexual sins can create anxiety and depression, they may also be considered the solution by addicts looking for relief. Such cyclical thinking leads to what is described as the sexual addiction cycle.” Ybarra and Mitchell PhD write that teenagers viewing porn are “more likely to report clinical features associated with depression and lower levels of emotional bonding with their caregiver.” Maltz and Maltz write,
Becoming easily irritated at even little things and eventually becoming depressed are common occurrences for regular porn users… Negative emotional outbursts create distance between a porn user and whomever he fears might discover his porn use… They strike out at others as a way to deflect attention away from themselves and their secret activities with porn. In addition, they may pick fights, harbor resentments, or hold grudges in order to justify acting out with more porn.
Porn addicts will lash out in anger when people get too close. Laaser writes, “They create enormous defenses. If anyone asks questions that come too close to the truth or simply challenges their story, addicts can become greatly irritated. Their behavior makes them angry with themselves and angry with others… Simple questions, insignificant events, or basic statements may incite an angry reaction that will surprise you because the reaction is out of proportion to the event.”
Attention Deficit. Porn offers a considerable amount of stimulation. It’s difficult to move from this high intensity stimulation into the calm, yet satisfying, realm of personal relating. Listening to another person or carrying on a conversation becomes boring. Laaser writes, “In a recent study conducted with over 100 sex addicts, roughly 70 percent indicated Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) might be an issue for them.”
Highly sexualized humor. Since the person spends so much time imbibing porn, their mind begins to think in these hyper-sexualized categories. Laaser writes, “Sex addicts may use sexual humor all the time… Sex addicts sexualize most situations and see some sexual humor in it… Sex addicts are great at double entendre—words or phrases that might have two meanings, one of them sexual. Say something in this fashion and the sex addict will smile and point out the sexual content. If a person says, ‘My friend was able to get off on time this morning,’ a sex addict interprets ‘get off’ to be about orgasm and makes some sexual joke about it… Know what to look for and you can spot a sex addict at a party, the grocery store, even at church. They tell sexual jokes, they touch people in ways that don’t feel right, they give too many hugs, and they are looking, always looking. Their eyes dart here and there. They take everything in.”
History of abuse. Out of 1,000 interviewees, expert Pat Carnes found that 97 percent of sex addicts were emotionally abused, 81 percent were sexually abused, and 74 percent were physically abused. Laaser adds, “Some sex addicts are never touched in nurturing ways by parents, and touching themselves is their only source of physical nurture.”
All of these signs above are ultimately subjective. That is, a loved one could show all of these signs and not have any issue with pornography at all. Yet these subjective signs should encourage us to initiate and discover more objective issues. An illustration might be helpful. If you were hearing violent noises from your neighbor’s house, you most likely wouldn’t kick down their door. But you would call the Police or maybe knock. The same is true with these signs. These are subjective signs that should encourage us to dig deeper.
When you discover your spouse is in porn
What do you do if you come across pornography on your spouse’s computer? Or what do you do if they confess to a porn problem? Consider these principles as you try to navigate through such a difficult situation.
Be thankful that it finally surfaced. This isn’t the most intuitive response to have. Yet it’s better to have this issue in the light, than in the dark. If your spouse had cancer, would you want to know about it, or be blissfully ignorant? Ignorance will surely be better in the short term, but not in the long term. If your spouse’s porn problem stayed in the dark, it would lower the quality of your marriage. While the truth hurts, consider the thought that God is sovereignly bringing this into the light for your spouse’s freedom, your character, and the overall health of your family.
Share your hurt feelings in the right context and in the right way. It’s easy for spouses to go through tremendous insecurity and pain when they discover a porn habit (“Am I not attractive enough?” “How dare he!” “Doesn’t he care about me?” “I feel so betrayed!”). While this pain needs to be shared, it doesn’t need to be shared in the moment of confession. There is a difference between sharing your hurt feelings and exploding on your spouse. Before you share how their sin has affected you, you might need to take time to pray with God and process these emotions with other Christian friends. After you have taken this time, you will be in a much better state to help your spouse, and your spouse will be in a much better place to help you with your hurt.
You are also going to need to work through legitimate and illegitimate pain that you’re feeling. Legitimate pain might include how you’ve been sinned against, how porn has affected the “oneness” in your marriage, and how trust has been broken. Illegitimate pain might include your personal insecurity over your own sex appeal and how you compare to the images of porn stars. If you focus on the illegitimate pain, it might only worsen the issue, rather than get it better.
Don’t punish your spouse. When we’re hurt, our instinct is to retaliate. Yet this is a time to move toward your spouse—not away from them. Relational alienation will only worsen the problem. While trust will take a while to be rebuilt, this doesn’t validate punishing our loved one.
Get help. We weren’t designed to carry the weight of these struggles alone (Gal. 6:1-2). Have you talked to Christians in your spouse’s life?
When you’re the spouse in porn
Spouses in porn need to forget everything just communicated to their spouse. Those principles above are for helping your spouse—not for protecting or justifying your sin! You can’t tell them, “It’s really illegitimate that you’re insecure about the images I’m watching!” While God will need to work on their hearts, you can’t have a demanding posture on how they react to your sin. If your spouse blows up at you or melts down with tears of pain, then you’re going to need to work through that.
Break the silence. Instead of minimizing, justifying, or blame-shifting, take ownership of your struggle. However, progress only comes through confession. David wrote, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat” (Ps. 32:3-4 NLT). Proverbs 28:13 states, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” Without confession, every Bible teaching you sit under will feel like it’s about you and your silence. This leads to a life focused on yourself and your own sin.
By contrast, James wrote, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:16). Remember, God doesn’t call on you to confess to be humiliated; he calls on you to confess to be healed. Do you have someone in your life that you can share your struggles with? Do you have someone that asks you the hard questions? Seek out a few select people to become good peer accountability.
When we fall into sin, Satan wants us to feel like our problem is somehow strange or special. However, we need to take solace in the fact that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13 NIV). Our temptations are not unique according to God; instead, they are common. We need to learn to open up to others on this basis.
Get help. Talk to close Christian friends about your struggle. Be as honest as possible.
Should I confess my porn issue to my spouse? The short answer is, Yes! But the long answer is more complicated. Surely, we shouldn’t confess every sin to our spouse (e.g. every lustful thought, critical attitude, etc.). We should only confess what will be edifying to the other person, and what will be necessary for our own healing (Jas. 5:16). Consider these principles below:
- The spouse in porn should always confess to someone (e.g. Christian leader, friend, etc.).
- The spouse should always know that you are struggling when the issue first comes to light. You should give updates on how you’re doing in this area at the discretion of your spouse or at the wisdom of Christian friends around you. If the spouse in porn only confesses to a friend, they might begin to see porn use as primarily about themselves—not their marriage—which would be a mistake.
- Generally, the worse the issue gets, the more you should confess to your spouse. Is this a “fall from grace” or a repeated and worsening problem?
- How much detail is your spouse able to handle? Are they willing to partner with you to help, or will they only pour metaphorical gasoline on the fire?
- What reasons do you have for not confessing to your spouse? The burden of proof is on you as to why this would not be a good idea.
- Would it be edifying to your spouse for them to see the explicit content you’re watching, or would it be better for you to share your struggle and honestly answer questions from them?
In the end, each couple will need to decide how they want to handle this. While the spouse needs to know about struggles, the couple will need to agree on how much detail will need to be disclosed. Some spouses use one another as accountability partners. Others will just want to talk through struggles together, rather than getting into detail.
Be patient with your spouse. After coming into the light, you might feel a strong sense of relief. This is because you have been carrying a sense of shame and guilt for months (or years?), but now, you feel a sense of freedom. However, the shame you previously carried all alone has now been transferred in part to your spouse. She’s been blindsided, and she’s try to process a lot of pain and emotion. Learn to empathize with how this has affected her. Take time to pick up the pieces in your marriage by asking her the right questions and seeking her forgiveness.
Talking to your kids
Start the conversation when they’re young. As parents, we want to educate our kids on sex before they get a metaphorical PhD on the subject from pornography! Instill a positive
Develop a cultural critique. Rather than completely guarding your kids from all television and movies, watch these and critique what they’re saying. Encourage your kids to critique these as well. Challenge cultural slogans or mantras.
Never underestimate your influence on your kids. While children seem distant at times, studies repeatedly report that kids want more relational time with their parents—not less. The most powerful platform for influencing a kid is not as a rock star, model, or a celebrity. It’s as a father and a mother!
As parents, our influence comes primarily through relational capital. Our kids won’t listen to us if we haven’t infused love into our relationship (1 Cor. 13:1; Eph. 4:15). Put simply, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.”
Deal with your own feelings first. As parents, we might be dealing with fear, embarrassment, or anger with our children. We need to leave those feelings at the foot of the Cross before we ever sit down and talk with our kids. Model faith rather than fear.
Avoid reenacting the “Inquisition.” We don’t want our conversations to feel like interrogation sessions! You won’t be able to get a forced confession out of your kid, and if you do, what will that help anyhow? We don’t want to “go for the pin” or get into an arm-wrestling match with our kid. Realize that you can be “unwavering” in your convictions, and yet “gentle” at the same time (Jas. 3:17).
Your kids could lie to you when you talk to them, and it’s likely they will! But trust that taking a relational approach will crack open the door for the Holy Spirit to squeeze through. Realize this won’t be a “one-and-done” talk. Likely, you won’t gain any significant ground in your first conversation (though you could). Be content that you played your role, and you will continue to play it. Trust that the Holy Spirit will take it from there. Your child might come back and open up later, talk to a youth worker, or talk to a friend about this.
Prepare your approach before the talk. Don’t just hit “mute” on the television, turn to your son, and ask, “So, how’s porn going?” Instead, plan in advance how you will go after the subject (Heb. 10:24). Talk it over with your spouse, talk to other godly parents, and pray for God’s leading, strength, and sensitivity.
Choose wisely which parent should take the lead. You might be burdened and excited to talk with your kid, but perhaps, your spouse will have a better touch in having this conversation. Who has had the best success in the past? Who is your kid most likely to open up to?
Asking indirect questions. Jonathan McKee rightly observes, “Teenagers have a PhD in one-word answers… If we don’t ask the right questions.” Learn to ask better questions, know when to ask them, and how to ask them. Moses tells us to talk with our kids about God throughout the day (Deut. 6:7). So discern the best time to initiate a deeper conversation. McKee suggests using “controversy” to get your kid talking. For older kids, try using controversial issues to get them talking.
- I read recently from this medical doctor that pornography use was connected with less enjoyment of regular sex… Why do you think that would be the case?
- A lot of people define porn differently, how would you define it? (This question is important, because you and your kids could have two different definitions of what porn even is.)
- I read recently that, “The number of eighteen-year-olds who got breast implant surgery nearly tripled, from 2,872 in 2002 to 11,326 in 2003—a far greater increase than the 12 percent rise in such surgery among adults overall.” What do you think would cause such an increase? What kind of factors have you seen in teens at school?
- I read recently that married people have more pleasurable and more frequent sex than single people do… Why do you think that’s the case?
- Have you heard that scientists are now comparing pornography addiction to drug addiction? I was watching this YouTube video on it… Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
These questions might get your child talking, and some might get you going down rabbit trails. Some of these questions might make them uncomfortable, and others might be entirely inappropriate altogether! As the parent, use your own judgment and be creative about how to create your own questions, getting them talking in the process. Try to be available and initiative without being controlling or intrusive.
Asking direct questions. Eventually, you need to ask about porn in a more direct way. These are some examples of possible questions:
- Have you bumped into anything that’s been stumbling to you lately?
- Do any of your friends struggle with porn?
- Have any of your friends ever talked to you about porn?
If your child answers “No” to all of these questions, this is revealing in and of itself! Talk about the effects you’ve seen porn have in your own life and the lives of your friends. Tell them that if they ever came in contact with porn that it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Sitting and talking with Mom and Dad would be the safest place to be. Emphasize that you wouldn’t view them any different, but you’d want to be in the loop so you could pray for them and help.
The role of youth workers. While we should welcome Christian youth workers to play an influence on our children, we should never feel like we’re “off the hook” from having these conversations ourselves. It shouldn’t be “either/or.” It should be “both/and.” We should work in concert with Christian leaders as best we can. Ask these questions:
- Do I have open communication with the youth worker? Do I know their perspective on how my kid is doing with porn?
- Do I feel like the youth worker and I are on the same team, or do I feel alienated from them? Why is that?
Studies show that kids learn a lot of their values from their peers and from people close to their age. Besides the family unit, these youth workers can be some of the best assets in your kid’s life.
Technology in the home
Here are some suggestions on how to handle Internet access and IT (information technology) in the home—specifically with children.
- Don’t let them have screen time without an adult.
- Don’t put a computer, gaming system, or TV in their room. If you do, you can’t see the quantity or quality of what they’re watching. It’s no wonder that most American families spend more time staring at the screen than they do talking at the dinner table.
- Set strong boundaries early on, rather than impose them later in life. It’s easier to set the boundaries early, rather than change them later.
- When they’re young, set up the browser so it can only go to a few specific sites. As they get older, broaden this to include more freedom.
- Move to accountability software as they get older. Pornography blockers only secure your kid for so long before they need to learn how to become accountable for the content they’re seeing.
- Focus on what is truly dangerous. Christian parents shouldn’t block any and all adult content from their kids. If you block everything, this leads kids to feel hyper-restricted and controlled. It’s better to give them freedom in some areas, but not others. So you might allow violence or cussing, but not pornographic content. In this way, you will buy credibility with your kids to show that you’re accommodating in some ways—even if you’re strict in others.
- A strong can be made for not allowing kids to have data enabled devices when they’re young. You can get phone for your kid that can call and text—even if it doesn’t have data to surf the web (e.g. Samsung, “Bright Side” is a touch screen phone that doesn’t have Internet access). Ask yourself: Does my kid really need access to the Internet?
 Maltz, Wendy, and Larry Maltz. The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography. New York: Collins, 2008. 74-75.
 Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 55, 56.
 Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 59.
 Michele L. Ybarra and Kimberly J. Mitchell, “Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children and Adolescents: A National Survey,” CyberPsychology & Behavior 8 (2005): 473-86 (473).
 Maltz, Wendy, and Larry Maltz. The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography. New York: Collins, 2008. 72, 73.
 Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 65.
 Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 59.
 Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 66, 67.
 Cited in Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 95.
 Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 34.
 Jonathan McKee, Get Your Teenager Talking (Bethany Publishers: Minneapolis, MN, 2014), 2.
 Doidge, Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. London, England: Penguin, 2007. 104.
 Paul, Pamela. Pornified. New York: Times, 2005. 184.
 Waite, Linda J., and Maggie Gallagher. The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially. New York: Doubleday, 2000. 79.