9 Warning Signs of Porn Addiction
If you or someone you know might be addicted to porn, you’ve come to the right place. But first, a quick quiz.
I’ll give you a choice between two websites, and you guess which website gets more clicks. Ready?
- Netflix.com or Porn Website 1?
- ESPN.com or Porn Website 2?
- Twitter.com or Porn Website 3?
- CNN.com or Porn Website 4?
- WebMD.com or Porn Website 5?
If you guessed “Porn Website,” you were right every time. In fact, if we combine the top five porn websites, porn ranks fourth for all internet traffic… with 2.8 billion visits per month.1
Remember, that’s just the top five porn websites. If we combined them all, one could argue that the internet is mainly a pornography delivery service.
2.8 billion ranks porn behind only Google, YouTube, and Facebook in monthly visits.
(About 90% of these visits are on mobile devices.)
Why am I telling you all this? To encourage you. That’s right. I want you to know that if you, a partner, or a family member is struggling with pornography, you’re 100% not alone. Pornography addiction is an epidemic.
Everyone is (obviously) so private about their pornography use. If you feel like you need to stop and you can’t, it’s easy to feel like it’s just you. Like there’s something about you that’s defective. You’re not defective.
Along with millions of other people, you cranked up what researchers refer to as the Triple-A Engine Effect (Accessibility, Affordability, and Anonymity.)2 Now, you want to turn that engine off. And you definitely can. There’s help, too.
If you’ve discovered that your partner uses pornography or is addicted to it, you might be wondering what’s wrong with them, or even if it’s you. (Short Answer: This is your partner’s issue. They may be succumbing to a porn addiction along with millions of other ordinary people.) Don’t waste energy thinking about how you’re part of the problem. Think about how you can be part of the solution.
Understand the dynamics and pathology of porn addiction.
Porn use has become incredibly normalized and trivialized.
It’s not just accepted. There’s a sense of entitlement. Mobile devices have opened up a free, bountiful Pornicopia. This has led to widespread addiction.
Public opinion about pornography has cooled down as technology has heated up. One Gallup poll indicated that 58% of respondents believed pornography is “morally wrong.” 40% believed it is “morally acceptable.”3 This is a tectonic shift from only two decades ago.
SIDEBAR: I frankly don’t care if you think pornography is morally wrong or not. I’m not here to moralize. I’d rather philosophize. This is what’s up. Pornography kills something important inside you. At the same time, it’s killing your ability to experience and enjoy genuine sexual intimacy. You’re cheating yourself out of one of the single best things in life. You’re creating a fantasy world. And reality will never be able to keep up. Plus, any addiction or compulsion you can’t control should make you stop and think.
Addiction to pornography might seem less complicated than real human relationships. So, maybe you avoid the risks of emotional vulnerability, relational availability, and personal accountability. But your life will also be devoid of the rewards embedded in those risks.
Sexual gratification via pornography is free, convenient, and anonymous.
It’s like grabbing some drive-thru instead of preparing and enjoying a gourmet sit-down dinner. Porn is low-effort, depersonalized, you-pick-the-menu sex. It doesn’t expect engaging dinner conversation. Porn won’t judge your poor table manners or that you don’t help with the dishes.
But. Porn. Is. Just. Empty. Calories.
There’s an ongoing debate among clinicians and researchers surrounding pornography. Is it really an addiction? Based on some recent research4, some professionals prefer the term compulsion.
This should give you hope. We aren’t talking about chemical dependence.
This is a habit. You can break a habit and/or replace it with a healthier one.What do clinicians and researchers agree on? Pornography can be destructive… to yourself, your partner, and your relationship. I’ll let them explain how.
But I Can Stop Whenever I Want To.
“Porn addiction refers to a person becoming emotionally dependent on pornography to the point that it interferes with their daily life, relationships, and ability to function.”5
Here are the signs:
- Porn becomes a central part of your life.
- Pornography causes relationship issues or makes you feel less satisfied with your partner. Your sex life becomes less satisfying.
- You engage in risky behavior to view pornography, like viewing it at work.
- You ignore other responsibilities to view pornography.
- To get the same release that less extreme porn once offered, you view progressively more extreme pornography .
- You’re frustrated or ashamed after viewing porn but continue to do so.
- You want to stop using pornography but feel unable to do so.
- You cause yourself physical pain or begin to experience erectile dysfunction.
- You’re using pornography to cope with sadness, anxiety, insomnia, or other mental health issues.
Remember the 2.8 billion monthly visits to the top five pornographic websites in the U.S? That’s over 1,000 visits per second. In the time it takes you to read this sentence, that’s over 7,000 visits to porn websites.
People clicked on pornography of all kinds… Women being degraded and abused. Sexual exploitation. Rape fantasies. And even child pornography.
You’re here at the moment.
I believe your next click will be the right one.
1Semrush. (December 2021). Top 100: The most visited websites in the U.S.https://www.semrush.com/blog/most-visited-websites/
2Cooper, & Mcloughlin, I. P. (2001). What clinicians need to know about internet sexuality. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681990126947
3Gallup. (n.d.). Moral issues. https://news.gallup.com/poll/1681/moral-issues.aspx
4Weir, K. (2014, April). Is pornography addictive? American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/pornography
5Villines, Z. (2021, February 25). What to know about porn addiction. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/porn-addiction
What To Do When You Catch Your Husband Watching Porn – First Things First
Why Does My Husband Watch Porn? – First Things First
Should I Be Upset That My Husband Watches Porn? – First Things First
Resources for Dealing with Porn Addiction – First Things First
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
Image from Unsplash.com
How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids
Our children are exposed to more screens than ever, beginning at a very young age. They are bombarded with digital content and exposure to ads, friends, and family members sharing who knows what. Not to mention the sneaky ways tech experts entice viewers to look at inappropriate images. (Check out PARENTING COURSE | Parenting In The Brave New Digital World here!)
The sexual curiosity of many 6 and 7-year-olds is getting awakened earlier than you ever imagined. So whether porn pops up on their screen or a friend or family member shares something, you want to be ready to have the “porn talk” with your kids.
Talking with your young child about pornography doesn’t have to be terrifying. In fact, before the teen years, you have some advantages.
1. At this age, the parent/child relationship is often still the most important influence for your child.
2. Young school-aged children are probably more open about what they’ve seen, done, heard, or said, especially when they feel supported by their parents. Yes, some kids lie. However, a 15-year-old’s efforts to hide something are very different from a 7-year-old’s.
3. Parents have more control over where they go, who they spend time with, and what they do. (When kids split time between parents, this can be challenging. But, if parents work together, they can both be more aware.)
Keep these things in mind as you consider how to talk to and protect your child. Perhaps they’ve already been exposed to porn. Or maybe you have a reason to think you should talk about what porn is with them. If you find out your child has seen stuff you don’t want them to see, try not to show them you’re overwhelmed.
Remember, they’re still young. Still forming right and wrong mentally. Learning the world outside of their bubble. Your child’s life isn’t ruined.
What Not To Do:
- Don’t fly off the deep end. It’s disappointing when your young child has been robbed of a certain innocence. But if they’ve seen it, they can’t “unsee” it. If you’re overly emotional, it will make it harder for them to talk to you in the future.
- Don’t dive super deep into the details. The goal is to help your child do the right thing if they see inappropriate content.
- Don’t solely rely on parental controls on devices. Your parent-child relationship plays the biggest role in dealing with this issue and reducing the risk of exposure.
Don’t assume your child knows what the word pornography means. It may not mean what they think it means. How does your child identify inappropriate content?
- “Have you seen pictures or videos that you don’t feel comfortable looking at with me?”
- “Are there sometimes pictures on your screen of people without their clothes on?”
- “Has anyone shown you pics of things that made you feel weird or uncomfortable?”
- “Have you looked at stuff you don’t think we’d want you to see?”
The word porn may not trigger the type of awareness for kids that it would for you. They will, however, know when they’ve seen something that’s not OK to you.
Find out what they’ve seen and where.
Look at the internet browser, YouTube history, and some of the video games they play. Gently ask questions to gather info. Ask to see what they look at with friends.
Set the standard of what’s OK and what’s not.
A 15 or 16-year-old clearly knows what they’re doing when looking at porn. A 5 or 6-year-old is learning about the outside world. You have to set the standard for appropriate and responsible technology use. You may say, “It’s not OK for you to look at anything online that we can’t look at together. That includes people who aren’t wearing clothes or who are doing things that only adults should be doing.”
Try, “Anytime we go to someone’s house, doesn’t everyone have their clothes on? It should be the same way when you’re looking at a screen. Everyone should be dressed.”
Clearly say what you expect.
Ask your child to tell you (and the adult in charge) if someone shows them something inappropriate. Tell them it’s important to be honest with you, even if someone asks them to keep secrets or threatens them concerning what they are doing or showing him.
Be a safe person he or she can come to without fear of getting in trouble, and don’t be shocked by what they show you. You want to encourage them and make it easy for them to talk to you. On the other hand, let them know they will get in trouble if they see something wrong and hide it. Make sure they understand the difference.
Standards and expectations don’t work without consequences.
If your child continues to view inappropriate content and fails to meet the standards and expectations you’ve set (see above), be consistent with consequences. Maybe they lose screen time. It may mean no sweets or an earlier bedtime for several days.
If the consequences don’t work, consulting a professional may help. If your child insists on looking at porn, something else may be going on.
Often the key to steering your child is the approach. Your kids need you to be gentle and supportive. Look for ways to appreciate and reward their good decisions. This will lay the groundwork for being an ally as they move into the teen years and beyond.
Other helpful blogs:
When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex
Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents
How To Talk To Your Teen About Pornography
Why Does My Husband Watch Porn?
Your husband watches porn. I’m sure this has caused some mixed feelings within you. Should you be concerned? Or should you be okay with this? Or maybe you’re concerned about how okay you are with it. And you’re not sure how you feel about that.
But your big question is, Why? What’s the allure, the drive, the motivation? Is it something you’re doing or not doing? Regardless, talking about why husbands watch porn isn’t an easy topic. But you’re looking for answers.
I honestly don’t know why your husband looks at porn. But we can narrow it down to what we know is quite common out there among guys.
Before we dive in though, let me tell you what more than likely is not the reason he looks at porn: you. Unless you’re force-feeding him to look at those images online, you are not the reason. It’s nothing you did, or how you are, or the way you do things (or don’t do things) in the bedroom or otherwise.
Take it from a guy who’s been in the struggle. Sometimes, I’ve even put the blame on my wife for my online behavior. Thinking things like, “Well, if she weren’t so tired all the time,” or “I can’t even remember the last time we had sex.” Doing this is easier than facing the reality of my own guilt or shame. So, even if your husband tells you it’s your fault, it’s still his decision to look at porn. Let’s just take that pressure off of you.
Now that we can lay that aside, what are some common reasons happily-married guys look at porn?
They began the habit at an early age.
The younger a guy has his first exposure to pornographic images, the more profoundly it affects him throughout his life.1 Studies have shown that kids exposed to pornography are more likely to want to repeat what they’ve seen without understanding what they’ve seen.2 Think of the weight of that. Their views of sex are easily skewed to focus on power, self-satisfaction, fear, or violence rather than intimacy, connection, and love. If your husband began looking at porn early on as a child, it possibly formed a habit that was harder to kick than if he were first exposed later in life.
Pornography has deep-seated effects on the brain.
Studies show that the physical landscape of the brain actually changes when a guy watches porn.3,4 It creates neural pathways, making it easier to fall into the trap of desiring pornographic images over and over. It’s like paving and repaving a road to make it easier to travel on each time. Chemical processes occur, which researchers have compared to that of cocaine addiction; the reward centers in the brain are in full-tilt, promising euphoric (although temporary) feelings with each “hit.” The bad news is that with each encounter with porn, it takes just a little more “shock” to get the same amount of high as before.5 The good news is the evidence is strong that the brain can be re-rewired to reverse porn’s adverse effects on the brain.6,7,8
He may be caught in a vicious cycle.
For many men, sex is a short-term cure for anxiety, depression, stress, or insecurity.9 The problem is pornography has been shown to increase these negative feelings.10 Here’s the general idea: Your husband views porn to get some relief from, say, anxiety. And it works, but only for a short time. What comes next, however, are feelings of shame and remorse. Shame turns into more anxiety. And he’s back where he started. If your husband is caught in a negative cycle, it might be hard for him to understand how to break out of it.
He just doesn’t know it’s unhealthy.
Sometimes what porn provides masks the damage it does to a person, their brain, and their relationships. It could just be that he’s blind to what porn is doing to him, you, and your marriage.
These four ideas are usually at play among men who watch porn. But reasons why a husband views pornography are complex and differ from person to person.
One thing we know: pornography can be damaging to a person’s mental health and to their marriage. This is why it’s critical to talk to him about his reasons and seek professional help if necessary. Understanding why he watches porn is the first step; keeping your marriage healthy and protecting it is the ultimate goal.
Other Helpful Links:
- What to Do When You Catch Your Husband Watching Porn
- Should I Be Upset That My Husband Watches Porn?
- 9 Warning Signs of Porn Addiction
- How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
1American Psychological Association. (2017). Age of first exposure to pornography shapes men’s attitudes toward women.
2Martellozzo, E., et al. (2016). I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it: The impact of online pornography on the values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours of children. London: NSPCC
3Hilton, D.L. (2013). Pornography addiction – a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767
4Pitchers,K.K., et al. (2013). Natural and drug rewards act on common neural plasticity mechanisms with delta FosB as a key mediator. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4881-12.2013
5Love, T., et al. (2015). Neuroscience of internet pornography addiction: A review and update. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs5030388
6Pfefferbaum A., et al. (2014). White matter microstructural recovery with abstinence and decline with relapse in alcohol dependence interacts with normal ageing: A controlled longitudinal DTI study. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70301-3
7Yau, Y. H., et al. (2015). Gambling disorder and other behavioral addictions: recognition and treatment. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000051
8Rullmann, M., et al. (2019). Adiposity related brain plasticity induced by bariatric surgery. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00290
9Perry, S.L. (2018). Pornography use and depressive symptoms: Examining the role of moral incongruence. https://doi.org/10.1177/2156869317728373
10Koob, G.F. (2013). Addiction is a reward deficit and stress surfeit disorder. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00072
Should I Be Upset That My Husband Watches Porn?
So your husband watches porn, and you’re wondering how you should feel about it. Perhaps you’re frustrated and wondering if you have a reason to be upset. Or maybe it doesn’t bother you, and that’s what bothers you. It’s probably hard to know just what to feel or think or do with this.
Pornography can be a complicated issue in marriage. And the truth is, you could be dealing with a whole host of other emotions and thoughts about it.
First of all, it’s okay to feel these things.
I can’t tell you how you should feel (nor should I, nor should anyone).
But here’s what I can do: I can share what we know about how pornography can affect a marriage. Because I imagine that’s the one concern you probably have above all else.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what some research tells us:
- Married couples who use porn are more likely to divorce than those who do not use it.
- Watching porn can create unrealistic pictures in people’s minds about how sexual relationships are supposed to function. This can affect relationships negatively. It can decrease the viewer’s perceptions of real-life intimacy because they compare marital sex with what’s on the screen (i.e., porn stars).
- Viewing porn can lead to sex becoming more about one’s own physical pleasure and less about the emotional aspect of sex in marriage.
- Pornography can create a vicious downward cycle; if something isn’t going well in the marriage, a person might turn to porn. But then, turning to porn can make marital problems even worse.
- Pornography consumption is linked to decreased intimacy, less satisfaction in marriage, and infidelity. Not to mention an increased appetite for porn that depicts abusive, illegal, or unsafe practices and a higher rate of addictive behavior. (Just to be clear, the research gives strong evidence that porn is, indeed, addictive. Keep reading for more on this.)
- According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, over half of divorce cases involved “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”
- Viewing pornographic material increases the risk of developing sexually deviant tendencies, committing sexual offenses, and accepting rape myths.
- Evidence shows that pornography affects the brain, much like a chemical addiction. It releases endorphins that cause an increased need for more arousing and shocking material. Over time, to get the same feeling or “high,” you have to get a heavier dose. Some studies indicate the chemicals released in the brain from watching porn are two-hundred times more potent than morphine and at least as addictive as cocaine. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
- Watching porn also causes mirror neurons to fire in the brain, causing the viewer not merely to respond to the image on the screen but to put themselves in the main character’s place.
Unfortunately, these are just a few of the negative insights researchers found.
The bottom line is that pornography is easy to access and can cause severe marriage rifts. Yes, you’ll find many misconceptions out there from mainstream media about how porn isn’t all that bad. Some counselors even encourage couples to use porn in their relationships for various reasons.
I personally prefer to err on the side of good solid research, which suggests that, overall, couples should avoid porn for the sake of marital health. I encourage you and your husband to let the science and research about porn inform your feelings, reactions, and conversations about porn in your marriage.
If you’d like to learn more about porn or want more information to help you move forward together, these blogs can help you out:
- My Spouse Wants Sex More Than I Do
- 10 Things Every Married Couple Needs to Know About Sex
- How Often Should We Have Sex?
- How Porn Impacts the Brain
- 9 Warning Signs of Porn Addiction
- Resources for Dealing With Porn Addiction
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
1Perry, S. L., & Schleifer, C. (2018). Till Porn Do Us Part? A Longitudinal Examination of Pornography Use and Divorce. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(3), 284–296. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1317709
2Zillmann D, Bryant J. Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction. J Appl Social Pyschol. 1988;18(5):438-453. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb00027.x
3Perry SL. Pornography and relationship quality: Establishing the dominant pattern by examining pornography use and 31 measures of relationship quality in 30 national surveys. Arch Sex Behav. 2020;49(4):1199-1213. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-01616-7
4Maas MK, Vasilenko SA, Willoughby BJ. A dyadic approach to pornography use and relationship satisfaction among heterosexual couples: The role of pornography acceptance and anxious attachment. J Sex Res. 2018;55(6):772-782. doi:10.1080/00224499.2018.1440281
5Laier, C., & Brand, M. (2016). Mood changes after watching pornography on the Internet are linked to tendencies towards Internet-pornography-viewing disorder. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 5(C), 9–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.abrep.2016.11.003
6Schneider, J. P. (2000). A Qualitative Study of Cybersex Participants: Gender Differences, Recovery Issues, and Implications for Therapists. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7(4), 249–278. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720160008403700
7Stack, S., Wasserman, I., & Kern, R. (2004). Adult Social Bonds and Use of Internet Pornography. Social Science Quarterly, 85(1), 75–88. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0038-4941.2004.08501006.x
8Manning, J. C. (2006). The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13(2-3), 131–165. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720160600870711
10Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183–205. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201
11Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., & Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of Rape Myths. Journal of Communication, 45(1), 5–26. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1995.tb00711.x
12Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of internet pornography addiction: A review and update. Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.3390/bs5030388
13Ponseti, J., Bosinski, H. A., Wolff, S., Peller, M., Jansen, O., Mehdorn, H. M., Büchel, C., & Siebner, H. R. (2006). A functional endophenotype for sexual orientation in humans. NeuroImage (Orlando, Fla.), 33(3), 825–833. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.08.002
What to Do When You Catch Your Teen Looking at Porn
Guilt. Shame. Shock. Anger. Confusion. What happens now? (I’m talking about how parents often feel after they catch their teen looking at porn.) You know you are going to have to talk to your teen about porn, but you aren’t sure what you will say or how to have this conversation with your teen in a productive and healthy manner. This conversation is an excellent opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with your teen. You got this!
A few things to think about BEFORE you talk to your teen:
You control the tone of the conversation, and how you approach this conversation is significant.
Your response has the potential to communicate that sex is dirty, being curious about sex is unhealthy, and that your teen is perverted or has something wrong with them. This is NOT the conversation you want to have.
Remember—this is an opportunity. You can have a tone and approach that opens the door for future conversations and draws your teen toward you OR you can have a tone and approach that slams this important door shut and pushes your teen away. (And they won’t be talking to you about anything personal for a long, long time.)
You may have a lot of thoughts and emotions of your own to process. Take your time and make sure you are in the right frame of mind with your emotions in check.
Ask yourself: What are my goals for this conversation?
If you have multiple children using multiple devices, make sure you are not jumping to conclusions about who was looking at what.
Spouses look at pornography too. This isn’t the time to play detective, but make sure you have your facts straight. Nothing feels worse than when someone accuses you of something you didn’t do.
Even if you found something on your teen’s phone, there is still the chance that they were not seeking anything explicit or pornographic.
They may have mistyped a URL, accidentally clicked an ad, or clicked on a trick link. They could have been “Cyber-Flashed.” Some popular apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram leave the door wide open for other users to send things unrequested. The apps themselves sometimes “recommend” explicit content. Facebook is notorious for individuals sending a friend request, followed by explicit material after you accept the friend request. Even a friend or sibling could have been using their phone.
[Any of these scenarios still require a conversation, but one on digital safety. This online class covers all the bases.]
Educate yourself about pornography and its effects.
The website linked at the end will be a big help before you talk to your teen. Understand how pornography affects the brain and the chemistry of addiction.
A few things to think about AS you talk with your teen:
- Try to find a time and place that allows for private undistracted, uninterrupted conversation. Here’s an example of a conversation.
- Remember the Closer/Further Rule: Are my words, tone, attitude, body language more likely to cause my teen to want to move closer to me or move further away? (Literally and figuratively.) Am I exhibiting a calmness, openness, and compassion to my teen? “It’s safe to move closer to this person.”
- Be direct, matter-of-fact, and calm—“I found pornography on your phone, (or tablet, or laptop) and I’d like us to talk about it.” [Be prepared for a variety of possible reactions—guilt, shame, or embarrassment over getting caught, or even anger and resentment for feeling like their privacy has been violated.]
- End the conversation by asking if they have any questions, reaffirming that they can always come to you to talk about anything or when they feel tempted. Ask them how you can help them and above all else, tell them you love them no matter what and are willing to walk with them down this path.
- Interrogate. Gently ask questions. You probably want to know when they first saw pornography, how often they look at pornography, what they use to view pornography. Ask your teen how they feel after looking at porn. (Keep a good poker face even if you hear some things that make you uncomfortable.) You know your teen. You know how to gauge your teen’s responses.
- Lecture. You may have your own reasons why you don’t want your teen viewing pornography. Consider the following reasons as well:
- The brain chemistry of addiction. Watching porn releases dopamine (“feel good” chemical) and oxytocin (bonding chemical). Both play a role in addiction.
- Because of this, viewing pornography is an escalating behavior. The viewer will feel the need to see more porn and more explicit pornography to get the same chemical “high.”
- Porn presents a distorted view of human sexuality and creates false expectations. It also leaves out the relational intimacy that contributes to good, healthy sex.
- Pornography affects real-life relationships. Using porn is associated with less satisfaction in relationships, less close relationships, more loneliness, and more depression (Hesse & Floyd, 2019).
A few things to think about AFTER you talk to your teen about looking at porn:
- Follow up. Teens often freeze-up when they are uncomfortable. They may need a day or two to process your conversation. Their thoughts, feelings, and questions might take a few days to form, so it’s a good idea to follow up a couple of days later with, “Now that you’ve had some time to think about our conversation, what thoughts or questions do you have?”
- Talking to your teen about sex and looking at porn is not a one-time talk. As a parent, you want this to be an ongoing conversation. Be an “askable” parent. Cultivate a relationship with your teen where they feel comfortable talking to you about hard topics and asking you questions.
- You may want to make some practical changes in how you use technology in your home. (Electronic devices used in common areas of the house, devices charged in your bedroom at bedtime, etc.)
- You are the best app to protect your teen online. If you choose to install apps or programs that restrict or report content on a device remember, teens find workarounds. Ultimately, the battle against pornography is won by knowing the truth and character development. Your relationship with your teen is the first and best line of defense.
- Fight the New Drug (This website is a gold mine for info!)
Image from AdobeStock.com
How To Talk To Your Teen About Pornography
This is the actual conversation I had with my teen. All through middle school, we had talked about sex, his phone, and pornography, but it was more about warning him and encouraging him to make good choices. I realized that at his age now, he had undoubtedly seen porn. (The average age of first exposure is 8-11. 94% have seen pornography by age 14.) Even though I had never seen anything amiss when I checked his phone, it was time to hit porn head-on. So, I educated myself and just found a good time when we were alone and came out and asked.
The conversation was not as bad or awkward as I thought it would be. I set the tone by being calm and genuine. Plus, this was not our first “difficult” conversation. I have a track record of not freaking out and have built up relational “capital” with him that I can draw from. This helped a lot!
So, here we go…
ME: I know at your age and you having a smartphone, you have undoubtedly seen pornography. Your body is changing and being curious about girls and sex is healthy and normal. You are well past girls having cooties. There are other things about them that you are curious about now, right? So how about it, have you seen porn?
MY SON: [Chuckles about cooties.] Yes, I’ve seen porn. [Looks Away.]
ME: I get it. I’m not shocked or surprised. When was the last time you looked at porn?
MY SON: Three days ago. I know it’s wrong.
ME: Why do you think it’s wrong? [Notice I am probing gently, not lecturing. I am a concerned questioner, but I’m not bombarding him with a million questions. I want HIS thoughts.]
MY SON: I know it can become an addiction. I know it goes against my religious beliefs. And, I know it affects the way I look at girls and it’s just not good to fill my head with.
ME: Those are a lot of really good reasons. How’d you come up with them?
MY SON: I’ve talked with (his older brother of 8 years) about it. He asks me questions about it.
[ME INSIDE:] [Great job older bro!] What did he tell you about how porn is addictive? How did he explain it?
MY SON: He said the more I looked at it the more I would have to look at it… what “did it” for me before wouldn’t “do it” for me next time. He said I would start to see “real-life” girls only sexually.
ME: Do you know the science behind that? Your brain releases chemicals when you look at porn. One of them is dopamine and another is oxytocin. Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical. You’ll want that feeling more and more BUT your brain will build a tolerance for it. It will take more and more porn and more explicit porn to get that feeling. It’s called “The Law of Diminishing Returns.” The chemical oxytocin is the chemical that creates bonds. It gets released when mothers have babies and people hug and kiss. Porn releases it too, creating a “bond” between you and pornography. It’ll become easier to bond with pornography than real people. Does that make sense?
MY SON: It’s like drug addiction?
ME: Yup. And it’ll affect how you look at girls in real life. Have you noticed that yet?
MY SON: Yeah. I’ve already noticed.
ME: If you look at porn, I want you to remember that that girl is someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. I have a daughter that’s your sister. [This felt a little old-school and even a little corny, but it got a strong reaction from him—he loves his older sister and did not like connecting those dots at all. No way.]
MY SON: Ewwwww…
ME: And what you might be enjoying with pornography destroys many of the lives of the people that make it. The drug addiction, alcoholism, and STDs among “porn stars” is crazy high.
MY SON: Don’t some of them make a lot of money?
ME: Some do probably, but at what cost? Did you know that a lot of the girls you see in porn are not there because they want to be—they’re there because of sex trafficking? Do you want to participate in that?
MY SON: No. Of course not.
ME: You know how for years I’ve talked to you about how great your heart is and how you need to protect it?
MY SON: Yeah.
ME: Nothing will harden your heart faster than pornography. You have to keep protecting your heart. The people that make porn have problems having real relationships in real life. So do the people that watch porn. So how often do you look at porn? How do you look at it?
MY SON: Once or twice a week. Free porn websites. The first phone you gave me blocked porn websites. When you upgraded my phone, you didn’t block porn websites.
ME: [This made me sick to my stomach. I was asleep at the wheel. I have to live with this.] I blew it then. How can I help you now not look at porn?
MY SON: Keep talking with me about it. Keep me accountable. You can change settings on my phone but it’s everywhere. We need to keep talking about it.
ME: I will for sure. And thanks for being so honest with me. You can always talk to me when you feel tempted. Let’s keep this conversation going.
Talking to your teen about pornography is not a one-time talk. It’s an ongoing dialogue. Hopefully, this helps you get your dialogue started. Don’t avoid it because it’s a hard topic. Lean into it because it is a hard and incredibly important topic. You got this!
What To Do When You Catch Your Husband Watching Porn
You’ve just found out your husband is watching porn. What do you feel? Disgust. Shock. Despair. Betrayal on par with infidelity. World-shattering confusion. Who is this man I’m married to? Heartbreak. Grief. Loneliness. Creeping insecurity about your attractiveness and your sex appeal. Why am I not enough? Is he thinking about pornographic images while we have sex? How is he looking at women? What is he looking at when we’re not together? Trust just went out the window.
These are just some of the things you might be struggling with right now. And you can’t be blamed for any of them.
In 2019 alone, people spent nearly 6 billion hours on Pornhub1, but all that matters to you is the porn your husband has been watching. What’s next?
WHAT DO YOU DO NOW THAT YOU HAVE DEFINITELY CAUGHT YOUR HUSBAND WATCHING PORN?
You don’t have to click very far to find people and/or therapists who believe that using porn is a safe way to burn off sexual energy or enhance sex. While it may not phase others, what matters is how YOU feel about it, what you and your husband may have agreed to regarding pornography, and what solid research says.
Guilt vs. Shame
Guilt says, “This behavior is wrong.” It’s healthy, changes us, and helps us become who we want to be. Shame says, “There’s something wrong with me.” Shame makes us feel broken and unworthy of love. There’s a big difference.2 Separate your husband’s behavior from your husband as a person.
So, is compulsive pornography use only wrong because of the shame that surrounds it?
Societal or religious taboos don’t explain the shame game when it comes to compulsive pornography use. Study after study3 shows that shame may make porn use worse for the porn consumer, but it doesn’t explain it. Of course, your goal isn’t to make your husband feel shame. However, guilt is a healthy response to objectifying and dehumanizing people.
Is pornography a legit addiction?
The Addiction Center recognizes that this is a controversial topic but cites numerous studies to justify identifying porn as an addiction.
Arguing about whether pornography is addictive is a little bit like two bald men fighting over a comb. What can’t be disputed is that many wives feel humiliation, insecurity, low self-esteem and report lower relationship quality when their husband is watching porn.
Fake sex affects real sex. Period. Full stop.
A PsychCentral article reports: “…regular consumption of pornography more or less wears out your reward system.” And clinicians report seeing many more young adults who experience sexual dysfunction, performance issues, and satisfaction with a real person, but not with porn.
Identify what you’re feeling.
Mentally recognize and name your emotions concerning your husband watching porn. For example, you may feel anger, rejection, betrayal, disgust, confusion, inadequacy, hurt, insecurity, etc. According to Dan Siegel, UCLA Professor of Psychiatry and executive director of Mindsight Institute, naming your emotions allows your brain to soothe and calm you down.5
Putting a name to what you’re feeling can help you communicate the pain his porn use is causing you.
Know what’s helpful to know.
Don’t spend lots of time searching for everything he’s been looking at. Keep it simple.
Knowing every site he visited and how many genres he watched will only increase your negative feelings. Your goal is to know enough to determine his willingness to be truthful.
Remember, he’s got the issue, not you. Even if there are other marital issues going on, he’s the one looking at pornography.
I know — easier said than done. Porn isn’t really about your guy wanting you to be someone different. When people start looking at porn, research shows they subconsciously begin to bond with the images they see onscreen.6,7 This causes the brain to crave more of what they are seeing. Eventually, it takes more intense visual stimulation to get the same satisfaction. That’s why porn can be as addictive (if not more addictive) as heroin and gambling.
What’s the goal of talking?
What do you want the goal of the conversation to be? This is bigger than getting him to stop looking at pornography. It’s about him, you, and your marriage. You want to understand what he’s willing to do to overcome this issue and how you can help.
Note: Researching information on sites like Fight the New Drug can help you become informed. It may also be comforting to know you are not alone.
READY FOR THE TALK:
Ask him about it.
Communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and 7% the actual spoken words.8 So, for example, your demeanor and tone can say, “I’m attacking you because I can’t believe how disgusting you are,” or “I’m really hurt by this, but I want us to get through it.”
He might lie.
I wish there was a foolproof way to eliminate any possibility of him lying. People respond differently. He may even deny, minimize, or accuse you of being something you’re not.
Jay Stringer, researcher and licensed therapist, warns about the potential of hiding. Hiding happens when the user redirects the conversation when confronted or chooses to be vague about what they’re doing. He may go into self-protection mode. He may be super embarrassed he has been found out. Be mentally prepared. You can’t make a person tell the truth. But, you can create an environment for honesty and hope the other person will be truthful.
If he lies or hides, talk about your desire to work through this as a team. Remind him that you’re not going to stop loving him simply because he got caught up in pornography. Porn is more likely to destroy your marriage if you don’t address it together.
If he’s willing to talk about it, ask questions.
Get him talking. This may be the first time he has actually verbalized his thoughts about it. Ask him: How long? Have you told anyone else? Have you tried to stop? What started it? These are questions that may get him thinking and talking. You don’t need all the details about everything he’s seen. You need an acknowledgment that he’s been looking at porn and that he wants to stop.
Communicate your thoughts and emotions.
He needs to hear your heart and understand your feelings. With many husbands, sincerely expressing your thoughts and feelings is more effective than yelling and screaming. Clearly and directly, share any insecurity, betrayal, or violation you’re feeling. Don’t share through the voice of anger; instead, speak through the voice of the actual emotion itself. This gives a clearer picture of the damage this is causing you and your marriage.
Listen to understand without justifying.
Studies show that anywhere from 50-90% of husbands watch porn. It’s safe to say many of us don’t really want to. And many have tried to stop unsuccessfully. Most people don’t understand what they’re up against when they look at porn for the first time. Having said that, he’s not a victim. He’s a fighter, which leads us to…
Discuss and set boundaries and limits.
He has to be willing to discuss and even initiate the setting of boundaries. He will not overcome a compulsion to look at pornography because you want him to. It has to be because he wants to. You can be strong alongside him and hold him accountable. This may include: accountability partners, learning about the dangers of pornography, sharing passwords, and regular check-ins.
★ IF YOU TRY TO DO THE WORK FOR HIM, IT WON’T WORK.
Time and time again, I hear men say, “My wife kept saying, I love you. We’re a team. We’ll get through this.” They express how it meant the world to hear this. You’re encouraging your man to be a fighter and you’re telling him that you love a fighter, you’ll stick with a fighter, you’ll help a fighter to train, you’ll help a fighter beat the enemy. You’re also saying that you recognize that a fighter may get punched in the face. He may slip again. Every fighter gets hit. But one hit, one slip, doesn’t mean you’ve lost. You’ve lost when you stop fighting.
Pornography addictions are different because the brain isn’t trying to rid itself of a chemical dependency. It may take time for your husband to stop looking at porn even if he’s trying. It takes time to heal and rebuild trust. Overcoming pornography requires commitment from both of you. During the process, set some goals like “3 days of no porn” or “2 consecutive weeks of talking to an accountability partner.” Celebrate the goals when you reach them.
WHAT IF YOUR HUSBAND DOESN’T WANT TO STOP WATCHING PORN?
Some husbands don’t think there’s anything wrong with watching pornography. Drs. John and Julie Gottman outline how porn use can lead to reduced relationship satisfaction. Share how it makes you feel that he’s watching other people do the intimate things the two of you do to emotionally and physically connect. Talk to a trusted couple. Consider seeking professional help.
As a couple, you must talk and decide the role you’ll allow pornography to play in your marriage. Studies show its negative effects within committed relationships. If you can both agree that you won’t give pornography a place in your marriage, then you can work together to keep it out.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
Image from Unsplash.com
1Pornhub’s annual report: Can you guess the most popular porn categories in 2019? (2019). https://fightthenewdrug.org/2019-pornhub-annual-report/
2Gilliland, R., et al. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720162.2011.551182
3Reid, Stein, et al. (2011). Understanding the roles of shame and neuroticism in a patient sample of hypersexual men. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0b013e3182125b96
4Voon, Mole, et al. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419
5Siegel. (2010). Mindsight : the new science of personal transformation. Bantam Books.
6Rizzolatti, G. et al. (2004). The mirror-neuron system. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144230
7Hilton, D. (2013). Pornography addiction – a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767
8Evans, V. (2020). How does communication work? Part 2: The function of verbal vs. non-verbal cues in face-to-face interaction. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/language-in-the-mind/202001/how-does-communication-work-0
The Reason Why Boys Are Struggling
Activist, educator and author Dr. Warren Farrell is at it again. He co-authored The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, with Dr. John Gray. For many years, Farrell has been concerned for the welfare of boys. He believes that fatherlessness is at the very heart of the issue.
In an Institute for Family Studies interview, Farrell asserts that today’s boys often struggle with a sense of hopelessness and a lack of purpose linked in part to family breakdown and father deprivation. He also believes that boys’ and men’s weakness is their facade of strength.
A United Nations study found boys lagging behind girls in all the developed nations. The women’s movement has really helped young girls recognize that girls can take many paths and be successful. However, while girls’ sense of purpose has grown, boys’ sense of purpose has not. Boys seem to hear either that it’s all about earning money or being a loser. Farrell wonders what would happen if we told boys that being a full-time caregiver is a worthy option.
After poring through the related research, Farrell believes the gap between dad-deprived boys and dad-enriched boys will become the single biggest predictor of those who become economically poor versus economically rich.
Boys with little to no father involvement often look to their dads as role models. But without much time with their dads, their role models are more “straw men” or “straw dads,” says Farrell.
“These boys don’t benefit from overnights, hang-out time, and the many hours it takes for boys to bond with their dads and trust that their feelings won’t be dismissed. Dads tend to build bonds with their sons by, for example, playing games and rough-housing, and then use the resulting bond as leverage for their sons to ‘get to bed on time’ lest there be ‘no playing tomorrow night.’”
This boundary enforcement teaches boys postponed gratification, whereas boys with minimal or no father involvement are more frequently addicted to immediate gratification. Additionally, having minimal or no father involvement increases the chances of video game addiction, ADHD, bad grades, less empathy, less assertiveness and more aggression. It also leads to fewer social skills, more alienation and loneliness, more obesity, rudderlessness, anger, drugs, drinking, delinquency, disobedience, depression and suicide*. Fatherless boys are more likely to serve time in prison, too.
In a TEdx Talk on “The Boy Crisis,” Farrell cites that since 1980 in California, 18 new prisons were built, but only one new university. There’s been a 700 percent increase in the prison population and it’s mostly a dad-deprived male population.
As an example of the pain of fatherlessness, Farrell mentioned Anthony Sims. Sims is known as the Oakland Killer. His last Facebook post was this: “I wish I had a father.”
Many see guns as the problem. However, Farrell contends that school shootings are mostly white boys’ method of acting out their hopelessness. He says guns are also white boys’ method of committing suicide, and serve as a reflection of our inability to help constructively track boys to manhood. He points out that girls living in those same homes with the same family values and issues are not killing people at school.
Farrell speaks of attending a party once where he learned that a men’s group formed by Farrell had impacted a man named John more than any other thing in his life. When group members asked the man, “What is the biggest hole in your heart?” he blurted out, “I was so involved in my career, I neglected my wife and my son. That’s the biggest hole and a deeper hole because I ended up divorced. I remarried and the group knew that my wife was pregnant with our son.” The group then asked, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you like to do?” He said he would take five years off and help raise his son. Then he talked with his wife, who told him to go for it. He shared that it had been two years.
Farrell asked John if it was a good decision.“No,” he replied. “The best decision of my life. Up until I took care of my son, my whole life was about me, me, me. Suddenly it was about my son. I suddenly learned to love and be loved.”
As they were wrapping up their conversation, someone asked for an autograph. Farrell thought it was for him, but it was for John. Farrell said, “I guess you’re famous. What’s your last name, John?”
“Lennon,” he said. John Lennon had discovered he was not giving love by earning money as a human doing, but by being love.
Many boys are struggling, wandering aimlessly, and looking for their purpose.
Farrell and many others believe one way to end the boy crisis is for fathers, uncles, grandfathers and other male role models to step up and stand in the gap. They also want women to encourage men in their efforts to raise men of purpose.
*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).