Pornography is something that has affected me and many people I love. I guarantee it has or is currently affecting someone you love, and so even though this is a difficult topic, I encourage you to read on: this is relevant to you. I am writing to share my experience and thoughts with others who acknowledge that pornography is harmful. I want to share what I know, mostly through sharing my journey of supporting a man in his fight against porn. My hope is that through sharing, I can open a safe space for discussion about what women can do to better support their men in the fight against lust, be they brothers, husbands, sons or friends.
Pornography’s reach should not be underestimated. Wonderful as it is, the internet has done some bad things for the world, and making pornography painfully easy to find is one of them.(http://www.fightthenewdrug.org is a good, safe place to look for facts and information on porn’s spread and effects). Of the men I’ve talked to about this, maybe a few haven’t struggled with pornography at some point. For the majority, it has been an ongoing struggle since they were boys. The battle that has touched me the deepest is my husband’s.
By the time my husband and I started dating I was used to the idea that nearly every man I knew in my generation was actively battling lust, usually in the form of pornography. I knew that, like so many of his peers, my husband was raised to love marriage and honor women. All through his addiction, he held to these ideals, hated his behavior, and tried (with greater and lesser commitment) to break it. Pornography though is vicious and highly addictive, and when we started dating he had been battling for close to 10 years. My husband and I had been friends for a long time and I knew him to be a man of integrity. I recognised his clear love of marriage and a respect for women that I knew went deeper than his behaviour. It was because I knew those loves were so strong that I felt a relationship was possible, despite his addiction. There were many times when I had to remind him that his good loves were stronger and truer than his addiction. For my husband, remembering that he was good enough to fight enabled him to start facing his struggles on a new level. Placing that faith in him was scary, it was a commitment, and a risk, and was ultimately one of the best things I’ve ever done. And at the same time, while I gave my support with my whole heart, I also needed boundaries. When we started dating, I was very clear that I was willing to—wanted to—stand by him as he fought this battle, but that he had to be fighting it in order for our relationship to continue. Because this was not my first experience with supporting and encouraging someone in this struggle knowledge of my husband’s addiction did not hold the pain and confusion that I felt when I was first confronted with the pervasiveness of pornography. I don’t know if my acceptance is ultimately desirable or not, it saddens me that it had to be my reality, but I am also grateful that it allowed me to approach my husband with a compassion and easy understanding that I didn’t have when I first found that someone I loved struggled with this addiction.
My initial faith and trust in him helped give my husband the impetus he had been lacking. I think it was from this space of feeling trusted and respected that he realised just how deeply he wanted to be worthy of that trust. He found the strength to take steps that had previously felt too scary, or simply too difficult. He got accountability software on all of his devices (we use Acountable2you, a software that monitors and reports all inputs, including internet searches, to a third party of your choice: my husband’s reports to male friends, not to me). He also met regularly with a minister, and, together with close friends (Jared Buss and Joel Glenn), started a men’s group in which young men, married and single, talk about and support each other in their battles to overcome lust. All these steps that he chose to take gave me increased confidence, increased security in him and in our relationship, and also were a little scary. The more work he did, and the further our relationship progressed, the more he shared with me. We moved to weekly, even daily check-ins, where he would tell me about his thoughts, and whether or not he had been tempted that day, what had helped, what had hindered (positive interactions with me, exercise, and these check-in conversations always helped, while suggestive movies, revealing clothing, images from facebook, billboards, or pop-up ads, among other things, almost always made his struggle harder). These check-ins were powerful, incredibly useful for him, and sometimes very hard for me. Knowing in real-time when he was feeling lust was disconcerting. But knowing how much it helped him, while seeing more clearly than ever how constantly he had to fight to resist the barrage of sexual images and ideas around him, gave me deeper respect and love for him and what he was striving for. It reminded me again of those loves I had initially seen that I knew were worth wading through the muck to stand behind. And we still had to learn how to do these check-ins, we had to figure out what worked best to make them useful for him without crossing boundaries for me, and that didn’t come immediately. But, although not always easy, being so present with his daily struggle helped me love him more, and with a fierce pride. I’m sure it works differently for different couples, but for me, this level of involvement in his struggle was a sign of our moving imminently to engagement. I wasn’t willing to go this deep before I was certain that we both knew this was for keeps.
By the time we got engaged, I knew my husband had been clean long enough for me to feel safe. Unfortunately, we were both lulled into thinking that that particular battle was pretty much won. A few months into our engagement, he got a new phone and forgot to put the accountability software on it. He realised this late one night at a time when he was stressed and had a relapse. He told me several weeks later. I was faced by a confusion of reactions and feelings. I knew this was a mistake, not the pattern. I knew how much it cost him to admit his slip-up, but still the feeling of betrayal from the fact that he’d kept it a secret mingled with the sense that the last few weeks were all a lie, left me cold and confused. I felt distant and I felt sullied. The idea that he looked up pornography when we were planning to be married felt like a reflection on me, like I wasn’t enough. It gave me an insight into just how much more poignantly hurtful pornography within a marriage could be, how opposed it is to the sphere of married love, how dirty and used it could make a wife feel. I know I felt these things only as his fiancé, and at first I didn’t know if I was allowed to feel them. As a result, it took me three weeks to realise that it was necessary to share with him the extent to which this had wounded and frightened me. It was essential that I not condemn him when he confided his failure to me, but I also needed him to understand that now, more than ever, his behaviour affected me. We had some painful, wrenchingly honest and ultimately healing conversations. Having him listen to, acknowledge, and grieve my hurt helped me to feel safe again. Our discussions reminded me it was when he felt hemmed in and like his life was too controlled that he was more likely to detach enough to essentially act out contrary to his love for me, and look up pornography. Through the pain of this experience, we grew closer to each other, and deeper in our understanding of the tenacious nature of this addiction. Because of this experience, we both know in a new way that the hells will seize any opening to reintroduce these temptations. The battle isn’t “won.” Because of this experience, we will always always have accountability software on every device in our home, and my husband has asked me to gently check in every so often to find out where he is in this struggle. Even though he hasn’t been tempted for many months to look up pornography, knowing that these accountability measures are in place are a relief to him and they bring a safety that allows us both to relax.
So pornography isn’t an active problem in our marriage right now. And that is wonderful. I am in awe of my husband’s courage and dedication, and his humility in sharing his personal battles in order to help others combat theirs. Still we both know the struggle is not over. I am so achingly proud of him and the other men who have decided to support each other in this lifelong fight to overcome lust in a world that is constantly flinging it in their faces. And so my real point is, if the men we love are fighting, what can we as women be doing to help them?
Foremost, it needs to be said that no matter what we do to help, ultimately the choice is theirs. Several men have mentioned how important it is for us to understand that. For me that was rather hard to accept. But I know now that as much as we support and love, we cannot—should not—take on responsibility for their behavior. And yet these men—friends, boyfriends, husbands, brothers, uncles, sons—need our support. They need us to feed their good loves, and have the faith in them that they may themselves have lost over the years of progress and backsliding. And we also need to know that we are allowed and supposed to say, “If you want me, you have to put aside this evil.”
When we were dating my husband said to me over and over again that while he was so, so grateful for my support, he also needed to know that failure had a price. He needed to know that if he succumbed to these temptations he would ultimately lose me. He essentially needed something to fight for.
What each man and each couple needs is different, and while there is a lot of overlap, there is no perfect recipe. Here’s what a few other men have said would be most helpful in their battle with lust and pornography:
“There is so much shame around this evil. This means that it is really hard to bring up lust, to admit I have failed, or to ask for help in fighting it. It is probably scary for the women I’m close to too, but if you can, try to ask me about it from time to time. Or ask if certain things (movies, clothing, physicality) are ok for me. I know it could be hard to listen to, but showing you are here to help me and willing to listen is a big deal.”
“The most useful thing for me has been knowing that other men I respect, who are good men, who follow the Lord, also have this same fight; that I am not alone or different, but part of a spiritual army. And yet I have also been immensely supported by the people, especially women, who could express how terribly they felt about lust and porn, who have kept me from thinking that because it is commonplace, it isn’t that bad. I feel loved and supported in this fight when someone is willing to listen to my story that may repulse them and keeps listening with love and acceptance; and who then, rather than condoning or downplaying my mistakes, supports me in seeing the damage they do and the ways that I can overcome.”
“I am bound to make at least small mistakes throughout this fight. That does not justify it, but have compassion.”
“Knowing that you are not doing anything wrong. This evil is about me. It is my evil. But I am sorry that it has to affect you.”
“Patience and understanding.”
“My wife and I are still figuring out whether or not we think it is useful (based on our personality types) to have more frequent talks about my issues with lust. We do have a ‘safe space’ within our marriage where I can bring it up, but right now I don’t bring it up that frequently. My wife generally trusts that I am working on it, and I am.”
“There may be times when tough love or distance is needed. Do not support me to-no-end through this battle. If I am not making any effort to change, showing that you’re hurt, or telling me I need to work on it, trying to get me to think about how to work on it, or getting angry at me, could all be helpful. If I continue to hurt you and am not aware of how much, you should tell me.”
“Time and again my wife has shown me that when I’m down in the pits of my lust and struggling there, she is willing to be the bright and good thing that is waiting for me when I get out again. She offers me her greatest gifts when she makes it clear to me that she is not going to go down into that pit with me—she’s not going to condone my lust, and she’s not going to let it drag her down into self-doubt either. I know that this is a hard stance for her to take: I know that my lust takes me further away from her, and that that hurts her, and I know that she feels a temptation to believe that my lust arises because she isn’t a good enough wife. But I have seen her rise above these things. I don’t deserve her strength. It would be my responsibility to get myself out of the pit even if she weren’t there to welcome me when I emerged. But her welcome is the sweetest thing.”
Aside from this support and open communication, there are simple practical steps that can be taken too, such as ensuring your home has accountability software (I mentioned the monitoring software Accountable2you earlier). Such software can give ease of mind to both you and your man, and give a crucial protection when you have children. I like the idea of accountability software more than simple firewalls or blocks because accountability software will let the parents know if their child is trying to access pornography. With this information, parents can introduce conversations early on, before the child has had time to become addicted (a frightening number of addictions begin in pre-teen years). Not being a parent, I have not yet had to broach this subject with my own children, so I don’t know exactly how we will go about it. But I have no doubt that it will be broached. I am immeasurably grateful that my sons will have a father who I know will use his intimate knowledge of these demons to gently and strongly guide them to identify and resist them. But I don’t yet know exactly what that will look like. For those who are already parents, what do you think? What have you tried? What has worked? What hasn’t?
And for those who do not have sons, or who are not closely connected with someone who is fighting this battle, what can you do? Well, simply, I think you can become informed, and you can be compassionate. Part of what I hope this article will accomplish is forcing us to acknowledge and give some thought to this issue and how we will handle it when it affects us personally. Shocked and outraged reactions to the discovery that someone you love is fighting pornography are so damaging and counterproductive. We don’t want to reinforce the shame of those who are struggling, we want to bolster the good, honest, marriage-loving side of them that has never given in, despite hell’s best attempts. Each of us has to set our own boundaries for what our involvement or support will look like, but I would urge each of you to rule out: “yuck, I can’t deal with this,” unless the man is embracing his lust as good.
The struggle against lust is a lifelong battle and my husband knows that in this world he can never view it as won; whether it is the urge is to look up pornography, or to act from lust in some other way, the temptations can and will come back. Through this process though, I have found how completely I can trust my husband’s will to fight, and his courage in sharing his failures honestly and completely with me. Our relationship is deeper, more raw, and more real because of it. I cannot say that pornography will never trouble our relationship again, and there are times when that feels very daunting. But I have so clearly seen the Lord’s work in action as He has gradually blotted out past memories and reactions that were at one point almost impossible for my husband to resist, and in time, I believe that He will do the rest.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
I welcome you to comment with other ideas, suggestions, or experiences. If anyone is interested in discussing this in a more private setting, with either myself or my husband, we would love to talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and my husband at email@example.com
And lastly, there is help on the internet too! Here are links to some support sites, specifically aimed at spouses and parents.
17 thoughts on “Pornography: Loving a Fighter”
Powerful and hard. Really hard. I admire your courage in sharing this ongoing story and I am so deeply grateful for the circle of men I know and love who have started to battle lust in a more open and united way. It is healing and empowering to think of these men as being part of a spiritual army. They are not alone. The women who love them are not alone.
I also feel compelled to add that men are not the only people who battle lust. It is important to talk to our sons and our daughters about this insidious, tenacious, and confusing evil that permeates so much of what we see in media of all kinds. I fear that girls who feel tempted and confused by lust will feel marginalized and even more dirty and “messed up” than their male fellows, because girls are somehow “not supposed” to battle lust too. Both men and women, boys and girls are a part of this army and this battle.
Thank you so much for sharing this.
Thank you, Justine. I am so grateful for this spiritual army too!
And yes! Women deal with lust, and pornography. In an earlier version of this article I mentioned that more, but then had to focus more for this piece. I think that is a very important, and even more taboo, topic. I would love to see more written/discussed about that. I know that as a teenager when I was at all interested in sex-scenes on books I felt consumed by guilt and confusion because it “shouldn’t” affect me. I completely agree that we need to also make room for conversations/support for women’s struggles with lust too.
Tania, this is incredibly powerful, courageous, and moving.
As I read the first half, in tears, I felt fiercely proud of your husband’s hard work and his fight against this insidious evil. Then I reached your phrase ‘achingly proud’. Yes.
Having been in a dating relationship a long time ago, where this was a big issue for the person I was dating, I truly appreciate your article and hope it will help people.I wish I had known more how to help, as you have done.
The older I get, the more I realize that struggling with an evil tendency doesn’t equal failure (as I thought in high school somehow, having never really felt temptation at that point in my life). If grief of heart and shame and frustration and fear are present…that means we still care and want to get rid of the evil…we haven’t accepted it. Lethargy or acceptance are much worse. The Lord’s inner peace…the influx from Him to love order and goodness and truth…these are what help people fight the seemingly impossible.
Arcana Coelestia 3696:(my emphasis)
‘With those who are to be regenerated, who are here treated of in the internal representative sense, the case is that first of all they are in a state of tranquillity, or in a state of external peace (for external peace, or peace in externals, is called “tranquillity”); and the same is produced from the Divine state of peace that is inmostly within it; and it comes forth into the externals through the removal of cupidities and falsities; for these are what cause all unrest. Moreover at the beginning of his life, that is, during his infancy, every man is in a state of tranquillity; but as he advances in life, that is, grows up to manhood, he removes himself from this state, because he gives himself up to worldly cares, and consequently to anxieties caused by the cupidities of the love of self and of the world, and the derivative falsities.  The case is almost the same with the new life in the man who is being regenerated: at first he is in a state of tranquillity; but as he passes into a new life, he also passes at the same time into an untranquil state; for the evils and falsities with which he had before become imbued emerge and come forth, and disturb him, and this at last to such a degree that he is in temptations and vexations inflicted by the diabolical crew, who are continually striving to destroy the state of his new life. Yet inmostly the man is in a state of peace, for unless this were with him inmostly, HE WOULD NOT COMBAT, for in his battlings he is continually looking to this state as the end, and unless he had such an end, he would in no wise have power and strength to combat. This moreover is the reason why he overcomes; and because this is the end in view, he also comes into this state after the combats or temptations. This is like the state of spring, which succeeds the state of autumn and winter; or it is like the state of dawn, which succeeds evening and night. ‘
To give up on someone or ourselves because we struggle is directly opposed to the merciful and hopeful process of repentance the Lord has given us to use to combat and prevail over evil. Yet to allow/condone evil can lead to a friendship of love where both go down into the pit, which is not loving someone’s salvation. Each soul is so precious to the Lord, and should be to us, too.
Your article, through your words, and through the quotes you shared of men battling this evil, highlighted such a beautiful balance of crucial points with compassion, tenderness, and strength to resist evil.
There is so much in your article I want to comment on, to commend, to thank you for, but writing a comment as long as the original article just to say ‘THANK YOU’ doesn’t seem important, really.
I watched a film last year, not an easy film, a disturbing film that I can’t really say ‘everyone should watch it’. It was called ‘Thanks for sharing’. It is about people in a sexual addiction 12 step program. I suppose what I found so moving about this difficult film is that it seemed the actors in it believed that portraying these struggling characters might help people, that it was important to play these roles whether they helped their careers or not.
For me, it was an eye opening portrayal of just how hard it is in today’s world to escape triggers and the near-constant temptations of pornographic imagery and invitations. It also portrayed the importance of getting up and keeping going when a relapse has occurred. Your article highlights all these points so SO well.
We (women and men because both can struggle with this) need to actively think how our everyday actions and appearance, choices and words help or add to the burden for others.
As you pointed out so wisely…we cannot make the decisions for others, but we can support them, hold up their hands like in the story of the fight against the armies of Amalek in Exodus 17…but it is THEIR hands that must be raised, not ours:
‘ And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.’
Something that I also thought of when reading your article is the sometimes-ignored problem of pornography for women. Because men are often more visually affected, they struggle with visual pornography.
I wonder if women are aware that pornography can take the form of written words. The amount of downright pornographic novels and books women read in our culture is so frightening to me. Women who would never consider watching something pornographic, regularly read books that contain multiple graphic and often degrading-to-women and harmful-to-marriage passages.
Something to think about and guard against.
Thank you again, Tania for being one of the reasons your courageous husband is fighting. Sending you so much support.
Ok, so I did write a hugely long comment. Oops.
Wow, Annina. Thank you! Thank you for the thoughtful and thorough response. I know, there is a LOT to say on this topic. I wish I could have said it all. I love the passages you quoted though–so beautiful and profound. The Lord is there to lead us through the darkest temptations, if we let Him.
“The older I get, the more I realize that struggling with an evil tendency doesn’t equal failure” — yes. I think that that is something we as a church struggle to find the balance with. We have such beautiful and true ideals that we should not give up on, and yet we need to have compassion and patience with others and ourselves as we struggle with the hell’s on the road to those ideals.
And yes, you are absolutely right–women struggle with lust too! As you will see in my responses to Justine and Wystan, I wish I hadn’t edited mention of that out of my final draft. Live and learn. I really like your thoughts on how literature can be an easy pitfall for women. I agree. I think there is at once a weird double-standard for women (as in it’s not so bad if they’re reading a very graphic novel) and at the same time there is so much shame/confusion for women who do deal with lust/pornography, because is “shouldn’t” be an issue for them. I would love to think up/discuss more ideas on what we, as women, could do to combat those ideas in our community.
Thank you again for your thoughts, Annina. I value the honestly and warmth of your response.
Thank you, Tania, for your gentle, clear, writing about this temptation that can be so devastating to marriage love. I believe your honest account will help not only those who are suffering but also educate others on how to be a support rather than be one who shuns. I am grateful for your wisdom.
Thank you, Kaye. I am grateful for Micah and his courage that made this article possible. And grateful for the chance to work with him on it. I truly hope it will be helpful too!
Dear Tania – and other women writing here – I am so excited to discover this publication.
Tania, I thank you for writing this piece. Evil only gets stronger in the “dark” – when people are too afraid to talk about it.. We all have desires that we wish we didn’t.
The only concern I have about what you have written is that you write as though porn were only a man’s issue. I think that is extremely unlikely.
On the one hand, recent (prior to immediate sexual revolution) history of many cultures had it that women don’t or shouldn’t experience desire. That is a terrible evil, which in a variety of ways, from psychological to actual physical (the practice of genital mutilation) interferes with the experience of physical expression of marriage love, the delights of which are a gift from the Lord.
On the other hand, women can also struggle in this crazy over-sexed culture of ours, to keep their thoughts of love-making about one man. I am going to guess that this is more rare, based on what the Lord tells us about how he made people — but I want to make the point because the idea that women are spiritually more “pure” (Victorian construct), is just as pernicious as the idea that they are “evil daughters of Eve”(Medieval etc), or that they should not experience physical passion (everywhere).
May your experience of the blessings of marriage continue enrich your life
I’m really kicking myself now because in an earlier draft I did mention how women deal with lust/pornography too! I cut it to try and streamline/focus this article. But I now see it would have been useful to leave in. Alas.
But yes, I absolutely agree! There is definitely a sense that women don’t or should never confront lust themselves, and that just simply isn’t true. Whether it’s pornography, masturbation, racy literature like Annina mentioned, or as you say, staying faithful to one man… lust attacks women too, just maybe not as universally or overpoweringly as it attacks men (though I know that there are certainly female exceptions to even that).
I would love to have more of a conversation/openness on that topic, though I don’t know that I would know best how to frame it. But it is equally important. And I like the idea of thinking about us all helping battle lust together: in ourselves, and supporting others in their fights.
Thank you for your support!
Don’t kick yourself Tania, you were right to focus for your article. This has just opened another important topic…which is awesome! Bring on the branch-off topics!
What courage! I’m hugely impressed with you both for your willingness to share your struggles and your successes.
I was going to make the comment of it not just being a male issue, but I see that has been thoroughly covered.
I’m disturbed by the comment that a frightening amount of addictions begin in preteen years. Not just exposure, but addictions. Makes me ache to protect.
I loved so many of the comments that followed about how our failures should not induce shame, because everyone has their failures. Shame is such an insidious beast. It blocks us from seeking help, because obviously no one else feel THiS way. so it can fester, which the hells just love. I hope more and more people can meet with the kind of compassion and understanding described in your article and the comments I’ve read.
So much love to you, I am in awe of you both.
Wow, what courage! I am hugely impressed with you both for sharing your struggles and successes.
I was going to make the comment that this is not just a male issue, but I see that has been thoroughly covered.
I was disturbed by the mention that a frightening number of addictions begin in preteen years. Not just exposure, addictions. Makes me ache to protect.
I loved the comments about not letting our failures bring shame. We all have our failures, our struggles. Shame is an insidious beast. It keeps us from seeking help because obviously no one else deals with THIS. The hells must revel in it. I hope more and more people are met with the compassion shown in this article and the comments.
So much love, I am in awe of you both.
Thank you for your love and support always. Yes, it is scary! Really scary. And shame is really scary too and does scary things to individuals and communities. Thank you for your understanding and support!
Wow…. Thanks so much for sharing, Tania. So many good points, as so many other women have commented. 😉 It’s good to get this out in the air!
I’m slow to reply to this, but thank you, Jenn. I’m so grateful for the conversations this is still opening up. It has been a blessing and an incredibly connective, powerful, and humbling experience.
Dearest Tania, I am so moved by this piece. I am a few months late to the conversation, but I don’t think it matters. It is such a relief to me to find this topic with light all over it, with respect gleaming through the words you and others have used to discuss it. One of the fruits of reading this is recognizing in me that my resentment of sexualized American culture doesn’t contribute to the solution. The more anger and disgust I express—even if only expressed generally—the less room I have in me to nurture compassion for the struggle. What is most bolstering to me about your message is your argument that compassion is very different from condoning the behavior. And thank you so much for making the distinction so gracefully. It left me feeling open, receptive, willing to ask the Lord to make my heart of stone a heart of flesh. You and Micah have my love and respect because I hear the Lord’s voice coming through your story. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: thank you for being you. (I’ll just add, too, that I thank you for being an example of what it looks like to choose to fight a specific evil and nurture higher loves through accountability, honest conversation, and lots of inviting the Lord into the picture.)
Thank you, dear Kendall! That was such an inspiring response to read this morning. That balance between having compassion and not condoning behavior has, in my experience, been the key lacking component in how this topic is approached (too much of one or the other), and so it is one of the ideas I most wanted to convey. I’m so glad that you saw that and that it resonated with you. That’s powerful for me to hear. This journey more than any other I have yet experienced has highlighted to me the Lord’s real, living, and present ability to transform us when we are willing: to begin to give us a heart of flesh. And it is a joy and blessing to know how many support and share this journey.
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