How to talk to your boyfriend about pornography

Pornography portrays women as objects to be treated in selfish, degrading ways. If your boyfriend is viewing pornography, he is being strongly influenced by these ideas, so you need to talk about this!

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  • Is this something we actually need to talk about?

  • You and your boyfriend are in a society that promotes the idea that pornography use is an acceptable and normal part of adult sexuality. Pornography portrays women as objects to be treated in selfish, degrading ways. Relationships are lustful, violent, coercive and lack respect and intimacy. If your boyfriend is viewing pornography, he is being strongly influenced by these ideas, so you need to talk about this!

  • How soon should I discuss pornography with the person I am dating?

  • Here are some guidelines, but ultimately, you are the one who makes the final decision. Don’t avoid this discussion, just because you are afraid or embarrassed.

    • Are you “exclusive”, i.e. boyfriend and girlfriend?

    • Is the relationship such that you can talk, or have already talked, about other significant personal issues?

    • Are you looking to advance your relationship by getting engaged or married?

    • Does your partner know and trust you enough to disclose and discuss personal challenges?

  • If you can’t answer yes to any of these questions, it is probably too soon. For those who can answer yes to one or more questions, now is probably an appropriate time. For those who can answer yes to all questions, it is definitely time to discuss pornography, especially if you are planning on getting married.

  • Help! How do I start the discussion?

  • There is no "easy" way to bring up uncomfortable topics. One approach is to just ask him about the last time he viewed pornography. Another way is to initially share a personal experience or talk about an article with information about pornography. It is important to ask what the other person’s exposure to pornography has been, not if they have been exposed. Discussions might include when and where they last viewed pornography, what their response was. Ask them what they are currently doing to protect themselves against pornography.

  • If your boyfriend regularly looked at pornography in the past, but says he doesn’t now, ask what he did to stop. (i.e. Did he see a counselor or attend 12-step meetings?) Ask him how many times he quit, before he was able to quit for good. If there is a current problem, you will probably receive a vague, incomplete or less-than-honest answer.

  • What should I do if I suspect someone I am dating has a pornography problem?

  • Honest communication is essential for a healthy relationship. The answer is simple: talk to them. Be careful about the speed at which the relationship progresses. If there is recurring pornography use, you need to get educated about pornography addiction, what recovery looks like and the life-long challenges of this addiction.

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  • How is dating someone with a pornography addiction likely to affect me?

  • Dating someone with a pornography addiction can affect you in much the same way that being married to someone with a pornography addiction does. Your appearance may be treated as more important than who you actually are. There may be a lack of empathy and emotional closeness. Your boyfriend may often seem selfish, controlling, angry, withdrawn or emotionally disconnected. Your relationship may not feel anchored in mutual respect, trust, honesty and openness. You may not actually like the person you are becoming because of this relationship.

  • I am dating (or did date) someone with a pornography problem and I am currently struggling with negative personal thoughts and feelings. What should I do?

  • It is not uncommon to experience some kind of trauma after being in a close relationship with a pornography addict. Common problems include anorexic or bulimic tendencies, obsession with personal appearance, feelings of low self-worth, decreased self-confidence, a feeling of spiritual darkness and abandonment, a decreased ability to trust and form healthy relationships with other men and starting to accept unhealthy behaviors as normal.

  • If someone who is or has dated a pornography addict starts to experience any of the feelings listed above, it is important to get outside help. Consider seeing a counselor and attending a 12-step program, for the loved ones of addicts. Talking with friends or family who can offer support and help put things in perspective is also helpful.

  • Additional information

  • My boyfriend likes pornography – is that really such a big of a deal? (article for Deseret Digital Media, written by SA Lifeline Foundation.)

  • Additional information

  • Pornography and Dating pamphlet (handout section of Understanding Pornography and Sexual Addiction: a Resource for LDS Families and Leaders)

  • Dr. Jill C. Manning charts

  • Contrasting Healthy Sexuality and Pornographic Portrayals of Sexuality; Comparing Healthy and Toxic Relationships

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Ann H. Tolley is the director of the S.A. Lifeline Foundation and a licensed attorney.


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