What you need to know before you talk to your loved one about porn

It can and has been overcome — and you can be a crucial support

Therese Bussen

The statistics today are overwhelming.

According to Fight the New Drug (FTND), a non-religious and non-political organization whose aim is to change cultural perception on pornography through the simple facts of its harm, recently released stats that reveal just how much porn people watch. In 2016 alone, Pornhub got 23 billion visits — 64 million a day.

Just looking at the numbers, it’s not a secret that someone you know probably is or was addicted to pornography at one point.

So, at some point, a conversation will be had. And it’s important to be had. You may be the only person in your loved one’s life who may do so.

So, how do you approach the topic? And what happens after?

With your friend

FTND has several blog posts on the topic of starting the conversation. One suggests saying something calmly, such as, “I saw this and was wondering if this has been a long-time struggle and if it’s something that you are fighting to be free of.”

“In approaching this topic at all, whether it’s you struggling with pornography, your friend, a family member, your partner, the most important thing is to remove shame from the conversation. It’s important to understand that coming forward and asking for help is a huge thing,” said Natale McAneney, chief operating officer of FTND.

The most important thing after removing shame is being as open, honest and loving as possible.

“Let them know they’re not alone, and that there’s lots of hope,” McAneney added.

With your partner

Having a conversation with your significant other can be difficult, but it can be extremely healing and potentially help the person addicted overcome their struggle, having the right support.

Again, McAneney stressed removing shame from the conversation, and being as educated on the effects of porn as much as possible.

She also noted that it’s important to recognize the difficulty the non-addicted partner experiences as a result of their loved one’s addiction.

“When it’s your own relationship, you likely have your own feelings attached, to this struggle of, ‘I’m not attractive enough,’ [etc.]. It puts you in a place where you feel you’re at fault, and you feel massive amounts of betrayal,” McAneney said.

“Having this conversation, there’s a lot of emotions attached, but it’s important to be open and honest with your own feelings, and be as open as possible with their struggle, and let them know that you’re there to support them, if you feel that you’re in a position to do so,” McAneney added.

There are resources for both partners — in overcoming porn addiction, as well as recovering from betrayal trauma.

In approaching this topic at all, whether it’s you struggling with pornography, your friend, a family member, your partner, the most important thing is to remove shame from the conversation.”

“It’s important to look at the options and find something that works for you. There are lots online, there are lots in person, therapy is good for both partners,” McAneney said.

She stressed that, while recovery for either person has its own set of challenges, it can and has been overcome by many people.

“The key thing is the person struggling has to have a desire to stop. That’s a huge part of the equation. And the partner has to be as supportive as possible,” McAneney said. “Communication during recovery is important, and making sure expectations are clearly set.”

With your kids

With children, the conversation is best had early on, and often, according to McAneney.

“This is one of those things that there isn’t a formula, but by not talking to them about porn, it is not doing them any favors,” McAneney said. “Chances are good that they’ve already seen it or heard about it, or they will see it or hear about it. It’s important for parents to be the first point of contact.”

While there are various filters for devices that can help, the most helpful thing is to take the time to talk and ask them what they already know or have seen, “even if it’s uncomfortable.”

“Kids are mortified to tell parents — same thing, remove shame as much as possible, educate them on the harmful effects, and getting resources to help. There are a lot of therapists willing to help younger kids,” McAneney said. “The porn industry is smart, and they know if they get them hooked early, they’ll probably have them for life.”

It’s also important for parents to understand that there’s nothing wrong with your child and that they’re not the only one struggling, McAneney added.

There’s always hope

While these can be difficult conversations, ultimately, they’re worth it, because the addiction can and has been overcome.

“We have chemicals that tell our brains to come back to things because they were fun, and the same thing happens with porn. But it works in the same way to reverse it,” McAneney said. “Honestly, it’s different [for how long that takes] for every person, but we always recommend jumping back into hobbies, that give you the same good feelings.”

McAneney equated the worldwide public health issue that is porn to cigarettes — how for a time, it was culturally acceptable and even thought of as good, and then when the harmful effects were discovered, then the goal was to change the conversation about it from acceptable to harmful to health.

“There was a time we thought it was good, and then we were aware of the effects,” McAneney said. “The goal is to normalize that it’s healthier not to be addicted, and normalize that both men and women struggle with it.”

For more information on Fight the New Drug, visit fightthenewdrug.org.

Prevention and Recovery resources

Fight the New Drug: reference guide, parents guideline and Fortify book http://fightthenewdrug.org/get-help/

Fortify (program by Fight the New Drug): an interactive online recovery program, with app – https://www.fortifyprogram.org/

The Porn Effect: http://theporneffect.com/

Covenant Eyes: http://www.covenanteyes.com/

Integrity Restored: http://integrityrestored.com/

Reclaim: https://reclaimsexualhealth.com/

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Create in Me a Clean Heart” document http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/pornography/upload/Create-in-Me-a-Clean-Heart-Statement-on-Pornography.pdf

National Center on Sexual Exploitation: http://endsexualexploitation.org/

Protect Young Minds: https://protectyoungminds.org/

Educate Empower Kids: http://educateempowerkids.org/resources/

St. Raphael Counseling, porn recovery group: https://www.straphaelcounseling.com/work/

Regina Caeli Catholic Counseling: https://ccdenver.org/reginacaeli/

Freedom: Battle Strategies for Conquering Temptation
https://www.ignatius.com/Products/FRE-P/freedom.aspx

COMING UP: Keep your kids safe from porn before it happens

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It’s an epidemic — one that seeps deep into the conscience and morphs the very way one views a fellow human being.

The dangerous effects of pornography have been well-documented by the Church and other Christian organizations in the years since its rise in popularity, but only recently has the secular world begun to catch on to its dangers, too. While it may seem harmless at first – a quick fix to a very human desire – it’s been known to escalate very quickly; so quickly, in fact, that it can be classified as a legitimate addiction.

The scariest part is, the average age that kids are exposed to it is 11, and it’s continuing to fall. It’s for this reason and more that Bishop Machebeuf High School and Holy Family High School are both hosting all-school assemblies that address the topic of pornography later this month.

The Catholic Church is increasingly recognizing the ways in which pornography severely damages and even mutates the purpose for which all we created: love. In 2015, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter in response to the growing porn epidemic, titled “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” and just last year, in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis touched on “pornography and the overload of stimuli that can deform sexuality” (Amoris Laetitia, 281).

With the advent of technology, smartphones and the internet, access to pornography has never been easier — especially for young kids. Parents need be vigilant in educating their children about the dangers of pornography, and take proper steps to ensure exposure to it is limited.

Father Sean Kilcawley, director of the Family Life office for the Diocese of Lincoln, began working with internet filtering service Covenant Eyes in 2013 to help develop resources to empower parents to protect their kids from porn.

Our sexual boundaries have been eroded. We don’t notice that TV has become more graphic.”

The problem, he said, is only getting worse, and because kids are being exposed so young, it’s leading to actual sexual abuse among peers who try to re-enact what they see in porn.

“I’d never gotten a phone call as a priest that a first grader was abusing another first grader, but that’s becoming more and more common,” Father Kilcawley said.

He added that there’s an escalation process with porn. Some might start with still images of pornographic images, then move on to videos, then move onto more disturbing videos still – and widespread availability expedites this process, Father Kilcawley lamented.

It also doesn’t help that sexuality has become more commonplace in the mainstream media, be it commercials or nighttime sitcoms, and while Father Kilcawley describes the media’s contribution to porn addiction as a “chicken or the egg” argument, he said it’s played a role in normalizing pornography.

“That normalization has also been the result of the fact that so many people are using it,” he said. “Our sexual boundaries have been eroded. We don’t notice that TV has become more graphic.”

So, what’s a parent to do to help keep their kids safe from porn?

“Many parents feel helpless, and the kids know more about technology than they do, and they need resources to help them navigate the culture that we live in,” Father Kilcawley said.

Be courageous about protecting [your kids] and holding standards and boundaries for them so they don’t fall into those societal pitfalls.”

Thankfully, many resources do exist (see aside for a more complete list). Father Kilcawley has put together a list of tools on the Diocese of Lincoln website (lincolndiocese.org/internet-protection-pornography), and additional websites such as Fight the New Drug (fightthenewdrug.org) and Protect Young Minds (protectyoungminds.org) can properly equip parents with the tools they need. Additionally, internet filtering and accountability software such as Covenant Eyes (covenanteyes.com) makes it easy – and nonintrusive – for parents to ensure their kids aren’t seeing things they shouldn’t be.

Father Kilcawley also suggested that parents be aware of the apps their children have access to on their phones. Protect Young Eyes (protectyoungeyes.com) is a good resource that reviews all the popular apps kids are using and their capability of accessing pornographic images.

“Most high school kids access pornography through Twitter or Tumblr or other social media apps,” he pointed out.

Talking to kids about pornography is a hard conversation to have, but a necessary one, Father Kilcawley emphasized.

“I always encourage parents not to be afraid of taking about it,” he said. “Most kids whose parents do talk to them about it when they’re young don’t want to see that.”

The Lord will win this battle, he added, and reassured parents that they’ll be given the strength and wisdom they need to have those tough conversations.

“Be courageous about protecting them and holding standards and boundaries for them so they don’t fall into those societal pitfalls,” he said.

Prevention and Recovery resources

Fight the New Drug: reference guide, parents guideline and Fortify book http://fightthenewdrug.org/get-help/

Fortify (program by Fight the New Drug): an interactive online recovery program, with app – https://www.fortifyprogram.org/

The Porn Effect: http://theporneffect.com/

Covenant Eyes: http://www.covenanteyes.com/

Integrity Restored: http://integrityrestored.com/

Reclaim: https://reclaimsexualhealth.com/

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Create in Me a Clean Heart” document http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/pornography/upload/Create-in-Me-a-Clean-Heart-Statement-on-Pornography.pdf

National Center on Sexual Exploitation: http://endsexualexploitation.org/

Protect Young Minds: https://protectyoungminds.org/

Educate Empower Kids: http://educateempowerkids.org/resources/

St. Raphael Counseling, porn recovery group: https://www.straphaelcounseling.com/work/

Regina Caeli Catholic Counseling: https://ccdenver.org/reginacaeli/

Freedom: Battle Strategies for Conquering Temptation
https://www.ignatius.com/Products/FRE-P/freedom.aspx