Women & Pornography

How to Help a Friend Who Struggles with Porn

Here’s the scenario: A friend comes to you and shares her story. She struggles with porn. She’s telling you because she trusts you and feels she can’t tell anyone else. She’s hoping you won’t treat her differently, hoping you won’t leave, and hoping you can help. Do you know what to do?

Many people don’t.

And that’s ok.

When someone asks us for help with a situation we either struggle with ourselves or have no experience with, it can leave us feeling a little lost as to how we can help. Not knowing how to help doesn’t make you a bad friend. 

It’s hard because she’s probably coming to you desperate for some ray of hope and her confession can blindside you. Depending on your relationship with her and conversations you have had in the past, you might feel slightly betrayed by her confession and like anything other than whole hearted acceptance in that moment will feel like shame to her.

Initially, when she shared her struggle, the best thing you can do is let her talk. Try not to respond with shock or shaming questions like, “Why are you doing this?” or “How could you do this to me?”

If you want to ask questions, ask questions that help her reflect and think.

Instead of saying, “Why do you do that?” ask, “Do you think you know what started this?” or simply, “tell me more.” Perhaps the most important question you can ask her is “Do you want to stop?”

If she says yes and she needs your help, don’t be afraid to straight up ask, “How do you feel I can help?” Getting that answer can help you understand her expectations, but you might find that she doesn’t know what help looks like either. If neither of you know what help looks like, talking that out is a good place to start.

There’s a balance between helping a friend find freedom and getting sucked into a problem that quickly overwhelms you.

Know Your Own Limits

Unless you are a licensed counselor, psychologist or some other sort of professional, you don’t have to have the right answers or know how to fix her problem. That’s not your job. Even if you want to be a counselor someday, be very careful that you don’t assume that role in her life. You can’t.

As a friend, you can offer counsel, but you don’t counsel. Think of that as the difference between providing perspective and coming up with solutions. A counselor or mental health professional is trained in the deeper inner workings that make us tick, for instance, how a past rape might influence a woman’s actions. Even if you have a similar experience, all you can do is offer perspective.

That’s similar to what I try to do here on the blog. I’m not a professional counselor and won’t pretend to be one. That’s why I don’t offer one-on-one coaching to women who reach out to me. I know my limits and I simply don’t have the training to be able to help. I can provide perspective on certain questions, but I can’t act as a replacement for a friend or a counselor.

Sexual struggles can come with “sister issues” like self-harm, depression, anxiety, trauma, and other things that it’s not your job to fix. Be a friend, but know your limits and don’t feel the need to be a counselor.

Set Up Boundaries

Addicts need boundaries. That’s just the truth. We all need them.

Guess what most addicts struggle with? Boundaries.

Addiction is, in a sense, a complete obliteration of boundaries. No content is off limits. No area of life is off limits. No location is off limits.

At the height of my struggle, I was watching violent pornography from my dorm room at a Christian college with my roommate sleeping right behind me. No boundaries.

Setting up boundaries may seem selfish but understand that it is actually exceedingly healthy- for both of you, and it is always better to set them up at the beginning.

If your friend comes to you and says “Help! I struggle with porn” and her solution is that she wants to send you a text every time she’s tempted, understand that is going to be a huge time investment. We’re talking potentially hundreds of texts in a week. If your mind and heart can’t take that, then you set up a boundary day 1 and say, “Actually, I’m going to recommend a daily check-in text and perhaps a weekly meeting for one hour. I’ll do my best to respond to your texts, but I make no promise about how quickly I can respond.”

And some friends may test these boundaries at the beginning. If you say, “I’m sorry, I’m not available after 6 in the evening so I can spend time with my family” don’t be surprised if she lights up your phone at 6:30, 7:00, 11:00, midnight, 3:00 in the morning. Why?

Because addiction and temptation don’t have “off hours” and because many addicts struggle with boundaries.

She may even get super emotional. “If you don’t answer me, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” “PLEASE! You HAVE TO HELP ME! I’m going to pass out if you don’t.”

In most cases she’s not doing it on purpose. She’s not trying to be manipulative or trying to drive you crazy. Imagine that your presence in her life- your listening ear- provides hope. She’s been hope-starved for however long she’s been sunk in pornography. Now, she’s trying to drink in every last drop of hope she can and if you’re not careful, her struggle can unintentionally take over your life… and, in a way, she becomes “addicted” to you.

Boundaries help keep that dependency at bay.

She should not ever – NEVER – be dependent on you for her recovery.

If you fall off the face of the earth tomorrow, her journey of freedom may hiccup a little bit but it should not, by any means, be completely sabotaged. Free yourself of feeling like all the onus is on you. If it starts to feel like it is, then the best thing may be to encourage her to see a counselor and go with her to her first meeting.

Examples of Boundaries

  •  “Off hours.” Even counselors have office hours. And yes, we all talk about that friend you can call at 3 in the morning, which is fine. But unless you want a call at 3 every morning, you need to specify off hours. If you want to keep it positive, you can spin it the other way and say, “These are the hours I am most available for you.” To be clear, you do not owe your struggling friend a schedule of your life. You get to determine your schedule.
  • Time limits. Some women who struggle may want to have your ear for just a few minutes, others might try to take up a whole day. Whether you plan on meeting for coffee or doing a phone call check in, have a time limit set, and keep it consistent if you can. This can be separate from your normal friend hang out time.
  • No meeting at your house. Speaking as a new home owner who has invited people over, it is ridiculously hard to kick people out of your house. It seems so inhospitable, even if it’s late at night and they’ve already been there for 8 hours. To avoid that, perhaps you set a boundary where your meetings don’t take place at your house but instead at a local park or coffee shop.
  • “Struggle Free Talk.” Hear me: if your friendship goes from being a normal friendship to being completely about helping her break free, your friendship is going to die. If every phone call is an hour of her sharing her struggle and you both trying to problem solve ways for her to find freedom, your friendship is dying. Make time where you simply talk as friends without her mentioning her struggle. This is good for her. In fact, this is HUGE, because it’s important for her to see who she is without her addiction. As a friend, that is something you will be better at than a counselor can be.
  • Keep it PG. Yes, we’re talking about porn, so I understand the “PG” is a little odd, but here’s what I mean: She does not need to disclose to you the sordid details of the exact type of pornography she watches. An exception to this might be a woman with some sort of sexual trauma who seems to be drawn to a specific type of porn related to that trauma, in which case, she need to see a counselor and you can kindly direct her to do just that.

Pro tip: If she’s sharing enough details that it’s painting a picture in your head, she’s probably oversharing.

Support Who She Is

This is so important and it’s something a struggler needs but doesn’t know she needs. It’s also something a friend is very equipped to do.

When a friend who struggles comes to you for help, she is problem-focused. She has a problem and is enlisting you to help fix it. And she’s going to expect that you are going to hone in on the problem, crack out some magical “Pornography roto-rooter” and just tear it right out of her life. That’s why so many friends get stressed out, because the one who struggles is expecting the one who doesn’t to attack the struggle for them.

Here’s a secret: Attacking the struggle is not the answer for freedom.

If all the two of you do is sit down and try to brainstorm 101 ways to break free from pornography, you’re going to burn the both of you out and likely completely destroy a friendship.

You, as a friend, hold a key for freedom that you don’t even realize. You know who she is and you, hopefully, know God. This allows you to be part of the “ministry of reconciliation” Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians. You get to help her reconcile her relationship with God.

You know who she is, and that’s why she’s come to you. You know who she is and that’s why she trusts you. You know who she is and that’s why you can help. You don’t need to know her struggle. You don’t need to understand it. You know her

That knowledge is what helps tear down shame. That knowledge of her- her strengths, her passions, her weakness, her fears- coupled with knowing she struggles puts you in a prime place- not to help her break free, but to help build her up and help her rebuild the most important relationship in her life!

Instead of her counselor, rummaging through her life trying to root out all the junk, you’re her cheerleader.

You get to help her redirect her focus. You get to help her learn her true identity.

When an addict asks themselves, “Who am I?” You know that answer! And you get to speak that to her in a way she’ll hear because she trusts you.

People ask me all the time, “How do I help a friend who struggles if I don’t have that same struggle?” The answer is “You don’t have to have the same struggle, because your focus isn’t the struggle.”

That means, you can pick whatever Bible study you want! I mean, I’m writing one on John 4 that I’d love for you to use, but seriously, you can pick any study, any book, any topic. It doesn’t have to be “let’s focus on porn.”

Pick a topic you both are passionate about. Pick something you both identify with and work through that. For example, I enjoy reading books about rest because I am a crazy anxious and high-strung person. Yes, she can still let you know when she’s tempted or when she struggles, but the rest of the time, you’re working on both of you growing.

You don’t need to know her struggle to be able to help her see her future, and as her friend, you get to be there for it. You get to cheer her on, watch her progress, and help dust her off when she falls. You get a front row seat to grace and watching how God sets her free.

And, can I be honest with you? That makes me just a tad bit jealous. 

 


A special note for the men

It is not uncommon for women to confess their porn struggles to men. That’s because women know that porn is “common” for men and they feel they will have an understanding ear with a male audience. However, I cannot caution you enough to redirect her to a trusted female friend or female counselor. 

(Obviously, if you are her husband or fiancé, this is different. I encourage women to be open with their significant others while still having a female friend/counselor to help.)

It’s not always the case, but for many women, their struggle with pornography is accompanied by this overwhelming need to be accepted by men. Guess what you are? A man. While you may feel like, “I can help! I’ve been through this” the truth is, you may be diving into siren-infested waters.

In her heart she might not want freedom as much as she wants attention from you, and it’s going to be a long, painful road before you discover that. If you’re a man helping a female friend and you’ve noticed a cycle of soaring followed by a violent crash and burn, you might be in a situation where you’ve actually become her new “addiction.” She won’t ever truly be free because her struggle with pornography is how she gets your attention. You’re her addiction and her struggle with pornography is the bait.

Pastors, there is more information about your role here.

Please be aware that this a real thing. That doesn’t mean you run screaming the other way or cut her off. You can still be super helpful in her journey of freedom.

In fact, the boundaries you set may be even more helpful because you’ll help teach her how to have healthy friendships with men- which is a skill she likely does not have. You can still support her in becoming who she is supposed to be. But when it comes to specifically addressing her struggle with pornography, my advice would be to leave yourself out of that discussion.

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