Women & Pornography

Should I Tell Someone About My Porn Problem? Three Questions to Ask

Whenever a young woman e-mails me to share her struggle with pornography or lust, and asks what to do next, my first piece of advice is always, “You need to tell somebody.” Meaning someone other than myself.

It strikes fear into the heart of many of us, mostly because of the shame and stigma surrounding pornography, but, in a broader sense, the stigma and shame surrounding women’s sexuality, especially in the church.

Christian women seem to be constantly walking a tightrope balancing the command to “confess” with the desire to not be publicly outed or privately shamed.

Many Christian women would share their struggles with pornography, if we knew that we would be met with grace and help as opposed to condemnation and knowing stares. I know this because I’ve been privileged to walk into Christian communities and start that conversation to help bridge the gap between those who struggle and those who could help them.

At some point, yes, we all should share our stories, if for no other reason than healthy sexuality is rooted in intimacy. Intimacy is more than sex (healthy sex can’t be rooted in sex itself. That’s circular reasoning).

Intimacy is knowing and being known by someone. The arch rival of that knowing is the fear of being known. In other words: shame.

There is a balance, though. Our sexuality is such a deeply personal part of who we are, that flippantly displaying our struggles for all to see isn’t exactly healthy. Even with this blog and much of my own story published, there is still plenty the world doesn’t see and doesn’t know.

Just because you should tell somebody doesn’t mean you should tell anybody or everybody.

Here are three questions to ask yourself before you share your struggle.

1- What’s my motivation?

When it comes to motivations, don’t look at it as “good vs. bad” motivations. Why? Because too often we measure “good” and “bad” by how a decision makes us feel. Then, thinking we have “bad” motivations makes us feel worse.

Instead, look at it as positive vs. negative motivations (not outcomes- motivations). So, let’s say you’re thinking about telling your boyfriend you struggle with porn. A positive motivation would be, “I don’t want this shame to come between our relationship. I want him to know so that I know he knows.” A negative motivation would be, “I might as well get this out of the way. I deserve to be punished for this. I deserve to lose him.”

Can you see the difference?

A healthy, positive motivation is always aimed toward healing and freedom, either for yourself or for others.

I got this wrong when I first started Beggar’s Daughter. My motivation was fueled by anger and aimed directly at the church. I wanted people to know they did this wrong. In the end, though, that’s not really helpful.

Are we getting this wrong? Yes. Do we need to fix it? Yes. Is that going to be accomplished by some angsty twenty-something blogger venting at the church? Probably not.

Everything changed when the focus switched from “Here’s what you did wrong!” (a negative motivation) to “Here’s how we can fix this!” (a positive motivation).

Once you know why you’re sharing your story, it’s helpful to communicate that to the person who is listening.

2- Is this person safe?

Once you understand why you are sharing your story, it is very important to choose who you tell wisely. Because we’re talking about things of a sexual nature it’s important that this person is “safe.” This is another question where you should listen to your feelings as objectively as possible.

When we’re wrestling shame, everyone is going to seem “unsafe.”

I get e-mail from young women who will share that they want to tell someone. The e-mail usually contains a line like, “I have someone I could tell, but…” The argument rarely has anything to do with the person but instead has to do with fear.

“I have great friends I could tell, but I don’t want them to think badly about me.”

“I have a mentor, but I don’t want her to look at me differently.”

“I could tell some great Godly women in my church, but I’m afraid it will make things awkward.”

Every last one of those statements is a shame statement. As long as you are listening to them and ruled by them, you will either not tell anyone or you’ll tell the wrong someone.

It’s important to remember, a person’s safety is not determined by their status. Pastors, unfortunately, aren’t automatically safe just because they are pastors. Even parents, unfortunately, aren’t automatically safe just because they are parents. Some parents are the ones who introduced their children to pornography. So, no, not all parents are safe.

Instead of position, look at the person’s character and where they are in life.

  • Is this someone you trust? This can be tricky for those of us with trust issues. The first step for you might actually be working on smaller forms of trust.
  • Is this someone who would keep your confidence up to the point required by law? I think every church has a gossip who is sweet as pie and then shares everyone’s personal business as a “prayer request.” Don’t tell her. For that matter, every family has a great “Aunt Sue” who is the same way. Don’t tell her either.
  • Is this someone you respect? This is huge. If your motivation in sharing is to find healing and growth, then you should have some form of healthy respect for the person you are telling. She might be an older woman you feel exemplifies qualities you desire or she might even be a peer who seems to have a better handle on life.
  • Is this someone in your face? Online support groups are great, especially for Generation Z- a generation that forms even their real life social circles around technology. However, there is a value and an importance to telling someone in real life, whether that be a counselor, mentor or a friend. It’s too easy to hide behind an online persona, and online relationships are too easily left.
  • Is this someone who can help and how? Think about what exactly this person can do to help you on your journey, and communicate that to them as well. Just want someone to listen? Tell them. Need someone to follow up with you once a week? Say that. Front load those expectations so that you both don’t become frustrated.

3- How healed are you?

If you’re thinking of sharing your for the purpose of helping someone else, it’s always important to keep in mind how healed you are. This isn’t an all-or-nothing answer. We Christians have this pesky habit of thinking we can only share our own stories once we’re completely healed. That’s wrong, and it does two things.

  • When people do share their stories, we assume they have “it” figured out, so we stick them on a pedestal of perfection.
  • When we see them on that pedestal of perfection, we feel even more shame because we feel we can never get “there.”

Turns out, we are actually the ones who put them “there,” and if you asked them, they would probably tell you they don’t belong there. But they feel shamed because people assume they’re perfect, and then we feel shame because we’re not perfect like them.

Do you see the way shame just messes everything up?

If you’re waiting to be perfect before you share your story, you will never share it. Ask yourself how healed you are not to see if you are “worthy” of helping someone else, but instead to keep an honest eye on your own journey. If you’re not fully over a certain thing, don’t pretend you are. Don’t climb up onto that pedestal because you think that’s where you need to be.

We need real stories, not perfect ones.

I’ve been sharing my story for nine years, and I still have to ask myself these questions. There are some speaking events I don’t take because I doubt their motivations. There have been events where the hosts were not safe and I was treated like a circus side attraction as a way to drum up sales. Well over a decade out from first sharing my struggle, I’m still healing. I’m still growing. I know I’m not perfect. There are still parts of my story I don’t share publicly, and that’s ok.

You never owe anyone your story, it is a gift you choose to give.

Sometimes, we share to welcome healing, community, and growth into our own lives. Other times, it opens that opportunity up to others. So, should you share your story? Yes, but for the sake of healing and freedom, never for the sake of shame and humiliation.

Will it be hard, scary, unpleasant, or awkward? Probably. But, it can also be the most important step you ever take in healing. It’s worth getting it right.

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