Women & Pornography

Should You Tell Your Parents About Your Porn Problem, and How?

When I speak to others about female porn use in the church, I’m always quick to point out what I call a “generational schism.”

If you took a cross-section of today’s women, from ages 13-50, you would see an exponential increase in pornography use.

The 50 year old women in church might have seen a magazine or two in their day, or may have run across an adult image on the internet, but the number who struggle with hardcore pornography is very few (not to say it’s non existent; I have readers in their 60s and older who struggle with porn).

That stands in stark contrast to today’s adolescent young women, who are consuming porn at an increasing rate. One church did an anonymous survey of their 9th and 10th grade girls and found 100% of them struggled with porn. A couple years ago, while I was speaking in Texas, a young girl went to a friend’s mom after my workshop and said, “What’s the big deal? Every girl watches porn.”

Needless to say, this causes issues in churches trying to convince the 50 year old women’s ministry coordinators that they need to address this. It is simply unheard of for them and baffling.

But nowhere is this schism felt more than in the home.

Many of today’s teenagers and college students (Generation Z or iGen) are being raised by Generation X- a generation still very much steeped in the belief that porn is a man’s problem. Porn use among women started to see an increase with the Millenials (Generation Y).

Which is why I get e-mails quite often from young female readers asking if they need to tell their parents, why, and how.

First off, I’m actually not of the belief that you must tell your parents. Your parents might disagree with me, and that’s fine. Your pastor might disagree and that’s also fine. However, I know that in my case not telling my mother was absolutely the right decision. She knows now, obviously, but at the time, telling her would not help.

And that’s the first question you have to ask yourself: could telling my parents help?

That’s the whole point of telling someone to begin with and something that you need to remember. For too long, we’ve emphasized this idea of confession, and it’s become so closely entangled with shame that “confession” really just becomes “come forward for your punishment.”

Is there an aspect of humility and destruction of pride when you share your story? Absolutely, but that should be because you are asking for help, not because you are opening yourself up to a flogging. This isn’t like “turning yourself in” for your crimes, but that’s the reason so many people feel compelled to tell their parents.

It’s not out of a desire to get help, it’s out of this feeling that “I have to tell them because they’re my parents.” And the fact is, you actually don’t. Don’t lie if they ask, but don’t feel you have to tell them out of nowhere if they aren’t going to respond in a way that is helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, you still need to tell someone, but that someone needs to be someone safe who can help you. Never “confess” to your parents, family, friends, or even church for any reason other than getting help or trying to help someone else. Any time the Bible talks about confessing sins, it does so in the context of healing and restoration, not shame and punishment.

If you feel telling your parents would be helpful, do it!

They can be your biggest support system and very helpful when it comes to setting up boundaries and identifying triggers. Don’t let fear of disappointing them or “breaking their trust” stop you.

But, if telling your parents could lead to abuse, manipulation, or increased shame, then don’t. Tell someone else first and open up to your parents once there has been some healing.

In lieu of parents, perhaps you can share your story with a pastor’s wife, a college ministry leader, a youth pastor, or even a counselor. There are plenty of options.

If you do decide to tell your parents, here are some things to remember:

Be Honest

It might be tempting to paint your struggle as a past issue or as something that isn’t that bad in order to see how they react. It’s a safety mechanism many of us attempt to use. I once told my youth pastor I “used to” struggle with pornography when I was still currently struggling. That isn’t helpful, because it starts weaving a web of dishonesty. Sure, you may be met with grace and love, but then you’ll feel bad because you weren’t truthful. Then, you’ll be battling the original issue (sharing about your struggle) as well as an additional issue (lying about it the first time).

Be truthful about how often you struggle, how you were introduced, how you feel about it.

If you’re like me and clam up or tend to leave out details in the heat of the moment, write it out.

Make Time

The worst thing you could do is drop this on your parents in the heat of an argument or while they’re knee-deep in a home renovation project. Instead, pick a time or ask for exclusive time to be able to share something with them (one or both parents). Don’t just say, “Mom, I need to tell you something.” Say something like, “Mom, there is something I really need to share with you. Can we make some time to talk about it tomorrow?”

This helps get everyone in the right brain space and helps eliminate distractions. It’s also helpful to have this conversation in person, but, if you can’t, write a letter for them.

Acknowledge Their Possible Response

Many women are afraid to tell their parents because they are afraid of disappointing their parents. This is especially true for the many pastor’s daughters who write in. They will say, “I am a pastor’s daughter. I’m not supposed to struggle with this. My dad is going to be so disappointed in me.”

It’s important for everyone to realize that this struggle often has nothing to do with the parents. However, it is natural for parents to wonder what they could have done to prevent this problem. By acknowledging that, you can help them transition from “how could I have prevented this” to “how can I help her now?”

They need a chance to process this too and sometimes it helps if you share with them how you think they might feel. Don’t be afraid to say things like, “I’ve been afraid to tell you because I thought you would be mad” or “… I thought you would be disappointed with me” or “… I was worried you would blame yourself.”

Tell Them How They Can Help

This is hard, because in most of life situations, we look to our parents for direction and guidance. This is one situation though when your parents may be at a loss, through no fault of their own. There simply aren’t many resources out there to prepare them for this. That void you feel as a woman who struggles with porn? They feel it. Those questions you have- am I the only one? what is wrong with me? They feel that too.

Parents don’t have some secret “how to help my daughter break free from porn addiction” playbook to turn to. They’re likely going to feel lost and confused, maybe even hurt. That’s not your fault.

Some parents might attempt to guilt you into quitting. You may hear things like “how could you do this to us?” Please remember that you have not done anything to your parents. Very few, if any, people log on to porn websites for the sole purpose of annoying their parents. Feel free to let mom or dad know that you already feel horrible enough about what’s going on. If feeling bad about it was all it took, you wouldn’t be coming to them for help. Additional shame and disproval isn’t really going to help.

What helps, though, is being able to give them ideas for how they can help. This can also help temper a possible overreaction. Some people panic/overreact when they don’t know what to do; parents are not immune to this. If you think your mom’s tendency might be to launch into hysterics and smash your phone, then it would be very wise for you to give her other, more helpful ideas that don’t make you both feel horrible.

Some ideas for how parents can help:

1- Ask them to install an accountability tool like Covenant Eyes on your phone.

2- Ask them to enable parental controls and to remove certain apps.

3- Ask them to help you keep accountable to personal boundaries (no phone in your room, etc).

4- Share your phone/computer password with them.

5- Share what you feel some of your triggers might be and how to help them. For instance, if loneliness is a trigger, ask if you can spend more time together as a family.

6- Ask to have honest and open conversations about sex. You can start with this course from my friend, Sheila Wray Gregoire.

7- Ask to see a professional counselor, if you feel that would help you process through some things.

At the end of the day, ideally your parents should want to help you break free from this. They just may not know how and may not be so great at hiding their shock and confusion. Still, they can become crucial members of your “freedom team.” Giving them tools to help you shows them that you are serious about getting out of this and about finding the healing and restoration that is supposed to come with confession.

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