How do you help women who struggle with pornography? It might surprise you that it’s really not that hard. It’s not necessarily easy either. I would say it falls somewhere in the middle. While the method is rather simple, the implementation can be difficult.
We all heal in community. Here’s the thing though: we’re damaged in community as well.
Helping women with their struggles with pornography involves a lot of undoing the not-so-helpful things others have done and making sure you don’t do them yourself.
As the old saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
That being said, there are some pretty common mistakes people make when they try to help women break free from pornography.
To be fair, these are made mostly out of ignorance simply because there isn’t training for this. We have course after course on how to help men, but resources for helping women are sparse.
Trying to Redefine the Problem
Rule #1 when working with women who struggle with pornography: you don’t get to redefine her struggle.
If she comes to you and says she is addicted to pornography, ask questions and don’t assume. Ask why she feels addicted. Ask what type of pornography she’s watching. Figure out the extent of the problem and don’t assume it is something it isn’t.
“You don’t mean real pornography. Stop reading those romance novels.”
“You don’t mean real pornography, just softcore, right?”
Throw out the idea that “women’s porn” is literary and take her statement literally. You don’t get to tell her what kind of porn she’s watching or how serious the problem is.
If she’s coming to you asking for help, it’s a problem for her, a problem that is so big in her world, it’s worth risking her reputation to find freedom.
Yes, it might seem like she’s overreacting. I get e-mails from young women constantly about how they are “addicted.” Further on in their story, I’ll see they aren’t truly addicted and are using “addiction” as a word for the degree of hopelessness they feel. That can come up later in the conversation.
Redefining her struggle before you’ve even listened to it could cause her to shut down and feel unheard.
Be slow to speak; figure out her story, and then you get to input.
On a larger scale, this also applies to public conversations about pornography. If you have anything in your talking points that looks like this:
“Men struggle with hardcore pornography, but women…”
“Boys will tend to view porn and masturbate, but girls…”
If you are talking to an audience and alienate every woman in it, you are not helping. It’s not about “equality” but about reality. Women struggle with lust and we need to start talking about it.
Focusing too much on the problem
The second mistake we make is developing a laser focus on the problem, forgetting that healing is holistic. Helping a woman with a porn problem I would say is 10% porn-focused and 90% person-focused. People make the mistake all the time of zeroing in on the porn problem and trying to eradicate it like it’s a nest of termites in your walls.
Focusing solely on the porn problem begins to redefine a woman’s identity. She starts seeing herself as a porn addict who needs help. She will struggle with feeling high maintenance or needy. Her life and her relationships hinge on her struggle with pornography. The calendar is filled with group meetings. Her phone is filled with accountability texts.
If she finally does find freedom, she may lack skills to know how to walk in it.
This, I believe, is one of the most important parts of my freedom story. In fact, as I work on my third book, I am working hard to outline this.
When I confessed my struggle with pornography, I had one woman- one- who helped me with that issue. We met for weekly accountability, study, and intense conversations. She dove into the dark deep and worked on uprooting pornography in my life.
But here’s what is important:
That was not how I found freedom.
Yes, it was important. Yes, it was helpful. But had I relied solely on this one relationship to end pornography’s hold on my life, it would have failed. Why? Because the moment that was gone, I would have fallen back in.
You have to have a holistic approach to healing and freedom.
Taking away someone’s pornography without addressing who they are as a person and equipping them for life without pornography will not result in healing and freedom.
You have to build up the person. Look at her life right now and say, “If I took pornography away from her, would she be a whole and healed person?” I would say nine times out of ten the answer is going to be “no.” If you don’t address the other issues, you’re selling a fake freedom.
Putting All the Women Together
The most common mistake in churches and groups who are trying to help is when they lump the addict in with the addict’s wife.
Do not do this.
When I share the stage with a wife of an addict and she shares her story, there is always a twinge of guilt and shame. Because I don’t get it. I’ve said it many times, “I understand his struggle far more than I can ever understand her pain.”
The women I am blessed to know are normally very gracious. One recently reminded me “we’re not on opposite teams.”
Wives of addicts can feel some degree of confusion and betrayal. Women who struggle feel some degree of shame and isolation. The pain of the wife can actually compound the shame and isolation of the addict.
Maybe you don’t have the resources to run more than one female recovery group. So, you think, “Let’s put all the women together.” It makes sense on the business and resource side, but it destructive for both groups of women, especially without a skilled counselor as a moderator.
The best way to help women who struggle is to give them a healthy, safe community.
Helping a woman overcome pornography, in the end, isn’t that hard. It’s about surrounding her with people who help her feel connected and safe and leading her heart toward Jesus. There is no 1-2-3 step program. Instead, it’s a journey, and guiding women on that means walking alongside them, breaking into their stories, and helping them see the way out.
They can be easily discouraged by statistics or shamed by the seeming rarity of their struggle. We all have an opportunity to extend grace, to invest time, get out of the way and watch grace rewrite her story.