It was the summer of 2014 and a boy asked me to lunch. Lunch turned into late night phone calls and romantic emails. He lived in another state, but there were flowers waiting for me when I came back from a trip to Peru.
For the first time in my life I found myself open to giving someone a shot. A few weeks in I wrote, “I don’t know what I think about this boy. We can talk on the phone for hours, and I actually kind of enjoy it.”
He intrigued me and I wanted to know more.
Nearly a month after our lunch date, he came to visit. I was worried it would be weird. I also wondered if he would kiss me.
He took me to a baseball game. I was tired, he was quiet. We both thought the other person was bored. We talked about it on the drive home and realized we actually both enjoyed our time, we just had a trouble reading each other.
The next day we went to the movies. I put my head on his shoulder; he held my hand. I could barely focus on the movie because of the butterflies in my stomach.
We went for walks and talked for hours.
One night we sat on my porch when I asked him a question that changed everything.
I asked about his history with porn.
He was honest about his story, including the part where he looked at porn two months earlier.
The next morning I called my mentor and told her what happened. “I’m so angry at him!” I said and burst into tears. I also was angry at myself for being so surprised. I believed that because he was a responsible person, porn would be a thing of the past for him. I was shocked to discover I was wrong.
He didn’t know it at the time, but I had made a commitment to not from date anyone who had looked at porn in the last year of his life. Porn wasn’t something I wanted to bring into marriage, which meant I didn’t want to begin a relationship with someone who was still struggling with it. The reasons?
Research has found that after men are exposed to pornography, they rate themselves as less in love with their partner than men who didn’t see any porn.
The more pornography a person consumes the harder it becomes for them to be aroused by a real person or a real relationship.
Research has found that marriages in which one person has a porn problem or sexual compulsion are often plagued by less intimacy and sensitivity, as well as more anxiety, secrecy, isolation, and dysfunction in the relationship.
A study of the most popular porn videos found that nine scenes out of 10 showed women being verbally or physically abused, yet the female victims almost always responded with either pleasure or appeared to be neutral.
The more porn a person looks at, the more severe the damage to their brain becomes and the more difficult it is to break free.
Porn fuels the demand for sex trafficking.
(Read more here.)
That night we went for a walk by the lake. The air was thick, I was nervous. We sat down under a gazebo and I brought the porn discussion back up, letting him know about my commitment to not start a relationship with someone who currently struggles with pornography.
“So what does this mean?” he asked.
“I… I don’t know. I’ve never run into this before.”
According to my conviction, I should cut it off. But my heart was already involved. I was torn. I told him I wouldn’t make a decision in that moment.
The next night he kissed me. “So many sensations,” I wrote. “I was nervous and excited and felt alive all over.”
He left the following morning. I was worried kissing overshadowed the concerns I had about porn, so I wrote him an email letting him know how I felt:
…I’m worried I care more about this than you do, I’m worried it will always be in the back of my mind (do I ask you if you’ve looked at it recently, or wait until you tell me? Will I always be wondering?) I’m worried if I continue to bring it up we will both grow to resent each other. I like you and I want to kiss you again, but I must be honest with you about where I am / what I’m thinking.
He responded with a long email and ended it by saying, “I’m thankful you are a person who doesn’t stand for something to avoid hard and uncomfortable conversations. I like you and, while this isn’t exactly what I imagined, I’m grateful to be able to walk through this with you.”
We saw each other again a few weeks later. We kissed in the rain and lay in the street like they do in The Notebook.
All the while I couldn’t shake my conviction. Hesitation surrounded my heart like a cloud.
We sat in my car, the sticky air nearly suffocating us, when I ended it. He was leaving for a year, so that was part of it. It was also the porn.
10 months passed.
He emailed me in June, asking if he could take me on a date in August when he was back in town. I said yes, and we started emailing back and forth. At one point I wrote, “With you, I’m curious. And hesitant. We haven’t seen each other in almost a year. I don’t know where you stand with porn right now. That’s not exactly a conversation starter. But it’s still a standard I have.”
In August he walked in my front door while I was painting my fingernails. It was such a normal moment after not seeing each other for a year. We walked to get ice cream. I got winded and had to stop to catch my breath. He offered me water. We sat on a bench at the ice cream place and I told him about how messed up I was after a hard year.
We hung out the next two nights. On that third night we sat on a couch. I was tired and said I needed to go to bed. But I didn’t move. Finally he asked, slightly annoyed, “can I kiss you already?” And then he did.
The next day we sat on my bed and I asked him where he stood with porn. March had been the last time. 5 months earlier.
Again, I was surprised.
Again, I burst into tears.
Again, my heart was torn.
Because I was so emotional (aka sobbing) I decided to hold off making a decision. We stayed in limbo for a few weeks, before I finally, painfully, cut if off.
Then he moved here.
It was awkward. We avoided each other.
Four months later (January 2016) he asked me out. It still hadn’t been a year since he last looked at porn. I was confused, calling mentors and friends and begging for their advice. The idea of saying no to him gave me anxiety, but I didn’t want that to be reason I said yes.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the commitment I made was actually a vow before God. Which is why I couldn’t break it.
In the end, I told him no.
March rolled around — the year mark since he last looked at porn. I felt my heart change. The veil of confusion and cloudiness began to lift. I was surprised by the way I felt and wondered if I should let him know. I was cautious, however, about opening the door because of the mess behind us.
The last Sunday in March he stopped by, which was unusual. We chatted in the kitchen for a few hours before he said, “Will you go on a date with me?”
I couldn’t believe he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
He couldn’t believe I said yes.
We’ve been dating ever since.
I felt compelled to write about this for because I think porn needs to be talked about more, especially when people date. Also to show that freedom is possible!
I know women look at porn too, but overall I believe it’s a bigger struggle for men. I personally only know one man who has never looked at porn. (If there are more of you out there, AWESOME.)
Pornography is layered with shame, secrets, lust, longing, loneliness, fear, fantasy, lack of intimacy, insecurity, aggression, submission, objectification, violence, and abuse (almost always toward women.) To overlook or ignore this conversation is a huge miss in building a relationship… especially one headed toward marriage.
I don’t think everyone needs to hold my standard of waiting a year to date someone, but I do think woman need to know what they’re worth and men need to rise to the challenge.
Men, I encourage you to bring up your history with porn or your current struggles with the woman you’re dating. Yes, it will be awkward. But you can do this!
Women, I encourage you to ask the man you’re dating about his history with porn (and share your own story if you have one.) Make sure your heart is in a good place to extend compassion and grace.
Some questions to consider:
How did you become exposed to porn?
How old were you when you started looking at porn?
When was the last time you looked at porn?
Do you tell anyone when you look at porn? Who?
Do you know what your triggers are? What about the root issue?
What steps have you taken to overcome this addiction?
Do you believe freedom is possible?
One counselor I know says you should ask about the kind of porn your significant other has looked at. (I’ve asked him this!)
I think it’s wise to invite an older, healthy married couple into this conversation if necessary. Every person and every story is different, so they can help you navigate whatever your specific situation may be.
No, there’s no rule book for this. When is the right time to talk about this? First date? Second? (Joking…) I’m sure the answer is different for everyone. I wanted to have the conversation before I fell for someone, more toward the beginning of a relationship. It was around a month in when I asked.
In March it will be two years since Justin has looked at porn. I am proud of him for overcoming this addiction and continuing to walk in freedom. He did it for himself. He did it for me. This is a huge deal, and makes me feel safe. He isn’t free from temptation, however; he still has to resist. I asked him to write about his side of this journey, so you can expect that in my next post!
In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to leave a comment with any insight or questions you may have… no shaming please!