Signs of a Porn Problem and What to Do If you Suspect One

Mindy Pierce is a licensed professional counselor for GROW Counseling in Atlanta, GA. Below, she shared with us her answers to some of the most common questions she receives around the topic of porn use and figuring out whether it’s something that needs to be addressed with your loved one. We loved her answers – and believe you’ll find them helpful! In addition, we want to add a reminder that God wants us to experience His victory in every area of our lives! We have approached the topic of pornography not to condemn those struggling, but to shine a light on the harm it can cause to those trapped in bondage by it as well as their family members, and to illuminate a path out of the darkness. Rather than living isolated, fragmented lives filled with shame, secrets, and separation from God and our loved ones – the Lord wants us to walk in the joy, freedom, and fulfillment that comes through Jesus Christ alone. As you read Mindy’s article below we encourage you to keep in mind the following promise from 1 John 1:8-9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. Mindy—and we—want you to know that help and hope are available! There is professional help and the chance for freedom from addiction, if you choose to pursue it. And more importantly, there is eternal hope – the forgiveness of all sins, if you will receive it.

                                                                          Jamie and Julie

How to tell if porn is a problem for your loved one – and next steps if you suspect there is a problem.

When speaking with large groups, or even with individuals and couples in our counseling practice, we are often asked questions along the lines of: How do I know if my loved one is looking at porn or not? How do I know if it’s just occasional use – or if they are addicted? At what point does it become a serious problem? And, if it’s a serious problem, then what should I do? We know it can feel scary to even ask the questions! Here’s some practical information that offers clarity and the hope of a way forward.

How do I know if my loved one is looking at porn or not?

First, let’s just acknowledge that it is very difficult to know for a couple reasons. To begin with, there’s a bit of a belief that people who watch porn are a certain “type” of person. AKA: they’re “bad” people; they’re not leaders in ministry; their marriages stink or they don’t love their spouse; or they don’t respect their parents or make good grades in school. This is just not true. Many people who view porn respect their parents or love their spouses, manage other areas of their lives well, and are active – even leaders – in their faith communities. And many are aware that they “shouldn’t” view porn or that it would hurt their partners or parents to find out. In fact, many people are trying to not view porn… they’ve tried to quit or they’re hoping to quit soon. They want to keep the habit private and may plan to fix this struggle privately – to avoid others knowing, to avoid shame and embarrassment or losing a job, and/or to avoid hurting someone they love.

Another reason it’s difficult to recognize porn use, abuse, or addiction is that most of us are almost never more than arm’s-reach away from our devices (with constant access to porn). So, in this digital era, we all have access to it, pretty much all the time. Anyone who is viewing pornography doesn’t overtly have to go out of their way to attain it – they pick up their phone or their iPad and that looks normal and then it’s pretty easy to cover the digital tracks of where they’ve been. It’s also difficult to detect because porn doesn’t smell or cost a bunch of money and it doesn’t necessarily change someone’s appearance markedly.

Now let’s talk about a few, inadvertent signs that may lead to wondering if porn is present. Not guarantees – just things we hear and see consistently that are possibly worth exploring further if you notice them: overprotection of devices; long periods of time in the bathroom (with a device); feeling disconnected emotionally from the person; increase in depression, anxiety, or anger; decrease in empathy and emotional availability; new requests for sexual behaviors that feel more extreme, unsafe, or unloving – sometimes revolving around intensity rather than intimacy; on the other hand, lack of interest in sex or decrease in pursuing sex with you; difficulty becoming aroused or maintaining arousal during times of intimacy; irritability or decreased pleasure in daily life, in general; answers don’t add up – late to events, not following through on responsibilities; unable to account for significant chunks of time or lack of productivity.

If I suspect porn use, what questions do I ask?

First, it’s important to know that there’s often so much shame around porn use that it’s very difficult for people to talk honestly about it. So, they may not answer truthfully the first time you ask. It doesn’t mean they hate you; it may mean they’re scared of losing you. That said, it may take several conversations to help them believe that you love them, want to help, and that you are serious about wanting to know the truth.

'Fight the New Drug' recommends the following questions if you’re trying to ask about porn use:

– Have you ever viewed internet pornography?  If so, when did you start viewing it?

– How often do you view it? For how long?

– Why do you watch porn? 

– When did you notice that you were seeking more images for more arousal?

– How long has it been since you last watched pornography?  

If my partner is viewing porn, what should I do?

First, give yourself permission to have a reaction. It’s normal to feel big feelings and to feel them intensely: hurt, insecurity, betrayal, pain, loss. Rushing too quickly to immediate “forgiveness” or dismissal of the magnitude of the experience without properly grieving sometimes circumvents or undermines the healing process. You need a safe space for processing and unpacking your experience. Choose very carefully who that will be. Secondly, there is hope! People can get better! Relationships can be restored. Third, have hope – but also have boundaries. You will need to set clear boundaries around what is okay and what is not okay in the relationship. Therapists can help you with this. And while we’re talking about that – Fourth, most likely, you both need your own therapist. If you have questions about where to find a qualified therapist in your area, you can reach out to our team at GROW and we’ll try to help connect you with someone or find some referrals in your area. Fifth, there is a story underneath your partner’s porn use. We encourage you to cultivate curiosity about what is behind these behaviors. This will take time, careful conversations, and the support of a great therapeutic team. There is much to understand about what has been driving your partner’s porn use.

If you’re interested in connecting with GROW Counseling, what can you do?

If you’re in the Atlanta area, you can schedule an appointment. Whether you are struggling to address your own porn usage, or would like support as you walk with a partner or child who struggles with porn use, you can call the GROW office to schedule an appointment (GROWCounseling.com). If you’re not local, we will try to help you find community resources. If you are tired of feeling alone in the difficulty you face, but we’re too far, we would still be happy to help. The team at GROW Counseling intentionally builds professional partnerships locally and nationally. We enjoy collaborating to help you find community resources that will work for you, at whatever your stage of this journey.

 What does “good” counseling look like?

Much like a builder needs a blueprint in order to build a house, you need a tailored therapeutic plan for each person. We recommend a strengths-based, hope-filled, team approach that is very collaborative. With couples, we like to see each person participating in their own individual therapy, as well as couple’s therapy. We sometimes recommend group therapy or a recovery group, and we encourage nutrition, exercise, and building healthy community. Many people fear that a counselor will “require” them to take medication. We recognize that some people benefit from medication, so your counselor may make a referral for that if needed. But a “good” therapist would also work creatively and collaboratively with clients and would respect their values.

 If you’re looking for some questions your loved one can ask him-(or herself), here you go:

 Is it really a problem for me to look at porn?

Here are some questions we often ask clients who are evaluating whether porn is neutral or problematic in their lives.

1.    Who do you desire to be? What kind of person?

2.    What are your goals – your expectations for yourself and your life?

3.    What version of you are you when you’re looking at porn regularly?

4.    After viewing porn, how do you view yourself, your partner, others you interact with?

5.    The presence of secrets diminishes our ability to experience connection with others. How does porn use require you to hide? How is it impacting your ability to accomplish your goals, feel connected, feel known?

6.    Do you worry about being caught?

7.    Are you setting yourself up for consequences that have a potentially devastating impact?

 How do I know if I am addicted?
The obvious answer is that a therapist specializing in sexual addiction is needed to help with the assessment and recovery process (Visit GROWCounseling.com for help with this process). That said, we’ve included below a list of questions to ask yourself about pornography (adapted from Breaking Chains). These are the type of questions that would be asked from a medical or psychological professional to assess pornography addiction. Answering yes to 2 or more of these questions indicates risk for pornography abuse. Answering yes to 4 or more indicates risk of pornography addiction.

1.    Do you at times feel powerless to resist the urge to view pornography?

2.    Do you frequently spend more time or money on pornography than you initially intended?

3.    Have you tried without success to limit or stop viewing pornography?

4.    Do you spend a significant portion of your time viewing pornography, thinking about pornography or engaging in activities that will enable you to access pornography?

5.    Do you neglect family, social or work/school obligations to view pornography?

6.    Do you continue to use pornography despite the potential for negative consequences?

7.    Have you had a reduction in satisfaction from pornography, or the need to increase the riskiness or frequency of pornography use over time?

8.    Have you passed up social opportunities, or considered passing up social opportunities, so that you have more time to use or view pornography?

9.    Do you become anxious, stressed or irritable if you are unable to access pornography?

10.   Do you keep all or part of your pornography use secret from loved ones?

11.    Do you feel as though you live a double or secret life because of your pornography use?

12.   Have you lost track of large chunks of time because you've been absorbed in pornography use?

 Discovering your partner’s or child’s porn use can flip your world upside down. We want you to know that you are not alone, and there is hope!