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The following represents the first installment in a new series here on Meridian.
“If we find out that someone we are dating or someone we are serious about has an issue with pornography, should we continue to date them or should we run? What should we do?’”
In the recent Face to Face meeting held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for young single adults (YSAs) with Elder Holland, Elder Hallstrom, and Sister Stephens, there were, not surprisingly, a lot of questions from YSAs about marriage and dating. It’s clear that the faithful young adults of the Church care about marriage because they know this doctrine matters in the plan of salvation. I think it’s safe to say that, aside from the Atonement of Jesus Christ, there is nothing that is more central to Mormon doctrine than the doctrine of the family.
It’s clear from the questions asked that young adults are also nervous about marriage. They see marriages failing around them and they want to avoid that heartbreak if at all possible. They realize that pornography is one of the things contributing to failing marriages.
Sister Stephens was the one who answered the question of what to do about dating someone who has an issue with pornography. The question: “Should we continue to date them or should we run?” She did a lot of pondering and scripture reading prior to the meeting as she considered what to say on this topic.
Interestingly, in 2011, Sister Julie B. Beck counseled a young woman to end a relationship if she had any hint that pornography might be a problem. However, where statistics now tell us that essentially 100% of young people will see pornography in some form by age 18, running at any mention of pornography in a dating relationship could be a hasty, if not potentially problematic decision.
In addition, young people who aren’t talking about pornography (who are just looking for hints, just trying to guess or surmise or hope against hope) may be more at risk than those who are willing to be honest in a serious relationship — addiction thrives in secrecy and silence, and sometimes lives under a layer of denial. (“Oh, that is all in my past now. Don’t worry about it.”)
Besides, we all need to learn how to talk about pornography — not just in dating, but as married couples, as parents, as grandparents, as friends and sisters and brothers in the gospel.
Thus, I think Sister Stephens brings some important counsel to the conversation. The problem isn’t necessarily exposure to porn (even repeated exposure, although that should give one pause); time and experience have taught us collectively that the issue is what a person chooses to do about a pornography problem.
This is what I think Sister Stephens was trying to address. She posed an important question back to the audience in response to the question above, after talking about Alma and his son, Corianton.
“Would you give up on a Corianton? But let me clarify that by saying this: What’s in the heart? …Are you dating someone who has a good heart, who is honest about it, who’s willing to work with you, who’s willing to go to…12 steps…and to really study the scriptures? …Can you work through this together? What’s the condition of his [her] heart? I think that’s where a lot of this decision will come.”
She continues to talk about Corianton. “I think Corianton got it,” she says, because it says in Alma 48:17 that “Alma and his sons were all men of God” That verse also talks about how such power can shake the power of the devil and hell.
The perspective that Sister Stephens presents is an important one because, as was already stated, the Atonement is central to Mormon doctrine. We are all works in progress, and we all need the Savior, and a young man or woman who is desiring to follow God and is truly willing to do what it takes to overcome a pornography problem is one who should not be overlooked quickly. Repentance is real, and the Atonement is real.
Sister Stephens also reminds young adults that personal revelation is critical:
“I would also ask you…. Do you know how the Spirit speaks to you? Because you are going to need to know. You’re going to have to have the Spirit really close to you to be able to work together on that, and to be able to discern whether this is going to work or not.”
Still, what is a young adult to do? Pornography is serious, and it can and does ruin relationships. Anyone who minimizes that reality is someone who might not be a good marriage partner.
Besides, what does it take to overcome a pornography problem?
Sadly, statistics as reported in Don Hilton’s book, He Restoreth My Soul show that more than 90% of returned missionaries who had a problem before their missions will return to pornography — not because their hearts aren’t good, but because they never really learned how not to start using pornography and masturbation as a way to cope when life gets hard. People sometimes think pornography use is about sex. Repeated use of pornography is typically about numbing stress, fear, boredom, etc. Learning not to start the behavior again means learning healthier ways to face the normal stresses of life — something we all need to learn along the way.
So what should a young adult (or adult) know in order to make a wise and informed decision about dating someone who has had issues with pornography?
The women at the Hope and Healing Forum — women who themselves have lived as wives of those with pornography problems — are preparing a series of posts to offer some of their experience and perspective to this conversation. They hope this might be helpful for young adults in the dating and courting stage of life.
Not everyone who is exposed to pornography will have an addiction, but here at Hope and Healing, we submit that everyone should be educated about sexual addiction. Whether or not you marry (or have married) someone who has had a pornography problem, getting educated about addiction will help you as you raise your children in our sex-saturated world, and might help you minister to others in need. There is a lot of silent suffering happening around us, in part because there is a lot of ignorance about sexual addiction.
For example, can you answer the following questions?
- When do the seeds of compulsive pornography use usually form? (Hint: it’s not in adulthood)
- What does lust addiction look like? (Hint: it’s not just identified by pornography use (although porn is a good indicator) and can sometimes exist without pornography use.)
- How do compulsive/addictive behaviors impact the brain?
- How does compulsive or addictive behavior impact marriage and family relationships and dynamics?
- What can someone who can’t stop starting unwanted sexual behaviors or thoughts do to find recovery? (Hint: prayer and scriptures and bishop visits alone are rarely sufficient to produce lasting recovery)
- What is the difference between sobriety and recovery? What does white-knuckling mean? What does it look like? What does lasting recovery look like?
- What resources are available for loved ones of those with addiction? Why do they need resources at all if they aren’t the ones with the addiction?
- What does healing for a loved one look like?
I am excited for the series of posts that the women from the forum are preparing to share. They hope that others will be able to “be more wise than [they] have been,” engaging the dating process with more knowledge and understanding than they had. The experience these women have can also shed light on the hope and healing available to those already in relationships where repeated pornography use and masturbation (or other lust-as-drug behaviors) have taken their toll.
Our prophets extend a continuous clarion call to stand for marriage and family. I am involved in this work because I believe that being armed with knowledge about sexual compulsion and addiction is one of the ways I can answer that call. Being informed about sexual addiction has made me a much more deliberate mother, and I hope a better friend, sister in the gospel, and woman of virtue.
Sister Beck once said that “Righteous women have changed the course of history and will continue to do so, and their influence will spread and grow exponentially.” She also talked about women being lionesses at the gate of their homes. The women who have walked in and are walking in the trenches with the effects of pornography in their marriages and homes are, to me, pioneers who can help other women in their relationships and homes, and help turn the tide of this plague.
I hope you will be able to benefit as I have from hearing the stories of these women, and learning from them what sometimes only experience can teach.
A new installment in this series will be posted each week here on Meridian.