I think the most common response I get after sharing my story is something to this effect:
“Sophia, thanks for sharing. I’m glad you have found freedom. I have never struggled with porn, but I know women who have. How can I best support them? What does it mean to be an accountability partner?”
So glad you asked! Here are my thoughts on the subject.
There is a ridiculous stigma and amount of judgment surrounding pornography addiction, especially for women. Whenever someone opens up to you about a porn addiction (or masturbation, or just any addiction), the first and most important thing to do is to listen, receive, and not judge. Addiction of any kind is often difficult to talk about. People hide their addictions and live in isolation for years, so if someone shares their struggles with you, it is incredibly important to give them the space to share without the fear of being condemned.
I have noticed in Catholic circles an overall lack of understanding regarding the psychological difficulties surrounding pornography addiction. When someone struggles with a pornography addiction, their brain has been physically changed by the addiction. Even if they understand pornography as morally wrong, there are chemicals in the brain that impair their ability to make rational decisions in a moment of temptation. Basically, because of their physiology, it is extra hard for them to say no to viewing porn. For men and women who fell into pornography addiction at an early age, this is especially the case. Typically these individuals did not know that looking at porn was bad, and by the time they found out, they were ensnared in addiction and could not get out by themselves.
Long story short, you cannot normally “just say no” to porn if you are trapped in addiction. So, please receive your brothers and sisters in Christ with His heart of mercy. Listen to what they have to share and love them without judgment. The fact that they are sharing with you probably means that they desire freedom and already could not find it on their own. Asking them why they can't just stop affirms thoughts of shame and isolation they may already be thinking.
Ask the Hard Questions
The first time I shared with friends that I struggled with pornography addiction, I could not even call it porn. I desired freedom with every fiber of my being, but I could not even name the thing that I was addicted to. When someone is sharing for the first time that they struggle with porn addiction, it is a cry for help; they have probably tried countless times to get out by their own power, and this is their last resort.
You have to ask the hard questions. They will probably not volunteer detailed information about their addiction right off the bat without prompting. Roll up your sleeves and get in there with them. This does not mean that you ask them to show you the porn that they have viewed. This means asking how, what, where, when and why.
- How: How did they first come across porn? How do they typically access porn? On a computer? On the phone? On an iPad?
- What: What type of porn do they seek out? Videos off of porn sites? Books with graphic sex scenes? Google photos? What is the content of the images that they have seen?
- Where: Where do they typically fall? Their bedroom at home? The bathroom at work? The bus ride home? (You’d be surprised. I have definitely sought out porn in the stall of a public bathroom and in the living room of my home with my siblings next door. Addiction brings people to do things that you would have never thought anyone would do.)
- When: What time of day do they normally seek out porn? After a long day of school or work? When they are trying to fall asleep at night? Do they fall more on weekends? What time of the month do they typically fall? (‘Cause, ladies, you know that’s a factor.)
- Why: What are their triggers that lead them to seek out porn? Stress? Little sleep? A bad grade on a test? Difficulties with coworkers? Scrolling through social media and seeing the seemingly perfect lives of other people?
It is really important to ask questions, not to try and learn all the nitty-gritty details, but to understand where the person is coming from. All of the answers to these questions are essential to coming up with an action plan.
Make a Plan
I have seen it time and time again: a woman will build up the courage to share her struggles vulnerably with other women who receive her in love and joy. Tears are shed, tissue boxes emptied, and hugs shared. It is a beautiful moment. Sadly, often there is no follow up. That moment was all fine and dandy, and someone may check in once a few weeks later to ask how things have been, but ultimately the woman is left in just as much isolation. Saying “call me when you feel like you are going to fall,” is not support. Both the individual struggling with addiction and the accountability partner must sit down and brainstorm practical solutions to moments of temptation. Here are a few examples:
- If they fall every time they have a stressful day at work and then go home to an empty apartment, make a resolution. Next time there is a stressful day at work, they plan to go to a coffee shop nearby instead of where they read a book.
- If they spend time in bed scrolling through social media before falling asleep that tends to turn into a porn binging session, establish a plan. Instead of scrolling on social media in bed, they leave their phone turned off and next to the door.
I think you get the idea. Take the answers from the hard questions, try to find common denominators, and develop a plan of action to fight against temptation in common moments. Then check in every week or month and reevaluate the plan. If resolutions are not helping divert the temptation to view porn, get creative and try something different. Adapt until you find a plan that works.
If you are an accountability partner, please seek out the person you are holding accountable. I can say that it is exhausting to simply send a text every time I fall. Yes, the struggling individual needs to be honest and must reach out when they fall, but all of the pressure cannot be on them. The accountability partner must reach out and check in constantly. Set a reminder for Sundays at 4:00 PM to send a quick text asking how the week went. How many times did they view porn? What triggers are they anticipating will be difficult this upcoming week?
In the end, you can be the best accountability partner in the world, but you are not going to save another person. You cannot give them grace or instill within them the desire to change. Sometimes, a person will continue to choose pornography and you have to know that it is not your fault. Jesus can save them. You cannot. You can make yourself available, but you cannot help a person more than they are willing to help themselves.
And remember to pray. The battle against addiction cannot be prayed away, but prayer is powerful. Grace has a real impact on our lives. It is by God’s grace and love, first, that we are brought to healing and perfection.
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