By: Caitlin Bootsma
Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in AltCatholicah, an online magazine aimed primarily at Catholic women, but the topic it deals with is not exclusive to Catholics. The author raises concerns about pornography that are relevant to all those striving for healthy sexual relationships. While we will let our readers decide whether and to what extent past struggles ought to be dwelt upon, we would pose the question – how does one share concerns or bring up a conversation about pornography among friends or with someone you’re dating?
It’s the conversation no dating couple wants to have.
No, I’m not talking about the “what’s our relationship status” discussion.
I’m talking about pornography.
If you are a practicing Catholic and he is too, then perhaps you haven’t given pornography much thought. You figure it isn’t a factor in your relationship. Many Catholic women, however, know better. They’ve learned the hard way that pornography is a growing problem for men and women, one that rapidly infiltrates every aspect of the relationship.
If you are in the “ignorance is bliss” category, let me give you some facts. In the last month, over 70% percent of men between the ages of 18 and 34 have looked at pornographic material. The most popular apps on smart phones are porn apps. The pornography industry brings in 13.5 billion dollars a year. That’s greater than the entire Kansas state budget of $13.41 billion for FY2013.
Pornography isn’t just a dirty habit that is retained in isolation. Priests who work in Church tribunals say that in the majority of annulment cases, one or both people were using pornography. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that 56% of divorce cases included one person having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites. If one person is looking outside of a relationship for a distorted version of intimacy, there are going to be problems.
Whether or not pornography use is secretive, it remains a significant part of a man’s life that shuts out his wife or girlfriend, but also exposes her to its many ill-effects.
The secretive behavior that pornography demands damages the trust between two people trying to foster a romance, which must be built on trust in order to succeed. I’ve heard women worry about what their boyfriends are doing on the computer at night after their dates are over, wonder why they aren’t pretty enough to keep all of their significant other’s attention, or even feel like their boyfriend’s habit is because they are sexually unsatisfied. These side effects in turn lower the self-esteem of the women involved.
It is important then, for women to know if pornography is a factor in a relationship before getting too involved.
So, if you’re dating, how do you approach such a sensitive topic?
There isn’t an easy way to talk about a topic that thrives on secrecy. So I recommend biting the bullet in a bold but unassuming way. By bold I mean, bring up the topic in such a way that it’s clear what you are bringing up. You probably will have to use the word “pornography.” But you can ease into it, and blame it on me. For example, “I was reading an article on this Catholic web magazine about how pornography really damages relationships, and how it’s important to talk about. I was wondering, is it something you’ve ever struggled with?”
Remember that porn use is a sin that is hard to fess up to; and yes, the conversation is probably going to be awkward. No practicing Christian wants to tell their girlfriend that they’ve looked at graphic images of naked women. So be understanding that it may be a hard thing to talk about and that every person on earth, including you and me, has sinned in our lives. You are not his judge or executioner. It is important to note that many young men’s first exposure to pornography is at age 11. In other words, your boyfriend may be stuck on a path that he got on before he was old enough to resist or know better.
But also be firm. If you are considering marrying one another then you need to know if this is going to be an obstacle and, if so, that he is truly committed to stopping this vice. If he does use pornography and isn’t interested in stopping, our faith as well as statistics tell you that this man isn’t going to be a strong husband and father.
Hopefully that will not be the case. Hopefully he is either working on stopping the habit, is addicted but wants to change, or has never been exposed and wants to keep it that way. I’ll be back soon to talk about ways to keep pornography out of our lives.
*Note: Pornography is an epidemic problem that affects women in several different ways. Women not only deal with men’s usage of pornography, but also can be users themselves or be the victims of sexual exploitation. This article and any following it are just focusing on one angle of this issue.
Caitlin Bootsma is a Catholic wife, mother and writer in Northern Virginia. She is a regular contributor to http://www.aleteia.org.