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Porn in a Dating Relationship

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Should I break up with my partner if they have a porn addiction? In today's podcast, Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace share ideas on how to bring up the conversation of porn in a dating relationship and if they struggle, how to move forward with that information in your relationship.


Speaker 1:    Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.
Chris Grace:    Welcome to The Art of Relationships Podcast. It's good to be back with you, Alisa.
Alisa Grace:    So good to see you too, Chris.
Chris Grace:    It's fun to talk about all things relationships and what a great opportunity. This podcast, if you guys like it and enjoying it, go to our webpage, cmr.biola.edu, and check out some of the other cool things. [inaudible] we got videos. We talk all over the area, different churches, and we get to bring kind of the message of God's hope for relationship, God's plan for relationships, and then just what it means to have Biblical truth, so kind of an academic understanding and background and then in a practical applied way, and that's kind of our mission at the CMR, which stands for the Center for Marriage and Relationships at Biola, and so Alisa, we've been doing this for a long time. It's kind of fun, isn't it?
Alisa Grace:    It is. That's a lot of fun. And a lot of times, we get questions written into us from listeners, and we do have a question and actually, this is a very common one that we get from our students in our Christian Perspectives class that we teach. We have 120 students in this class, year after year. I think we've taught it for like 10 years now or so?
    Anyway. Great, great, [inaudible], so we've had a couple thousand students come through that class, but one of the topics that we will address during the semester on relationships is the issue of porn and the struggle of porn, and one of the things that we're noting is that it's beginning... it's affecting women and a struggle for women as much as for men anymore today, and you're going to be lecturing on that, in fact, this week.
    But Chris, there's a question I wanted to bring up to you because it's one that's really common that we get from our students. And typically, it will come from a girl, from a woman, and she asked the question, "I know that porn is a real struggle, in general, for men. I would like to have the conversation with my boyfriend. Is this a struggle for you? If so, what does that look like?" And so the question up from the girl is always, "How do I bring that up to my boyfriend to even ask him about the question?" And then, "If he's struggling, what's my role? Is there a role for me in that? What is my role?"
    So first of all, so how do you even ask the question when you're dating?
Chris Grace:    Well, I guess I'd like to call out and say she's probably accurate in assuming this is going to be a struggle just like a guy can begin to assume more and more this is a struggle for the girl, the relation for her too.
Alisa Grace:    [inaudible].
Chris Grace:    And maybe just to assume, like anything else, we are beings, sinful, that struggle, and whether it's with a sexual type of struggle like porn or a porn addiction or whether we struggle with something else. Let's say it's greed, or let's say it's uncontrolled anger, or we struggle with selfishness or jealousy. We're all going to have areas because we're sinful.
    So the question, I guess, that she's asking or that this is is, "Do I just assume that he or she is struggling, and do I live that way?" Or better yet, is the question, "Do I just assume that my partner wants to walk with the Lord, loves the Lord, but sometimes, will fall short in some areas."
    And so at least I think specifically, it would be do you have a conversation about sexual morality or sexual purity and when do you have that? And well, you wouldn't have that in the first couple of days or weeks, but sometime early on, you would have that conversation or question with somebody that you're dating is, "Hey, so when you're walking with God, when you're trying to be close to Him, what are areas that you're good at? When do you sense God's presence," and hopefully, you're on the same page with that person, or you love where they're at.
    Likewise, I think it's okay to ask the question, "What are some areas that maybe give you a hard time or that you struggle with, that maybe are difficult for you," and you leave it open-ended. I think you could do those kinds of conversations fairly early on. Maybe you wouldn't give all the details in your answer if you're just early dating.
    Here's one of the best answers that I think a guy can give to a girl that he's dating if she asks him that question, and it's this, "Well, I'll tell you what. Sexual temptation is hard for me like it is for a lot of guys. It's difficult for me to maintain purity in this kind of culture. There's a lot of things in there, but I want you to know that I'm aware of that issue. I'm aware of the struggle, so much so that I talk with it with my friends. I have somebody that I visit with. I have an accountability partner. I, myself, know that this is an area that I can fall in and in the past, maybe I've messed up a little bit, but I'm working on it, and I have people in my life that are helping me, and I want to assure you that that's where I'm at. If you ever want to ask me detailed specifics..." now, this is getting in... maybe when you've been dating for more than a couple of months, "If you want detailed specifics, I'd be willing to share them, but right now, I want you to be assured that I have help or I'm working on this."
    Now, that's what I would want to hear, right, if I'm dating somebody.
Alisa Grace:    What if you're hearing the opposite of, "Yeah. I'm really struggling, and it's a problem for me."
Chris Grace:    And I don't know what to do or I don't... and the answer is, "Or it's a problem for me," and they don't necessarily have anybody helping them.
Alisa Grace:    Or it's, "I do use it."
Chris Grace:    "Or I don't see it."
Alisa Grace:    "And I don't see it as a problem. In fact, I think it's really normal, and what's wrong with you?"
Chris Grace:    Right. So let's-
Alisa Grace:    So those could be different issues.
Chris Grace:    ... yeah. Two different issues. Let's take the last one. If they don't see it as an issue, then I think you're just going to have to say, "Okay, we have different values." I mean, your value system is really important here, and what is important to you? I mean, if premarital sex, sex outside of marriage, or at least viewing pornography, which a lot of people are going to argue, it was just like having sex outside of marriage. I mean, you're watching, viewing, participating. Oftentimes, it leads you to do behaviors that are more risky. You might even frequent a place where you can have physical contact with somebody that you don't know, hook up, meet somebody. That would mean I just simply have a different sexual moray. I just think differently about sex than you do, and that would probably tell me a lot if they don't struggle, especially if I feel like it is important, right? So-
Alisa Grace:    That would tell me that's probably not the relationship for me because that's going to be part of your life for the next 60 years if you choose to marry that person.
Chris Grace:    ... or suppose you don't really care with them. Okay, well then if you're equally yoked in that view, then you want to do that, and you both say, "Hey, sex outside... sex is fine for us. We have an..." then you're probably going to go ahead and pursue that. You wouldn't necessarily find that in relationship to people who want to please God or walk with Him or be a disciple of His.
Alisa Grace:    Right.
Chris Grace:    Those would be counter. But let's just suppose some of you are listening, and it's both okay, and you're like, "Yeah, no, we think this is okay. Our gods are good with that." Well, okay. We don't share that opinion, but if you two do, all right. Well, that's... we have a very different opinion on what's God calls is the foundation.
Alisa Grace:    Yeah, and in addition, just the research, the detriment that it is to a healthy marriage is the science coming out is just incredible. Just incredible.
Chris Grace:    Yeah. So let's don't even... you can evaluate just from a spiritual standpoint, but my goodness, from... let's say you just dismiss the spiritual like, "I don't really..." That's, "I don't think the Bible's clear. Who really cares?" What you're bringing up, Alisa, is, "All right, let's just go ahead and look at what non-Christian therapists, non-Christian scientists say about pornography, and it damages and hurts and messes people up."
    All right. So now let's suppose there is somebody who comes in that second situation that says, "I struggle with porn," whether it's the guy or the girl, "and I don't know what to do. I just struggle, and I fall, and I fail, and I try, and I fail. What do I do?" And then now, you're in a relationship with this person. What do you think, Alisa?
    I think the first steps are that you begin to own and admit that this is not what you want. It's something... this behavior is you want to eradicate it, get rid of it, get a handle on it, and control it. And if you're there because you believe that it is not good and not appropriate, that's the first step. Then at that point, admitting it.
    I think the number one problem for a lot of men and women in this is that the shame keeps it hidden. And keeping it hidden because of shame and not wanting to talk about, you're the only one that struggles, "No one will love me if I do this. I'm a horrible, rotten person." You're going to have to avoid that shame.
    So, first thing, you've got to call it out. You've got to bring light to it. You have to make sure that there are more than one person is aware. And by that, I mean more than just you and not your dating partner. This isn't the time where you say, "Hey, dating partner. I want to reveal something to you." I believe if you're really serious about this, you go to somebody else. You go to somebody of the same gender or a therapist, or you just go to a pastor. You go to somebody and you tell them about the problem, and then you say, "I need to work on this." What do you think?
Alisa Grace:    Yeah. Oh, I totally agree [inaudible].
Chris Grace:    So that's the first thing.
    Then the second thing is once you do this with pornography, I think, Alisa, you have to realize that for men and women that are struggling in this area, there is something going on in their hearts that they're receiving and getting in their life through this that it's become more than just this physical pleasure. Looking at porn initially causes a strong sexual reaction. If you're normal human, that's what happens.
    But it begins now to do something for a lot of people, that struggle. It begins to replace what you're normally going to get from somebody else, and you are now associating this natural intimacy with an object, let's say a screen or a-
Alisa Grace:    With a counterfeit.
Chris Grace:    ... or with a counterfeit. So you have to really be willing to understand what it's doing to you scientifically, but also emotionally and physically. You are beginning to draw connections with something that's not, like you said, it's not real, counterfeit.
Alisa Grace:    Real.
Chris Grace:    So, Alisa, those are the beginning. You admit the problem. You bring it to light. You no longer let shame to dictate it. You also then go find somebody that you can talk with, and you begin to see what it's been doing to you, your associations in your brain, the way it's changing your mind and the way you view not just women, but people in general.
    Do you know there's a finding that people who struggle with porn oftentimes start to need more and more different stimulation that's of greater intensity, of greater pictures, greater... but it leads to seeing not just somebody at the very beginning that might be dressed inappropriately or then you start to see, need more and more stimulation to get you to a point where you are... because humans just have this need to reach stasis, let's say, homeostasis. That is, you start to raise that bar, and so now, you need to look at porn not just every once in a while, every once in a what? Couple times a week. Pretty soon, it's something you're doing not just daily, but in order to get that same feeling, you're doing this hourly or every other day that is... and, Alisa, that becomes a struggle because now, you need more and more images, more and more pictures. You need the same-
Alisa Grace:    And different. You were saying a while ago. I'm sorry to interrupt you.
Chris Grace:    No, that's right. Yeah.
Alisa Grace:    You said that a while ago, not only the frequency, but the intensity or the newness of the kinds of porn you're looking at.
Chris Grace:    That's exactly right because what was at the beginning something that you associated with high sexual arousal...
Alisa Grace:    The soft porn.
Chris Grace:    ... yeah now, all of a sudden, doesn't do anything for you because you become... there's a certain word we use, and the best word is, of course, is just being numb, right? But this need for arousal, all of a sudden, starts to change and you need more and you need more [inaudible].
Alisa Grace:    Different kinds
Chris Grace:    And you need different kinds and you need different images and you need different people. Pretty soon, you're going to get to a point where the only physical contact with a stranger is the only thing that's going to satisfy or bring you to that point.
Alisa Grace:    Wow. That's really interesting. That's a new concept whenever you brought that up in class before, that it's not only the frequency that you need more and more of it, but the kinds of it, that it becomes more and more corrupted, more and more disturbing, more and more hardcore porn where you're getting to really dark, disturbing stuff.
Chris Grace:    Yeah, and what happens is is this idea of what is satisfying, right? It becomes this... in many ways, it becomes a trap, and what you do is remember this sense of taking. I need more stimulation. Ultimately, we would just say you become blunted, right? You just become numb, and these neurotransmitters, man, I'm telling you as a psychologist, I wish I could talk more about our brain, but basically, when we strive to get more and more intense, we just need it to create.
    So that's why I like, for example, that's what an addiction is. You take in, let's say, an amount of nicotine or an amount of alcohol. If you use it enough, like porn, pretty soon, you need more to get that same high, that same feeling and by more, it means different too. And I think ultimately, at the end of the day, what's happening at the brain level with dopamine receptors is very, very similar to what we're seeing with other addictions.
    Now, there's a lot of people are going to say, "Oh no, porn's not addictive like cocaine is," or, "It's not as addictive as things like nicotine," and it works differently. The pleasure center of our brain, whenever it gets stimulated, and that's what porn does, I'm telling you, there are way more researchers out there who are now very concerned because porn does mimic physical addictions like nicotine.
    And so you have to admit this and get out of it. So I know we're getting off a little bit off the question is what would you tell somebody, or how do you have that conversation with this partner about their porn use? And the answer is, man, you have that question early on because you want to make sure they're on the same page with you, same values.
Alisa Grace:    Great point and you actually wrote a really interesting blog about this that a lot of people have found helpful. It's on our website, cmr.biola.edu, and it's actually called, Am I Addicted? And so you created a 10-point scale of being able to self-assess how the difference between just struggling, occasional struggle with pornography, versus being addicted to sex and pornography and really getting into stuff that would become a clinical level.
    But yeah, it's a 10-point scale. It's called, Am I Addicted? We'll actually link to it in the transcription for this because it's so important. https://cmr.biola.edu/blog/2015/aug/03/am-i-addicted/ 
Chris Grace:    Great.
Alisa Grace:    And so what would you tell that young woman who asks her boyfriend the question, and he admits, "Yeah, it's a problem. I'm addicted. I'm really struggling with it. I've done pretty good for the last three months, but I fell off the wagon again, and I looked at it three or four times this week, and I'm just having a hard time." What do you tell that girl who's dating that young man?
Chris Grace:    Well, the question is, for me, the three to four times a week is the significant part of that. If he's been good for three months, six months, hasn't fallen off the wagon, but he struggles, I have more hope for him and your relationship. So I would say to her, "It's okay. If a guy has struggled and he's got this under control where once a year or twice a year, he might, let's say, fall off the wagon, but he knows it. He puts things in place. I don't think you have to end the relationship or think, feel like you're marrying a bad guy, or you're setting up yourself to be heartbroken, for heartache down the road."
Alisa Grace:    For heartache.
Chris Grace:    I think... now, it all comes down to his heart and his motivation and where he's at, right? Is he transforming? Is he trying to grow? Is he taking this and taking steps.
    Now, three to four times a week, he fell off, let's say, or it happens once a week, I think at that point, you are dealing with a different issue, and that issue is this is more entrenched in his life, and you need to probably step away from that relationship until there's healthy growth.
    And by that, I mean, healthy growth is I think you step away from a relationship in which the guy or the girl, either one, is struggling with porn on a regular basis. They keep falling off the wagon. They're putting all these things in place. It's happening weekly or monthly. And by that, it means they are looking at porn actively, maybe doing... they might be seeking masturbation during this time or doing that or even other people. That right there just is, you need to get out of the relationship until the person makes [inaudible] to get healthy. So I think that's it, Alisa. I think it all depends on how long in their heart.
    So, do you have to break up with somebody because they've seen porn twice this year, but they've really struggled with that, and they fought it, and it happened during a vulnerable time in the summer, and now, it's been six months, and they reveal that to you, I don't think that's cause... it does raise your level of, "Okay, well, I need to-"
Alisa Grace:    That's a yellow, if not red, flag.
Chris Grace:    Yeah, it's at least a yellow flag for me, but it doesn't cause me to want to end the relationship or advise her to do that. I would, however, call it a red flag and advise it to end the relationship if they have struggled recently, regularly, and repeatedly.
Alisa Grace:    [inaudible].
Chris Grace:    That is, they recently... that is since we've been dating, over the last couple of months, they've fallen off, and it's done it in a sense that this is not just in this month, but it happened the month before and the month before, and that's the regularity of it.
    And then the repeatedly, is it kind of it comes in cycles that are it happens every time I'm home alone, and it happens in a repeated fashion like that.
    So those are things that I would say, yeah, you need to go ahead and have a very serious conversation and step out because you're going to face heartache until this person gets this under control. If she is struggling with porn and she has been doing this for a long time and wants to change, great, but let her go work on that with the Lord, let you see some gaps in there of an extended period of time where she's doing better or he's doing better, and I'm talking about, it depends on how much they had in the past, but the six months. How long do they need? I don't know.
    Now, Alisa, I think the other issue might very well be this one: some people need to make sure they understand the words, addiction, the word, struggle, and then the word, even, what porn means. I think some people, they feel bad. This is rarer, but there are... I think most people understand porn. When they see it, they know it, and they know when they're messed up, and there's sexual arousal that's occurring when you're looking at an image and that sexual arousal is something you find pleasurable, so much so that you may or may not masturbate. That is clearly porn.
    Now, I have had one or two fairly innocent, 18-, 19-year-olds come in and say, "Gosh, I saw an image, and it was pretty bad, and it was in a bikini," and well, okay. You could very well find sexual stimulation in a lot of images and that could be a problem for you.
    What we are talking about is, and go look at that scale, Alisa, that you mentioned.
Alisa Grace:    Am I addicted?
Chris Grace:    Am I addicted?
Alisa Grace:    [inaudible].
Chris Grace:    Because that explains a little bit more. So again, is it the end of every relationship? No. Is it something that you need to explore further? It is.
Alisa Grace:    Absolutely.
Chris Grace:    What's their heart? Where are they? Do they want to change?
Alisa Grace:    And not only do they want to change, but are they actively putting steps into place?
Chris Grace:    That's right.
Alisa Grace:    Do they have that accountability partner you talked about. Are they seeking therapy? Are they putting on their computer, the apps, the things that-
Chris Grace:    Screensaver or whatever.
Alisa Grace:    ... that filter out adult content and stuff like that. And especially, where it reports to a third party and that person should not be you. You should not be their accountability partner. It should be another male, someone that is a professional. You certainly want that spiritual support with a pastor to come alongside or spiritual mentor, but also, someone who is clinically trained to doing this because it's a serious issue, and we definitely don't want to take it lightly. We don't want to overblow where it shouldn't be, but we also don't want to ignore something that would be a big red flag.
Chris Grace:    Yeah. I think, Alisa, I think that's exactly right. So there's great science on there. I mean, if you wanted to find just some of the science about it or some of the research, you can go look at Your Brain on Porn, a guy named Gary Wilson. I mean, we list those resources, and we have it on there, and you can go look at some of those and find what you need because some of it is a lot for those that are just worried or struggling. Others, we talk about, "All right, this is really where your struggle is," and we give some resources for you as well there, so...
Alisa Grace:    One other resource. By focus or no, excuse me, By Family Life. Brian Goins is the executive producer on a documentary series called Brain, Heart, World, and it's aimed at helping change that culture of porn.
Chris Grace:    Yeah, brian Goins. You can look up at Family Life and-
Alisa Grace:    It's a three-part documentary.
Chris Grace:    ... yep, on porn, There's others. Covenant Eyes is important. Go to yourbrainonporn.com. I mean, that's a good one. And then, you could go find things like the Purity Report and Fight the New Drug. That's interesting they call it that, but well, good stuff, hard stuff. But it's also difficult areas to work through that you really do need to begin working on, and it can affect your relationships for a long time. We can avoid a lot of scarring and pain by taking care of it early and keep fighting.
    The struggle is hard and difficult for a lot of people. You're not alone in this. Seek out help. And it should ultimately, at some point, comes down in many respects, Alisa, to a heart issue and am I willing to change and make that hard change and bring it out to the light and then move forward.
Alisa Grace:    Yeah. Thank you, Chris.
Chris Grace:    Good talking to you.
Alisa Grace:    Thanks for your insight on all that. We're so glad you joined us this week on the Art of Relationships, and we'll look forward to talking to you another time.
Chris Grace:    All right.
Alisa Grace:    Okay. Bye bye.
Chris Grace:    Bye.
Speaker 1:    Thanks for listening to the Art of Relationships. This podcast is only made possible through generous donations from listeners just like you. If you like it and want to help keep the podcast going, visit our website at cmr.biola.edu and make a donation today.

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