What if my boyfriend likes porn and strip clubs?

Dear Paul,

I've had this issue on my mind for some time. I've not brought it up because I've been embarrassed. When my boyfriend and I first started dating, I realized he liked porn movies and going to strip clubs. Since we've been more serious, he's put away his movies; and I think he's stopped going to strip clubs. He did this on an infrequent basis. He makes it seem as if this is ok, but my spirit just doesn't feel right. Please keep him in your prayers. I think that he comes from a background that tolerates this (i.e. his father). Please pray for him and for us. He is a wonderful guy in all other aspects. As infrequent as it is, is it ok? I don't know what to do. Any tips, ideas, advice would be much appreciated.



Dear Friend,

I can understand your embarrassment. But your situation is certainly not unique; just a couple of months ago I spoke with another young woman who was upset because her boyfriend had gone to a strip club with his friends. She, like you, is a beautiful and faith-filled young woman; and she too was deeply hurt by her boyfriend's behavior.

There is a very large segment of society that sees nothing wrong with strip clubs and pornography. Very often, people like your boyfriend get caught up in these kinds of things because they don't know any better or because they have been encouraged to be involved in such things by friends and/or family members. As you know, we live in a very sexually charged culture where many people believe that exploring our sexuality in such ways is acceptable, normal, and even healthy.

As the tone of your letter indicates, you are not at peace with these behaviors; neither was the young woman I mentioned in my first paragraph. You both have been hurt, as have countless other women, by such behaviors. And, you should be hurt. You ask, "As infrequent as it is, is it ok? I don't know what to do." I have a few thoughts and a few suggestions. I hope they prove helpful.

I want to be very clear about this; I do not think that these behaviors are OK because I believe that every time someone views porn or visits a strip club, there is damage that results on multiple levels - relational, mental, spiritual, and societal.

The relational hurt you obviously understand all too well. From what you have written, and from what I have learned from other women, there are probably many valid reasons why you feel hurt. Single women (especially those living a life of chastity) are hurt when their boyfriends view porn and visit strip clubs because these activities violate chastity - the love and respect and honor that you deserve! Even if your boyfriend is not pushing you to do sexual things, he obviously is not totally committed to this virtue (or does not fully understand what chastity is all about) if he is involved in these things. I think it is important for couples that are dating to be on the same page in regards to their moral convictions. Additionally, involvement in these behaviors leads men to a lustful view of women, perceiving them as objects - and I know that you do not want to be seen or thought of as an object. As a man who has spoken honestly with a lot of other men about these kinds of issues, I can tell you that it is impossible to be involved in such things and not transfer the lustful thoughts and looks to the real women that one interacts with on a daily basis. Finally, I suspect that perhaps your biggest hurt would be a feeling that ‘you are not enough', and that the fantasies he indulges in are somehow more important and more satisfying to him than the real relationship that both of you have. Obviously you are not married to him, but I know for a fact that this feeling of ‘you are not enough' is amplified in a marriage relationship when a husband does these things, resulting in damaged self-esteem and broken trust for wives.

Problems with porn and strip clubs, if not dealt with, can present major problems in the future. If the Lord might someday call you to marriage with this man (or any other man with these issues), there is no reason to believe that a ring on a finger and a public commitment to marriage in the presence of Christ and His Church are magic formulas that will automatically free him from his vices. I know too many married couples that struggle because the husband is still involved in sexual sin/lust because of things like porn and strip clubs - things he started doing as a teenager. As I have already said, in these circumstances the damage to the self-esteem of women is intense.

Besides the hurt to you, I think you know that these behaviors are damaging to your boyfriend, too. Habits and attitudes of lust are difficult for men to overcome, and they sabotage good and healthy relationships. In an extreme case, I have even heard of a man who, on his wedding night, deeply hurt his new bride. Rather than loving her well from his heart, he had learned from porn that sex is merely physical. So he acted out what he had learned on videos with his new bride. It took a while for them to heal from this.

The mental damage comes because the images from porn and strip clubs affect the mind. Many people would agree that sexual memories are some of the strongest and longest lasting; there are many good people I know, both single and married, who are haunted by past sexual images - even as they try to live a life of sexual purity. Many of these images are from things like porn and strip clubs - not to mention other past sexual relationships. Words cannot express the harm that comes when these images resurface, whether in daydreams, prayer, or even in the marital bedroom.

The spiritual damage that results from things like porn and strip clubs are very significant, too. Any and all sinful behavior separates us from God (and from one another), and thus damages our spiritual well being. The Biblical reasons why porn is dangerous have been well document by someone else, so you can check that out if you want to.

My co-worker Heather here at the REAP Team has written a great article entitled, "What's So Wrong with Pornography?" if you want to check that out.

And a Catholic priest has written -

...the whole pornography thing...is everywhere today: books, magazines, movies, the Internet, and especially television, but it doesn't change the fact that it is wrong. St. Paul tells us in the first letter to the Corinthians Chapter 6 verse 15 "Do you not see that your bodies are members of Christ? Would you have me take Christ's members and make them members of a prostitute? God forbid!" This means that even though there are people who are willing (and we should pray for them because it's sad) to make their living by degrading themselves and making themselves objects of lust, it certainly doesn't mean we should help pay their salaries by buying those magazines, books, or visiting those web sites...(From a column entitled "Ask Fr. J")

Finally, the issue of pornography is addressed specifically in the Catechism of the Catholic Church -

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials. (Paragraph # 2354)

Another reason why these behaviors are so problematic is because of the societal issues. The quote from the catechism above states the obvious injury to the dignity of its participants. I have met someone formerly involved in the porn industry, and that person's regrets are immense. The people your boyfriend is viewing could eventually become disgusted by their behavior and feel sick (the person I met does) about their past behaviors. But there are other social problems which affect me personally. We have had to explain to our kids what ‘adult bookstores' are as we drive past them in our neighborhood, thus damaging their innocence. Pornography is becoming increasingly available and increasingly perverse. Pornography is addictive, and this addiction has ruined countless lives, marriages, and families.

The good news, though, is that there is hope and healing available for both you and your boyfriend. For the sake of your heart, I would encourage you to have him read what I have written; and if he would want to contact me, I would be OK with that, too. I think that if you could pray to forgive him it would bring much healing to your heart. However, I honestly think that he needs to rebuild your trust in this area and should be challenged to consider whether you or these behaviors are more important. I really do think that is a fair ultimatum to give to him. If he cannot respect your wishes in this area, I do not think he deserves to be in a relationship with you. That being said, if this has become a strong pattern of behavior for him, it will call for patience on your part, since freedom from patterns of sin does not usually happen overnight. It involves a lot of prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, an ongoing conversion of heart and mind, patience, and mercy.

For the sake of his heart, if he is interested in making you a bigger priority than his sin, I have a few suggestions. First of all, if he is Catholic, the sacrament of Reconciliation (received on a regular basis) is invaluable. And I would encourage his accountability to at least one other person besides you. I happen to be in a men's prayer group, and accountability to other men who understand the same kinds of temptation helps more than you can imagine. I have actually written an article on accountability, which you can find here. Feel free to share it with him. If he wants to grow in faith, I would also recommend ongoing spiritual direction or counseling, which can help him get in touch with deeper issues in his life that may have led him, even unconsciously, to develop an interest in porn.

In the book Wild at Heart (which I consider a must-read for all people of faith - especially men) the author says -

What makes pornography so addictive is that more than anything else in a lost man's life, it makes him feel like a man without ever requiring a thing of him. The less a guy feels like a real man in the presence of a real woman, the more vulnerable he is to porn. (page 44)

As an additional resource, one of the best sites out there to help men who struggle with sexual temptation is www.xxxchurch.com, which deals with this issue in a "hardcore" way. You also indicated in your email that your boyfriend has "put away his movies and I think stopped going to strip clubs." Rather than just putting away his movies, he needs to get rid of them by throwing them away. And he needs to stop going to strip clubs. A commitment is necessary for true freedom in this area - with full understanding that Jesus will be with him to help him all along the way.

As a couple, perhaps you could read Heather Gallagher and Peter Vlahutin's book A Case for Chastity and discuss it. The book happens to include a chapter on porn and a lot more about living the virtue of chastity in your daily life - as a single person and in relationships.

I think this is a serious issue, and I am glad that you recognize that. I think that it is very cool that you have overcome your embarrassment to ask for advice about this issue, and I hope and pray that some of what I have written will be helpful.

Peace,

 

Pau

Follow Up

Note: After receiving my response, she then wrote:

Dear Paul,

Through our conversation an important question arose. What are healthy ways men can channel their sexual energy? I gathered that he felt porn is ok because it is better than cheating or being promiscuous.



Dear Friend,

I think that it is a challenge for healthy men to channel their sexual energy in ways that are pure, but it is can be done. I believe that this desire for sexual expression is normal, healthy, and a gift from God - and before marriage, in chastity, it should drive us toward intimacy - relational intimacy. So, he can and should channel his sexual energy into developing a deep interpersonal relationship with you. Then, if and when God calls you to marriage, the sexual intimacy will be more powerful because it is built on relational intimacy. That is my take, anyway, based on some recent thoughts and even the chapter from Heather’s book on "How Far Is Too Far" which is on our website.

Peace,

 

Paul