I am not an expert on the reasons why men and boys use pornography, but, while I was a bishop, I gained much insight while counseling with many who struggled with it. After five years of working with this issue on a regular basis—and, blessedly, seeing the vast majority gain control over it—I have seen some patterns emerge.
I know women use pornography as well, perhaps more commonly in written form, such as romance novels, rather than graphic, visual images, but while I was a bishop, no women came forward seeking help with this problem. This does not mean that the problem did not exist in our ward; it only means I have had no experience in counseling women in this area. So my observations today are limited to men, young and old.
I want to make one thing very clear at the outset. If you are a wife or mother of a man or boy who uses or has used pornography, I believe, under no circumstances, is it your fault. You are not responsible for that choice nor are you the cause of that choice.
Yes, you may have some bearing, some influence, for good or ill, on a husband or son, but you have not and cannot make the decision to view pornography for him. It is his choice, and he is responsible for it. God does not ask us to bear the burdens of another person’s choices, though we often suffer the consequences of bad choices or reap the benefits of good choices of those who are closest to us.
Thomas S. Monson recently said:
If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame but ourselves. President Brigham Young once expressed this truth by relating it to himself. Said he: “If Brother Brigham shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the Kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but Brother Brigham. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed.” He continued: “This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation.”
Here are four patterns I saw in men or boys that contribute to the use of pornography. I’ll warn you that my language may be a little bold or direct, but this is only for the sake of clarity. We must seek clarity in our communication if we want to be effective in it.
Pattern number one: Very commonly, if a man or boy’s masculinity is undermined by an overbearing wife or mother, frustration over this can lead to the use of pornography. If she often shows him disrespect, is constantly negative or critical, or regularly implies that he is incompetent or stupid, or acts as a “helicopter mom” (overly involved in and controlling of his life, to the point of being invasive, as opposed to being supportive and nurturing), this can result in him being more vulnerable to the temptation to use pornography.
I never saw it as a one-sided problem, though. It always takes two to dance this dance. I see it as is evidence of weakness on his side. I don’t blame you for feeling frustrated about his weaknesses. All I am saying is the two are connected in some way. But no matter how you are dealing with him, your behavior is not the cause. You are not the cause! It is always rooted in him.
I don’t fully understand the psychology behind this kind of emotional strain, but I know it is real. For married men, pornography use under these circumstances has little to do with them having a normal or fulfilling sex life. Most of them do, in spite of the pornography (though pornography can affect their sexual performance). But they may use pornography to subtly express their anger and frustration over not being able to fulfill their natural sense of adventure, or as a result of how they perceive that they are viewed by the most important female in their life. It is complex, but, in my experience, this shows up again and again and again.
Now the man or boy of course has a responsibility to be bold (but not overbearing), to be self-confident (but not arrogant), and to stand on his own two feet, and to express his masculinity, but sometimes does not know how because he has not had proper role models or has been oppressed by an overpowering mother, usually one with impossible expectations.
Many women are very attracted to masculinity. They like it when a confident man steps in to take control of a situation that has gotten out of control, or when he steps forward to provide for, protect, defend or fight for her honor, even when it means defending her against her own children! Masculinity, when it is not taken to the aggressive or animal level, provides a sense of security for many women.
Some women take on masculine roles themselves, especially when they have had unreliable or untrustworthy male role models when they were young, but few of them really want to or like to. I know there are always exceptions to observations like these, but generally, you will find that the desire for a nobly masculine man in a woman’s life is very common and very strong.
When those masculine qualities are missing or weak, when a man does not know how to be truly masculine, and his wife is constantly negative or deprecating about it, both lose out. When the masculinity she seeks is missing, and she gets down on him for it, this approach almost always backfires.
Sometimes when a boy or man is learning how to be masculine, he needs to be taught how. He needs support or help. He needs room to practice. He needs training, to be shown good role models. He needs patience and tutoring. An oppressed man is an unhappy man, and if he does not show his frustration over his oppression through pornography, he will often take up some other addiction to gain an illusion of power or control in his life. It is strange but true.
A second cause, closely tied to the first, is low self-esteem. If a boy or man has low self-worth, he can be tempted a little more readily than his more confident counterparts. Low self-confidence leads to a “who-cares-because-I’m-no-good attitude.” If he lives in an environment where he cannot develop or express his talents, where he is not respected or trusted, where someone isn’t there to believe in him or to root him on, feelings of low self-worth can occur and open the door to temptation.
A third reason is a combination of boredom and curiosity. This is a more common problem for boys than men. When boys are left to their own devices, spend long hours at home alone, with free access to the Internet, don’t have a channel for their adventurous side, and whose parents are too nervous or shy to discuss sex openly and appropriately with them, curiosity can get the best of them.
Many boys and men are like emotional fire hoses. If they don’t have a way to channel those emotions, those feelings can be destructive of their well-being. If properly channeled, those emotions can be protective and life-giving. Boys need help in this area. They need to be understood, have high (but not overwhelming) expectations, of themselves and by others, and they need outlets for their curiosity that won’t corrupt, hinder or slow their emotional growth.
My final observation is around addiction. A sexual addiction, especially one that started at an early age, can be very difficult to overcome, especially when aspects of it are not fully addressed. It is like playing Whack-a-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese’s. When you are dealing with an addiction, you may whack one aspect of it on the noggin, but then another one shows up in an unexpected spot, sometimes months later. You have to keep whacking until you have bonked them all. They are not going to go away by themselves. They need to be flushed or lured out, and then properly dealt with. It takes a thoroughgoing approach. A cursory or short-term approach will not work.
To recap, once again, I am not a professional counselor. I do not understand all the psychology that goes behind pornography use. But as a spiritual counselor, I saw several patterns emerge that have common application. The four most common patterns I saw were:
- Undermined masculinity
- Low self-esteem
- Boredom and curiosity
- Addictions not fully addressed
I would love to hear about your experiences and insights. Your comments could help another who is struggling with pornography or someone who loves one who uses it. And if you are a professional therapist, please add to these four patterns with your own observations. You can comment anonymously if you prefer.
As always, thank you for reading, and God bless you.
(I have followed up on this post with another post, which I also encourage you to read.)