Young LDS couples need honest conversations about porn before tying the knot

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Editor’s note: Concern about the consequences of pornography in Utah has set the Beehive State apart from national trends as lawmakers grapple with what they have recently labeled as a vice that threatens public health.  In this five-part series, The Daily Universe explores how the issue impacts Utahns, both politically and personally.

Fourth in a series.

The saying “porn kills love” is common among anti-porn advocates, but marriage therapists hope young adults understand that just because someone views porn doesn’t mean they are not worthy of love.

In general, if someone has sought out or been exposed to pornography, this should not eliminate them from the pool of potential marriage prospects, according to BYU Comprehensive Clinic marriage and family therapist intern Bonnie Young, whose research focuses on pornography and relationships.

“A myth, I think, that is really harmful is the belief that someone who has used pornography in the past is an unworthy relationship partner, or that pornography makes them unfit to be a boyfriend or husband (or) wife,” Young said.

Millennial members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have grown up being warned by church leaders about the evils of pornography. That emphasis is underscored in the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet, published by the church’s First Presidency to establish standards of moral behavior among LDS youth.

Many young people have the mindset that in order to stay spiritually clean and worthy, they must have absolutely no interaction with pornography. But experts say the reality is that pornography is everywhere, and there are few individuals who have not had interaction with it to some degree.

BYU culture fosters a climate designed to assist students as they date and marry while attending school. Yet in the excitement of young love and anticipated futures, family therapists encourage college students to make serious conversations about pornography a top priority when considering marriage.

“When a couple has learned to talk about this, they can talk about anything,” said Utah Coalition Against Pornography executive director Vauna Davis.

Davis stressed that pornography is not just a male problem: an increasing number of women are also viewing and seeking it out. Therefore, conversations about pornography should be two-way.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Adam Moore emphasizes honesty, understanding and openness for singles looking for a lifetime partner:

  1. “You have to privilege honesty over perfection,” Moore said.

While finding a spouse, singles should set high standards while also acknowledging that they are not perfect and shouldn’t expect perfection from others. Moore has found that the average person is hurt more by having a dishonest spouse than by having a spouse that makes mistakes but recognizes their weaknesses with a desire to change.

  1. “It needs to be more than just a two-minute conversation,” he said.

Moore further said pornography is too much of an issue to be overlooked during courtship, but these conversations also cannot be an afterthought or brushed away after just a few questions. Both individuals should share and try to understand each other. The individual who uses pornography should be open about how often they view it, the content they view, and the triggers that lead to them viewing pornography. Meanwhile, their partner needs to openly express their concerns, fears and perception of the situation.

  1. “If there’s a history of compulsive (pornography) use, then couples need to create a plan together,” Moore said.

In a relationship, two people are joining in an effort to help one another.

Moore said when people are recovering from a pattern of pornography use, the two most important things they need are real human connection and accountability. Neither of these happen when the person is hiding or the issue is ignored.

“I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes a BYU student would make is to say, ‘My future spouse has a history of using pornography, but we just won’t talk about it or deal with it, because we’re getting married and that will take care of it,’” Moore said.

When deciding who to marry, there will always be character traits, behaviors, and bad habits that each partner will encounter in the other. Partners have to decide if they are willing to work through those issues or if they must walk away to avoid dealing with them.

Both Moore and Young say thinking clearly about those questions is vital. They emphasized that a person’s interaction with pornography in and of itself is not a reason to end a good relationship. Rather, what that person is doing about the behavior now and what they will do in the future should be considered.

“As long as they’re on a trajectory forward of healing and changing, I think that’s a person you can trust,” Young said.

Young counsels students to better understand what their partner’s habits are. There are many different forms of pornography, from pictures of girls in bikinis, to romance novels, to explicit sexual video scenes, to child pornography. Individuals should understand how recently their partner viewed pornography, as well as how often and to what extreme, she said. This will have an influence on whether it is wise to continue the relationship or not.

The definition of pornography is so broad that it’s impossible to understand what someone’s consumption is without detailed questions. The counselors say that while young adults shouldn’t automatically weed out any potential partner who has viewed or sought out pornography, each person must determine what challenges they can handle in their relationships, and how the person viewing pornography deals with their habits.

Some students who struggle with porn try to hide it from their relationship partner because they are afraid of being rejected or having their reputation tainted. The 12th step of many addiction recovery programs is “surrender.”

“Rather than trying to control whether or not your relationship survives, you simply make healthy choices and then you surrender the outcome to God. Don’t force an unhealthy relationship to work,” Moore said.

Stories in “The Pornography Plague” series:

  1. Pornography stats mirror conflict over ‘individual freedom’ vs. ‘public health treat’
  2. Pornography’s effect on relationships is a wild card
  3. Pornography as a public health crisis
  4. Young LDS couples need honest conversations about porn before tying the knot
  5. Pornography addiction can be beat
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