Latter-day Saint Life

What (and What Not) to Say to Someone Struggling with Pornography

What Not to Say

“You know it’s wrong, right?” Yes, they know. And yes, they already feel bad about it. Saying something along these lines will only make them feel more ashamed of their weakness. G. Sheldon Martin, author of Helping Others Avoid and Overcome Pornography, says, “If individuals are going to make it through this challenge, they cannot bear the weight of constant shame. People do not improve when they feel there is nothing to fight for. For true repentance to occur, people must feel godly sorrow. We need to allow that sorrow to happen so the Lord can work within them. Don’t kick them while they’re down.”

“You could get over it if you prayed (or read your scriptures, attended meetings, or simply tried) more.” This statement mistakenly equates a loved one’s difficulty of overcoming their addiction with a lack of faith. Even the most faithful people can struggle with pornography. And trust me, they have prayed about it—hard. Their struggles are not due to a lack of faith. Sexual thoughts are some of the strongest our minds create, so the adversary knows that if he can turn these thoughts against us, real addiction can happen. And pornography can become a severe addiction—has strong as drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. “Praying harder” is not a sure-fire way to overcome this problem.

“It’s ok—lots of members struggle with it.” As much as this sentiment is given with the right motive to help and encourage, it only makes the person feel like they are lumped into a giant group called “sinners.” Simply because so many people struggle with it doesn’t make the struggle any less personal. Each battle is extremely personal, so focus on your loved one and their individual battle instead of trying to comfort them with generalizations. 

“Just stop thinking about it.” Again, because sexual thoughts and urges are some of the most powerful in our bodies, this platitude is much easier said than done. They likely have tried to stop thinking about it, but even trying to stop thinking about it cold-turkey is not the best solution for long-term change. Martin says, “There are two problems with the ‘just don’t think about it’ approach: first, the brain does not work that way; second, sexual thoughts are some of the most powerful thoughts a human being can have. . . . This white-knuckle approach usually lasts about three to six weeks. After time, it wears down their willpower, and they begin to feel hopeless and helpless.”

“You know you could lose your job or get divorced.” Don’t warn them of impending doom. They’re already well aware of the implications of having an ongoing problem with pornography—whether it’s a full-fledged addiction or if it’s just starting out. Threatening them with future problems that could occur because of their problem will not give them the necessary motivation to change—they’re already aware of the impending problems, and they’re still struggling. Those who struggle need the right motivation for changing their behavior, and impending doom isn’t a strong motivator for most. People aren’t going to change until the desire to change outweighs the difficulty of changing. 

What to Say 

Your friend or loved one needs encouragement and love more than ever right now in their life. Martin says, “Encouragement is vital when people are trying hard to break addictive cycles. When they want to continue to move away from pornography and they are trying to repent, they need encouragement because they most likely feel guilty. It is important that we help them focus on bad choices rather than allow them to focus on being a bad person.”

“I love you, and I will stay by your side to help you win this fight.” Often one of the greatest fears of those involved with pornography is that their family, spouse, or loved ones will abandon them because of their weakness. Assure them that you will stick by them and help them overcome this. Remind them that they are not alone. You are on their side, and just like the Savior, your love for them won’t change.

“I don’t judge you for telling me this. In fact, I admire your bravery in trusting me with this information.” Make sure your spouse or loved one knows that you won’t judge them for disclosing this information to you. It takes an incredible amount of trust and courage to tell you about what they may view as their greatest shortcoming. Don’t betray that trust by judging them for what they’ve done. Instead, remember who they are—a son or daughter of God—and why you love them.

“What do you think would be most useful for me to do in order to help you overcome this?” Of course you want to help them, but the way you think they need help may not be the way they feel they need help. Ask them how they feel they most need help, and then cater to their needs. When they feel like they’re receiving needed help, they will be much more likely to progress. 

“I know that talking to your bishop will help you take an important step in overcoming this. He can help you truly repent.” For them, telling you was already difficult. And telling a bishop can be even harder. Another great idea is to help them seek professional counseling or care. Often, those involved in pornography can feel isolated. They try to take on their challenge by themselves. Having you on their side is important, but having a bishop or a professional counselor on both your sides is crucial. If your loved one is hesitant to go to the bishop, talk with them about it. Help them understand that a bishop or counselor will not condemn them for their actions. Rather, a bishop will help them truly repent through the process that the Lord has set out. And a counseLor support group can provide an extra measure of needed support and guidance during this difficult process. And that’s what leads to lasting change. 

“Please come to me when you are feeling vulnerable or tempted to look at pornography, and we can talk it out.” Those involved in pornography often try to keep it secret. It’s important to eliminate this feeling of secrecy in order for your relationship to thrive and for your loved one to overcome their addiction. As their confidant, you can be someone they turn to when they feel tempted by pornography or when they have impure sexual thoughts. Martin relates this experience: “I knew a spouse who came into my office earnestly trying to help her spouse break his pornography addiction. She asked me for advice. I told her it would extremely helpful if her husband could speak with her openly. I told her to encourage him and let him know that she was not going to give up on him. I watched . . . as the husband began to share with his wife whenever he felt even the slightest bit tempted. They would talk it through without malice or blame. When the fear and secrecy were gone, this man began making huge improvements.” 

“I won’t judge you when you have setbacks. Just look at how far you’ve come and how much you’ve changed already!” During their journey out from under the thumb of pornography, your loved one may have setbacks and relapse to their old habits from time to time. Don’t judge or shame them if they tell you that they have had a setback. Simply remind them of where they began their journey, and help them realize that they are still in a far better place that they were before. Keep reminding them of how far they’ve come!

“I promise I will not tell anyone what you have told me, unless you want me to.” Keeping your loved one’s trust is essential, and there’s no better way to ensure that you keep that trust than by keeping their confession confidential. Unless they would like to tell someone else about their struggle, you should not disclose this sensitive information to anyone else. If you both feel that you need to tell someone else, discuss it and come to an agreement together. Continue to encourage them to find more qualified help than just yourself. This is where a bishop or a counselor can really come in handy.

“Let’s work together to find something more worthwhile to put your energy and thoughts into.” It’s never easy to change how you think, and pornography is fought on a colossal mental battle field. Instead of just “not thinking about it,” help your loved confront, challenge, and change their thoughts, as Martin says. Help them replace their focus more on serving in the Church, at their work, and especially in their family. Help them find a new hobby or start one together. Spend more quality time in uplifting environments, so that your loved one will be reminded of their reasons for changing. 

“How can I help you remove sources of pornography from your life?” Help safeguard your loved one by being vigilant in how pornography may seep into their life. Technology is constantly changing, but you can still ask them how they’d like help in protecting them from pornography. “You can, in a sense,” Martin says, “become the guardian of the source. You can manage passwords. You can research and manage software. You can think through arrangements in the home that will help put computers and devices more in the open.”

“I want to have a better relationship with you. Let’s spend more quality time together.” Give your loved one a real relationship as the true example of what love means. Pornography confuses its viewers about what relationships really are and really mean. Martin says, “Individuals who have a real relationship are less likely to seek pornography. If they feel loved, cared for, important, and validated, the desire to view pornography for an emotional connection decreases.” Spend more quality time with them and have meaningful conversations about things you both care about. Laugh together. Show your loved one what a real relationship can feel like. 

Another bonus to spending more time with your loved one is that their time that used to be filled with their addiction is now filled with something better! One of the most important parts of helping them change is to help them fill their time with more worthwhile activities. 

“I believe that the Atonement can help you change, and I believe that you can change.” Bear your testimony to them of the cleansing power of the Atonement. It can cleanse and change them. “At times,” Martin says, we teach the evils of pornography without following through with the rest of the message of the Atonement and forgiveness. It is important—extremely important—that you understand that if a person discloses their actions to you, their heart has been pricked. . . . This is the time to help them understand the message that they can work toward sinning no more.”

When your loved one has left pornography behind and taken the leap of faith to move forward with Christ, leap with them. Trust them again. They need to feel your trust so that they can also learn to trust themselves. Believe in them so they will believe in themselves. 

Elder Holland sums up this principle best: “Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is that charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ. If something is buried in the past, leave it buried.”(“The Best Is Yet to Be,” Elder Holland, BYU Devotional, January 2010). 

For more help on overcoming pornography or helping your loved one, check out these wonderful books!


He Restoreth My Soul - In this book, author Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD, explores the destructive power of pornography addiction, not just from a moral and spiritual perspective, but with the scrutiny of modern science. This is a book that’s great for bishops. 


Helping Others Avoid and Overcome Pornography– This book, by G. Sheldon Martin, is the perfect help for those who have loved ones struggling with pornography. Many books are out there to help those who struggle with pornography, but this phenomenal book is for family and friends. How can you help? What can you do to support your loved one? This book will tell you!


Clean Hands, Pure Heart: Overcoming Addiction to Pornography Through the Redeeming Power of Jesus Christ - In this book, Philip A. Harrison relates his very personal journey of pornography addiction and his transformation into recovery and freedom. 


What's the Big Deal About Pornography?: A Guide for the Internet Generation – In this incredibly approachable book, Dr. Manning speaks directly to the young people she calls the “internet generation.” This book is perfect for young people struggling with pornography. It’s also a great book for bishops over young single adults to understand just what the young people of the Church are facing these days when it comes to technology and temptation.

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