FTND note: it is not our intention to imply that anyone is obligated to date someone with a past porn issue, even if they aren’t comfortable with dating them. In the end, it is up to every individual to decide what is best for them, and we completely respect that. The aim of this post is to challenge the shaming narrative that happens all too often in this fight against porn.

It’s no secret the normalization of porn is ongoing and everywhere and, as a result, lots of people look at porn. Couple that with the well-known dangers of consuming porn and it can be easy (and lazy) to point the finger and make those who consume the ultimate villains. The truth is, they’re not.

Here’s the problem. For those who have struggled with compulsion or addiction to porn, labeling someone as being equal to their porn habit alone ignores who they are as people. That label can actually dehumanize them, and isn’t the dehumanization of people (among other reasons) the exact thing we’re fighting against by speaking out against porn? So how is not dehumanizing the porn performer but choosing to dehumanize the former consumer at all the superior move? Hint: it’s not.

Past vs. Present, Person vs. Experiences

Someone with a past struggle is not their struggle. They are men and women, students and athletes, friends and mentors, kids and co-workers. They are human. And like any human who struggles with any sort of addiction, whether it’s shopping or eating or drugs, they should not be judged solely by that addiction alone. While it’s unhealthy to consume pornography, and life is much healthier without it, that doesn’t make the person who consumes it is, or has consumed it, “bad” or would automatically make a “bad” partner.

Related: Is The Problem Porn Or Shame (Or Both)?

The questions in need of asking are, what is that person’s attitude about their experience consuming porn? Are they unhappy about it, or struggling with it? If so, are they doing anything to try and stop? Asking these questions can help eliminate judgment and fuel understanding, and give that person’s humanity back.

Love triumphs over shame

Compared to accountability, empathy, and remorse—all healthy aspects of relationships and help us grow as people when we struggle—shame can be an experience of humiliation within a community that can de-motivate and discourage growth.

Self-inflicted shame only leads people to slip into a depressed funk which is the perfect breeding ground for more issues and more porn, if that’s what they’re struggling with. Compulsive behaviors and addictions thrive in this emotionally-toxic environment.

By removing shame, people facing this problem can take confidence in knowing they are fighting this alongside millions of others who also would prefer a life without it. While recognizing that quitting porn can be a long process, they can also take comfort in knowing that they’ve already started down that path toward long-term freedom. And you know what? That’s important and worth something.

Related: Is It A Bad Idea To Date Someone Who Watches Porn?

Encouragement, not shame, is far more effective to keep someone moving toward lasting freedom. Love seeks to restore, and depending on what feels right, maybe even to cheer them on in the recovery process. Consuming porn isn’t good for consumers or their relationships, while love can be one of the best things that will help them break the cycle for themselves. And if you’re someone who isn’t ready or willing to date someone who has dealt with porn in the past, that’s totally okay, too.

FTND note: we do not believe it is the responsibility of a potential partner or partner to “fix” the porn struggle of someone they’re interested in/dating. Recovery is a journey an individual needs to embark on for themselves, first, while encouragement from a significant other can be helpful in the process.

Understanding over judgment

No one said navigating dating is easy, and porn definitely complicates things. But refusing to understand why someone consumes, or how they first got exposed to it, can make it even more difficult. If the person you’re considering dating has struggled with porn there are ways to bring the subject out into the open, gain true understanding, and learn more about them as a whole person in the process. (And if you decide that it’s not a good fit anyway, again, that’s okay too!)

The reasons people start consuming porn—and continue to consume—are as different as the people themselves. Consuming porn is often a symptom rather than the root of a deeper problem. Understanding this may shed more light on the person and their character.

Sometimes people consume porn as a coping mechanism for other painful things happening in their lives. A huge majority of the stories we receive from those who struggle were exposed accidentally at a young age and didn’t understand how not to look, or what to do about it. And too many times, those who struggle to hear others focus so much on how hard it is to overcome pornography that they can start to believe they will never be able to quit. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, in their minds.

Related3 Reasons Why Recovering Porn Addicts Can Still Make Great Partners

Our experience has been that an untold amount of porn consumers are loving, passionate and eligible men and women who are so engulfed in their habit they feel trapped. They want to hide, and they can’t imagine feeling worthy of someone’s love.

In addition to knowing why and how someone began consuming porn, understanding what they think about it is just as important: why they continue to consume it, if they do? And are they doing anything to try and quit? Have they made progress in their recovery, if they are looking to recover? You may find the person you’re thinking of dating is actively working toward freedom from porn, working toward a better version of themselves. And if that’s true, then they know the value of hard work and wanting something enough to put in the energy and chase after it.

What lies ahead

Saying you’ll never date anyone with a past porn addiction is also saying you’re willing to miss out on amazing people who’ve struggled for the simple fact that they’re human. And think about this—in the world we live in, who doesn’t have a porn story? The ever-present availability of porn, and its powerful ability to hijack someone’s natural desire for sex, only increases the chances you’ll encounter people in the future—friends, family, and, yes potential romantic partners—who have had a past porn struggle.

Can you see how discounting someone altogether because they’ve disclosed a past struggle, without first taking into account their current character and their recovery journey, can seem hurtful and shaming? Even so, moving forward with anyone who has struggled requires compassion, love, and understanding, and to choose to walk away if it doesn’t work is completely okay.

While these conversations may result in different—and potentially difficult—answers for different people, they will encourage those with past porn struggles to continue to fight for freedom and fight for their love. They’ll also encourage people who haven’t struggled themselves, but are considering dating someone who has, to look beyond the surface issue and dig deeper. And who wouldn’t want that?

Fight the New Drug is here to help make these conversations easier by educating about how porn harms, by providing the facts for Fighters like you to spread awareness and by surrounding the fight for love in the language of love. Fight for the love that’s best for you, and join us in fighting against shame in the process.

Get Involved

Deciding to date someone (or not) who watches porn is a big question our generation deals with. SHARE this article to help start the conversation about porn and relationships!

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with an obsession or addiction to pornography, you are not alone. Check out our friends at Fortify, a recovery-focused platform that will allow you take a step toward freedom. Anyone 17 years and younger can apply for a free scholarship to the site, and it's an inexpensive fee for anyone 18 and older. There is hope—sign up today to get the help you need and join with an encouraging community.

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