Invades-1

That’s an obvious question to ask if pornography has invaded your home and is tearing apart your marriage.

Here’s a hard fact that’s difficult to swallow: according to a survey*, in 67% of cases in which one parent was acting out sexually (pornography, adultery, etc.), the children knew before there was an official disclosure.

Don’t get me wrong; there are no cut and dried answers here. In the ideal scenario, you (the parents) will have transparent discussions and much prayer about whether or not to disclose information, how much to share, and when. Even better, you will have come to conclusions after consulting with a professional trained in this area. Our statistic (67%), however, suggests that “ideal” scenarios are a rare gift.

I know of families who have had forced disclosure. In one case the father was a public figure and his secret porn addiction was exposed on the 5:00 local news and made the front page of the newspaper for several days running. In some cases parents can delay disclosure until the child is old enough to understand. In most cases I encourage parents to soften the disclosure by sticking to developmentally appropriate information, and if necessary, sharing additional information when the child is older. Unbalanced disclosure should be avoided as the partner often does it in anger or without healthy boundaries when the addict isn’t present. The worst case is when children discover the pornography (or sexual infidelity) on their own.

Dr. Stefanie Carnes **offers wise counsel that lines up with my belief that we shouldn’t hide “Behind Closed Doors.” She suggests that good reasons for disclosing to children include the following:

  • We want to teach direct, open, and honest communication in our family.
  • We don’t want to perpetuate family secrets.
  • We want our children to know us and understand our path to recovery and health. We want to share this part of ourselves with them.
  • We want to stop the transmission of addiction from generation to generation in our family by educating our children.

A year ago, I was asked to speak in a large southern city to a group of women whose husbands are addicted to pornography. The event planner approached the city’s large Christian radio station about promoting the event. They declined because they were a “family friendly” radio station and they wouldn’t want children to hear the word pornography.

I get it. I understand that parents want to protect their children; and they should! However, I emphatically believe that avoiding the subject of sexual addiction is not the right answer. Instead, having honest conversations with our kids about pornography is one of the most important lessons we will teach them.

Carnes suggests that if one parent in the home is struggling with sexual addiction, the children should be at least a mid-adolescent before full-disclosure is considered.  Younger children have a limited capacity to understand abstract ideas like “addiction,” so a softer disclosure is recommended. Kids will want to know different things depending on their age:

Preschool (ages 3-5)

  • Are you going to die or leave me?
  • Am I in trouble?
  • Do you love me?

Early Elementary (ages 5-6)

  • Is this my fault?
  • Will something bad happen?
  • Who are you now?

Upper Elementary (ages 9-13)

  • Am I normal?
  • Will I get this addiction because I have sexual feelings?
  • Am I going to end up an addict because you are?
  • What will happen to me if you get divorced?

Teen/Adult Years

  • How could you do this to Mom/Dad? To the family?
  • How does this specifically relate to me?
  • How could you ruin my life?

Here’s the big WHAT IF … What if your child walked in on Mom/Dad when they were engaging in self-gratification while viewing porn or they were exposed to the pornography themselves?

It happens. Often. If this is your situation, it’s important that you don’t ignore it. Even if you only have a suspicion that it has happened, you need to address it. Such exposure can potentially influence your child’s own sexual development. Have open, honest discussions with your child, and consider talking to a professional.

This is really tough stuff – stuff we’d rather keep behind closed doors. Don’t do it. This is the time for you to assure your child that both Mom and Dad are available to discuss this with them as much or as often as they need to talk or as you deem appropriate. Disclosing this bombshell and then never discussing it again only serves to reinforce shame.

You can make this unfortunate situation healthier by doing the difficult, but right things.

*C. Black, D. Dillon, and S. Carnes, “Disclosure to Children: Hearing the Child’s Experience,” Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity 10: 67-78.

**S. Carnes, Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts, Chapter 9