“I have a problem with pornography and I want to quit.” When a porn user first says words like these out loud to another person, he takes a significant first step in climbing out of the porn trap. As we’ve seen in previous chapters, most relationships with porn thrive on isolation, se­crecy, and denial. By talking openly and honestly with another person about your problem you automatically weaken your connection to porn. The need to lie and deceive feels less necessary. The strategies you have developed over months or years to hide a porn habit and keep it separate from the rest of your life begin to have less importance. The simple fact that someone else now knows about your porn use usually makes the porn lifestyle less appealing. Many former porn users told us that pur­posefully “blowing their cover” in this way helped ignite their motivation and commitment to quitting.

Disclosing a porn problem is not easy for anyone. It involves admit­ting a personal weakness, a lack of control over a particular part of your life, and a sexual behavior that may be seen by others as unacceptable or even deviant. As a result, talking about it for the first time (and even the second and third) can trigger many uncomfortable feelings such as shame, guilt, fear, and anxiety.

Like most people, porn users are not comfortable with and haven’t had much practice talking about sexual matters openly and honestly. You may worry that the people you talk with about your porn problem will judge you, criticize you, lose respect for you, and ultimately reject you. This is a common and understandable concern. Ed, a forty-seven – year-old former porn user, summed up his initial fears about disclosure this way: “I felt so ashamed of myself. I thought if someone else knew of my involvement with porn, they wouldn’t like me. I worried they’d feel contempt for me, think I was a deviant, and not want to be around me.” Ed eventually found a way to tell others about his porn use problems. Although he was reluctant at first, he opened up because the time had come for him to quit using porn, and he realized he had to take this step if he was ever going to succeed in achieving his goal.

The fear of being judged as sexually perverted or abnormal may be especially strong for women because porn is generally thought of as a guy thing. Other women may be less accepting of women users than they are of men who use porn. And anyone, male or female, whose porn problems involve unusual or violent content or child pornography, may also understandably be reticent about disclosing their porn struggles. For all of these reasons, taking this first action step takes a lot of courage and determination. It can be helpful to remember that you are disclosing your problem to other people not because it will feel good to get it out in the open (it may or may not), but because you know it is an absolutely necessary thing to do in order to be successful in quitting porn.

Picking a supportive person. When the time has come for you to talk, whom you tell, when you tell, where you tell, and how much you tell is entirely up to you. To help you feel less uncomfortable, you may want to choose someone you believe will be reasonably understanding and sup­portive as the first person you open up to.

One option is to disclose your porn problem to a trained profes­sional. Our clients often tell us that we are the first people they have ever talked to about their porn problem. The confidential setting of a thera­pist’s office can feel relatively safe, especially if you choose a therapist experienced in working with sex and addiction problems. Clergy and health professionals are also likely to be receptive to hearing about your porn problem. In recent years, an increasing number of ministers, rabbis, priests, and physicians have developed a sympathetic attitude toward people who have become caught in the porn trap. You may also consider calling a trained counselor at a confidential national sexual addiction or mental health hotline (see listings in the Resources section). The hotline worker can also be helpful in directing you to counseling and support resources in your local area.

Some porn users prefer to first disclose to someone they know well and frequently talk with, such as an intimate partner, a close relative, a teacher, or a good friend. If this is an option you are considering, asking yourself the following questions will help you pick someone who could be supportive:

• Who is likely to accept me in spite of my porn problem?

• Whom can I trust not to shame me or condemn me?

• Whom have I been able to confide in previously, with positive results?

• Who does not gossip about others?

• Who has respected confidentiality in the past?

• Who has compassion and sensitivity about personal prob­lems?

• Who is understanding and knowledgeable about addiction and recovery?

Choosing someone you trust who has enough life experience and ma­turity to understand issues related to porn and give wise counsel can help you make disclosure a positive experience. There are no guarantees, how­ever, that you will feel good after disclosing your porn problem to someone, no matter how carefully you choose. It’s a calculated risk, but it’s not only a risk worth taking, it’s a risk all porn users who want to quit must take.

Former porn users we interviewed were passionate about the im­portance of self-disclosure in breaking free of a porn addiction. George, a fifty-six-year-old former porn user, offers this advice: “If you have a problem with porn, find someone you can be honest with about it. It could be a minister, a healer, a counselor, a trusted friend, and it might be a spouse or a partner. And tell them. Tell them because it is the aloneness and disconnection that makes you want to do porn and spend your time that way.” And, Tom recommends, “You just have to take that first step. You have to find someone you feel is safe and trustworthy. Go through that door, overcome the fear, and confide in them. Once you do, it is so much easier to be honest with other people and yourself. You no longer have to hide.”

Disclosing to an intimate partner. If you are in an intimate relation­ship, you will at some point need to disclose your porn problem to your partner. While you may not choose to have your partner be the first person you tell, for the sake of trust-building in the relationship, she or he should at least be one of the first people you tell.

When you tell your partner about your porn problem, don’t expect support and understanding, at least not right away. As we discussed in chapter 5, it is common for intimate partners to have strong emotional reactions when first learning about an ongoing involvement with porn. Partners can initially feel shocked, angry, anxious, and sexually betrayed. No matter what your partner’s reaction is to your disclosure, it is impor­tant that you stay focused and not allow yourself to be deterred from taking this step. As much as your partner may be upset at first, disclos­ing is the right thing to do because it allows you to break through old destructive patterns of isolation and secrecy, and thus pave the way for a healthier relationship with each other in the future. Later on in chapter 10, “Healing as a Couple,” we will provide you with guidelines on how you can help your partner and work together to heal the wounds caused by your porn problem.

Kirk experienced a sense of inner satisfaction when he finally dis­closed his porn use to his wife. “It took me six years to admit to myself that I had a problem. I wasn’t able to live with the lies I was telling myself anymore. I told my wife for the first time that I was addicted to Internet porn. It was uncomfortable confessing to her, but it was the first step I took in being able to reclaim my dignity, spirituality, and self-respect.”

Ways to disclose. Some people disclose their porn problem impulsively, without giving it much thought beforehand. Something unexpected hap­pens, and they suddenly feel compelled to divulge what’s been going on.

For example, Brad had no intention of telling his wife, Paula, about his porn habit when he returned from a sales trip during which he binged on pay-per-view porn in his hotel room. But that’s what he ended up doing. “I’d been so totally engulfed with porn on the trip that when I got back I couldn’t reconnect with Paula,” he said. “We started fighting and then we stopped fighting. I think on some level I finally saw how my addiction was ruining our marriage. That night I had a kind of nervous break­down. I was curled up in a fetal position on our bed and began shaking uncontrollably. It was really bizarre. At the time I didn’t know what was going on and felt horrible. Paula got concerned and tried to help me. She asked, ‘What’s wrong? What’s going on?’ I just spilled. I told her about my porn addiction. We talked about how I could get help. The shaking stopped and I actually felt better afterward.”

Other porn users work up to admitting their addiction to porn slowly, with lots of preparation and planning. They give much thought to choosing whom to talk to, what to say, and how to take care of them­selves afterward. If you like the idea of thoughtfully approaching a dis­closure, here are some suggestions that can help in your planning and preparation: