So you’ve been keeping the reality of your porn-induced sexual dysfunction to yourself, and you want to get it off your chest to a special someone in the hope that she will be understanding and supportive of your recovery.
But you’re terrified.
You’re certain that she will feel betrayed, that she’ll take it personally, that she won’t understand, that it will be awkward, or that she’ll think you’re not worth the trouble. Any of these outcomes are possible, but most of the time these conversations/confessions have much better outcomes than you might expect. And you can maximize your chances of a good outcome if you prepare properly, entering into the discussion with the proper mindset and resources.
I’ll start with a model conversation to give you an idea of how this conversation can go well. In this first scenario Anon is a man in the early stages of recovery from severe porn-induced erectile dysfunction, who has been on a few dates with Anona. They seem to get along well and like each other. They’ve made out a couple of times now and Anon is starting to worry about disappointing Anona in the bedroom, since he doesn’t think he’s been recovering long enough to have a good chance at functioning for sex.
In the past, Anon has tried sex with several partners and failed to maintain arousal enough for a successful sexual encounter. He didn’t know how to talk about his problems with them, at first because he didn’t know it was PIED and then because he was embarrassed and ashamed. He did try telling one woman, and the conversation seemed to go OK in the moment, but she didn’t want to see him after that. He’s afraid of a similar rejection, but he decides to approach it with a different mindset now.
Anon and Anona are on a stroll in the park, and now seems like a good time to talk.
Anon: Hey Anona, I’m glad we met. I’ve really been enjoying getting to know you.
Anona: Aw, I feel the same way.
Anon: You don’t know this yet, but this is actually kind of a strange time in my life. Can I share something personal with you?
If you ask if it’s OK to share something personal, it prepares her for a more serious conversation and also give her agency. She now has the choice to hear whatever you’re going to say or not, so if she says yes she’s more invested in being open to what you’re saying.
Anona: Oh, yeah of course.
Unless you’ve really misread the situation and she’s not interested in more than a casual hookup, then she’s going to say yes.
Anon: Well, I recently discovered something about myself, and it’s changed a lot for me. It’s not something I’m used to talking about, but I’d like to be open about it. You know how most guys these days watch porn, right?
Anon: Growing up, I was one of those guys. It was something I found pretty early on, and it seemed like all my friends were looking at it too, so I thought it was normal and healthy. Recently, though, I’ve realized that it was actually pretty bad for me. It changed my perspective on relationships and sex. It made it really difficult to connect emotionally and sexually with partners in the past and have the kind of relationship I want.
It has actually been pretty tough for me in the past to get aroused with partners, even though I was really attracted to them. I didn’t know what was going on was ashamed and confused about it, but I’ve learned that this is actually pretty common for guys like me who grew up watching porn. They become conditioned to responding to a screen instead of to a real person. I was upset when I realized that I had accidentally hurt myself like this, but I was also really happy to see that I wasn’t alone and that it’s totally reversible. So I’ve quit watching porn and don’t plan to again. I’m still new to this though, and I wanted you to know because I might not be ready to be a full sexual partner for anyone for awhile.
Notice how we’re not using terminology like “porn-induced erectile dysfunction,” which can sound clinical and intimidating. Instead, we’re explaining it from a personal perspective in a matter-of-fact way. You can learn go over the exact science and terms later if she wants to learn more.
Anona: Wow, thank you for telling me. I haven’t heard of this before. I’ve never really been interested in porn, but I know a lot of guys watch it. My ex actually watched it pretty often, and it bothered me. I think it’s cool that you’re not going to look at it anymore.
Most of the time you’re going to get a positive response like this. People appreciate honesty and openness, and most admire the courage it takes to be open about something like this. Often, it may inspire her to share something personal with you as well.
Anon: Thanks, Anona. Yeah, I think it actually gets between a lot of couples. And not just that, I think using it held me back from being as focused as I could have been on the rest of my life. It’s like whenever I got bored or lonely I could just do that instead of something useful. I’m excited to see what life can be like without it.
Note the tone here. You’re not beaten down, depressed, or shameful about your situation. You’re someone who fell into a trap he wasn’t prepared for, and now you’re doing something about it and excited for the future. She will take much of her cue for how to react to this news from how you feel about it. If you’re optimistic open about it, then she’s much more likely to feel the same way.
Anona: So, does this mean you don’t want to be dating anyone right now?
Anon: Oh hell no, I’m excited to get to know you and see where this goes. If I haven’t scared you away, that is.
Anona: You haven’t scared me away.
There you have an example of how that first conversation can go well. Of course, every situation is different. Don’t be a robot and memorize this like a script. Instead, internalize the mindset. You’re open and honest about something you’re struggling with, but you’re optimistic about the future and excited to continue getting to know each other. If you want to be with someone who accepts you for who you are and is supportive of you, then you literally have nothing to lose here. Either she’ll react positively and you’ll get exactly that, or she’ll react negatively and you’ll know you’re not right for each other and can move on to other opportunities.
This also isn’t the only talk you’re going to have about this, just the first. This should be an ongoing conversation. Assure her that you’re an open book and she should feel free to ask any questions she has whenever she thinks of them. And if she wants to learn more, you can watch videos like this presentation together.
Now let’s consider some other scenarios. Say you’ve been in a relationship for awhile and your sex life has been bad, and you know it’s because of your porn use. Maybe you’ve known that all along or maybe you’ve just discovered it. The dynamic here will of course be different, so here’s how that conversation may start:
Anon: Hey hon, there’s something I want to talk to you about and it might take a little while. Is now a good time or should we set a time later?
Anona: No, we can talk now. What’s on your mind?
Anon: Well, this is tough for me to talk about, but it’s a conversation that’s overdue. I doubt that I’m the only one thinking that our…sexual connection isn’t everything that we both want it to be. You’ve said before that you wished we were intimate more often, and I want that too. The truth is that my body hasn’t really seemed to want that, however, and now I think I know why. (Explain as before.)
I should have talked about this earlier even though I didn’t really know what to say. I was just embarrassed and ashamed. I’m sorry I didn’t open up to you sooner.
Warning: If the information that you want to/need to disclose to your partner will be very hurtful to them, I strongly encourage you to seek the help of a couple’s therapist who can help mediate that disclosure.
Maybe she asks you how she can help you heal.
Anon: I’m really happy to hear you ask that. I’m not sure exactly how long this is going to take or how it’s going to go. Most guys see really significant progress within a few months, but it can be faster or slower. Also, it’s normal for progress to not be linear, so it might be going great for one week but the next not so much. I think I need to take it slow for now and just follow what feels right for both of us as time goes on. I think what will really help is to just have you know all of this and have the pressure off. In the past, I’ve felt pressure to have sex, which stressed me out a lot because I didn’t want to disappoint my partners. Of course that just made things worse.
If sexual performance anxiety is also something you struggle with, watch the below video.
Maybe she takes your prior use of pornography personally and is hurt that you chose to masturbate to porn rather than have sex with her.
Anon: I understand why you’d feel that way. I’d probably feel the same way if our positions were reversed. But I really don’t want you to think that any of this is because I wasn’t attracted enough to you. There isn’t anybody else I’d rather be with, very much including those women I was looking at online. I got hooked on this stuff long before we met, and I got conditioned to want a screen instead of a real person. I regret that, but I’m so grateful that you’re in my life now and I get to discover what intimacy should really feel like with you and no one else.
Another rebooter recently asked me,
What’s the best way for me to convey to a female (assuming that we’re already sexually interested in each other) that I need her help to “rewire”, in a way that she’ll WANT to help me without her feeling like she’s being used while me being fully transparent from the start that I do not want a long term commitment in the process.
The thing for me is I do not want to rewire into a relationship as I often see guys on the forums do. I want to explore my sexuality with other females as I feel like I’ve been robbed of that due to PIED.
Anon: This issue has kept me from exploring relationships and dating the way that I wanted to. Now that I know what’s going on with me and see some light at the end of the tunnel, I’m excited to finally get the chance to experience what all of that should feel like. Since I’m just starting to explore, though, I don’t feel like I’m going to be ready to be in a relationship soon. I like you and I’m excited to get to know you better, but I don’t want to jump into something I might not be ready for or lead you on, you know?
Of course, things get more complicated if you are addicted to porn and not confident that you can remain pornfree in your relationship in order to heal. You don’t want to get yourself caught in either of these undesirable scenarios:
1: After disclosing your journey and getting your partner’s support, you have a burst of motivation and progress but at some point end up relapsing. You promise yourself it will be a one-time slip and don’t tell your partner, not wanting to cause her stress or make her give up hope on you. But it happens again. And again. Two months later she asks you how your recovery is going, worried that she hasn’t seen much progress. You lie to her, saying it’s going well and these things take time. Inside, though, you’re panicking.
2: After disclosing your journey and getting your partner’s support, you have a burst of motivation and progress but at some point end up relapsing. You tell your partner what happened and determine to keep moving forward, but it happens again. And again. Your partner is getting frustrated, and you both feel caught in a cycle. Your partner does her best to keep you pornfree, checking your browsing history, interrogating you, getting suspicious, etc., but this issue is now taking center stage in your relationship, taking away from the fun and romance you used to enjoy.
Addiction recovery requires support. If you think this might be you, don’t wait till you’re on the brink of losing your relationship before getting help. You can find ways to work with me personally here, and look into joining the Support and Discussion Group that I run here.