I grew up in a Christian family. I found pornography when I was 13. That may seem like the ‘typical’ addict story, but there’s one difference: I’m a woman.
I guess you could say my journey technically began before I even turned nine. A male classmate of mine asked me to take off my clothes for him. I objected; he insisted. Eventually, I gave in, once he promised to do the same. There we both sat, naked, riding home on a school bus. I became curious about what intrigued him so much. I began to understand, in a very basic way, that there was something about my body- a mystery, perhaps, that drew men in. Shortly after that incident, I discovered masturbation, even though I didn’t really understand what it was I was doing.
That full understanding came when I was 13. While working on homework, I came across a hardcore pornography video. Everything clicked then. This was the world I had yet to explore. Most women who ‘struggle with pornography’ struggle with erotica (romance novels) or softcore pornography. I skipped that phase altogether. I started into sex chatting, but soon found myself immersed in hardcore pornography. At first, it felt justified and controllable. It was my exploration, my self-expression. I tell people it started as a hobby. It was something I did for kicks.
My friends would go out to movies or to get pizza, I watched porn.
Within months, it morphed into a full-fledged addiction. My days weren’t complete if I wasn’t indulging in it somehow. It went from a hobby, to a habit, to being something I couldn’t live without. It became like air for me. It was my life. Even everyday tasks required some element of fantasy to complete. I didn’t really care until I realized I didn’t have control anymore. My grades began to suffer and I got angry- angry that somehow this little self-expression had turned into a cruel slave master now threatening my future. I tried to break free. I searched for help- nothing. That’s when I began to realize this is a ‘man’s’ problem. Everything was about men, and nothing they said seemed to help. In fact, some of their stories actually made my struggles worse. I felt like a freak.
I didn’t know who to tell. My church didn’t talk about sex; there was just the occasional caution, ‘Men, be careful what you look at.’ My family didn’t talk about sex. Who was there to tell?! I decided it was up to me to get control again. I wasn’t interested in eradicating the pornography and the fantasy; I just wanted it back where it ‘belonged.’ I would print off pictures and burn them. I would save pictures to floppy disks and then break the disks apart. I would even harm myself as a form of self-punishment if I fell. Nothing worked.
People around me saw what I wanted them to see. At church, I was this ‘perfect’ model of a Christian young woman. At school, I was top of my class and the teacher’s pet. I could be whatever I needed to be to keep people from asking questions and from getting close.
The summer after I graduated high school, I came to a saving faith in Christ. Yes, I had grown up in church and in a very loving Christian environment, but I had also developed serious misconceptions about God. I had learned to play the part to make everyone happy, but my faith wasn’t genuine; it was an act. When I finally understood how deep God’s love was for me, I accepted it. There was a hope that this would be all I needed to break free. It didn’t work.
Now, I wasn’t just a woman struggling with porn, I was a Christian woman struggling with porn.
As I got ready to enter college, I prayed that I would just get caught. I had tried everything I knew, and nothing worked. I knew I needed help but there was no way I was starting this conversation. I thought if someone caught me, then I wouldn’t have to.
By the time I was a freshman in college, as much as I had tried to control my addiction, it had actually just gotten worse. Perhaps my desire to get caught made me more daring. I dove into more violent and bizarre fetishes that might have made the 13 year old Jessica throw up. I would skip classes and chapel to indulge. I would stay up all night on the computer while my roommate slept five feet behind me. All she had to do was wake up. Finally, I got caught.
I sat across from the dean of women at the college, staring at the folder containing my internet history report. I had cleared it off the computer, but every website visited was logged by the school server. Every. Website. The folder was filled with pages of web addresses. I had been at the school for a matter of weeks and had already racked up an internet history report perhaps 50 pages long. It represented hours of my diligent and purposeful use of pornography. It was the first time the scope of this problem hit me. What is wrong with me?
I listened as the dean went on about how disgusting this was. This was one of the worst cases she had seen. Whoever this person was needed serious help. I felt like crawling under the chair. My resolve to own my struggle was quickly fading. I didn’t need her telling me how terrible this was. I knew and had known. Knowing it was wrong wasn’t an issue for me; I needed to know how to get out. As she finished her rant, she closed the folder and said, “That being said, we know this wasn’t you. Women just don’t have this problem.”
I couldn’t speak. I listened as I was then accused of giving out my password to men on campus so they could access porn withoutaccountability. She told me I needed to protect my brothers in Christ, and not give them opportunity to struggle. I was preventing someone, or perhaps more than one someone, from getting help because they had no way of knowing who was using my account. She slid a contract in front of me, and I signed it- promising to change my password and never give it out again (I hadn’t given it out to begin with). I walked back to my dorm room completely crushed.
Women just don’t have this problem?
What was wrong with me, then? Was I not a woman?
I couldn’t tell you the date, but I gave up that day. I had clearly crossed some boundary that appeared to be unforgiveable. I thanked God for loving me but told Him He must have made a mistake. I just couldn’t be saved. I was tired of the games- tired of playing so many different parts to keep everyone happy. I wanted out, but I didn’t see a way out, so I started to jump in. I decided that the only choice I had was to become an adult actress.
I stopped going to sites, and instead got involved in an online relationship with a man, Jake. I told him my real name, showed him my real picture, gave him access to the school’s intraweb and pulled countless all-nighters with him. One day, he asked for pictures. I was seventeen when I sent my first pictures. I wasn’t even legally old enough to view pornography, and had become someone else’s pornography. He would place ‘special orders’ for pictures, and I would fill them from my dorm room, on a Christian college campus. I felt so dirty, broken, and worthless. Those pictures are the biggest regret I have in my life.
I had to leave that school for financial reasons. When I left, I left behind the high-speed internet and the accountability. My ‘relationship’ with Jake slowed. There weren’t any more pictures or chats. We communicated back and forth via e-mail and I went right back to watching pornography.
I don’t remember the whole process, but somehow I ended up at Bible College the following Fall. I had just accepted my struggle as part of my life. I had let go of the thought that I had to be a porn star. I e-mailed Jake and apologized for sending him the pictures and asked him to delete them. I determined that I could still love God and serve Him while addicted to pornography. Yes, it might be harder, but I could do it.
That wasn’t working either.
The school had great internet filters and computer lab setups. You didn’t dare try to access pornography because a window would pop up saying, in effect, “This attempt has been logged. We know it might have been an accident, but keep it up and you’re in trouble.” Perhaps not those exact words, but that was the idea. So, I actually did not view pornography while there.
The thing about pornography and lust is you don’t need new content to struggle. I had years of videos and images stored in the archives of my mind, and even with three roommates, I managed to find time to fall. At the same time, my spiritual life didn’t seem to be growing. I felt like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. Everything felt hollow. I wanted to love God. I wanted to be on fire for Him. I wanted the joy that seemed to ooze out of other people. I wanted that, but couldn’t seem to get that. I was learning a lot of things about faith, and God, and life, but none of it felt like it was changing me.
One night that Fall, we had an all-girls devotional meeting at the college. There I was, surrounded by over 300 Christian women,listening as the dean of women talked about strongholds. What she was saying captured my attention. She said that strongholds make us feel like we’re being held back, like we can’t quite reach the spiritual goals we desire. We might be able to do the right things and say the right things, but we know, in our hearts, that we aren’t growing.
Then she delivered the one sentence that forever changed my life: “We know some of you struggle with pornography and masturbation, and we’re going to help.”
You have not heard awkward silence until you’ve heard that phrase spoken to a room of women. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. For the past two years, I had it beat into my head that women just don’t struggle with this- only men. I had questioned my humanity, my sexuality, my femininity and my faith all because I was told, essentially, my struggle wasn’t possible.
That night I held out the one hope I still had left- confession. Someone else had started the conversation, all I had to do was keep it going. Doing so required the death of my pride, and tearing down the wall that said, “Perfect Christian girl.” That wall did not fall easily. I wept as I wrote filled in ‘My name is Jessica Harris. My stronghold is pornography.” It hurt to see it there. At the core of who I was, as good as I wanted to be, this was me. This was the real Jessica.
I walked back to my dorm room that night feeling rather hopeless. I wondered if they had lied and didn’t intend on helping me. I wondered if I would just get sent home, and I was scared. I remembered the depths I had reached when I got caught. If I confessed and there was no help, I was afraid of how far I could fall. That confession was truly my last hope.
The knock on the door came and I braced myself. Sarah pulled me into the hallway, and I fought back the desire to beg her to please not send me home. She said, “Jessica, what you wrote on that paper was brave, and we’re going to help you.”
For years I had believed the lie that I couldn’t tell anyone. That wasn’t true.
I could. I just did.
I would love to say that was all I needed, but it wasn’t. That was only one lie in a long chain of lies pornography had taught me- lies about men, God, sex, my body, my worth, my place as a woman, freedom, love, hope, forgiveness and grace. That night of confession led to nearly two years of intensive discipleship. I had women in my life every day walking the road of healing with me, keeping me accountable, lifting my struggle up in prayer, and helping me reconnect with life.
They rejoiced with me when I finally ‘survived’ a school break at home. I returned back from break and one of the women said, “I knew you made it. The moment you walked through that door, from the joy radiating off your face, I knew you had made it.”
It’s been about 8 years since that day, and while I am free now from those chains of addiction, I am still on the road of healing.Pornography is more than a poor choice of entertainment. It is a destructive and addictive way of living.
Freedom has involved more than just not doing it anymore. It isn’t a moment; it is a process. It goes deeper than filtering or blocking, and involves restoring what was lost. For me, as a woman, it has involved sharing my story with others. I want to start that conversation for others the way someone else started it for me.
Pornography isn’t always his problem. It can be her problem too.
Women can, and do, struggle with pornography addiction, but if the church is silent about men, you better believe the church is silent about women. That silence can be so painful to endure. That silence itself can breed so many untruths that eat away at a woman’s heart.
If you are one such woman, please know what you are not alone. There is healing. No, it isn’t easy and, yes, the healing hurts, but there is grace, freedom, and hope.
This blog is written by Jessica from Beggar’s Daughter. For more information and resources for women who are struggling with porn visit beggarsdaughter.com