In 2003, Today's Christian Woman took an informal online poll of readers on pornography. Thirty-four percent of women said they had accessed pornography. Another study in 2006 showed that 20 percent of Christian women were addicted to pornography. Until November 2003, I was one of them, but I certainly didn't admit this in a survey. Which begs the question: Just how many Christian women are addicted to pornography today?
I grew up a child of the '80s, and my mom followed the rules for being a "good Christian mom" as established by whatever televangelist she was watching at the time. This, of course, meant we didn't go trick-or-treating, there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny, and we couldn't even watch The Smurfs. She even went as far as putting adult content blocks in place on our cable box.
But no filter, password, or accountability software could have protected me from what my oldest brother brought into our home.
I first came into contact with pornography at the age of 10 when I found a pornographic magazine in my older brother's bathroom. Nearly oblivious to what sex was, I found myself face to face with extremely hardcore material. I had a decision to make in that moment: to either turn away from it, or open the magazine and look at what I had discovered. I chose the latter. What would follow that fateful decision would be an eight-year addiction to pornography.
The difficulty in coming clean
I am often asked why I didn't tell my mom about what I had found. Even my mom has asked me that question, and the answer is simple: because the material filled me with conflicting feelings of shame and pleasure. That battle of feelings kept me in bondage of confusion and secrecy.
I was too ashamed to tell anyone about what I was doing. It was bad enough that I was struggling with pornography, and adding on the fact that I was a girl meant there was no way I could let anyone in on my secret. In my mind I was the only girl in the world who struggled with sexual addiction.
I was also fearful that if anyone found out, they'd make me stop. And frankly, that was not something I was willing to do— like I said, as ashamed as I was by it all, it was a pleasurable addiction.
Just like alcohol or drugs, pornography stimulates hormones our body eventually begins to crave. In fact, any sexual behavior triggers these hormones—something that, when in the context of what is right and good, is a great thing. Hormones are a wonderful gift from God, but when stimulated for wrong purposes, it can become addicting, leading us to believe we cannot live without it.
Women are designed by God to crave emotional intimacy. For me, pornography was filling emotional needs left unmet by my dad. It was a need for affection and healthy intimacy that I should have sought from Christ. Even though I grew up knowing who God was, I settled for a false imitation.
My acting out had become unmanageable and destructive to my life in more ways than one: relationally (I didn't have any friends), emotionally (I felt shameful), and spiritually (I was distant from God). The biggest key to all of this—the neon sign that I was in fact addicted—was my unsuccessful attempts to stop my behavior.
I didn't come clean about my addiction until I was 19 years old, when a woman I trusted shared with me about her past struggles with pornography use. It was through her confession that I was able to confess my own struggles, and was finally able to surrender this addiction to Jesus Christ in a relationship of accountability. My journey to freedom wasn't flawless. There were slips and trip-ups along the way, but I am happy to say that I'm now 10 years "sober."
What to do if you're addicted
For those other 20 percent of Christian women (and I believe today it may be closer to 35–40 percent) who are addicted to porn, confession is nearly impossible to do because of debilitating shame and fear.
Who can I tell?
One of the things I hear most often from women who hear my story for the first time is, "I thought I was the only one." If that's you, please believe me when I say you're not the only one.
We've all experienced things in our lives that have fundamentally changed who we are. Some things have catapulted us toward the Cross—while other things may have caused us to run astray. Whatever burdens you might be carrying today, freedom comes when we start to live out our redemption in Christ.
The following five steps are adapted from my book, Dirty Girls Come Clean, and from the acronym S.C.A.R.S. These steps are designed to serve as your roadmap toward wholeness and healing.
I was reminded of Thomas in John 20 when I developed these steps. You know the story. After Christ was resurrected and came to visit the disciples, Thomas doubted it was truly him. He asked to see the scars on Christ's hands and side.
Christ's scars served as proof to Thomas that Christ was healed. Just as the scars on Christ's hands and side proved who he was to Thomas, the scars left behind from our own wounds prove Christ's healing in us.
Step 1: Surrender
"Today is the day that I am going to stop looking at porn . . . "
"Today's the day that I am going to live a pure life . . . "
Most of us have made these idle promises to ourselves and to God to stop viewing pornography. But what happens is, after a couple of days or weeks of good intentions, we stumble again. Instead of beginning again, we become discouraged and fall back into what's familiar and comfortable—falling even harder into a routine of destruction.
Why does this happen to us? Because behavior modification doesn't work without first surrendering control of our behavior (emotional disorders, physical desires, and mental afflictions) to God. Surrender begins by asking the question: Do I trust God enough to get well?
Step 2: Confess
We have a promise in 1 John 1:9 that "if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all sin."
Light eliminates darkness. Confession may be the scariest of the steps because it means finally opening up to another human being about what we've experienced. But confession is nothing if not simply obedience as found in James 5:16: "Confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other so that you may be healed."
Step 3: Accept Accountability
For as long as we've been addicted, our basic response has been to lie or deceive others in order to keep our addictive behaviors a secret. We've told so many lies that we may not even trust ourselves anymore. The act of accountability restores the character that has been lost in us, and makes us into persons of integrity—something most of us have been living without for too long. This is done by not simply being held accountable to our actions, but by being held accountable to growing spiritually, growing closer and more intimate with God. But accountability cannot be done alone. Recovery cannot be done alone. Proverbs 12:15 says, "Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others."
Step 4: Take Responsibility
This step is about growing in maturity by moving away from denial, blame, or self-pity to accepting responsibility for your own actions—for how you've allowed the things in your past to affect other areas of your life.
We don't live in this world alone—for every action, there is a reaction. I encourage you to read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. This is a beautiful account of someone taking full responsibility for his behavior and acknowledging that his behavior didn't just affect himself personally, but it also affected his loved ones and the heart of God.
Step 5: Share
It is my firm belief that God never wastes an experience. He can take what was once a broken vessel and piece it together again. He has plans for what you've been through. This is when we really begin to experience God—when everything is out on the table.
You will meet people in your life who are carrying burdens of shame that they believe are too great for God to handle. They may believe they've just done too much to be forgiven, and your story—no matter what the details of that story might be—can be a light of hope for them.
All you have to do is take the first step.
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Crystal Renaud is the Founder and Director of WHOLE Women Ministries, whose projects include Dirty Girls Ministries and WHOLE Women's Conference. She is also the author of Dirty Girls Come Clean (Moody Publishers). Visit http://crystalrenaud.com for more info, and follow her on Twitter at @crystalrenaud.