If you could ask 12-year-old me what the absolute worst possible thing was, I would have said ‘pornography’.
Let me set the stage: the year is 2006. I’m a month shy of 13. Within the last two years I have discovered first, masturbation, and second, pornography. I have a prolific circle of ‘online’ acquaintances, some Christian, some not. I have no other friends, and in the family and social settings where I am involved I feel overlooked and unseen. I don’t know what the word ‘depression’ means yet–but I am; I question the value of my life. I know something is wrong. I have a feeling in my gut that it has something to do with my new-discovered habits that I don’t even have the vocabulary to describe. The only word that I know is ‘lust’, and lust is bad.
Some of my family used to attend an event called ‘Worship Fest’, a weekend of live Christian music and ‘messages’. Pardon the Christianese. It happened most years, sometime in August. I–a 12-year-old with barely the vocabulary to describe what was happening in my body–spent an entire weekend begging God that if he could just help me stop… you know the line. I remember feeling a feint hope coming home, but mostly just exhausted expectation that nothing was going to change for me. Remember how I said I didn’t know what depression was? I heard Joyce Meyers use that word sometime in the remainder of that same year, and I said ‘That couldn’t be what I have…could it..?’
I did. And it got much worse.
2006 was monumental for me. I learned that God wouldn’t help me. I learned what depression was. The following year I learned some of the vocabulary words that I was lacking, namely, ‘masturbation.’ And I became more–and more–depressed, because I couldn’t get out of what I called a rut. I actually believed that what I was going through was an act of the devil allowed by God to somehow maintain my humility. I actually believed that. And I spoke it to others as truth.
My dad got me a book called ‘Every Man’s Battle’. It was an insightful book. I got both sequels. I don’t recommend it; it didn’t save me. I started an online course–and restarted–and restarted; because you have to be honest to your accountability partner, and they make you start over every time you ‘slip up’. I don’t even mention its name; it didn’t save me, it left me even more hopeless. And when I went to a movie night out and someone put on a steamy rom-com after I had been ‘clean’ cold turkey for a month? It ended me.
I got married. I won’t mention any more to the purposes of this post. I don’t recommend it; it didn’t save me. I grew up, became a well-respected and admired leader in my Church circles. Christianity didn’t save me. But I did stumble partially on the truth when I stopped trying to stop and let myself be.
I’m writing this because there is no other Christian out there who will tell you that Christ will not save you from pornography. I don’t believe there is a Christian out there who will tell you that pornography is not a moral, ethical dilemma to be solved by increased devotion to religion. I don’t believe there is a Christian out there who will tell you that you can stop and not want it again–that there is a satisfaction and an end outside of Christianity for that ugly L-word.
Because I’m here telling you that I’ve reached Christianity’s elusive freedom, and I don’t wrestle with continued craving. From the age of 11 to the age of 26 I craved pornography almost every day of my life. And I’m here telling you that I don’t any more. I’m here, I’ve made it, and I’m going to tell you what few Christians would have ever told me: pornography isn’t the problem.
“Sure,” you say, “I know that; I am the problem.” False. I have over 15 horrible self-defeating years behind me to emphatically tell you that no, you are not the problem, your sexuality is not even the problem. In fact, there is nothing wrong with you.
Sexuality and intimacy are complex. The problem with Christianity is it isn’t prepared to deal with these complexities, and neither are most Christians. I say Christianity didn’t save me because I had to go to ‘secular’ sources to learn that my sexuality is okay–good even. Or that Christianity had silently taught me that I had to suppress my sexuality until marriage (which, by the way, is the reason you are struggling with pornography and masturbation so much: you can’t suppress your sexuality, and you shouldn’t). Here’s how it might happen: you hit puberty, and start experiencing these new changes and feelings; your body starts responding to things in a whole new way. Maybe by this time you’ve already stumbled on something pornographic, but it doesn’t really matter because you’ll be drawn by a deep curiosity in that direction anyway. Maybe you’ve also discovered that you can elicit some very pleasurable sensations by touching yourself, too. If you’ve been brought up in a Christian community you’ll probably already know that this curiosity is “wrong” and that anything of a sexual nature is for marriage only–but this isn’t sex…is it? You may feel gross and shameful especially if you’re a young person who’s looked at pornography, thought it was completely disgusting but for some reason couldn’t stop going back. You might spend some doubtful months or years wondering if what you’re doing is wrong, or you might already know. You try to stop, to control it, but you can’t, and the harder you try, the harder it becomes. No one has much to say to you about it, no way to help you, even after you come out as a self-diagnosed sex addict. The expectation for you is that you just stop doing it. ‘Rely on Jesus,’ some might say, ‘He will satisfy you.’
What Christianity and, I think many people at large, have misunderstood is that addiction is often a symptom only. We want to call it a disease and treat the symptom, but it comes from deeper roots. I began to understand this when my draw toward porn shifted toward people on live cam. They didn’t even have to be doing anything, it was canned intimacy. But also it is a symptom of the fact that at 12 I was begging God to help me suppress my own sexuality–a very real, fundamental part of who I am. You can’t suppress sexuality, it is too powerful, too prevalent in your being. Instead it will crop up in uncontrollable urges–addictions (and these will not stop at just action against your own body but will go on to ripple out to others as you grow and reach positions of power)–because your sexuality wants to be known by you. I didn’t learn this from Christianity, I learned it from psychology–a study Christianity I think often gives too little credit to. You need to integrate. This is the last time I will say it because my focus is not simply on what Christianity has done wrong or failed to do, but Christianity has spent so long veering away and avoiding sexuality and keeping it behind closed doors that it doesn’t know how to help a 12-year-old boy integrate his blossoming sexuality; the answer is ‘suppress’ and ‘repress’. And honestly I don’t think this problem stops at Christianity, because I look around at a culture that is so detached from its sexuality.
I wish I had time to say it all. It would take a book; maybe one day I will write it. But for now I want to speak to that 12-year-old who is now 17–18–23– and is still living defeated by their sexuality: let go. You are not gross or disgusting. You’re not a monster, but you are doing monstrous things to your development right now. The reality is your sexuality is not defeating you, you are defeating yourself. You have to accept your sexuality, because if you don’t you will never be free of this burden. Your sexuality is complex but it is not the all-powerful force for evil you may have been made to believe; it is beautiful, it is powerful, it is a doorway to an intimacy you will never know with another person if you do not stop trying to block it off. Instead you will know shame, guilt, disgust and self-loathing. It’s okay if you don’t believe pornography or masturbation are morally right, but you can’t keep repressing your body’s only known way of sexual expression and expect it to be okay, or to learn how to be sexually healthy and complete. You need to let go of the stigma you keep supporting so that you can meet and accept yourself as a sexual being with legitimate sexual needs to be met.
The problem is, there aren’t a lot of answers, especially within Christianity–yet. We are blazing a trail here for our younger generations, for our children–I’ll be damned if my sons and daughters grow up believing their sexuality is a sin. But I know that there are answers, I know there are ways to address the complexities of sexuality because I’ve done it. And those of you who know me personally might say ‘Well of course you have, but you’re in a sexual relationship.’ Yes, I am. But I was married before and it didn’t save me, remember? It isn’t as simple as just getting married, or just getting to have sex finally, because I was married, and I had sex, and I still needed porn and masturbation and girls on live cams because I did not know how to meet my own sexuality and intimacy needs even in marriage and sex. My unhealthy marriage was absolutely a factor–or rather, my inability to meet my own sexuality and intimacy needs were a huge factor in my unhealthy marriage; a relationship–even a good one–will not take the onus off of you to know yourself and know how to meet your deep inner needs, and because you are dealing now with the deep inner needs of two people instead of just yourself, the symptom will grow to your relationship. I’m telling you, you have to deal with your sexuality as a good and highly critical–and huge–part of who you are. Meet yourself.
There are a lot of things in my past history I used to care about that I don’t carry forward anymore–a lot of fights and arguments that I championed. Most of them don’t matter any more. But this one? This one I’m not quitting on because it’s personal to me to see peers toting the typical Christian lines about sexuality that I used to, and knowing that their picture is only a small portion. I wish I’d known back then what I do now, it would have changed my life. Let’s talk about it. Please let’s talk about it, let’s dare to reconsider and reshape the way we think about sexuality, for the sake of our wholeness, for the sake of our relationships, and for the sake of our children.