[Disclaimer: I write from a Christian and biblical framework. My assumption is that most of my audience is also Christian and live their lives according to the same biblical framework. If you are not a Christian, and you think we are weird for getting all huffy puffy cuckoo bananas over this, that’s perfectly fine. I understand. We do get a little huffy puffy cuckoo bananas at times. :) ]
I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit (a LOT!!) hesitant to blog about such a touchy and taboo subject. But this is an area of discussion that I truly feel needs to be addressed more openly and honestly, and especially in Christian circles. In not doing so, we are really continuing the hold shame has on us as we remain in the darkness.
And I’m not okay with that.
So here goes.
[Just as a disclaimer from the beginning: if you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the blood of Christ covers over any sin that you could ever commit. You are always right in the eyes of God because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Our salvation has never and will never depend ever on our own self-effort. However, though we are saved, there is a certain level of excellence that we are called to strive for. While how we live our lives can never affect our standing before God, His desire for our best is to live in obedience to Him. As believers, if we struggle and are fighting a long, hard battle with lust, we are still right before God. If we are doing well, we are still right before God. If we struggle and don’t care to live a life of purity, we are still right before God. You get the idea. But also remember, as believers, our lives and our bodies are not our own. They were bought with a price, so we are called to honor God.]
For some reason, God has it written out in RJ and my story to be messengers of the interconnectedness of sexual and gender brokenness between men and women. We have had the great honor and privilege of giving a unique workshop multiple times since we have been married, where RJ will first meet with a group of men and engage in an open discussion on lust and pornography, while I meet with a group of women and engage in an open discussion on our deep desire to be desired at any cost. You know. Normal gendered stuff.
And then we switch it up. We tip the proverbial hand of our gendered issues to the other gender.
So maybe I’m tipping the guys’ hand today with this post. I apologize if I am doing so prematurely for you. But you know, as I was praying about it earlier today, I thought to myself, “I would absolutely HATE for my own son to struggle with pornography one day and live in constant secrecy and bondage for years because he was too ashamed to talk about it.” To me, that would be the greatest tragedy, to waste years of his life in shame. As parents and spiritual leaders, we need to be initiating open discussions about these topics.
I promise I will follow up by tipping the ladies’ hand in a subsequent post, and then write a following post about how one gender’s brokenness feeds into the other gender’s. But like I said, I truly believe it is so important to be openly discussing these issues, not just for our own personal growth, but also so we can better serve our brothers and sisters (or husbands and wives!) in Christ and to prevent you from the relational heartache and difficulty that RJ and I went through as we worked through these issues. Because working through these issues was truly the lowest point of our relationship.
To be honest, it’s always far more earth shattering for women to hear the whole truth of the issues men face than it is the other way around. I always wish I weren’t giving the discussion on women’s issues just so I can listen to my husband share with the women, because he is one of the wisest men I know, and also one of the most honest and sincere men I know, even if it means risking looking like a pervert. And honestly, I also just really want to see the reaction of the women in the room, who are hearing about a man’s constant struggle for the first time.
Before I met RJ, I lived in this naive and innocent world where only perverts and pedophiles looked at pornography. I had a general idea that men struggled with lust, but I really didn’t know to what extent. Or maybe I didn’t really care because it wasn’t relevant to me at the time. But whatever the reason, no one spoke openly and honestly about the extent of a man’s struggle with lust, so I came to develop very unrealistic expectations.
Imagine how hard my world came crashing down when I found out that my new fiancée and future husband, who I was going to start a new life with, who I had great respect for, didn’t just have a problem with pornography and lust in the past, but was struggling with it in the present.
He had been honest in letting me know earlier in our relationship of his previous struggle with pornography, and I was quick to forgive then because it wasn’t a current struggle and I thought it was all over.
But it’s never really over, is it, guys?
No. The struggle is never over. We can fight smarter and we can have more support. But the struggle will always be there.
And I had a huge problem with that.
As we were working through these issues long distance, I talked with many men that I love and respect deeply about this issue that had come up between RJ and I. You know, his problem with lust. His perversion.
And to my great surprise, none of these men were surprised. They had that knowing look on their face. In fact, to my greater surprise, each and every one of these men came forward and admitted their own struggle with pornography and lust. All of these great men who I looked up to; older men, younger men…all of them!!
So what conclusion was I supposed to draw from this?? That each of these great men and my future husband were all perverts or pedophiles, like I previously believed? Or did I need to conclude that I was greatly mistaken and misinformed, and change my perspective of what the real issue was here?
[Which, by the way, I am really thankful for each of these men, and for their openness and honesty in letting me into their junk. It’s not the easiest thing to admit to someone who doesn’t understand your struggle, let alone risk being thought of as a pervert while you do so. These men really honored me and served me greatly by doing so, and they and my husband have helped me come to a much better and realistic understanding of a man’s struggle with lust. They have helped me be able to help other women in understanding this struggle, for the sake of serving our brothers, but also for the sake of extending grace to the men in our lives.]
What I have come to realize is that for some reason, God created most men to respond to visual and sexual stimuli. And I hate to say this, but if you are a man, I just assume that you have struggled with pornography in the past or are currently struggling with lust and pornography. Because it is more likely than not that you are. I am not judging you or condemning you, it is just probability. As women, we have our own struggles that we deal with, so we are no better.
The entertainment industry has picked up on the way men have been wired and have capitalized on it like crazy, as evidenced by the $14 billion pornography industry (according to Forbes.com). With the advent of fast Internet, ease of access, and the secrecy Internet and ease of access allows, pornography has become a temptation that is literally at the reach of your very fingertips, whenever you crave it. It is like being a recovering alcoholic who constantly has six packs of beer in a mini-fridge right by his bed. As long as you have internet and some privacy, it is there tempting you, calling when you are strong but all the more when you are weak.
This, my friends, is what pornography has done to us.
To men, pornography has/can:
- Set up unrealistic expectations for what a woman’s body should look like. And because of that, men either expect their women to look the same way or remain unsatisfied with the way real women look, almost granting them permission to look at other women.
- Set up unrealistic expectations for what sex looks like. Again, if marital sex falls short of these expectations, it could lead to men continually turning to pornography for sexual satisfaction, or worse, to seek sex elsewhere.
- Stunt a man’s emotional and relational growth. It is easier to imagine yourself in a relationship with a fictional woman that you have watched than to be in an authentic relationship where there is a greater risk of rejection or failure. As long as there is the “safety” of pornography to turn to, it may keep men from moving forward in boldness and courage to pursue real and authentic relationships.
- Hold many men in secrecy, bondage, and deep shame. Especially in some Christian communities.
- Become a real addiction. Some men realize soon that they can no longer function without pornography and spend their days planning around this secret addiction.
- Create division between man and God. I can’t even imagine how many young men have kept this a secret and lived in shame because they are too afraid to share with others. And it is in secret and darkness where lies fester and you soon believe that you and God are not on okay terms. You start believing lies like, “How could God love me like this??” And you alienate God, when really, He wants to take you by the hand and walk with you through it.
- Create division between man and woman.
To women, pornography has/can:
- Become their own addiction. Some women struggle with this lust themselves, and all of the ways in which it affects men is applicable. But I wonder if there is often greater shame for women who struggle with pornography, since its not considered “feminine” or is a “guy” thing.
- It can cause self-loathing towards a woman’s own body. A body part I have always felt very insecure about is my boobs. They are quite the opposite of what you would find in pornography or even popular culture. I have been ingrained with the idea that if I don’t look a certain way with a certain bra size, then I’m not a woman but a little girl. And for a while, I had a really deep sense of self-loathing just because my body didn’t meet this unrealistic standard.
- It can cause us to be inauthentic in the bedroom, acting and responding in ways that we think our men desire for us to act and respond. We have a general idea of the pornographic industry and what desirable sex looks like as portrayed by the industry. But we lose authenticity when we act and respond in ways as portrayed by the pornographic industry, and we sell out on our own sexual needs and desires by playing the part we think our husbands want us to play.
- Been the source of great division and relational pain in relationships and marriage, and really, there is a righteous jealousy a woman can feel. No woman wants to wonder if their husband is thinking about another woman while he is with her. None. The Bible is very clear, if a man even lusts after another woman in his mind, it is adultery. It is cheating.
- When a man gets married, his problem with pornography and lust shifts from being his own problem to now his wife’s problem as well, even though it was only his struggle to begin with. And that is something that men need to understand. It is your struggle and it may have nothing to do with us, but it affects us too now in marriage.
So what can we do about this pornography epidemic? And how do we address this now in marriage and in singleness?
- Keep striving for excellence. There will be days where you succeed and days where you fail, but what matters is if you pick yourself up to keep striving. For the sake of your purity, for the sake of your current or future wife, for the sake of your relationship with God. Keep striving.
- You need to be open and honest with where you are at, with your wife and in community with other men (if you are dating, use your own discretion in disclosure). Bringing things into the light always breaks the hold darkness and shame has on you. It is in the light where healing begins.
- Practically, there are computer programs that can help with accountability. Nowadays, the Navigators requires all staff, male or female, to download a program called Covenant Eyes onto their computers. In knowing someone else knows exactly what sites you are visiting, it removes the anonymity that fuels the allure of pornography.
- Seek additional help if you sense it has become an addiction. Whether you seek counseling, pastoral care, or a Sex Addicts Anonymous 12 step group, there are plenty of resources available to you.
- Don’t lose hope. It is a daily, hell, a minute by minute battle. Keep up the good fight!
- Constantly remind yourself of your identity in Jesus. You are not a bad person, you are not a pervert, you are not beyond hope. You are redeemed, you are a son of the King, and you are just a saint who sins sometimes. Don’t let the enemy destroy your worth and value with this, because that will only feed the problem and drive you further into it.
- Don’t tolerate your man looking at pornography. You shouldn’t have to and it’s not right. It is a form of adultery and that is not okay.
- BUT, at the same time, show him abundant grace. I don’t know that there is quite the extreme constant battle that women face that we can easily relate to, but if he is honest-to-goodness trying, show him grace. I wish I could tell engaged Alice this, because she just gave engaged RJ hell over it. Months of hell. Which leads me to my next point…
- Separate yourself from his struggle. For me, the reason I gave him hell over his struggle was because I thought it was a reflection on how I wasn’t good enough. I thought it was all about me (isn’t everything?? J/k). It threatened my sense of being. It threatened my security. But in reality, we as women really have nothing to do with a man’s struggle. It was there before he met you and it will continue to be a struggle even as you are married. It is in separating ourselves from his struggle that we can remain grounded and are then able to extend grace.
- Good Lord, don’t try to be his accountability partner!!! Leave it to another man to do this! You’ll drive yourself nuts. I do ask RJ to tell me if he’s messed up, but for the nitty gritty details, his male accountability can do that. Because it hits so close to home for us, it is just easier for us to stay detached and not know the details.
- Be your man’s biggest fan!! Respect your husband and the men in your life no matter what. The Bible doesn’t say to respect your husband “only if he does no wrong.” The call to respect is for always. This is in attitude and action, and if a man’s needs for respect is being met in real life, chances are he will no longer need a fantasy relationship to feel respected, or a “safety” to turn to when he feels down about himself.
Like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I write about these issues to begin an open discussion on a hush-hush, taboo topic. These were things that I wish I knew about men before I found out the hard way, and these are things that perhaps if I knew, I would have been better able to love, forgive, and extend grace to RJ back when we were engaged. We need to be talking about these things.
I also hope that in writing about these issues to begin the process of releasing captives from darkness and moving towards more authentic and honest relationships and marriages, because there is just something gospel-like about someone knowing you for all your junk and still choosing to stand beside you as you work through it together.
It’s transformative. It’s freeing.
If you have any additional thoughts or comments, please let me know. I would love to hear them. Though I wonder if there might be a blaring silence from the men on this post, hahaha.
Thanks for reading my thoughts! And endless thanks to my courageous and redeemed husband, for allowing me to share our story with a wider audience. It is because of his authenticity, his openness, and his honesty that many have been brought out of the darkness and into the light.
Stay tuned for the next part of this series, What Chick Flicks Have Done To Us.