It’s a Battle
The work of pursuing healing in our lives and relationships confronts us with the ways in which our understanding of intimacy and desire have been skewed. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to pornography. Here, Robyn Whitaker argues that this is not just a problem for men. Robyn pulls from her own story of the battle with pornography to wonder what it looks like to move toward healing, wholeness, and freedom.
It seems in most church circles, pornography is almost always considered a male problem. After all, it is “every man’s battle.” While the latter may be true, it is reckless for the church, other institutions, or culture to categorize women as if they are immune to lust.
In the summer of 1973, I eagerly bound from the car and ran up the front porch stairs where family had gathered to greet us. It had been a long journey from the beach views of San Diego to the plains of Kansas. The family roadtrip held no overnights, with the only opportunities to get out and move at golden-arched McDonald’s, wilderness rest areas, and Midwest Dairy Queens.
There was a special brown bag of treats specifically for travel and fiercely guarded by my mother, who managed the distribution of lemon drops, red licorice, sunflower seeds, beef jerky, and—best of all—Doritos and Cheez-Its. She also made sure there were apples, carrots, and GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts). I brought games, pencils, paper, Nancy Drew mysteries and Archie comics to occupy my time. My sister and I played the license plate game, tic-tac-toe, hangman, and giggled at our handmade folded paper fortunes. I watched majestic mountains, hot western deserts, flat lands, and glittery stars pierce the dark wide open spaces that rolled past my backseat window. Dreams filled my head of living out wild adventures within each scene. Neon lights of gas stations and 24-hour truck stops held an excitement I cannot explain—other than I was 12, out in the world in the middle of the night and watching the most fascinating people I’d ever seen.
Once out of the car, I was ready for a cold drink, climbing trees, and my step-grandmother’s legendary crispy fried chicken.
I was 12 years old when I was first introduced to porn. It was a sly ruse that preyed upon my innate curiosity. Barely in the house, instructions were given not to go into one of the adult’s bedrooms because of “dirty” magazines. Besides my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens, my magazine genre included: Jack and Jill, Highlights, Kids National Geographic, Weekly Reader, and Reader’s Digest. So I could not imagine what “dirty” magazines meant; you bet I had questions. The grown-ups’ response was to repeat the order to stay out of the room and, they added, not to look in the corner or under his bed.
Of course I looked. And yes I was aroused, but the glossy images left me confused. To my eyes these were not dirty pictures. I found them breathtakingly beautiful. My heart ached for a soft curvy grown-up body just like the women upon those pages. Enraptured by their glorious feminine shapes, I thought of nothing else as I gently turned the pages. There was so much stirring inside of me. I could feel the energy. Then I was caught, with not a word spoken—simply a closing of the magazine, a creepy look, and words to join the family downstairs. I suddenly felt dirty.
I had other brushes with pornography: walking to school in 8th grade where pages of airbrushed women littered the sidewalk, R-rated movies of the ‘70s watched as a family, soft-porn soap operas watched with my mother during holidays and summer vacation, oiled images of both sexes brought to high school gym class by a friend, and the detailed romance novels read in a corner by the smart girl in my Business Math class.
For decades I thought I walked away from all of those experiences without the very real and common struggles related to the exposure of pornographic sensuality. Over the past 25 years of engaging my sexual abuse narratives, I have come to understand that my 12-year-old experience was part of the set-up for years of sexual abuse by the family member who caught me looking at the magazine. I know the toll of a childhood interrupted due to that abuse, and I have spent time in grief and welcoming back younger parts of my heart. But regarding troubles directly related to viewing pornography, I was one of the lucky ones—no addiction to pornography, no craving for romance novels that conjured up the same kind of images to my mind.
Recently while leading a group through Dan Allender’s Healing the Wounded Heart, I was working through the questions in “Stage Three: Entering the Dark Woods.” There were no surprises in the words on page 71:
Another way the enemy schemes to damage us is through pornography. Pornography arouses the body through the production of dopamine as sexual scenes or images are present. Many consider looking at pornography wrong but mostly innocuous unless it becomes an addiction. The truth is it is a subtle form of sexual abuse that is often the precursor to more overt abuse. Many abusers use pornography as an instructional tool to normalize sexual violation and teach a child how to perform sexually. Even when the pornography comes from a peer, it is often shared both as a boast of greater sophistication and as a means to arouse; thus, it’s still sexually abusive. The images and associations that remain in a child’s brain often loom over sexual experiences in adulthood.
As I said, no surprises. But the last sentence kept tugging at my brain and heart as I answered the questions that followed. I told myself at least two times that the images had no impact on my sexual experiences as an adult. Exhaling loudly, I continued to answer the questions.
How do these images intrude into your sex life with your partner today?
Again, I told myself that the images did not intrude into my sex life with my partner. I had honestly not thought about them in decades, and I certainly wasn’t thinking about them while I was making love with my husband.
“Really?” spoke the still and quiet voice. Not a hint of shaming, only compassion. It caught me by surprise.
“What, me? No way! What are you saying?”
I was disrupted and couldn’t ignore what was going on inside of me. And then there it was: seemingly out of nowhere, a piece of truth dropped right into my mind and heart.
“Oh Robyn, you have been comparing your body to those breathtakingly beautiful images for over 43 years. They have been with you every time you look in a mirror, take a shower, put on a bathing suit, shop for a bra, slip under the covers with your husband, and when you admire the cleavage of another woman. You have lusted over a body that is not yours.”
It’s true I have been in a war with my body off and on for years. It is time to rest. And no, I don’t have it all figured out. I have named pornography’s damage and know that my sexuality has been hijacked with lies and needs the protection of Jesus. It is time to reclaim my image from the enemy and no longer spread out the welcome mat for it to oppress my sexuality.
That all sounds really good—and there’s going to be a fight. The enemy has had this ground for decades. It has started upon my knees with confession of my lust, renouncement of comparison, forgiveness for how I have been harmed by others and myself, and I have asked for every false belief I have held about my sexuality to be revealed. (I have found Ransomed Heart’s prayer for sexual healing to be a meaningful guide.)
This struggle runs deep within my core. There will be no simple prayer that fixes everything. I may find I need to name and pray through all of this more than once, perhaps many, many times to fully experience the freedom I know that God has for me. I am ready to fight well for this part of my sexuality. And I cannot do it alone. Yes, I will need the “solace of the Spirit, the kindness of Jesus and the strength of the Father,” as Dan says. The naming of the lie has already created a change within me as I am intentionally seeking ways to name the truth about the beauty of my unique form. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll find shopping for a bathing suit a glorious experience this year—I’m going to take it one step at a time.
It seems odd to have walked the path towards wholeness for over two decades and have this just now coming forward. I am not sure why this workbook, this question, was the nudge to think differently about my pornography experiences. Why now? My best answer is that it was simply time for this part of my sexual healing.
So church, pornography is not merely a battle for men. You don’t talk about it much, but it is happening, and women are left to struggle in silence. Sadly it has touched this woman’s life immeasurably. Will you open your eyes and hearts and extend to us the safe spaces of care you have given men for decades?
Women, perhaps the effects have been different for you. Maybe you are craving a fix right now. Or possibly, like me, you thought you had navigated pornography with no residual debris. But porn always leaves a painful legacy. It kills a sense of healthy self-worth as we are lured by the enemy to forget we are created in God’s image. Always. My wish is that you will seek out safe communities filled with hope where you are able to walk the path towards healing and greater freedom.
The battle is real. Healing is possible through Jesus Christ.
I’m counting on it!