Hi, my name is Alice and I used to struggle with pornography and masturbation.
What caused your struggle?
I can identify a number of factors and events which contributed to my gradual descent into the world of pornography. It occurred over many years, beginning when I was just twelve.
I was incredibly sheltered as a child. My parents didn’t talk about sex, let alone pornography. They believed I didn’t need to know about sex until after I was married, and any questions which related to the topic were quickly shut down. Because of this, I wasn’t given adequate education about my developing body or what would occur during puberty.
I was completely naïve, so when I began to develop an awareness of my sexuality and was randomly exposed to online pornography at twelve, I had no words for what I was seeing. I was ill-equipped to identify what I was looking at, and to react in a healthy way.
Instead, I became hooked.
Online porn started to fill the blanks my parents had left. As an avid reader, I branched out into erotic fiction as well and became obsessed with this whole new world of naked bodies and excitement. It provided me with a growing vocabulary for the things I was trying to understand, and it gave me a rush of new feelings and sensations which I began to crave more and more.
The second contributor to my eventual addiction was my experience of bullying and assault during high school.
From fourteen to seventeen, I mostly ditched the online porn and self-exploration of my childhood. I had a real boyfriend and was exploring sexuality with him, instead.
We were both bullied relentlessly over the years, and this led to a total mental breakdown. I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression, but this was only diagnosed years later.
Without any diagnosis, support or intervention my mental health deteriorated and I engaged with a range of unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the pain. I self-harmed, drank, isolated myself, shop-lifted and experienced overwhelming rage.
I was vulnerable and had a deep sense of worthlessness. I had a strong distrust of people, including my own parents. I felt they had let me down yet again, in not protecting me, or equipping me to stand up for myself. I shut them out, and my anger burned toward them.
This leads to the third and most powerful event that eventually led me directly back to porn and masturbation.
When I was eighteen, I began dating a non-Christian guy I barely knew. I was flattered by his attention, and immediately accepted his request to become exclusive. Despite a nagging feeling in my gut that something about him wasn’t quite right, my desperation overcame. I was parched and dying for affirmation and love. I believed he could provide the satisfaction I longed for.
I was wrong.
Despite being aware I intended to wait until marriage for sex, he pressured me into submitting to his request. Using alcohol, pressure and relentless mocking, he emotionally manipulated me into sleeping with him. I said ‘yes’ to his request that first night, but I didn’t mean it. I was vulnerable and needy, and he made me choose between ‘love and affection’ and being totally shamed. It was not a fair choice.
Because I was so desperate for some kind of intimacy and affirmation, I continued sleeping with him even when he became abusive. He would humiliate, criticise and degrade me while I was at my most vulnerable. He told me I wasn’t good enough. He shamed my body, and exploited my insecurities and fears. I could never compare to his porn star expectations.
By the grace of God, we broke up. But once single, I had space to feel my repressed emotions and ask the scary questions, like:
‘why was sex so bad?!’
‘What was wrong with me?’
‘How can I fix myself?’
I returned to pornography and masturbation in my seeking. It was an ‘education’. I wanted to learn how to have good sex, so I would never be humiliated again. Like my naïve twelve-year-old self, I still didn’t understand intimacy and was seeking answers in all the wrong places.
My ‘education’ eventually became an escape from reality. I needed to find a place where nothing hurt, where shame didn’t reign and I could be powerful and desired. I became lost in a fantasy realm.
I was scared, wounded and ashamed. Everything in my life felt like a mess, and there seemed no way out, except to dissolve into the screen of my laptop or phone for hours at a time to medicate the pain.
So, what caused my struggle? Ultimately, I chose to seek out porn and masturbate on my own. But the foundation of my childhood, early exposure, vulnerability, mental illness and finally the abuse which made me question everything about sex and myself drove me to seek answers, and more importantly to seek medication for my shame and pain.
How long have you struggled with this issue?
I first viewed porn and began obsessively sexually acting out when I was twelve. However, I soon stopped this behaviour and only returned to it when I was eighteen. From this point, it took until I was about twenty-three to find real freedom.
What led you to your healing journey?
After keeping this my secret for so long, I was exhausted. One evening at Church, I broke down. The Pastor preached words which could only be from God. I felt like He was staring into my soul and speaking only to me. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and love. In that moment, God showed me that He saw my struggle, and wanted to lead me into freedom. It was such a relief, I cried for hours.
As I wept, a woman from the congregation approached me. We had never met, but as she held me and listened to my hot, messy confession, something incredible happened. She said the most powerful words imaginable: ‘me too’.
She told me freedom was possible, and I tasted hope for the first time in years.
She encouraged me to tell my best friend, so I could get accountable. When I told her, she also responded by saying ‘me too! I thought I was the only one!’.
Just because I had God and some friends on my side didn’t mean it was easy. It took me years to find freedom, and it took accountability, honesty, restriction, professional therapy, prayer and group support. I had to work through my PTSD and family issues, I had to forgive and delve deep into pains I had in my heart.
I also had to restore intimacy, joy, fun and hope into my life. I had to relearn how to have healthy friendships and relationships. I had to build up my confidence in myself and my ability to take up space and be heard.
What were the obstacles you encountered in your healing journey?
Because I struggled with a complex mental illness and had experienced multiple traumas, it took a long time to heal. Pain has a way of holding on, and finding new ways to express itself.
Healing meant facing, and feeling all of my pain and fear. I used pornography to mask my insecurities, anxieties and wounds. Taking that away meant I had to acknowledge each and every one of them, and work through them in a healthy way. This was not easy. In fact, everything in recovery felt like the opposite of what I wanted to do. Most of the time, I felt like a fragile and scared wounded creature. It was tough when new emotions and issues arose, too. I had a huge backlog of emotions to deal with, so it was very easy to become overwhelmed.
It was also just really difficult having technology everywhere. It felt impossible to live without my laptop and phone as a student, but that was where my addiction lived.
How are you doing now?
These days, I am married to an incredible man who makes me feel valued, heard, loved and cared for each and every day. He understands my journey, and does his best to support me however I need.
It’s been three years since I’ve compulsively used pornography. I have had a handful of lapses in that time, but I have learned to treat myself with compassion and move forward. I am proud of how far I have come.
I still face temptation at times, and do ongoing recovery work. I also still deal with the realities of depression, anxiety and residual PTSD symptoms. But life is different now.
Instead of isolating myself in a digital world of sex, these days I spend my time writing blogs and speaking about women’s struggles with pornography, masturbation and sex. I share my testimony and seek to support other women in recovery. It’s incredibly healing to do this and a great blessing and sign of how far God has brought me.
What would you say to other women struggling with porn and masturbation?
You are not alone.
Never for one second believe you are the odd one out, a freak or especially sinful because you struggle with sex. You are in pain and doing your best to survive.
There is help for you, and there is genuine freedom.
You need to tell someone about your struggle, and delve deep into your heart.
Oh, and don’t forget to let yourself have some fun, too! Recovering from addiction isn’t all about restriction, it’s about adding to your life and growing healthy intimacy and joy!