Porn Addiction and Shame Thrive in Darkness

I was 11 years old when I was first exposed to porn. It happened by accident. Growing up, for as long as I could remember I always had a TV with full cable in my bedroom and I watched it often.

tv picOne evening I was scrolling through the channels looking for something to watch. Back then there used to be scrambled channels – which are those channels you had to pay extra money for but sometimes you could see scrambled images of them and even hear audio at times. When I was scrolling through the channels something caught my eye on one of the scrambled ones. I got curious and kept watching. It turns out that this channel was the Playboy Channel. I felt good while watching it, so I watched it again the next day. Then the day after that, then the day after that and so on.

What started as a habit quickly turned into an addiction. I discovered other similar scrambled channels so I would scroll through them each night to get my “fix.” Over time I started to build up a tolerance to these images – I had to watch them longer and longer each night in order to satisfy my desires. Eventually masturbation started to come into play. This is how I would spend several nights a week for years.

I always knew deep down that what I was doing was wrong – I didn’t quite know how it was wrong at first but I knew nonetheless. I mean, why else was I going to great measures to hide this from everyone? I would only do this at night when my parents were asleep and even then I would keep the TV volume down low and lock my bedroom door. During the day, I literally pretended that this part of my life just did not exist. I continued to play the part of the perfect daughter and student who got good grades, didn’t do drugs, and wasn’t having sex with boys.

I was raised Catholic and always believed in God and knew that He was real. During high school my relationship with God started to deepen. I would journal about Him, turn to Him when I was upset, and I wanted to understand Him more. It was around my junior year of high school that I made a resolve to just stop watching porn and masturbation.

It actually worked for a little while – I went months without giving in. But then life started to hit me from all sides and I became weak and gave into the one thing that made me feel good – even if it was temporary. And I fell back into my addiction hard.

When I was about 17 I received my first laptop with wireless internet capabilities. Things changed upon receiving this laptop; a whole new realm opened up to me and it was too tempting to resist.

So I switched into watching pornographic videos on the internet. I wanted this all to stop so badly. I felt horrible and disgusted with myself after each time I gave into my addiction. I still pretended that this all didn’t exist – I couldn’t deal with the fact that there was something wrong with me.

When I moved away to college I wanted a fresh start to almost every aspect of my life – including my porn and masturbation habit. For my first two years of college, I actually didn’t watch any porn and my masturbation habit has stopped altogether since then. It helped that during that time I had to share a room with someone else and I lived with 20 other girls in one house, so it was hard to be alone!

I also wanted to grow in my relationship with God and understand my Catholic faith better. I started going to the Catholic Student Center. I started out with just a weekly Bible study but it grew from there and before I knew it I was part of a wonderful faithful student community. I was forming solid friendships with others my age who had the same faith – it was a wonderful period in my life!

When I stopped watching porn and my masturbation habit; I also wanted to forget they ever happened. I remember telling myself that this was a secret that I would take to my grave. I believed that if I simply didn’t think about any of this, it would just fade away on its own some day.

But as I formed these new, holy friendships and grew closer to God, these terrible memories didn’t fade away. They were always there pressing into the back of my mind. That shame, “If people really knew what you did, they would be disgusted by you,” would still come through and caused me to carry a weight deep down in my heart.

In the spring semester of my freshman year, I attended a retreat with a local Catholic student center. It was during that retreat that I realized that my relationship with God could not go any further until I let go of this weight that I had been carrying around for years.

It was on that retreat that I made a decision to return to the sacrament of Confession. This was a sacrament that I had misunderstood for years. I always told myself that Confession wasn’t necessary but deep down I also knew that in accepting Confession I would have to confess these sins out loud to a priest. The thought of both acknowledging that these sins existed and confessing them to another person terrified me for years – so this decision to go back to Confession was not an easy one.

I went to Confession on that retreat and told the priest that I had struggled with pornography and masturbation for years. He told me that my sins were forgiven by God and I walked out of that confessional a new person. For the first time in YEARS I did not feel that heavy weight on my heart any more.

To this day I have never been the same person that I was before I went into that confessional – God showed me His mercy that night and brought tremendous graces and blessings. ! He showed me that He loved me despite my sins and despite how ashamed I felt of myself deep down. He gave me the freedom to acknowledge my sins and to finally let them go to receive His forgiveness.

I will never forget that wonderful experience of returning to Confession. And this is the part of the story where I wish I can say that my struggle with pornography addiction ended, but I can’t.

A lot of amazing things happened in my life over the next year and a half after this retreat: I continued to grow in my faith and I was forming healthy, faith-centered relationships within my local church community.

But something else happened too – I slipped. It started out small but then my addiction came back into my life at full force. For reasons I couldn’t understand, desires that had not been a problem for me for two years were suddenly enslaving my life. I could not go two days, let alone a whole week, without giving into this addiction.

I felt much worse during this time in my life than I had when I was younger and struggled with this same problem. Because this time I knew the full implications of what I was doing. I knew how much danger my soul was in and how offensive my sins were to God. I felt so ashamed because I had experienced so many great things over the past two years and now I was tarnishing it all.

I wanted help so badly, but I felt so ashamed and had no idea if there were any other women in my community who also struggled with this; I didn’t know who to turn to. So I turned to no one. I would go to confession every time I gave in, but I didn’t confide in anyone about what was going on. I was so fragile at this point that I was afraid of being rejected and misunderstood by those I loved, so I tried to rely on my own understanding which definitely didn’t work.

I searched the internet for resources but most of the resources were directed at men – hardly anything was out there for Christian women who struggled with this sin. This only added to the loneliness and isolation I felt.

A lack of resources was no excuse for continuing to give-in to my addiction, but I highlight this because I want other people to understand that this is a real problem among women and it needs to be talked about and addressed. Thankfully now as I write this, there is much greater awareness of this issue and ministries have been forming to bring hope and healing to women going through this struggle.
After that one, dark stretch of struggling through this addiction alone every day, I continued to struggle with it on a sporadic basis. May 2011 was the last time I ever gave into my addiction.

It’s been over three years now and I’m thankful that these dark desires are not that strong anymore, though I still struggle with temptation from time to time. I have found that a disciplined prayer life, which includes weekly fasting, has brought me tremendous graces in dealing with this struggle.

Unfortunately, my addiction is still a big secret I have kept from my friends and family all these years. I have yet to talk extensively with another person about my past struggles. That’s part of why I’m writing this all down now and sharing it with anyone who will read it: Pornography addiction thrives in the darkness and I can no longer keep my struggles out of the light.

I’m sharing this story partly for my own personal healing; it’s a first step in what I hope will be a new journey to deeper healing. I’ve come to a point in my life where I’ve realized that God cannot give me the graces and gifts He longs to give if I continue to hang onto this big secret.

I also hope that my story will help other women currently going through this struggle. If any of you are reading this right now, I want you to know three things:

1. You are NOT alone and you are NOT defined by your sins.

2. Pray daily and try to fast from something that brings you comfort, at least once a week. Christ told us: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)

3. Tell someone. Whether it’s a pastor, a trusted friend, or a counselor, talk to someone about what you’re going through.

I’m still struggling with number three so I ask for anyone reading this to keep me in your prayers, and know that I will be keeping all of you in my prayers as well.

Porn Almost Destroyed my Marriage

So. Pornography.  I have been watching this website for a while and I hoped that someone else would write about this. Hasn’t happened.  I wish I didn’t have a story to tell, but maybe if I tell my story it will help someone else avoid or end a pornography story in her life.  I hope that when you read this you are shocked and outraged at how naïve or stupid I was, because that would mean that you are much better equipped to defend yourself against pornography than I was.  Here goes.

When my husband and I were dating, I knew that he possessed a couple of old Playboy magazines.  I never saw them.  I never found him viewing them.  They were old.  I think the story was that he had found them under his older brother’s bed one day and kept them.  I really didn’t give it much thought.  I wasn’t very familiar with men.  I didn’t have brothers.  I didn’t have close male friends.  I’m not sure, maybe I thought it was just a “male” thing that I hadn’t been exposed to.  What I had read in novels led me to believe that a Playboy magazine under the bed was possibly a rite of passage.  This was before the internet, before internet porn.

Shortly after getting married we moved into a new house in a neighborhood that was new to us.  One weekend we went to the local video store to rent a movie.   When we went inside, my husband disappeared into a back room labeled “Adult.”  I didn’t even realize what was in there.  He came out after a few minutes and wanted me to join him.  I went in with him and it took me about 2 seconds to realize that I was not interested in the videos on those shelves.  I was repulsed.  I left.

My husband rented an adult movie and brought it home to watch.  I refused to watch it with him. He told me that I was a party pooper.   It was a tense weekend.  He continued to go back and rent adult movies a few times a month.  He would pressure me to watch them with him.  It was a big source of tension between us.  I would tell him that they were wrong and I wasn’t interested.  He would tell me that I was frigid and a prude and there was nothing wrong because we were married.  I didn’t know how to articulate it but in the depth of my being I knew these movies were wrong.  Just thinking about my husband watching them would cause a cloud of darkness and shame to wash over me.  I was Catholic, but I didn’t know my faith, didn’t even know what a catechism was, let alone that I could consult it.  I couldn’t ask my sisters; I was too ashamed.  I couldn’t consult the internet; it didn’t exist.  I was isolated and discouraged.  His persistence started to wear me down and I started to believe him.  Maybe there was something wrong with me.  Why didn’t I want to watch these movies with him?  Why did I feel like he had been with another woman when he was only watching a movie?  He wanted me to join him.  I was his wife.  Was I supposed to join him?

Marriage was not what I had thought it was going to be.  My husband’s new hobby cast a shadow over every aspect of our marriage.  I was miserable.  I gave in and began watching the movies with him.

He was happy, or at least superficially he was.  Most days, I felt dead inside for the length of each movie.  It was as though I turned myself off and retreated  into myself to avoid what I was subjecting myself to. There were other days though, days when I found myself curious and enjoyed a  moment of the movie.  Those moments of enjoyment were followed by confusion, shame, remorse, and a deep darkness.  What was happening to me? What was I becoming?  The darkness wasn’t over when the movie ended either; it lingered.   It became something that I endured once or twice a month in order to keep peace in my marriage.  What irony!  I watched pornography to try to improve my marriage.

And then we moved to another state.  Two beautiful, joyous, wonderful things came along with that move.  First, there was no adult movie store in our new neighborhood, so the movie viewing stopped! (Praise be to God, still no internet!)  Second, after a few years we started attending church.  By the time we started going to church the internet was a reality and so was internet porn.  Thankfully my husband did not return to his porn usage.  One Sunday our pastor preached about the evils of pornography.  I was so happy and relieved. I finally had someone on my side! I also finally had some understanding of the Church’s teachings about it.

CCC 2354   Pornography…offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other.  It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actor, vendors, the public),…it is a grave offense.

Basically, sex is something filled with beauty and dignity and watching others do it degrades it.

There were so many other joys that came with learning about and practicing my Catholic faith.  So many wonderful resources, and the sacraments as well.  The sacraments of the Church are transformative.  Confession gave me absolution and helped me to forgive myself, to let go of the shame.   It took time and counseling before I forgave my husband.  In the words of my counselor “your husband was young and stupid.  He knows better now, and his actions show it.  Forgive him; let go.”  Marriage is a journey to Christ, and our detour into pornography was both damaging and dangerous.   But the beauty of Catholicism is that all things can be redeemed through the sacraments and Christ!

Women today have it harder because internet porn is ubiquitous and so easily accessed.  One good thing that has come out of this scourge of porn is that it has raised society’s awareness of how destructive and addicting it is.  Pornography exploits, objectifies  and uses women.  It devastates marriages and families.  According to one study “Pornography users increasingly see the institution of marriage as sexually confining and have diminished belief in the importance of marital faithfulness.”1   Another study finds 56% of divorce cases involving “one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”2

If pornography has become a part of your story, you do not have to look far to find help.  Go to your diocesan website to look for resources.  Most dioceses have resources on their websites under the Office of Marriage and Family. You could also search on pornography, but be sure that you are in the diocese’s search bar and not Google!

Here is the link for the Archdiocese of Denver.  It contains links to many helpful resources.

http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/6147/

Editors note:  This author and her husband are blessed. I don’t mean to diminish her suffering in any way but they are truly blessed that her husband did not become addicted as is so often the case with internet pornography. Praise be to God! 

If you or your spouse have an attachment to internet pornography, don’t be discouraged if your journey to recovery involves more of a struggle or effort than has been detailed in this story. In addition to the sacraments, recovery from pornography addiction often requires counseling and/or a twelve step group.  There are many Catholic and Christian counselors who are experienced in dealing with this devastating addiction.

1 Patrick F. Fagan, PhD, The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriages, & Community (December 2009).

2 Jill Manning, Senate Testimony, November 10, 2005, referencing: J. Dedmon, “Is the Internet bad for your marriage? Online affairs, pornographic sites playing greater role in divorces,” 2002, press release from American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 14.