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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Girls Addicted To Porn Too?

Jessica searched for help for her porn addiction. What she found disturbed her. 

SOURCE 

Slowly but surely, the churches and the culture are waking up to the fact that we have been swamped by a tsunami, and that millions of men are hooked on pornography. It’s destroying marriages. It’s destroying careers. It’s destroying souls.

But there is still one thing almost no one is talking about: It’s destroying girls, too. And not just the porn stars who are wrecked through abuse and violence on porn sets. I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of girls who are watching pornography that no one talks about, and that no one recognizes.



I’d wondered about the statistics for a long time. In 2015, Covenant Eyes estimated that 76% of women between the ages of 18 and 30 view pornography at least once a month, and a full 21% of women view pornography several times a week. And yet, there seems to be so few women coming forward, and so few stories of women who have struggled with porn. I’ve talked to hundreds of men, but only three women have ever come forward to talk to me about their struggles with porn. Many people seemed shocked that there are girls who watch porn at all.
To find out more about the stories behind the statistics, I called Jessica Harris. She grew up in a conservative church community. She went to church every Sunday. And yet, at age thirteen, Jessica saw pornography for the first time, and it began to destroy her quietly, in the shadows, where no one was listening and no one could even understand. After all, the trope goes, girls don’t watch porn. Porn is only a guy thing, and a guy sin. Boys should be warned away from the stuff. Girls, most assume, don’t need to be told—because they’re immune from this sort of toxin. Because they are girls.
“We never were told about this thing, pornography,” Harris remembers.
We were never even alerted that it was a thing. At least the women, the girls weren’t. In my family it wasn’t mentioned, it wasn’t talked about. So when I found it, I didn’t even have a word for it and it was like, ‘What is this?’ I grew up in a church but I did go to a public school. I thought that this must be what all my friends are talking about, the stuff that they’re watching online. But I was in junior high, a freshman in high school and I didn’t have a category for it, I didn’t have a context for it, I didn’t have anything for it.
But it fascinated her. She started watching it. At first, Harris thought that this meant that porn might not be all that bad. In fact, it might even be useful.
I really didn’t think it was actually too much of a problem for a couple of years that I used it. I thought, ‘Well I’m not actually going out and having sex, so this is safe. So we’ll just go ahead and we’ll do this.’ And there’s no STDs, there’s no pregnancy. You don’t have to worry about abortion. You don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. [Porn was] totally safe and when I first started, I felt like I could turn it on and turn it off whenever I wanted to, like I was completely in control of it. I didn’t really feel the need to tell anybody because I didn’t necessarily think it was wrong. It seemed like a safe form of expression for me…It’s how I can sound like I’m in the know with my friends at school. It’s how I can talk the talk and know what they’re talking about. It’s how I can feel acceptable and connected.
Addictions, of course, can never be controlled. They always end up controlling you, before you either break free...or they break you. Porn addiction is no different, and Jessica soon felt herself being dragged down. Porn began to dominate her life.
“It wasn’t until my junior year of high school where it really started to wreak havoc,” she said. “It was like I needed this, I had to have it, and I was staying up late at night … I was struggling to keep my grades up. I was not sleeping well. I just felt like even on the days where I didn’t want to do it, it was like my body was just doing it for me. I would say ‘Not today, not today, not today,’ and my feet would hit the floor and they walked to the computer on their own - and I hated not being in control anymore.”
She struggled to reassert control by any means necessary, and with desperation metastasizing into panic. Porn was powerful. In fact, it was more powerful than she could ever have imagined.
I would print off pictures and light them on fire because I wanted to prove that I was stronger,” she remembered, the experience still raw. “I would save images to floppy disks - this was back in the day - and I would just break the disks apart in this rage and in this anger. I would run a magnet along the middle and slice it up with scissors because I wanted to prove that I was stronger. And when that didn’t work, I started to actually go into self-harm. If I wasn’t able to stop myself, if I did go to the computer and I did watch five hours or however long because I was home alone, I would go into the bathroom when I was done and just bang my head against the bathtub because I was so mad. And I thought that if I can make this hurt, then I’ll stop. When that didn’t work, I would turn on the shower really, really hot and get used to it for a bit then turn it on even hotter until my skin was bright red. I was just trying to get it to stop.
I finally decided to Google or to search for help with porn addiction or porn, and everything was for men, and that was the first time I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what does this mean? Why isn’t there something out there for women? What is going on? I don’t understand.’ Then I started searching for women who struggle and there was nothing. So then I kind of panicked, because if there’s nothing out there then how am I going to get out of this? If no one’s talking about this, if there’s nothing for me then how am I going to get out of here?
Worst of all, Jessica began to have a horrible feeling: That she was the only girl with this problem. Only she looked at porn. That’s why there was no help available anywhere—because she was the only girl who needed it. On some anti-porn sites targeted at men, she read about how degrading and violent porn was towards women. What is wrong with me? she wondered. When she headed off to Bible college, her porn addiction came with her. Here, she thought, there would surely be help for someone like her.
“I had prayed that I would get caught,” she related, “because I thought if anyone has resources and can help, it’s the people, the dean of staff, at college. Surely they’ve seen this before. Surely I’m not the only girl who has this problem. Surely they can help me. But I was terrified to be the one to start that conversation. I did not want to walk into the dean’s office and introduce myself and say, ‘and by the way I struggle with porn.’”
I did get caught a few weeks into school, and was summoned to the dean’s office. They had the Internet history report from my login. They had that on the desk, all printed off, and someone had gone through and highlighted all of the websites that were obviously pornographic. And by that point, I was into very dark and very twisted fetishes. I had gone from plain vanilla to scaring myself with what I was watching. They were just sickened, and they said, ‘This is disgusting. This is twisted. Whoever is doing this really needs help.’ And I was ready to say yes if they would’ve asked me, ‘Was this you?’ I would’ve said yes. But I never got that chance. The conversation quickly turned to, ‘Well, this wasn’t you. Women don’t have this problem.’ I was then berated for giving my password and login information to guys on campus. They assumed that I had just given it out to my guy friends so that they could use it for whatever they wanted. That’s what they accused me of. They made me sign a contract saying I would never give out my password again, and I signed it and then went back to my dorm room.
It was after leaving the dean’s office that Jessica finally gave up. “I just felt like the only way I can live with this, with myself, because there’s obviously something very wrong with me, was if I just went into the industry because it didn’t make sense that I was the only woman in the world,” she said. “Obviously some women must do this, and there’s other women who are actually in porn themselves so those must be the only women who actually like this stuff. That’s why I actually thought of going into the industry and where I got to in my life. I went from wanting to be a doctor and getting straight A’s to just saying, ‘Forget it, I can’t keep doing it, can’t keep playing this game of being perfect and of hitting all these goals and being successful while I’m dragging all this along with me. If I can’t get out of it then the only way I can live with myself is just to join it.’”
Harris resigned herself to her fate. She entered an online relationship with a man, and sent him explicit pictures. She made plans to join the porn industry, which is where she thought the only other women in the world who understood her were. But then, as she relates on her website dedicated to helping women and girls who struggle with porn, something changed:
The following year, after leaving that college, I was at a different college, trying to figure out how to live life with this big ugly secret and wondering if I should just join the adult industry and be done with it. During a women’s meeting at that college, a member of the dean staff stood at the front and said,
“We know some of you struggle with pornography and masturbation and we’re going to help.”
That moment was so freeing. It was the first time I realized that not only was I not alone, it was OK that I was struggling where I was. I wasn’t beyond hope!
The years since have been a continuing journey of freedom. It’s more than just not looking at porn. It’s about healing and discovering life without the crushing weight of shame and fear.
Jessica Harris is now committed to giving other women and girls that same experience of freedom, that moment where someone finally realizes that they are not alone, that there are others who do understand, and that there is a path to freedom. She travels about North America, speaking to audiences about her story—a story that connects with women just like her, who felt they were utterly alone, until someone stood in front of a room and promised that she understood. People need to know that women will not come forward as quickly, she says.
Men will come forward when it starts to possibly threaten their relationship or maybe their wife catches them,” Harris told me. “They might just come forward because they’re tired of dealing with it or because they want to talk about it whereas women will go the other way. They will work super hard to protect this because it’s so shameful and so much a part of who they are. At the same time, they’re trying to untangle it, trying to figure out how to separate themselves from it. They will almost actually create another persona of this perfect woman who has it all together and they will push really hard to be her. I have women write to me who are pastors’ wives, missionaries, they’re worship leaders, they’re nuns. These are women who are pushing hard to look like they have it all together and try to almost convince themselves that, ‘No you don’t have to be like that woman in the video. You are worth something. You don’t have to be like that.’ So they almost live this double life that they’re trying to navigate between. A woman won’t really come forward to get help on her own until she’s at a breaking point and until a fear that wherever she is going – addiction - scares her more than the fear of somebody knowing. They don’t really come forward other than out of terror. When we reach out to men it’s more of a behavior modification, whereas with women it’s an identity crisis. It’s saving them from where they think they personally are going.
How about those statistics from Covenant Eyes, I asked Jessica—are those right? Or are they a bit high?
“I usually estimate half [of my audience] in some way, shape or form [has been exposed to porn],” she replied. “I would say if I had a room of one hundred I would assume that at least fifty of them have had some kind of exposure. And the other thing to remember about women, as well, is that we have more of a range of use of pornography so some women really get into erotica and that becomes what they use for arousal. They’ll go to erotica websites or soft core. Whereas men kind of don’t worry about that, they skip that part, whereas other women might struggle with the hard-core pornography.”
A final question: How do women with nowhere to go begin the path towards freedom? How do the women who feel like the college-age Jessica Harris break the hold pornography has over them?
“I think the first thing I want to tell them is they’re not alone,” Harris said.
It amazes me, I get emails upon emails every week. I meet with women when I go out and speak, you set aside times to meet with women and every story from a woman has ‘at some point I thought I was the only one.’ It always blows my mind, even when we’re working with a statistic like 20%, that there are 20% of women out there and every one of them thinks that they’re 1 in 6 billion, that they’re the only one in the world who struggles. And you’re not alone and stop making yourself feel like you’re alone.
You’ve got to break that double life that’s happening. You’ve got to take it down, you’ve got to identify wholly with what’s going on. Yes, you might be the straight-A student and yes, you might be the worship leader, but you are also a woman who struggles with this and be willing to make that connection with somebody and have them come alongside you and send you that grace. The amazing thing that I’ve found when I tell my story or when I have encouraged girls to finally step forward and tell theirs is that as much as we might think that there is shame waiting for us, there is so much grace. I have had girls who have stepped forward in their dorms on colleges and said listen, this is what I struggle with. And they have met with other girls in their dorm who’ve said, ‘Oh my goodness, me too, and they’ve started support groups. That’s happened in colleges, that’s happened in churches, with women that I’ve worked with, who I’ve said you just have to tell somebody.
The porn tsunami has not just carried off men and children. It has also swept away women, and many of them feel as if they are drowning because nobody even knows that they’re in the water. Nobody can hear their cries for help. We see the statistics, but we cannot see the female faces behind them. But finally, a woman has stepped forward to put a story behind the statistics. Jessica Harris’s story is powerful, her message is essential, and her advice is necessary. We would do well to listen—because blending into her story is a chorus of thousands of others who have not yet found their voice, and have not yet found the path to freedom.