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3 Things Women Want You To Know About Their Addiction to Pornography
As someone who serves in ministry with my own history of struggling with pornography, women often pour out their stories to me with a sigh of relief. While sitting on my living room couch, Jessica shared her struggle with porn: I was exposed to pornography as a first grader by a childhood friend. I had no idea the lasting effects it would have on me as I got older. While I didn't understand what it was or why it was bad, I innately felt that it was wrong—that alone filled me with shame. Shame followed me through my life until, for the first time, I heard another woman share that she struggled with it too. That defeated the biggest lie I was believed: that I was in this alone. There are many women in your church who have similar stories to Jessica. Some may sit next to you on a Sunday and others may be leading Bible studies—they all worry that someone will find out about their secret. I’ve had women from across the spectrum confess their struggle to me, from new believing college students to experienced church leaders. Sadly, the influence of porn in the church is almost as dominant as it is in the world. The secular world is speaking out and telling women that watching porn is okay. Yet, the church often remains silent (or only addresses the issue with men). If the church will not talk to women who struggle with porn or create safe spaces for women to talk about it, then one of two things will happen: 1) Women will continue to think that watching porn is okay or 2) Women will think that something must be incredibly wrong with them because no one is talking about it. Porn is on the internet, in TV shows and movies, and even in romance novels. Porn is addictive, accessible, affordable, and anonymous—the perfect combination to make it extremely dangerous. Watching porn is a secret sin that no one has to know about—which is one of the reasons porn has such a grip on women. Women can look at porn on their phones from the comfort of their living rooms or read erotica from a kindle on an airplane and no one would ever know. Porn addictions in the lives of men and women have differences and similarities. Women are more likely to start with “soft porn” and then move toward “hard porn.” Soft porn is usually not as graphic or explicit, but its goal is still to arouse. Examples of soft porn include erotica, romance novels, romantic movies, TV shows, sexting, and online chat rooms. (Soft porn today was actually hard core porn years ago.) Women are more likely to search for “romantic porn” and “popular with women,” and men are more likely to search for “aggressive porn” (although statistics from major porn sites show that women are viewing more aggressive porn than ever before). The purity movement has previously said that men are more visual than women. Research is showing that this gender stereotype may not be true. A recent study found that “at least at the level of neural activity… the brains of men and women respond the same way to porn.”1 Both men and women are impacted by porn and can become addicted to porn. Pornographic images affect both men’s and women’s brains and condition them to want more. As Christian leaders, we must begin to change the way we talk about the struggle with porn. Porn is not “just a guy’s problem.” Porn is a human problem. The number of women watching pornography increases each year. In 2016 and 2017, the number of women watching porn was around 26% worldwide on the largest porn site. By the end of 2018, the percentage of women viewers increased by 3%, meaning almost 3 out of every 10 consumers were female. The following year, from 2018-2019, women visitors increased another 3% from the previous year to represent 32% of the porn consumers. For 2020, this site has yet to release their statistics. What do all of these statistics tell us? More women are increasingly watching more porn each year. Pornography is everywhere, and an addiction can start innocently or even by accident. Once it becomes part of a woman’s life, it sinks deeper and deeper into the dark places of her soul. It may seem exciting or stimulating in the beginning, but ultimately pornography objectifies sex and makes it inconsequential and meaningless. It poisons relationships by teaching us to objectify each other. Porn triggers changes in women’s bodies that become addictive and harmful. It may lead to other sin and, worst of all, it moves women away from God’s love. Shame continues the cycle of addiction, forcing a woman to keep her addiction a secret. If she keeps her pain to herself, she may never find freedom or accountability. Eventually, porn may no longer fulfill her desires. Like with drug addiction, the addict will turn to bigger and harder products. The list of sex addictions goes on and on and points us away from God’s design for sex. Once we understand that women struggle too, then we can provide recovery tools for healing. Here are three things women who struggle with pornography want you to know: We need to hear about your own sexual brokenness. Juli Slattery often says that we are all sexually broken. When leaders understand this concept and share from a humble place, they will create a safe place for others to share their stories. With vulnerability, share your story first. Porn addicts keep their stories to themselves, which builds shame in their hearts and gives Satan power. Even if you have never struggled with sexual addiction, begin the conversation and authentically share the struggles from your life. All believers have gone from death to life through the power of the gospel. Your vulnerability will help women confess their addictions and find freedom.   We need you to know that women struggle too. While in seminary at Dallas Theological Seminary, I was the Graduate Teaching Assistant for a class called Sexuality and Ethics. One week we had the students read different articles written by women about pornography. Almost 90% of the students (who were in seminary to become pastors, ministers, or counselors) said that they had no idea women struggled with pornography! Once leaders understand the vastness of this issue, then we can begin to educate others. (By the way, this starts with parents and their children—sons and daughters! Children can access sexually explicit images at younger and younger ages. We need to help parents talk to their kids about sex and set up internet filters like Covenant Eyes.) Ministers need to understand the rise of pornography among women and learn how to have meaningful conversations with women about God’s design for sexuality. Let’s focus on changing hearts, not behaviors. Telling a woman to pray more or do more is simply a spiritual Band-Aid. It won’t heal her heart. A woman addicted to porn most likely uses it as a coping mechanism. If we fix the outward behavior and fail to tend to her heart, then the woman will create a new coping mechanism or a new addiction. The cycle will go on and on.   We need you to point us to Jesus. How do you break a cycle of addiction? Point her to Jesus. Only Jesus can heal women from pain, free them from addiction, and release them from darkness. Take the pressure off yourself. In our ministries, we preach the good news of Jesus—the redemption of the cross. Jesus died to redeem lives. He died for men and for women. He died for porn addicts. Jesus came to break every chain—every single chain, even porn addiction in women. There is a bigger picture of God’s design for sexuality. God created us as sexual beings, and our sexual desires are a good gift from Him! Using porn to steward this gift will cause more pain and more problems. The good news is that we can help women steward this gift well. Isaiah 61:3 says Jesus came “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” We worship a God who redeems and restores our broken sexuality! Let’s begin to include women in our conversations about pornography so that they can begin a journey to freedom. Join me in going first so that others can go second. If you'd like to learn more about navigating these sensitive topics with others, join us May 3-6, for Equip, a digital summit for Christian leaders to learn how to have gospel-centered conversations around sexuality. You'll hear from some of the most respected Christian voices on topics related to sexuality, like Jonathan Daugherty, Sean McDowell, Mary DeMuth, Preston Sprinkle, Dr. Doug Rosenau, Sam Allberry and more. There will be daily, live Q&A panels for you to get your questions answered. Whether you’re in full-time ministry, or a parent or lay leader who wants to disciple others, this digital event is for you. Register today for Equip! 1 Mitricheva et al., “Neural Substrates of Sexual Arousal Are Not Sex Dependent.” Photo by John Mark Smith on Unsplash
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4 Things To Remember If Someone You Care About Is "Deconstructing"
“I don’t believe in God anymore. At least not in the God I heard about in church.” Have you heard someone you love make this statement? Have you read similar declarations from people you once admired? According to the Barna institute, this trend is likely to continue. The younger generations are asking questions their parents never thought to consider—questions about gender, happiness, what it means to be human, equality, and what is “fair.” These questions push against traditional biblical teaching and sometimes lead to “deconstructing” from Christianity.  You can find podcasts, churches, books, and conferences now organized around the trend of deconstruction from biblical Christianity. Some who have gone through this process deny God altogether while others embrace a progressive form of Christianity that rejects the authority of Scripture and the supremacy of God as Lord and King.  Perhaps the only thing more discouraging than witnessing a Christian leader fall away is watching it happen with someone you love. A child. A sibling. A spouse. I recently heard from a young man desperate to save his wife and his marriage: “After two years of marriage, my wife is questioning everything! I don’t know who I am married to anymore. We actually met at a missions conference, and our relationship has been built around God. Where do I turn for help?” While a person’s relationship with God must be personally navigated, family and friends around them can be an important piece of coming back to God within that struggle.  Here are four critical things to remember if you find yourself or someone you love in the midst of “deconstructing.”    We all regularly deconstruct.  About every other year, I read through the entire Bible. Right now, I’m in the book of Numbers. Practically every day of studying the Old Testament Law, I hit something that causes me to feel a tension. I wonder how a loving God would allow that to happen? And why did God treat men so differently than He treated women? I wrestle to understand the God of the Old Testament in light of the love of Jesus.  Events in my life also cause me to re-examine my faith. The most effective Christian servant I know is diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 50. I see a severely disabled child and wonder why God would allow such brokenness in a human life.  In psychology, we call these experiences cognitive dissonance. It is the stress that results when we encounter something that doesn’t fit with our held beliefs. Cognitive dissonance is a normal part of human life, whether you are an atheist or committed Christian. The atheist must wrestle with the evidence of redemption in a person’s life (like Kanye West), every supernatural miracle they hear about, and deeper questions about why the universe has such complexity and order. As the Bible says, all of creation declares that there is a God.  We all experience continual minor deconstructions of what we believe. The question is not whether we will deconstruct, but where we turn for truth in the rebuilding process.   Dissonance doesn’t go away if it is ignored.  Sometimes in our own anxiety, we refuse to entertain someone else’s unsettling questions. We don’t want to hear about our child’s doubts or our friend’s anger toward God. Instead of listening and validating, we tend to answer gut-wrenching questions with empty platitudes. Doing this pushes people further into the realm of doubt. If the Christians they know can’t handle their questions, then maybe God can’t either.  Job is one big study in cognitive dissonance that could have led to Job walking away from His faith. His wife likely did. Job’s friends tried to explain away the hard questions and even criticized Job for asking them. Yet God was quiet as Job wrestled, knowing that this would be part of Job’s journey toward a deeper spiritual maturity.  The best way to deal with the anxiety of cognitive dissonance is to acknowledge it and hit it head on. Instead of ignoring or explaining away dissonance, embrace it. Just yesterday, I spoke with a young woman wrestling with disillusionment with Christians. She said something like, “How can Christianity be true if the Christians are critical and rejecting while my unbelieving friends are loving and accepting?” This is a valid reason why many young people permanently deconstruct from Christianity. They care about justice and love far more than they care about theology.  We must get comfortable with these conversations instead of shutting them down with a Bible verse. People deconstruct from Christianity when their questions are continually ignored or simplistically addressed. There is a time to talk about Scripture and God’s character, but it is often after listening and simply sitting with someone’s doubts and pain. The journey may be a long one. Be committed to walking it.    Shallow theology cannot withstand deep pain.  While people have always deconstructed from Christianity (or fallen away from faith), research indicates that we are seeing an accelerated trend. Barna’s studies additionally suggest that those who fall away today are less likely to return to their belief in God in the future. While there are many factors that contribute to this pattern, perhaps the greatest is that many Christians have a shallow understanding of theology. For many, reading the Bible means snacking on devotionals that promote a prosperity gospel Jesus who wants them to find personal happiness. In order to make Christianity more attractive to seekers, pastors and writers focus on Christian positivity, ignoring any teaching on human depravity, hell, judgment, eternal life, and the holiness of God. When trials hit, it’s no wonder that Christians question what they have been taught about God.  As a freshman in college, I took an Old Testament survey class that blew my mind. I had grown up in church and knew the Bible, but had never seen how the whole story fit together before this class. The prophets and the OT Law just seemed like obscure ancient history. A gifted teacher opened my eyes to see how what I didn’t understand about God fit within what I knew about Him.  The older generation of Christians (like me!) need to learn from young Christians about love, compassion, and inclusion. But we also need to be the teachers and mentors who unfold the treasures and puzzles of Scripture that have been ignored by feel-good devotionals and sermonettes. Cognitive dissonance begs for answers. Often those answers are not explaining, “Here is why God allows pain,” but modeling how “God’s plan is much greater than we understand.”   Faith means embracing mystery.  John chapter six records a time when many of Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him. Jesus had taught something that offended them and created a cognitive dissonance that they refused to work through. Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, “Will you also leave me?” Peter replied, “Where else will we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life.” In his perplexity, Peter returned by faith to what he knew to be true, with the willingness to sit with an unanswered mystery. We see similar events in the journey of Paul, John the Baptist, David, and Mary. Hebrews 11, often referred to as the “hall of fame of faith” tells of many who journeyed by faith, believing what they could not explain or see.   Christian writers like A.W. Tozer, St. John of the Cross, and Brother Lawrence are often referred to as “Biblical mystics” because they went beyond studying the words of Scripture and ventured into the mysteries of God. The Scriptures “set the table” for us to ponder and experience a God who is beyond understanding. For us to know God will ultimately mean leaving the security of words on a page and grappling with a Being who defies our own reasoning. Every one of us must continually “deconstruct” from who we think God to be in order for us to approach the mysteries of who He actually is. Discipleship means not only embracing dissonance, but at times even inviting it.  The trend of deconstructing truth is heart-breaking. None of us want to see those we love or respect reject Jesus, particularly once they have walked with Him! Yet we must recognize the opportunity to love each other in the midst of pain, doubt, and disappointment. Questions can be either the end of belief in God or the catalyst to a mature faith in Him. May we be filled with God’s grace to meet friends in their struggle and with His wisdom to remind them that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life.    Follow up: Every Christian leader must be equipped to wade into these difficult and painful waters with the compassion and truth of Jesus. Whether you are in full-time ministry or a lay leader, join us for Equip, a digital summit for those who want to have gospel-centered conversations sexual topics. Photo by Canva