“Revealing the truth is like lighting a match: it can bring light, or it can set your world on fire.” – Unknown
By far the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life is to tell my counsellor about my history with pornography. I’d been seeing her weekly for two and a half years before I built up enough courage to tell her, and even then I could only do it over email – after which I spent a horrible five days before my next session wishing I could take the email back.
I kept silent about porn for more than ten years. I started watching it in about 1999/2000 and stopped early in 2004. At that point I still hadn’t told a single soul about it, which meant I was trying to stop without any support at all. In hindsight that was a terrible idea, but I was so completely petrified of what people would think if they knew about it that telling anyone was out of the question for me. I couldn’t bring myself to be vulnerable because I had all these beliefs in my head that kept my mouth firmly shut. Beliefs like:
Women don’t watch porn.
Women older than 20 don’t watch porn.
Christian women don’t watch porn.
Women who are aroused by porn are depraved.
Unmarried Christian women shouldn’t have sexual urges.
Women who masturbate have no self control.
Women who watch porn are disgusting and perverted.
Feminists would never watch porn.
It’s normal for men to watch porn but not normal for women.
See the common thread here? It wasn’t just about me watching porn, it was about me as a woman watching porn. I had all these beliefs about what women should and shouldn’t be like and I’d never, ever heard of a woman struggling with compulsive pornography use. Then throw into the mix my beliefs about what a Christian is like, with the only porn testimonies I’d ever heard all coming from 19 year old Christian boys (but never girls, never women, never older men unless they were paedophiles) and I was left with the conviction that I was a freak. The two things that defined me were my Christian faith and my womanhood, but by watching porn I felt like I’d failed at both those things. That left me with nothing – nothing to define me, nothing to give me worth.
With all of that going on in my head it’s no wonder that I couldn’t bring myself to get help. In my imagination, revealing my porn addiction meant revealing my worthlessness in the most humiliating way possible. I didn’t even recognise it as an addiction; I thought it was just indicative of my perverted character.
My reluctance to share my secret is understandable. Given what I believed – and I believed all of that right up until I told my counsellor – I’m amazed that I ever managed to tell anyone at all. I don’t blame myself for staying silent, but I wish I had realised the damage I was doing by not confiding in someone.
Struggling alone, it took a long time to get free of porn. Every time I went back to it I felt like I was proving my beliefs – if I weren’t so worthless and vile then surely I would have been able to stop first time, right? But the far more damaging belief was that only someone worthless and vile would have gone near porn in the first place. The fact that I stopped watching porn proved nothing. My seven years of silence after stopping meant that I had seven years of telling myself that I was abnormal. Seven years of shame. Seven years of believing, every day, that the worst thing in the world would be for anyone to find out about my porn use, because then they’d find out who I really am. Seven years to firmly cement in my brain the lie that I am a freakish, worthless, non-woman, and that there is no one in the world as bad as me. I thought my silence was protecting me but all it was doing was hurting me.
If I could go back in time and tell my past self one thing, it would be this: “You are not alone.” If I had known that other women – lots of women – struggle with porn addiction, it would have changed everything.