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The Good Christian Girl Who Struggled With Porn

I was 13 when I found pornography.

Understand my family was super conservative. I was raised in the church. My mom and I never had the talk. I’m almost 32 and we still haven’t had the talk. The most I knew about sex was that it was something my public school classmates were starting to do, it was all boys thought about, and God didn’t want me to have it. That was the extent of my knowledge, until the day I was researching for school and came upon a porn video.

I’ve always been a learner. I like exploring new things and learning new information. Finding the porn video, as graphic as it was, felt like a clue in my life’s quest to find love and acceptance. This was the one thing I hadn’t explored. Maybe the answer was here.

Watching porn became a daily thing. Every day after school I would come home, lock myself in my mom’s room, and go online. This was back in the day of dial-up, when surfing the internet meant you couldn’t get any calls on the home phone line. I would call my mom before I ever got online and lie to her, telling her I would be working on a school project all afternoon. Then, I would spend the afternoon watching porn. My life became a big, tangled web of lies and deception built around protecting this secret.

All the while, I was in church. I was still singing the right songs, memorizing the verses, leading Vacation Bible School, and leading in the youth group. I hated the idea of God, but I tried extra hard to look spiritual because I didn’t want to get caught. I didn’t see a problem with what I was doing, but I knew other people like my conservative church and family would. To me, it was a perfectly acceptable alternative to going out and having sex. Porn was how I could have it both ways—get the pleasure of sex without any of the risk. A win-win.

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I realized maybe I was wrong. I was losing sleep, struggling to keep my 4.0, and having a hard time living in reality. My life started to revolve around pornography. I knew that wasn’t healthy so I tried to stop. When I couldn’t stop, I tried to cut back to just a couple hours a day. When that didn’t work, I began to beat myself.

I didn’t have anywhere to go for help. There was no way I could tell my mom or any of my pastors’ wives. I tried to look for help and found some stuff for men, but nothing for women. Was I the only woman who had managed to get herself into this situation?

Porn was how I could have it both ways — get the pleasure of sex without any of the risk.

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The month after I graduated high school, I came to know Christ. Yes, I had grown up in church all my life, but I had never truly understood God’s love. A series of events led me to my Bible one night and I opened it to Romans 5:8, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” I realized then that my idea of love had been wrong all along. It isn’t something you earn; it’s something that is given. If God’s love was one I didn’t have to work for, I wanted it.

I hoped the next day that everything would be different. Since I was a real Christian now I wouldn’t struggle with stuff like this anymore, right?  That’s how the testimonies in church always went. One day you’re up to your eyeballs in sin and addiction. Then you meet Jesus and everything changes. No more sin and addiction. That’s how I thought this worked.

I was wrong.

The next day felt the same as the day before. I told myself I wasn’t going to watch porn and I did it anyway. I would sit down in front of the computer and say, “Ok, God, if you don’t want me to do this I need You to break the internet.” He wouldn’t so I would watch and somehow feel justified. If He really wanted me to stop, why wasn’t He helping me?

As I got ready to head off to college, I began to pray I would get caught. I felt like such a hypocrite and a failure and didn’t know why I couldn’t stop doing this. It was too hard for me to start the conversation, but if someone else started it, I was sure I could say yes.

I started attending a Christian college, and even there my porn use continued. I would stay up all night watching porn on the school-provided desktop in our dorm room. The light from the computer kept my roommate up so she had to use a sleep mask.

A couple weeks into the school year, I got the e-mail I had been half-dreading, half-hoping for. It was a summons to the dean’s office. When I got there, the dean of women sat across from me at her desk, a red folder between us.

Inside the folder was page after page of my internet history report. Hours of my life were chronicled on those pages. I remember thinking it was so much and wondering what on earth was wrong with me. As the dean of women lectured about the harms and evils of pornography, I just stared at the pages. I felt so fake, so hopeless. Then she said, “We know this wasn’t you. Women just don’t have this problem.”

Was I the only woman who had managed to get herself into this situation?

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There were so many thoughts in my mind. What was wrong with me? Was I a man? What was I supposed to do now? But the most devastating thing I believed that day was that I was not able to be saved. God may want to save me and I may want to be saved, but I was too far gone, so screwed up. He couldn’t possibly love me.

I gave up and decided that the only way I could live a life that made any kind of sense was if I joined the porn industry. At 17 years old, from my room on a Christian college campus, I became someone else’s pornography. It felt like part of me died that day and I would never be worthy of any kind of love. There was nothing left to love.

At the end of that semester, I withdrew from college and went home. The following summer an old schoolmate of mine was killed in an auto accident. At her memorial service, the pastor talked about how much of a difference her life had made, even though she was only 23. I wanted to be like her, and I prayed for that. I told God if all I had to do was love Him, I could try my best. I just wanted my life to matter.

That fall, I attended Bible college. One night we had an all girls meeting and the dean staff stood at the front of a room full of Christian college girls and said, “We know some of you struggle with pornography and we’re going to help you.”

We were encouraged to write down any struggle we had (pornography or not) on a piece of paper and hand it to two women in leadership. I fought my pride for a while before I finally filled it in: “My name is Jessica Harris, and my stronghold is pornography.”

At 17, from my room on a Christian college campus, I became someone else’s pornography.

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They say confession is supposed to make you feel better. It didn’t. I felt so broken, disgusting, and ashamed. Later that night, one of the women, Sarah, came to my dorm room. I thought she was going to send me home and I was devastated. I really wanted help, and knew if they sent me home I wouldn’t have any hope left. Confession had been my last hope. But instead of sending me home, Sarah said to me, “Jessica, what you wrote on that slip was brave and we’re going to help you.”

That was the moment when I realized grace and God’s love can and do reach that far. They were big enough for my story, big enough to reach me where I was and set me free. Finding freedom took a long time. The team of women at the college worked hard not only to help me overcome my pornography use but also to restore other areas of brokenness in my life. Their goal wasn’t just for me to stop watching porn. It was for me to be healed, to understand God’s love, to be able to love others, and to have healthy relationships. I didn’t know how to do any of that well.

That, ultimately, is the goal of grace. Grace doesn’t just rescue us, it restores us. God’s love doesn’t just save us, it changes us. It took almost two years for me to feel I was finally free from pornography. In that time, I learned so much about forgiveness, love, and what it looks like when love isn’t earned.

The biggest lie of pornography I found was who you are doesn’t matter. You become nothing more than pixels on a screen, a body, a collection of organs. The biggest truth of grace is no matter what you have done, your life is not irredeemable. It does matter. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone, how many lies you’ve built up, how many bridges you’ve burned, grace can reach you there.

Grace doesn’t just rescue us, it restores us.

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Known for her grace, candor, and a little bit of sass (ok, maybe more than a little), Jessica isn't afraid to tackle topics that would make her own mother blush.

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