Rather than conducting an interview with my friend “Ella” (not her real name), I asked her to write her story down, figuring it would be more powerful than my interpretation of her experiences with pornography. So, I’ll let Ella take it from here. Every word you read below is from her heart (with the exception of a couple of thoughts I’ve thrown in). Regarding this very controversial subject, I’ve asked God to do His work, and use this blog how He best sees fit.
Here is Ella’s story:
When Rob and I first began to talk about me writing an “essay” on my experience, I thought I would do some research in order to incorporate statistics, trying to somehow make sense of what I had experienced. I discovered, however, research is minimal at best. There are few resources for a woman who has been in my shoes. My 30-year marriage ended because of one word that starts with “P.”
I hate that word. It sounds scientific. You know, like cryptography, ultrasonography, or oceanography, etc. The “P” word sounds like one which is pondered by brilliant minds, sitting in universities, meeting in research groups to discuss the latest trends and discoveries. Instead of a beautiful and meaningful word…it is one full of destruction and shame. It’s full of anger and dashed with bitterness. It’s a word which has brought many to tears and to a place of hopelessness and regret.
I think the label for it needs to shine with something that screams “trap,” “death,” “struggle,” “humiliation” or “darkness.” Porn seems to be the one despicable behavior you cannot mention in church. It’s not appropriate to ask for prayer in a group setting, or even to ask in a one-on-one setting. Let me tell you this: most church staff members certainly do not mention it. If you do, you are signing your own pink slip. You can weigh 350 pounds and suffer with gluttony, but if you’re a porn addict, you better keep your dirty little secret in the dark. In the church, it’s what you are expected to do.
(Note from author: How sad it is that redeemed ex-prisoners are celebrated, no matter their crime, whereas porn addicts are shunned.)
Sexual sins are to be kept hidden, for they are a taboo subject. Congregations squirm in their seats if you mention porn and talk about it for more than 15 seconds in passing. Also, it’s almost unheard of to hear “overcoming testimonies” from people who have conquered their enslavement to pornography. It seems in the 21st century church, you have to keep porn addiction in the dark; at least that was what my former husband was instructed to do on three separate occasions, by three separate pastors. No wonder our marriage didn’t survive.
We were married in the 80s, and I will fully admit we both had baggage coming in. He and I had been divorced before, and got married when I became pregnant. At this point, some will quit reading or listening to what I have to say because, in our society, while we are told differently by many, in reality, I have been written off by a few judgmental Christians because they think I’m weak. Some will even go so far as to say, “If you had sex outside marriage, what did you expect?” or “You had this coming, you reap what you sow.”
I myself am a Christian, so please don’t think this is an attack on Christianity. I know many, many wonderful believers who have been NOTHING but supportive to me, and the good ones definitely outweigh the few “bad” ones. So, I’m sorry if I sound bitter, I’m just keeping it real. I’ve personally heard statements similar to the “reap what you sow” ones, which is the way some handle such a “filthy habit.”
We spent the first half of our marriage raising our talented, smart and beautiful children. We had struggles, like all couples. Money was tight, and we moved a lot trying to find a place where my ex-husband could support our family. He finally decided to go to school, soon landing a job which required constant travel.
It was not long after he started his new career, our marriage began to suffer. Once, when we were thinking about going on vacation, he handed me his phone to look up some pictures of the local countryside for a potential destination, taken on his most recent road trip. I began to look through his pictures while he ran into the store, and as I was scrolling, I noticed one I had not seen before. It was a naked woman. I quickly clicked the phone shut, and sat there staring out the window. I was in too much shock to cry. In fact, I was just numb. After a few minutes he came back to the car, and as he was getting in, asked me if I had seen the beautiful pictures. I couldn’t reply. I felt the tears start to fall.
This is what it felt like for me: I was in agony, a kind of emotional pain which comes from deep inside. All my insecurities boiled over. I was humiliated. The idea of him saving that photo to his phone…this rejection of my femininity, it crushed me.
I wish I could tell you he found support in our church and our marriage survived, but that would be a lie. To his credit, he did try to find help. The first pastor he reached out to was an older minister just shy of retirement. As we stood in the doorway of the church office, this is how the counseling session went: the pastor did not look at me, and he did not offer to pray with us. He looked at my ex-husband and said something I never thought I’d hear from a preacher:
“Do not talk about this to anyone. This will be between you and me.”
He then looked my ex and said, “I will check in with you once in a while to see if you are staying clean.”
That was it. I was dumbfounded! We had no one. While the pastor did not address me at all, I knew I was also being asked to keep my mouth shut. I sat in worship the following Sunday service and sang through my tears, trying my best to lay all that mess at the feet of Jesus.
In the following months I had no idea if the pastor actually checked in with him or not. What I do know is the addiction to porn was still there. I yelled. I cried. I told him how this was destroying me. He, to this day, claims looking at these images was not “cheating” on me, but I reminded him about what the Bible clearly states:
“But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
We separated not long after that, and I started going to a different church. It was closer to home and at the time I thought it would be a better fit for my kids. He was travelling so much he didn’t even fight me on the separation; just said it was “up to me.” One Sunday morning after we’d been separated for about six months he called the pastor and asked if he could say something during the church service. The pastor granted him permission.
Again I sat in worship in this church, doing my best to not say anything while my ex-husband gave his speech. He publicly apologized to me and our children, admitting in front of the whole congregation he was addicted to pornography. Once again the pastor did not offer a prayer; in fact, he offered no assistance whatsoever, and I got the feeling he was embarrassed about the whole thing.
Once more, this was not addressed by the pastor, staff or anyone in the church, and once more I was humiliated. While I was glad he confessed, I was not joyful, because I knew he was going to go down the same path. After some long conversations and a few weeks had passed, he moved back home.
Fast-forward a couple of years. At this point I had given up on us being able to have a healthy relationship. He seemed to be enabled by the pastors to whom he reached out to continue his smutty little habit. Meanwhile, I continued to feel ugly and rejected, struggling every day, wondering what was wrong with me.
“What am I doing wrong?” I would sob. “Why am I not enough for my husband? Is it my looks? My weight? What’s wrong with me?”
I got a job in a new church, and hoped a fresh start would help, but it didn’t take long for his dirty secret to come to light. We had a meeting with this pastor, but I was asked to leave the office, and told “it” needed to stay between the pastor and my ex-husband.
“How does this not concern me?!” I wanted to scream. To this day I have no idea what was said. All I know is it did not stop the behavior; he continued to view porn on his phone, tablet and TV. Once I even caught him viewing porn with one of his family members. Both were in our living room watching it, knowing our kids or grandkids could have come in at any time.
There is a lot more to this story; it took my ex-husband down a long and dark road. Our marriage, which had lasted for decades, did not survive.
Now I meet with a Christian counselor on a regular basis. I’m still struggling with self-esteem, betrayal and rejection. Daily I’m haunted by the humiliation of feeling I was never enough. To be honest, I fight that battle every minute of every day in my head.
Dear Pastors: I know you have a lot on your plate, especially those of you who are bi-vocational. But, on behalf of every spouse who has had to hide in shame from pornography addiction, I am begging you, please do not enable the men in your congregation to keep their secret! Some marriages cannot survive without your help.
Dear congregation: take off your judgmental hats. Be the support system you tell the world you are. Because, back then, when I looked around, I had no one in my corner.
No one. I was alone. All alone.
(Note from Author: I felt this story was so important to share, since nearly everyone seems to be too afraid to bring it up. This is especially important from the woman’s perspective, since many men feel porn is a harmless, victimless crime. A lot of men just don’t realize how demeaning and destructive it can be to a woman. If you’d like to read more about this, and see a couple videos featuring interviews with ex-porn addicts, please see my article, “Death of a Porn Star,” https://brokenpeople.blog/2019/08/20/death-of-a-porn-star/)