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Fleeting images

"Fleeting images" Continued...

Issue: "Rethinking the death penalty," Oct. 19, 2013

Operation Integrity and other groups treat porn users like drug and alcohol addicts, combining counseling and education with weekly meetings where men can find encouragement. They are expanding but not as fast as pornography, Zailer said, yet more churches are recognizing the problem: “You have recovery programs in churches where people speak to the reality of addiction not just in past but current tense … people who have grown up living in addiction have found freedom.”

Richard’s church doesn’t offer a porn recovery program, but with the help of accountability partners, he’s making progress in his battle against pornography: He’s been clean for three months. While his pastor and mentors think he’s ready to pursue marriage, Richard is waiting: “I will not move forward until I feel like I can. … Ultimately, I’m a man and I need to be walking with God in such a way I can make that decision.”

One woman’s struggle

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Christine Reyes started watching porn at the age of 8 after finding a hidden stash of her stepfather’s VHS tapes. She didn’t understand it but knew it was forbidden. Her stepfather would often tell the children to leave the room as he watched porn with his friends—her mom would leave voluntarily. As her family situation predictably worsened, Reyes continued turning to pornography for comfort and escape. 

Now 26, Reyes said she had never spoken out about her addiction prior to speaking with WORLD. But she is hardly an anomaly: The 2008 BYU study found 31 percent of women between 18 and 26 use pornography. Reyes said she watched porn with classmates and babysitters as early as second grade. By the time she was in her teens, she was watching porn two to four hours a day—and it molded her perceptions about sexuality.

“Watching porn made it OK to have same-sex attractions, it made it OK to be experimental, it made it OK to have no boundaries,” Reyes said. “It was almost like my validation. … ‘If I do X,Y, and Z, I’ll have a satisfied relationship.’” While she watched porn with her boyfriends to be “one of the guys,” it crushed her self-esteem knowing she would never be as satisfying as the women on the screen.

Five years ago a co-worker explained the gospel to Reyes, and she professed Christ. But old habits persisted even as she started reading the Bible and going to church, where no one talked about porn use. Reuniting with her unbelieving boyfriend led to more promiscuity: Every time she decided to abstain from sex, she feared her boyfriend would leave her, so she went back to sleeping with him.

Eventually they moved in together, with Reyes hoping it would bring them closer together and lead to marriage. As a compromise to abstain from sex, they started watching porn together.

“I thought if I can’t have sex now that I’m a Christian, [porn] will be my release,” she said. “I kept thinking this will keep me pure. It really didn’t. It just motivates you to have sex or watch more porn.”

She knew what she was doing displeased God, yet she didn’t want to let her boyfriend go. “Porn became the thing that I was using to show I’m really [hurt] that we’re living together and you won’t marry me.” She finally realized she had to break off the relationship. She did, and repented. She’s been porn free for a year and a half now, but it hasn’t been easy: Reyes is careful with the movies she watches and is continually in prayer because even public displays of affection can trigger desires to watch porn.

She urges churches to create safe spaces for people to discuss their struggles: “Women who struggle don’t want to be judged. They wonder ‘Where do you go from here? What can you do?’”

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