Editor’s note: We are grateful to the author of this post, who requested that she remain anonymous. She notes that usually discussing past sins is something that we don’t often do in the LDS Church; because we believe in repentance and the forgiveness available through the power of the Atonement, we are encouraged to forsake our sins and leave them in the past. But she felt — and we feel — that it is appropriate and helpful to share her story so that these experiences can be a warning about the dangers of pornography, but also a witness that redemption and healing through Jesus Christ’s Atonement are real.
~By a Mormon woman
At a very young age I was exposed to pornography. I don’t even remember specifically how old I was, but it was before puberty. My father had pornography in the bathroom closet. I found it as I looked for something else. It piqued my curiosity, so I looked. I remembered it was there and was curious, so I looked many more times. It was also available in my best friend’s home, so I looked at magazines there. As the years went by I developed an addiction to pornography, which led to other harmful behaviors.
I didn’t understand the seriousness or intricacies of what was going on, but I did know that I wanted to keep it secret. I was ashamed and felt dirty. When teachers at church would tell me how much God loved all his children I was sure they didn’t mean me because they didn’t know my secret. I could barely look at myself in the mirror, it seemed that there was something irreparably wrong with me. Keeping my secret became such a practiced behavior that by the time I reached a youth class where we were encouraged to talk to the bishop about sexual sin, I felt that it was something I could not do. Despite specific guidance from church leaders about the destructiveness of these things I rationalized my behaviors, convincing myself that what I was doing to myself wasn’t really a sexual sin, that pornography wasn’t against the major commandments, and I wasn’t hurting anyone.
How wrong I was.
There were good times in my life that I was able to keep these behaviors under control through sheer willpower. I thought I had finally conquered it all. But it always came back. Now I know that I missed an integral piece of change- true repentance. I needed God’s help and Christ’s atonement to fully overcome these serious sins, otherwise the habit and lure of sin was just too strong.
Eventually I was married to a wonderful man. I thought that this would be the end of my shameful secret. I hoped that my husband would fulfill my needs and I would be free. In reality, I now know, pornography and masturbation had changed my natural sexual responses. Being intimate with my husband was different than the sensations I had promoted through my sinful habits. It was awkward and brought out the guilt that I felt from my unresolved sins. Instead of being “one in the flesh” with my husband, I felt isolated and wrong. Still, I continued to keep my secret. I didn’t even open my heart to the person who loved me most in the world, my husband.
Approximately five years into our marriage I was diagnosed as severely clinically depressed. In my desperation to be rid of the darkness that was suffocating me, I admitted my sins to a therapist. I am so thankful that I had an LDS therapist who knew that these behaviors were harmful, instead of perpetuating a false belief that some mainstream therapists have that nothing is wrong with what God has deemed sinful.
After telling my therapist, I knew that I had to tell someone who could help me get rid of these destructive habits – I confessed to my bishop. I cried in his office for some time before I could finally get the words out of my mouth as I stared at the floor. As I continued to cry the tears of a desperate sinner, the bishop counseled me on how to repent. Part of the repentance process was opening up to my husband, which was extremely difficult. Once I told him, he, despite my fears, was wonderfully understanding and supportive. But even though he had great love for me, and would do all he could to help, it still was not enough.
The following scripture sustained me during this time:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
It occurred to me that if I did all I could to be spiritually strong I would be better able to resist temptation and thus fully repent. I started reading my scriptures and praying more consistently — every day was my goal. I plead with God through fervent prayers to forgive me and to help me stop the behaviors. I worked on my relationship with my husband. I acknowledged my need to be loved physically as well as in other ways. My husband began watching my activities on the Internet (which had made my addiction all too easy to fulfill) and lovingly kept me on track. It took patience and love in our marriage, over years, to slowly gain a more healthy intimate life and for me to fully repent.
What I have learned from this horrible experience has strengthened me, but I still would not wish it on anyone. Which is why I share my story, although it’s difficult to do. Pornography will not enhance your sexual relations. Prophets have counseled us to avoid any behavior or anything that depicts the human body or sexual relations with the intent to arouse sexual feelings. This applies within a marital relationship and outside of it.
The counsel for those not married in For the Strength of Youth booklet says, “Before marriage, do not do anything to arouse the powerful emotions that must be expressed only in marriage.” For those who are married, we have received counsel such as the following: “Because it is ordained of God, the intimate physical expressions of married love are sacred. Yet all too commonly, these divine gifts are desecrated. If a couple allows lewd language or pornography to corrupt their intimacy, they offend their Creator while they degrade and diminish their own divine gifts. True happiness is predicated upon personal purity. (See Alma 41:10.)” – Elder Russell M. Nelson
Just as church leaders have counseled, and I tell you as one who has been stuck in that mire, these things deaden true and real expressions of love. They create barriers between loving people. They promote shame and lack of self-worth that enables Satan to rob people of their full potential.
God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, don’t want us to feel this way, which is why they have given us commandments so that we can avoid this kind of pain. And God loves us enough that he created a merciful plan through which we can be free of sin and some of it’s consequences if we do disobey – the atonement of Jesus Christ.
In my life, these sins contributed to a severe depression which could have ended my life. I urge you to do all you can to keep these destroying influences out of your life and out of the lives of those you love. It does harm others, it harmed me when my father kept it in our home. If there is a problem of this type in your life, or in the life of someone you love, there are wonderful resources available (see here also) that I wish I could have had the benefit of many years ago.
One thing I gained from this that I do wish everyone could have is healthy sexual relations within marriage. The Lord took my weakness and turned it into a strength as the scripture in Ether promised. In working with my husband in honesty to overcome my addiction, we developed communication about sexual issues. I know his love for me is unconditional, and the trust I feel in him is rock solid. He has been there for me, sacrificing his own needs, in my very darkest days. I will be forever grateful for that and I live to give the same support to him. To me honesty, love, unselfishness — these are the things that will promote greater satisfaction in marriage; not those base and immoral things that are falsely presented as intimacy and fulfillment, which are in fact imitations of true intimacy and love.
Marital intimacy between husband and wife, is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, especially considering that with it we are able to create life. While I am saddened that my entrance into this beautiful experience wasn’t better, I have a sure belief that it is a wonderful, joyful expression of human love between a man and a woman that God has given to us as a blessing.
As I reflect on this journey, I echo the words of a Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi:
“My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness…
“He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
“Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.
“And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me…
“Awake my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
“Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
“May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of they righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever…
“Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.”
2 Nephi 4:20-24, 28, 30, 32, 34-35
Through my own experiences I know that redemption is possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. I participate fully in His Church- holding leadership positions, raising a righteous family, and teaching others the doctrines of salvation. My life is filled with the gospel, with the Holy Spirit, with happiness and joy. I have a beautiful and growing relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ and God, my Eternal Father. This type of recovery from serious sin would not be possible without God and his magnificent plan for our growth . Glory to God for the magnificent gift of his Son, through whom it is possible to be cleansed from sin and to someday return to live with God.