She was a young Christian girl, head of her youth ministry, an academic standout, outgoing and prayerful.
But she had a dirty little secret. She was addicted to porn.
American author, blogger and international speaker Jessica Harris came to New Zealand on May 29-30 to speak about a topic that many find too uncomfortable to discuss. She gave talks in Hamilton, Tauranga and Auckland.
“Nobody was talking about this,” Miss Harris said, not her mother, not her church. “In my senior year of high school, my struggle with pornography was so bad, it was ruining my life.”
Miss Harris said people are made in the image of God which means we have something that has eternal worth and value. “Porn rips all of that out,” she said.
Miss Harris said though she grew up in her church, she came from a broken family. Her Dad left the family when she was little.
At age nine, she was molested by a classmate at a Christian school. “I couldn’t tell anybody because he was the deacon’s son,” she said.
At 13, she stumbled upon pornography while researching a science project. “There was no adult content warning. It wasn’t an ad. It was just there. I began to go into the chat rooms on this site, then I developed a community. I developed an online identity that was changing. I felt accepted, loved and connected there to the point that my relationship in real life didn’t matter anymore,” she said.
She graduated from high school with top marks, which made her Mum proud.
“I thought, the only person in this room who is proud of me is the person that I’ve let down the most. She was the person that I’ve lied to, that I’ve manipulated. I told her I was spending most of my time researching for school when really I was just spending my time watching pornography,” she said.
After her high school graduation in July 2003, she found Jesus, Miss Harris said. She thought all her problems were over. “But my use of pornography did not slow down at all,” she said.
Because of the incongruity of her Christianity and her addiction, her shame and fear of judgement, Miss Harris felt she couldn’t talk to anyone about her problem. She wanted someone to catch her instead, and offer help.
She was caught at her first Christian college (tertiary level). The dean of women confronted Miss Harris with pages upon pages of her (Miss Harris’s) Internet history of porn.
“The dean of women is going on about how horrible pornography is, how exploitative it is, how degrading it is, and I was thinking, ‘this is not going how I planned it to go’.
“And she said to me, ‘that being said, we know it is not you. Women just don’t have this problem’,” Miss Harris related.
That made her question her identity. “I am the perfect Christian girl who thinks God can’t possibly love me anymore and now, I don’t even know if I’m actually a woman at all. There’s no way I can tell somebody this. So, I gave up,” she said.
At 17, she had a relationship with a man who made her his porn star. She said it is amazing how many women from conservative Christian, Catholic or Jewish homes end up as good girls who became porn stars.
“I became someone’s pornography. This is the only struggle that you can have that you can actually become,” she said. “You, as a person, can become pornography. You, as a person, can become a thing.”
Her boyfriend asked her to send him nude photos of herself and she obliged.
Miss Harris eventually left that school but found help in Bible College, where the dean of women called for an all-women meeting. The dean said she knew some students were struggling with pornography.
“Here was the dean of women who was saying we can help you with this problem. That was the conversation that gave me that safe place that I’ve been looking for,” she said.
Miss Harris said there was no way she was going to start a conversation about that problem.
She needed someone to bring it up first. She encouraged parents as well as youth ministers and pastors to use her story to start this conversation.
She said it is important for a porn addict to tell someone else of his or her problem.
Not everyone, she stressed, but someone who can help and to whom the person addicted can be accountable.