By Evelyn Mather and Rachel Coleman
WOV will be featuring three articles on the subject of Pornography over the next couple of months. This is the first. It is important for each individual to educate themselves regarding the matter, especially with the increasing accessibility of pornography today. These stories are real depictions of two women who were involved with men with pornography addictions that show the repetitive pattern and its effects on others when the problem isn’t thoroughly addressed.
This situation with Mark is aging me. I feel 100 years old, dealing with things that are far beyond my maturity level. Trying my shot at forgiveness and acceptance over and over and over again; trying to love someone who doesn't love himself all the time. Someone who has been so fixated with his sexual explorations for the past ten years but still expects me to trust him with my own body. And after all this mess—with Mark, and his God-forbidden masturbation, and this ongoing battle he is fighting with his body and his mind and his spirit, and never knowing which Mark to expect—I am scared spitless. Never knowing if I will greet the Mark I love in the afternoon or the Mark that I fear.
The Mark that I love is a good man. He cares about people and loves his family and adores the autistic kids he works with. He is thoughtful and sincere and sensitive and so dang personable and fun to be with and man, I could talk to him forever. And then there's the Mark that I'm afraid of. I come over to his place, his brother's basement, and he's cold and he won't say much. And he kisses me even though his other actions and body language tell me that he hates me. His eyes are blank and dulled over, and he won't tell me about his day, or what he's thinking, or how he's feeling. And all the time I know. I know what he's done and I know what he's thinking and all about what he won't tell me.
I'm used to this sort of thing, it happens every week or two. I just play the waiting game. The prying game. Prying with love and confidence—knowing that eventually he'll tell me. He’ll tell me that it was a bad day and he lost control and he hates himself for it and can't stand being around me because when I'm around the shame is amplified. And then what am I to do? I am making him feel worse because I am around him, and he feels that he doesn't deserve me. All I do at that point is hold him and tell him I love him and convince him that he is a good person who is just doing bad things. And then he cries, and I die a little more inside.
The final breaking point was the day I came downstairs and the cold atmosphere felt much fiercer. I wasn't looking at the Mark I knew, but someone defeated and dead inside. I knew that today it was more than screwing around with himself in the bathroom or bedroom. He wouldn't even look at me.
"Is everything alright, Mark?"
"Yeah, sure, I’m fine."
"Ok. . . . Is there something you want to tell me?" He starts to cry. "Mark, you can tell me. What happened today?" He balls over in his chair and covers his face with his hands.
"Mark, it was pornography today, wasn't it?" He nods his head and I feel something inside me break, an internal throbbing and aching begins that I know will not go away anytime soon or maybe ever. I tell myself to be strong and all I can do is hold him as he sobs and tell him that I'm so sorry he is feeling so much pain. He is a child now, in this moment. I do my best to kiss his pain away and hold him until he is settled enough to sleep.
The next day he is overwhelmingly affectionate and doting and beams when he looks at me, like he is proud of me or something. I tell him that evening that the porn incident changes things for me. Masturbation was a tolerable issue I was willing to wait out, but this? Our ecclesiastical leader had just given us a lecture that month where he told us to run if your boyfriend had looked at pornography at any time while you were dating. Mark had been clean for a year—I asked him when we started dating. And now this? I felt that he had really given me no choice.
"Well, it wasn't exactly porn," he tells me, "just something I saw on YouTube that got me going."
"What do you mean, 'not exactly porn?'"
"Well, she was just scantily clothed...not nude. So, really, it shouldn't count. And I just thought you were better than this. Last night I was so scared to tell you and then you acted in a way I didn't expect by holding me and crying with me. That made me love you so much more. And today I just kept thinking that you were amazing, because you were sticking with me even though I had screwed up big time. And now I'm appalled and disappointed. I can't believe you're holding this against me. I've been clean for an entire year, and it was just one minor slip up."
"Yeah, but you promised it would never happen again. I talked to you about this back in December, back in the beginning. You swore to me that you'd never, and I trusted that."
"So are you breaking up with me, then? After one tiny incident and after all we've been through. After all I've done for you? Evelyn, you're no saint either, but I still love you. There are plenty of times that we’ve had problems and it wasn't just my fault."
"I know," I say softly.
"And you're kidding yourself if you think you can find a guy who doesn't have this issue. Hell, all the guys I've talked to that are married are shocked that I told you about my problems with masturbation before we’re married. Their wives didn't find out about it until after they were married. All guys do it, well except for self-righteous prudes like your last boyfriend, and if you want to go find yourself another like him, then go be my guest. And quite honestly I think you're going to find that you have unrealistic expectations. I swear that it won't be as hard after we're married. Seriously, I don't know what Utah County culture has done to you and I can't believe this is such a big deal. It's not like I'm going to turn into a big porn addict. I'm trying to change and I just thought you knew me better. I'm a good person, Ev, and I feel like you're being really harsh and unfair."
And finally, "I know," I squeak, "and I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. You're right. I guess I just don't understand much about it. I mean, gosh, I didn't even know what masturbation was until last semester when my roommate mentioned it in passing. And look, I don't know how guys work; I've never known anyone who's talked about it, ever. I'm so sorry, it was so wrong of me to say those things to you."
"It's alright," Mark says, "I forgive you." He hugs me, and we sit in silence in his car.
The wheels in my head start turning and then I get mad. He was forgiving me? I hadn't done anything wrong! He was the one with the sexual addiction, he was the one who had broken his promise to me, he was the one who was breaking his temple covenants to not participate in sexual relations outside of marriage, including relations with yourself or your computer screen. I am mad at him, but moreover, I am mad at myself. I am so pathetic. Here I am groveling, begging for his forgiveness because he had looked at porn and it had upset me. When had I become so pitiful? Such a pushover? He was the one with the problem, and it was his problem that was hurting us, hurting me. "You’ve got to be kidding me, Mark! Why am I the one apologizing here? This is ridiculous! Oh, I'm so sorry that you looked at porn and I'm not exactly thrilled about it. Give me a break. I have every right to be angry about this. Look, I know you are already beating yourself up about it, but can't you see what this does to me? I never know what to expect when I see you. I never know if things are going to be normal, or if you will be closed off and distant, or extremely aggressive (sexually) and out of control."
Mark could behave in any of these ways after he'd masturbate. It was always a tossup, and they always served as dead giveaways to his incidences. He’d often blame me, saying that I didn’t satisfy him enough or that somehow I’d turned him on too much. And almost every time there had been tension, arguments, or distance between us, it'd been because of this issue.
We didn't break up that night, although we probably should have. We broke up a few days later, feeling that it was best to just be friends at this point until Mark figured his stuff out and gained some confidence in himself. The trouble with the masturbation was that it wore heavy on Mark's conscience, and like I mentioned before, he would hate himself for it. He didn't think that he deserved me during these bouts of self doubt. His self doubt would turn into insecurity, insecurity to suspicion, suspicion to jealousy, jealousy to possessiveness.
There are times when my memory plays tricks on me and I miss him like crazy. My empty arms flop uselessly around me and I ache all over inside for him. My mind counts down the days until he will be in Utah again. I take myself out of reality and play a game of make-believe in my head; I envision a dramatic reunion. He will call me and tell me he has arrived at his brother’s house. In response I will frantically drive over and burst from my car. In a giddy frenzy I will run to him, wrap my arms around him, and kiss him on the nose and forehead, cheeks, and lips in short, pure bursts. All the hurt will be gone, all the trespasses forgiven. We will not remember the pain that wedged its way between us and flung us apart.
But then I do remember, and the other memories wash over me. They invade my pores and soak into my body. These memories choke the air from my lungs, cause my muscles to bloat, and then settle down into my bones—cold and murky and dark. And as the salty waves slide over me, tiny scratching fingers grab at me and drag me out into the deep. The waves pick me up on a high rise of terror and there I am, on top of the rip curl, looking down in horror at the monumental mass of foaming anger beneath me. And just before I can catch my breath to hold it, the support of the waves falls beneath me. Dissipating. And I free fall with the water. The water follows me down, speeding towards me. It is then a giant hand on my back, shoving me forward, digging into my skin and raking my face and stomach and limbs over the rocks below. Again and again the water drags me across the jagged rocks, and the sand and pebbles beat upon my back and tear at my flesh. And on it goes, over and over—I am snatched and dragged and thrust up and thrown down and grated back and forth across the rocks.
Then I wonder about his homecoming and about the true meaning of healing and atonement. Then I wonder if I will burst with excitement or cower in fear when I see him: the one I still love more than anything in the world and the one I have learned to fear more than hell itself.
Stories like Evelyn’s are growing increasingly more common in our daily lives. What once seemed to be the exception or kept behind closed doors is now erupting into the spotlight, and being accepted as normal or okay. Nearly everyone has been affected by pornography in one way or another, either directly or indirectly. According to a USA Today article titled, Study: Young adults now find porn more acceptable, it states that “87 percent of young men from six universities have sought out and viewed pornography in the last year, with 20 percent viewing it daily or nearly every day.” In fact Utah is the highest purchaser of pornography in the nation. Hence in a recent news article in view of these sobering statistics stated, “Latter-day saints with the problem are no different when it comes to prevalence or magnitude of sexual addiction.”
Also startling is the enormous increase of women addicts. “Women and girls are becoming addicted to pornography…they become entangled in inappropriate chat rooms” and texting, which are just the doorway to full addictions. (Donald L. Hilton Jr. MD, He Restoreth My Soul)
When I first met Evelyn, I was aware of what pornography could do to the ones I love, but I was caught in my own little bubble of “my world is perfect and nothing like that can hurt me” syndrome. When Evelyn related her experiences to me, I empathized with her and could relate in some aspects having gone through an abusive relationship myself. I distinctly remember the day when she turned to me very seriously and said, “Rachel, you have to promise me that before you become serious with anyone you will bluntly ask them if they have or ever have had a problem with pornography or masturbation.” The memory of that conversation is emblazed in my brain for good.
Nearly a year later I met Jason; he was PERFECT! He honorably fulfilled all of the Latter-day Saint Church expectations for young men (such as an LDS mission) and fully participated in his ecclesiastical duties. How naïve I was, but what did I care? I was sure I was in love. Unlike Evelyn’s boyfriend, Jason treated me sweetly. It wasn’t uncommon to come home and find a bouquet of flowers on my doorstep or a song written just for me. He seemed to be perfect, almost too perfect. In fact, before we started to date seriously I expressed my unusually high dating standards which he was happily compliant with, he liked that I had standards. Despite all this there was always something a little off, I mean, a nudging concern that I kept trying to push aside.
After a month of seeing each other nearly every day we were sitting in Jason’s car; he turned the subject to our relationship and asked if we could date exclusively. It had been long enough and I had been reluctant to jump into anything too fast, but he was good person. I told him that I just had one question to ask him before I agreed, it was no big deal and he didn’t need to worry though. Laughingly and nervously I turned to him and started to ask my question,
“Have you ever….”
“Yes, I have had a problem with pornography.” He solemnly replied before I even finished my sentence.
My bubble was shattered in a matter of seconds. I was shocked. Without much prompting or encouragement from me Jason revealed his “former” addiction in full.
Jason had grown up in a loving home. “When I was eight a bunch of kids in the neighborhood were looking at pornography and my addiction started then.” he explained.
I was stunned, I couldn’t believe he was only eight years old. I felt sick inside as he continued;
“It was an on and off kind of thing through my teenage years, but I cleaned up before my mission.”
“What about after your mission?”
“Well, yeah I did, but I’ve repented, really!”
After careful consideration I told him that I had a problem with this and I thought we should not see each other anymore. And this was his reasoning;
“I feel awful about it, but I can’t change what I’ve done. This is why it is so hard to date, even if you have repented. No one will give you the chance.” He exclaimed frustrated. “Trust me. Rachel, I think we have a real chance with our relationship, I can see it going all the way. I know that you have standards and that you’ve been hurt before, but I really have repented. Will you just pray about it please? I know that if you do God will tell you the truth.”
He was so honest and he really had repented! Wasn’t I supposed to look past this and forgive him? I thought his request was only fair and so I agreed.
That night I prayed earnestly and at the time I thought I believed him, I felt good when I prayed. The next week was miserable though. I can’t describe the feelings of disgust, almost as if I had looked at pornography myself. I didn’t want to touch him or let him close to me. At the same time I tried to rummage through my scattered brain for forgiveness and understanding. I was the one with the problem. Why couldn’t I look past this? Eventually I did and our relationship flourished.
One day as we were sitting on a blanket in my yard Jason very romantically turned to me and said the words all girls hope to here, “I love you.”
“No you don’t, you don’t even know me.” I replied instinctually. It hit me then that we barely knew each other; it had only been a couple of months. What was I saying? Why was I being so rude? Didn’t I love him? Things were perfect, I thought. Were they though?
As time went by my instincts of mistrust increased and I began to pry, just a bit. I didn’t want to be nosy or bring up the past, but I honestly didn’t know much about pornography, let alone masturbation. And if things were going to work I wanted to know the extent of what I was going to deal with. I found that once the subject was opened there was always more to reveal and then as more was uncovered the justifications began.
On one occasion we stopped for gas and I noticed Jason staring at me smiling. It wasn’t romantic, but instead I felt uncomfortable. I brought it up once we were in the car and he smilingly replied, “Sometimes I just like to fantasize about you.” I was a taken aback at his response but didn’t learn till later that he was arousing himself at my expense.
I began to study more on the subject of pornography and found that masturbation usually accompanies it. So I asked Jason,
“I know you told me that you haven’t looked at pornography, but what about masturbation?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s not what you think, I just happens when I’m asleep.” He confessed sheepishly.
“That’s ridiculous.” I angrily replied. “How can you just unzip your pants, masturbate and not wake up?”
“Honestly, I can’t help it. It really does happen sometimes. Look I feel terrible about it Rachel. I wear like 3 pairs of jeans to bed and a belt and it still happens. You have no idea how embarrassing it is to go to bed fully clothed with roommates. And I’ve talked to my bishop about it and he said that it’s ok as long as I stop when I wake up. You have to believe me.”
We dropped the conversation, but I felt violated and suspicious.
After that incident we never argued, but I was constantly having to check to see if he had slipped, whether intentional or not. We talked about counseling for him, which whenever there was a mess-up Jason always seemed to be a step ahead having talked to his bishop the night before. It didn’t add up so I began studying the subject on my own and found that nothing that he said was consistent with what the LDS church taught on the subject.
On Jason’s birthday I took him out to dinner.
“I’ve been thinking about our relationship and getting married, but I just have one concern.”
”What’s that?” I replied innocently.
“Well, I don’t think we have the same idea of what’s ok or not. I mean you have really high standards, which is good, but I think it’s ok when were being intimate to experiment with different positions and other things. And what’s going to happen if I did accidently masturbate; you would judge me for something I can’t help. I want my wife to accept all of me.”
I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation in public let alone at all. I was so embarrassed and hurt and confused and everything else. Did he really not see that he had a problem? And was he really making me into the villain? I had put up with everything, I was always considerate and understanding when things happened and chose to look past it believing that I could help him and that he really loved me and wanted to change. He didn’t want to change. The justifications just kept coming. It was then that I finally realized that he wasn’t going to change; he had a serious problem. I told Jason then that we needed to break up. He convinced me to still give him a chance if he would go talk to his bishop and I told him I also wanted to talk to mine. Acting on my bishop’s advice I told Jason that I would go on one date with him once a week if he didn’t masturbate. He didn’t need a girlfriend, just a chance. The next day he openly looked at pornography and masturbated.
Eventually after heartache, confusion and believing I didn’t fully understand how Christ’s atonement worked, we broke up. I felt like the bad guy. What had he done? So what? He had a problem and ninety-ninety percent of him was good. And he loved me. He begged me to reconsider; he wrote me poems and a list of 100 reasons why he respected and loved me. Promising he was changing. But despite all the persuasions I felt a small knowledge building inside of me that I had done the right thing. He needed help. This wasn’t something that he could overcome by himself. I couldn’t be his Savior! And I shouldn’t be either.
Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Cognitive Therapy, called porn the "most concerning thing to psychological health that I know of existing today." Yet countless experiences like Evelyn’s and my own are being shared and distributed to help women and men know that there is help. After contemplating and experiencing the effects of pornography myself and seeing my friends go through the same ordeal, I have decided to share these experiences. I do this in hope that married and single women and men will understand that they are not alone, that they don’t have to put up with it and shouldn’t. If you are already married there is hope, but help from professionals is advised and necessary. According to Donald L. Hilton, Jr. MD, “Repentance as a total change incorporates recovery with all its facets. It is greater change than the confess/repent/repeat cycle that so many of the addicted experience. Many of those in meetings I attend have gone through multiple counselors (bishops) and as they move follow-up is tenuous. True repentance and change from pornography addiction, to be permanent, requires full recovery…referring afflicted members to 12 step support will do them a great service.”
Pornography isn’t a game or a challenge that can simply be overcome by will power; it is a serious addiction with damaging effects and not only for the viewer, but for those around them. We need to band together to recognize the magnitude of the problem in our lives and resolutely seek help for those afflicted and hurting. Please share this knowledge with those you know. Being ignorant is blissful, but being competent is powerful.