The Covenant Eyes Podcast

Addressing the Struggle: Women, Pornography and the Path to Grace with Jessica Harris

November 08, 2023 Covenant Eyes, Karen Potter, Jessica Harris Season 2 Episode 60
The Covenant Eyes Podcast
Addressing the Struggle: Women, Pornography and the Path to Grace with Jessica Harris
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Picture this: A 13-year-old girl, curious and eager to understand her burgeoning sexuality, finds herself descending into the throes of hardcore pornography. Sounds shocking, right? But this isn't a scene from a disturbing novel, it's the real-life story of Jessica Harris. A long-time friend, Jessica joins us in an exceptionally candid discussion about her own struggle with pornography and how it led her into a vortex of shame and addiction. We delve into the often-overlooked aspect of female interaction with pornography and how it can seem like a "safe" exploration of sexuality.

Together, we bring to light the power of God's grace for women battling with pornography, shattering misconceptions and addressing the unusual challenges pornography can impose on a marriage. We emphasize the importance of vulnerability and the magic of open communication in a marriage when dealing with struggles like these. Jessica's insights into how pornography can hinder our innate desires for acceptance, intimacy, and unconditional love are both enlightening and thought-provoking. But far from a gloomy discourse, our conversation is ultimately infused with hope and optimism. We assure you that freedom and God's grace are attainable, even in the midst of the struggle with pornography. So lean in, listen closely, and prepare to see this issue from a whole new perspective.

Learn more about Jessica: https://beggarsdaughter.com/

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Karen Potter:

Welcome back everybody to the Covenant Eyes podcast. We are so excited to have you joining us today. We have got a long time friend joining us on the podcast. We'll get into all of that in a minute. I'm Karen, he's Brandon, and we're here to have a good time and talk about some amazing topics that we know you are super interested in. Brandon, how's it going today?

Brandon:

I'm doing really well, karen, and I'm excited for our topic. It's something that we do talk about on the podcast. We need to talk about it more, so I'm glad we're going to be featuring it today especially.

Karen Potter:

Absolutely. Today's guest, like I said, is a long time friend of Covenant Eyes, Jessica Harris. How are you today?

Jessica Harris:

I am doing well. How are you guys?

Karen Potter:

Awesome, couldn't be better. Thanks for asking. We actually had you join us back. It seems like forever ago, but it started way back at the Set Free Summit. Do you remember that back in 2016?

Jessica Harris:

It actually goes back even before that. Yes, it does I remember the Set Free Summit way back in the day.

Karen Potter:

Gosh that was a great presentation you put out there to our pastors and leaders. That was the start of a bigger dialogue, I think, with pastors and leaders about the growing epidemic of women that are struggling with pornography. It's something that doesn't get talked about enough. You're here today to walk us through that Talk about. I believe you have a new book that you want to talk a little bit about and so much more. If you don't mind, would you just give our listeners a little bit of your background and tell us a little bit about your work?

Jessica Harris:

Sure, Obviously, my name is Jessica. I have been working in this space of women struggling with pornography since 2009. 14 years now. I've actually first wrote for Covenant Eyes, I think, in 2010. I started writing for your guys' blog. That's awesome.

Jessica Harris:

But I started out sharing my story because I was a girl who grew up in the church and found pornography when I was 13, back in the age of dial-up and floppy disks, before people really understood the dangers of being online. The internet was such a new and cool thing that no one really understood how dangerous it could be. That's how all technology happens. We get social media. It's new and cool. Then it's like oh, that's actually dangerous. Then we move on to the next thing, like this is cool. Oh well, there's danger here.

Jessica Harris:

I was exposed back before really people understood that there was free pornography out there and that it was not just like Playboy. It was dangerous and violent content. I actually became addicted to it when I was in high school. I struggled with that in shame for years because there was nothing out there talking about women having this struggle. It made me think, man, am I the only woman in the world who has managed to get herself into this mess Through God's grace and just God working in my life, and I shared part of my story at the Set Free Summit.

Jessica Harris:

I've written a book about my story, but I was able to find freedom from that and then turn around and say, hey, this is not, I'm not the only woman in the world who struggled with this. This is an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent, and we need to, as a church, be addressing this, because when we're not talking about it, you have women like me who are sitting in the church hearing all about God's grace and all about how good he is and all about how much he loves us, and then thinking, yeah, but he can't possibly love me because I've screwed up too much. So wanting to communicate that message of grace to those women who struggle, but also wanting to change the conversation in the church. This is not just a man's problem. It is something that girls can struggle with too.

Brandon:

That's a really important thing that you're bringing up. I'd like to dive just a little bit deeper into the pornography for a moment, Jessica, because I would like especially for our listeners, our leaders who are listening talk a little bit about the pornography from your standpoint, your point of view, in the sense of were you attracted to the romantic side of it, or was it the images, or what was it about the pornography that drew you in as a woman?

Jessica Harris:

Right. So I think the common one of the common misconceptions, I guess, when it comes to women in pornography, is like women struggle with erotica, right, and they're just all sitting around reading romance novels and that's as bad as it gets for them. But for me, my first exposure was hardcore pornography and that is the world that I basically was like thrown into. It was not me sitting in a corner reading a book, it was watching videos. Actually, someone asked me in a different podcast, like so is it just you like scrolling along looking at pictures of naked men, like how men looked at pictures of naked women, like in Playboy? I said no, it's not, it wasn't that at all. It was watching videos and I think there was a part of it for me when I was 13, that was curiosity, like oh, this is what people aren't talking about.

Jessica Harris:

You know, my family didn't talk about sex, my church didn't talk about sex except to say don't have it, and so it was like, oh, this is what they've been talking about.

Jessica Harris:

So it kind of became a way that I learned and could express, I guess, my sexuality without it being dangerous.

Jessica Harris:

You know, it seemed safe in my head, like this is a way for me to experience this without having to worry about getting pregnant or worry about getting an STD or worried about any of those other things, and I can check the block that I'm still a virgin when I get married, like it seemed like this great answer to the problems that I was having as a teenager with raging hormones, and I was in a public school to all my friends are having sex, you know. And so it's like, oh, this is this is my way of balancing this, and so it was curiosity and just I mean we get stuck in pornography because part of it's enjoyable, right, like men and women, both are sexual creatures and enjoy sexual pleasure, and so we, when something appeals to that, it becomes appealing to us and we get involved in that. And so I think, just even as a woman like it, it was like, oh, this is interesting, this is new, this is fun, this is enjoyable for me, even as a teenager.

Karen Potter:

Yeah, and we hear, you know we hear that frequently. And then we also do hear the people that also engage in the romance and the erotica novels, which leads them to curiosity and online searches. So I think there's many ways to enter into this addiction and some people maybe move right into just being sexually active and acting out and that sexual brokenness grows in that way as well. I think one of the things that has been really, really, really rewarding, I think, in my work here at Covenant Eyes this scene, this topic, come up more and more in the churches. People are more engaged, they're aware and they're talking about it, but we still have a lot of work to do, jessica. What more can we be doing as Christians and as churchgoers and then for the pastors and leaders listening, what more can we be doing?

Jessica Harris:

I encourage people that it can be as easy as the word, and, right. I think sometimes we get overwhelmed when we're looking at a problem like this, like churches really don't even have a handle on men struggling with pornography and now we're going to throw at them Like, oh, by the way, women do this too, and oh, by the way, like children are being exposed to this. Like, fix it all. And it can be overwhelming as a ministry leader or a church leader my husband's a pastor, so it can be overwhelming to look at. Oh, this is a problem that affects all of my congregation, all in unique ways. Right, it's going to affect a wife differently than it affects an unmarried teenage girl. It's going to affect a marriage different than it just affects, like, a random single dude. And so you're trying to figure out all of the different ways to help all of these different people when really what the first step needs to be is just to start the conversation. You don't have to have the answer when you start a conversation, right, you just need people to understand that you know they exist and that their struggle exists. So, as we talk about pornography in our churches and as we address that in our circles and in our groups to just say things like and it's becoming a problem for women too, or and women struggle with this too, and to not do that in a way that's disgusted, like oh and women are doing this too, but to to frame it in a way that we understand that pornography is the predator and pornography is the enemy here. And the people around us who are struggling with this are not bad people for struggling. They are falling victim to it, and if you can flip your your perspective on that, too, they have fallen victim to this, this lie, this deception that this is good for them, that this is a healthy outlet, that this is okay because it's not hurting anybody that they have fallen victim to this. Then you can see yourself, as I'm just here to help people understand that there's someone who can rescue them. I'm not rescuing anybody. I am here to help people see that they're stuck and they're trapped and that there is a way out. And so I think, if you can, if we all can, like make that switch. Then we can see how women can be victims, how men can be victims, how children can be victims, and we can approach that in a way that's more gracious, as opposed to like, knock it off, you're a horrible, you're basically a human trafficker. Like, how dare you? Like that message isn't helpful for anybody really. And so when we can switch it to say, hey, this is lying to you. Like, this is trick to you. Like this is what Satan does, right, he tricks us right. And so this is tricking you into what's good in sex. Like this is lying to you, this is deceiving you. Like, let me tell you that there's a better way. That message is universal for men, women, whoever. Like that message goes across, and if we can just start sharing that, we might not have the program in place, we might not have a support group in place, but as we start sharing that message, we'll see those things kind of take form themselves.

Jessica Harris:

I shared my story at a church in Australia back in the day and I just it was the first time this church had talked about this issue, and so I shared my story and the church, the pastor, kind of felt like overwhelmed. She's like I don't know where to go from here, but we're at least going to start the conversation, which is all you need to do. And a woman who worked in the youth group came to me afterwards and says I have never told anybody about this, but I used to be a porn star. And she said and you have just given me the courage to step up and share my story and to help these girls in this youth group. So you don't know what's going to happen from starting the conversation, so just start the conversation.

Karen Potter:

That's good.

Brandon:

Thinking about what you said with the using the word, and I actually had a personal experience with that when my wife and I were working in engaged couples retreat and I had talked about pornography, because part of what we do in that retreat is share our own story of how we struggled with the impacts of pornography in our marriage, and I had talked about how men struggle with it and I as a man, had struggled with it and I used the word and and I added that women were struggling with it as well, and so we got to make sure that we it's sort of a both and approach, and I actually had a woman come up to me in that retreat later on and say that she was really glad I used the word and it and mentioned the women and didn't leave them out because it was just a.

Brandon:

It was a really comforting moment for her to know that she wasn't alone in this, and so I yeah, I definitely agree with you on that. I'd like to shift gears just a little bit and talk about your book quenched. So I believe this is your second book. You had Beggar's daughter first and now this is your second book, so talk about the story behind this book.

Jessica Harris:

Right, so the difference? So Beggar's daughter is my story. It's my very much, almost like a memoir in a way, and I wrote it specifically for, actually, the set free summit with Covenant eyes, because I wanted to wait for pastors to walk away and have answers to maybe more questions than they might have for me, just being on a stage for 30 minutes, like a more specific map through my story, quench, I feel like, is the, the now? What it answers, the now, what, in a way? Okay, so women struggle with this. That's my story. And then now, what do we do? Like what? What's a tool that we can hand them? What's a message that we can give them other than just like, hey, yeah, sorry, we know you're here too bad. Like, what's the next step, what's the next part of this conversation? And that's what's captured in quenched.

Jessica Harris:

I really wanted people to understand God's heart for them, right? Because it's one thing to say yes, we see you, we know you struggle, and then the next thing to be able to say, hey, god sees you and he knows you struggle and he knows and he loves you and he has a message of grace and hope and freedom for you and, I think, so many women who struggle with pornography. They just feel so much shame and they feel like God wants nothing to do with them. And that's such a damaging message for them. Right, like if I, if God is my way out, if he is my source of hope and he's my source of freedom, and the enemy can find some way to convince me that I am not savable, that God wants something to do with me, then the enemy has won. Like I'm not going to be able to find freedom because I'm convinced God has nothing for me.

Jessica Harris:

And so the message of quench is that God wants your freedom Like he doesn't. He doesn't want you to get over yourself. Like he wants your freedom Like he. He wants to come alongside of you and fight this with you. Like he's not expecting you to slug through it and get to him on your own, like he's coming for you. He's coming to you and his desire is for you and for your freedom.

Jessica Harris:

And there's this overwhelming grace that I think we're missing in our message in the church, and that was what I wanted to capture in quenched and give to a man like hey, listen, the message of God is not I'm disgusted with you and I hate your guts and I'm so disappointed in you, like go away. That's not the message of God and gospel and of grace, like his message is like hey, I see you, I know you're stuck, I know you're messing up and I'm coming for you, like in a good way, I'm coming to help you, I'm coming to set you free, I'm coming to rescue you. And women needed that message and I've had plenty of men write in like I needed this too. Why did you write it just for women? But it's that message of grace and it follows a narrative of John four in the Bible and Jesus and the woman at the well and walks through the different desires that she shows in that and how God wants to meet each, each of those.

Karen Potter:

That's so good, you know.

Karen Potter:

I think it's really interesting too that a lot of the work that we're doing now we're seeing a new generation that, both male and female, have grown up in a pornified culture have been exposed.

Karen Potter:

Some are addicted, some are struggling, I mean. So the church has really faced with the unique challenge that some of these young marriages are starting off with both people having wounds from pornography use or still actively using pornography, and I just think that we need more of that awareness, like you're saying, that we talk and bring up this issue and show compassion and then be able to point to other resources. We don't have to have the answers ourselves, but we do need tools and resources to be pointing people to, because they do need hope and they do need healing to overcome these challenges. In your work with women specifically that are married, how have you been helping them, because a lot of times this might be a secret they did not bring forward in their marriage to their husband. Have you done any counseling or coaching on how to do that or have resources you would recommend for that?

Jessica Harris:

So this is tricky because a lot of the forerunners of the talking about women who struggle with pornography so, like Crystal Renaud and Joyce Garca, we were most of us were single when we started. So we already found our freedom and our voices as single young women. And then we walked into marriage with wounds still, to be sure, like even when you are free, you can be free and still have scars right, like it's not like one or the other thing. And so we still walked into marriage, having to deal with the damage that pornography had done in our own hearts and lives and work through that. But it's definitely a different thing altogether when you are married and have kept this a secret and have not told your spouse. And I think a lot of that does come back to that messaging when we make it so like the messaging within the church can be so much like it's okay for men to struggle with it, but like heaven forbid, a woman struggles and if she struggles then like she's a terrible person. And the number of wives that I've worked with who are afraid to tell their husbands because like he thought I was pure when he married me, like he thought I was a good person and now I'm going to tell him that I'm struggling with this. And I've had a wife say I told my husband and now he won't even talk to me. I've had another wife say I promised myself I would tell my husband after I married him, because I would have felt safe in that relationship to tell him. And now I'm terrified and I can't Like she thought she would once they got married, and then, once they got married, she realized I'm so scared of losing him that I will never tell him this. And so I think we have to. We have to. I think I actually have a resource for couples to walk through this on my website but we have to couch this so carefully in a message of grace, because you do, disappointment is okay, and I tell wives, I tell women, that shock does not the same as shame, right? So like somebody can be shocked or confused by something that you say, and it doesn't mean that they're that they're shaming you, right, they're, they have.

Jessica Harris:

We all have kind of the initial reaction of like what I've never heard of of women struggling with this or what you, you know, the pastor's wife or the missionary's wife, or the ministry leader, the youth pastor, the, you, the you. And we're going to have that moment of I would have never thought that from you, but it doesn't mean, wow, you're a horrible person for doing this. Like there's a difference between the two, and so I try to encourage that. And then, if you don't feel that it's safe to tell your husband because I think every if this is a struggle you have, you should tell your husband, and the reason being not to invite shame but to invite intimacy, because you are not experiencing true intimacy with your spouse. If you're keeping a secret like this from them, like if you are ashamed or you think you're afraid of your spouse shaming you, then you're not experiencing intimacy. Everything you're doing is an act Right, it's what you hope to experience. Like you're pretending to be that, but you are not experiencing it because there's a part of you that says, if he really knew who I was, if he really knew what I was doing, he wouldn't love me. And so you have to, as the life, combat that by telling your husband what's going on. If you don't feel like that's a safe conversation to have with him, then have it in front of somebody else. Invite a counselor into that environment. That can help keep the conversation on the rails, if you will, and help not have it fly off the handle and be wounding and damaging.

Jessica Harris:

But I do encourage wives to have this conversation with your husband. You're not asking him to fix it Right. You're just saying I need someone to be safe to talk about this with and I need you, the person that I'm supposed to be safest with, the person that I'm most intimate with, to know that this is a struggle that I'm having and I'm going to get help one way or the other. I'm trying to get help whatever resources that you have available to you. But I need you to know this because I can't keep living a lie.

Jessica Harris:

Basically, and when you are in a marriage experiencing intimacy and supposed to be one with this person, if you are holding on to this and hiding this and you're flying in the face of that intimacy, you're actually damaging it Because your husband is loving and connecting with a version of you that you've created that's not real, and so you want to bring that wall down and say this is something that I'm struggling with and I want to know, and I need to know, that you still love me through who I am, even when I'm struggling with this. And again, if it's not, as if you don't feel like it's a safe conversation to have, then have it with somebody else. I can invite somebody else into that to help mediate, if you will.

Brandon:

And I think the challenge with pornography is that we have this innate longing right that we get from God to be known, to be loved and cared for, and when we're in that marriage we also want to be known, to be loved and to be cared for, and pornography just throws a wrench in that. And so I think a lot of what we're talking about speaks to a couple of the points you bring up in the book about how we're all longing for acceptance and intimacy and unconditional love, which we definitely get from the Lord. But we're human, right, we're weak, we're broken, and so there's a lot of messiness that comes into play when there's pornography and other sexual sin that comes into the picture. Jessica, as we wrap up our time today, what message would you want to leave for our listeners who are going to read the book and maybe for those who are just, especially for the women out there are struggling themselves with sexual sin?

Jessica Harris:

I would say there's hope, like I want people to understand and then how rich that hope is right. When I was struggling, it would have been enough if someone just said like, hey, you can break free from this. Like, and I would have been like, ok, sign me up, I'm game, let's do this. And that's actually what helped me find freedom. Was somebody saying like, hey, we can help you. And so I would say to those women there is help out there. But beyond that, like God promises us good things, right, he promises us like his grace is rich and it's full.

Jessica Harris:

And the number of single women, especially that I, that I interact with and say you know, sure, I might be free from pornography, but no man will ever love me because of what I've gone through. Or I'm 38 and single, and I know this is because God's punishing me for what I've done. Or we're struggling with infertility, and I just know it's because of this past with pornography. And I would just challenge them to like break those chains of of shame right. Like God wants us to be free and he wants to set us free.

Jessica Harris:

And there were years that I believe those lies and I walked through a prolonged season of singleness and wondered if it was because I struggled in, because I was so vocal about my story, and I thought there's no man who ever wants to be married to the woman who who has this story. But I actually met my husband because he read beggar's daughter like he ordered beggar's daughter. He read beggar's daughter and he reached out to me and he said I don't see a woman who struggled with pornography. He said I see someone who is healed and who has let God just revolutionize her life and has let God use a painful part of her story to set other people free. He's like that's who I see.

Jessica Harris:

I see someone who's redeemed and someone who loves the Lord, and so I would just encourage women like this does not have to be your identity moving forward, it does not have to define the rest of your story. Like you, god can write a story outside of this, and so there's hope. You're not. You're not stuck here, you're not stuck with the label, you're not stuck with the brand for forever there's freedom, and then, beyond that freedom, there's just the goodness and the richness of God, and so don't give up. It's a hard process and it can take a long time. It took me like two years to really feel like I had broken free from pornography. But on the other side of that struggle there's such goodness and such grace. So I would just encourage them with that.

Karen Potter:

So beautiful. Jessica, thank you so much for your inspiration. I think our listeners are really going to take this to heart, and thank you for your resources. We'll put all the links to your books, as well as your website, in our show notes. So, listeners, please take a look at these resources and the books. I mean, if you haven't read the beggar's daughter, start there. Hear Jessica's stories that you can have empathy for other people. Jessica, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a beautiful conversation. Your heart really pours through and we just are so grateful for you joining us. Oh, thank you for having me on.

Karen Potter:

Absolutely Well, brandon, that brings us to a close of another amazing episode of the Covenant Eyes podcast. I know that our listeners will be blessed by this conversation and we do hope to have Jessica back in the future. Any final thoughts in closing, Brandon.

Brandon:

Well, I just like that this book quenched that we talked about today is the now, what in recognizing that Jesus' love is the ultimate transformation that we need in being able to find freedom from whatever we're struggling with. Maybe there's people listening who aren't even struggling with pornography, but there is trauma, there are wounds that we all have, and God's grace is abundant enough to be able to help us work through all that. And I think that's the message that I want to leave with everyone today is that, like Jessica was saying, there's always hope and God is enough to take it all. Amen.

Karen Potter:

Amen. I think that's a great way to close today's session. So, covenant Eyes Family, thanks for tuning in for another episode. We'll see you next time, god bless.

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