by Joy Skarka
I opened my door and there she stood. She was nervous. I invited her inside my home, offered her a cup of coffee, and we sat down on my couch. I could see the hesitancy on her face as she fidgeted with her phone. I asked her to tell me a bit about her story.
My new friend was referred to me by another woman who had sat on my couch just last week and cried as she said I was the first person she had ever told about her porn addiction. Every woman who sits on my couch has different details in their stories––different traumas or different types of sexual brokenness, but each story and each face are filled with pain and questions.
“Will my life always feel this empty?”
“Will I always be addicted to porn?”
“Will my marriage always be this hard?”
“Will I always be afraid of men?”
“Why did God allow this to happen?”
“Can Jesus really meet my longings and desires for intimacy?”
After each woman shares her story, I offer comfort with just two little words, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry that she has walked through such a painful experience. I assure her from my own story that there is hope. I’ve been in her shoes. I may not have experienced the exact trauma and experiences as each new friend on my couch, but I’ve walked through sexual assault and sexual addiction, and I’ve found hope and healing. For some of these women, that’s all they need to hear. As they stand up and walk out my door, I can see that they look lighter. Happier. More hopeful. I didn’t fix their problems, but I gave them a safe space to share their stories and they no longer feel alone.
I meet women in their brokenness on my couch, and I meet new friends at different events. I frequently share my story from a stage in front of hundreds of people, and afterwards women line up to share their own brokenness and ask for hope. One time a young woman hesitated near the line, waiting for others to leave. I walked over and asked if she wanted to talk. With tears in her eyes she said, “I’ve never even heard a woman, let alone a Christian woman, say the words pornography and masturbation. Thank you for giving me the space to say them too.”
In my doctoral research, I surveyed over 1,000 women on how they experienced sexual shame and if or how they found freedom. Sadly, almost 69 percent of the women said their sexual shame made them feel far from God, and 52 percent said they felt so much shame that they kept their struggles a secret from their friends and family.
In my experience, sexual struggle and temptation are almost always talked about as guys’ problems. This just heaps shame on the many women who also struggle with them. Sexual sin issues are not just topics for men. It’s time we invite women into the conversation.
If we continue to ignore the sexual brokenness of women, how will they know the forgiving love of a God who sets them free? Understanding God’s forgiveness is key to helping women find freedom from sexual sin and sexual shame. Anna, a 42-year-old woman, struggled with sexual shame surrounding same-sex relationships, pornography, and masturbation. She also experienced sexual abuse as a child. Anna shared with me that hearing God forgives and loves her is what set her free from sexual sin and shame.
Similarly, Andrea, a 37-year-old woman, chose to abort her baby, and the shame she experienced led to her living a life of continued sexual sin. Andrea said that she believed God could never love or forgive her because of her actions, which led to her walking away from God for years. Similarly to Anna, for Andrea to find healing from the pain of her abortion, she said the most powerful thing that happened in her life was hearing from a pastor that God loves her and forgives her.
We need to create a safe place in church to talk about sexuality, and if we fail to include women, they may not feel comfortable coming forward with their issues. Many women believe they have no safe place to ask questions about sex or to talk about sexuality; yet having that safe place is a part of biblical community.
Instead of silencing or shaming women, churches can normalize these conversations. You can be an empathetic friend—but don’t stop there. Pray with your leadership and ask God to show you how to create places where men and women can gather and talk about their struggles and share their stories with other believers. One way to offer a safe place is to have female staff members and/or trained lay leaders so that women are able to speak with other women first.
Men and women have more in common than we realize. There are important spaces for men and women to heal in their own groups; but we also need to heal together. Including women in conversations about sexuality opens doors for brothers and sisters in Christian community to have conversations with one another. When we categorize sexual sin as a “man’s issue,” we not only hurt women, we also hurt men. Both men and women are sexually broken.
Many of the women who have sat on my couch share that they believe they are “too far gone” or “too addicted” to ever find healing. Other women share that they have gone through too much pain and suffering to have hope for healing. Including women in conversations about sexuality helps them to realize they aren’t exempt from the hope of Christ because of their sin.
Hebrews 10 explains how we can provide hope to men and women. The author of Hebrews encourages us to, “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10: 22-24 NIV).
First, we draw near to God. Then we can experience being cleansed from our sins. And through that faith in God and His forgiveness, we can have hope. Why? Not because of anything we’ve done, but because He is faithful. I love the last verse that encourages us to then spur one another on.
We can spur one another on by having honest conversations. This is true for my friend Stacy. Stacy, a 28 year-old woman, found freedom from shame through the vulnerability of a mentor. Before finding someone to honestly share with, Stacy struggled alone. “Growing up it was never safe to ask anyone questions about sex. It would always turn into ‘I had done something wrong.’ I grew up feeling bad about my sexuality and soon turned to pornography and masturbation in secret because I couldn’t open up to anyone about how I was struggling. I didn’t know another woman who struggled with these things or even had sexual desire of her own. I thought I was the only one! Every book or sermon on the subject only mentioned male desire.”
Stacy shared what brought her healing. “It wasn’t until a mentor led with vulnerability and shared about her own struggles that I felt safe to share my own sin. She pointed me to the gospel and how God knew the whole time and still sent Jesus to make a way for me to have a relationship with him. This gave me the strength to keep being vulnerable with that mentor and pursue accountability and healing of those deeper issues. Over time, I felt safe enough and secure in God to share my stories with others and help them start their recovery journey.”
I wish I could invite you over to my couch to have an honest conversation about sexual brokenness. If you are struggling, who is a safe Christian mentor or friend you can begin sharing your story with? Or if you are a Christian leader, I encourage you that you can begin having these conversations on your couch. Have you led with vulnerability? Are you allowing your own story to point others to the gospel? Think about one way you can begin having honest conversations about sexuality that include women too.
If you would like to hear more about my story or how to include women in these conversations, listen to our episode on Java with Juli #369: Changing the Way We Talk About Porn (Because Women Struggle Too).
Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash