I saw porn for the first time when I was six. I was visiting my dad in Florida with my sister. We were watching TV late at night, unsupervised, when we came across a channel that showed two people having sex. I knew that we should change the channel, but I didn’t want to. I was intrigued and wanted to watch longer. A brief exposure was enough to impact me deeply.
After that I was really tuned in to sexual images in magazines, movies and shows; it was like I had developed a radar for it all. I knew that it was not good to be looking at those things, so I kept it secret. Another thing I kept secret was that I learned to masturbate in the third grade. In high school I got a laptop and had access to porn videos online. Nobody knew that I was watching these things and that I had this hidden life, because for a while on the outside I was a “good girl.”
One of the ways that porn influenced me was making me think that guys wanted to use me. I wasn’t aware I had acquired that way of thinking, but when I started to party and become promiscuous in high school, I allowed myself to be used by boys. I learned from porn that that’s what they want and that I could have a sort of power over them by letting them use me.
The biggest impact that viewing porn at a young age had on me was that it introduced a deep sense of shame that I carried with me for almost two decades. When I had a conversion back to Catholicism in college, my new friends were interested in knowing the real me and knowing my story. The fact of the matter was I didn’t know the real me and I hadn’t looked at my story. When I started to, I uncovered this place of shame. I discovered a belief firmly cemented in my mind and heart that I was no good, that I was broken beyond repair and that I was perverted at the core of my being. I eventually connected these beliefs to the early experience of not only watching porn but wanting to watch porn. I thought: Why would someone, especially so young, want to watch something like that unless there was something seriously wrong with her, unless she was perverted and just kind of off?
One thing that was helpful was learning that it’s actually pretty normal that if a child is exposed to porn or has any kind of sexually inappropriate experience there often is a curiosity that later becomes very confusing and shameful for the individual. I also learned that it can be a normal response for a person to become interested in sexual things after an early exposure like that. It turns out that what I experienced was not unusual given what had happened and what I had seen—and that lifted a lot of the shame from me and made me feel a lot more normal and a lot less messed up.
Something happened several years ago that further touched and brought healing to this part of me. I was in prayer on a retreat and was feeling very in touch with the sense of shame and brokenness, unworthiness and perversion. The memory of the first exposure to porn popped into my head and I saw a scene play out. I saw myself and my sister lying on the ground in our sleeping bags in front of the TV, soon after seeing the porn, and we were sleeping. I saw Jesus kneeling on the ground by my head and leaning over me, weeping. I sensed that He was not mad at me and He was not at all interested in punishing me. I sensed that He was sad for me because He knew what this experience would do to me and how long it would take me to heal from it. I also saw in Him a very real and righteous anger at my dad for not protecting me from this. This experience was very healing; it was really important for me to see how Jesus responded to me in that moment, and it allowed me to see the memory and myself differently. I was finally freed from the shame I had carried for so long.