How it began
When I was about five years old, I remember sitting on the bathroom floor idly thumbing through an old magazine and happened to see a tiny advertisement for a book about sex. The cover had a naked man and woman positioned just so you didn’t see the “private parts,” but still enough to convey a sexual tone. I was immediately dumbstruck. My little mind grasped for terms and framework to process what I was looking at, but it came up blank. This was something new, something interesting, and yet something at which I knew I shouldn’t look.
Over the years there were similar incidents at increasing speed and intensity. Curiosity turned into interest and interest turned into desire. Even though I felt searing shame, pornography and masturbation became destructive habits in my life.
Struggle and shame
Like many who also struggle with lust and masturbation, I felt shame beyond imagination. Paul’s aching question in Romans 7:24 put words to my feelings. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?” I knew it was wrong, and I wanted to stop, but I didn’t know how to take hold of victory and be free from this habit. So I stayed silent. I kept my secret and vowed that I would take it to my grave. Fortunately, we cannot hide our sins from the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:13).
As I got older, I became desensitized to the Spirit’s conviction and my heart was hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). Shame took a backseat to rationalization. It’s not that bad. It’s not like I’m having actual sex. Borrowing from a culture that preached that masturbation was a good thing, I talked my way out of holiness and gave into temptation. When someone would ask me how I was doing spiritually, I would lie. When someone asked me what I was doing in my room so much, I would lie. Dishonesty allowed my secret sin to continue for years, expanding into other forms of sexual sin, and there was so much that I kept concealed. But one day, it all blew wide open and I couldn’t hide anymore because a holy, loving Father does not allow His children to continue in deceit. Psalm 51:6 tells us, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom” (NASB).
Repentance and freedom
By God’s grace and sovereignty, He used an unplanned pregnancy to get my attention and shine a spotlight on the habits and patterns that had contributed to my very sexual lifestyle. I finally came to terms with the fact that pornography and masturbation were sin. They were not harmless habits, but blatant sexual immorality. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion…” (1 Thess. 4:3–5a). Once I identified sin as sin, my rationalizations, explanations, excuses, and bargaining held no weight. I couldn’t continue as before because now I was responsible to confess and repent (James 4:8–10).
Once I was pregnant, I couldn’t hide from others anymore either. The Lord graciously and relentlessly pressed me to confess my sin to people who knew me and loved me. I was a weak, feeble Christian and had been separated from the flock for too long. The Body of Christ is called to bear one another’s burdens and I desperately needed the support and accountability (Gal. 6:2). I began seeing a Christian counselor who helped women living in sexual sin, and I opened up to my family and friends. Gradually, facing my sin became less and less scary. I felt less and less alone. I found that many other women struggled with porn and masturbation. It wasn’t “just a guy’s problem.” It was affecting people I knew who had been struggling in silence for years just like I had! Through open and honest conversations, the Lord showed me freedom I had never experienced before.
Over time, with the help of my counselor and others, I became aware of certain triggers that led me toward temptation. Boredom, stress, and my monthly hormonal changes played a big part in the pattern I had lived in for years. If I was experiencing any of those triggers, I knew I had to take great care to be prayerfully on guard against the enemy. Instead of letting myself lounge around, I tried to get up and do something to distract my mind (Eph. 5:14–17). If I got stressed, I had to put away my old coping mechanisms (Eph. 4:22–24) and replace them with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:5–7). When I felt the hormones washing over me every month, I would remind myself that Jesus is Lord over all creation. I was created through Him and for Him; He is before all things and in Him all things hold together, including my physical body (Col. 1:16–17). If He truly is Lord of the universe, He could give me the grace to help in my monthly time of need (Heb. 4:16)!
However, the biggest tool in fighting this decades-old stronghold was spending regular, meaningful time studying my Bible. You cannot win spiritual battles with physical tools alone. If you are battling sin, you must fight with the power of Christ (Eph. 6:10–13). Make no mistake: the gospel of Christ is one that not only provides victory in death, but victory in life as well (Rom. 8:37)! Until I began consistently reading the Word and letting the Holy Spirit renew my mind, I had no way to experience that victory. But when I did begin to study my Bible regularly, the power of God started to change me.
“The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
When we spend regular time studying our Bibles, we find a greater appetite for the Lord and His Word, and our hungry lusts begin to lose their strength. He promises that if we walk by the Spirit, we will not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16)! But we cannot live by the Spirit if we neglect our relationship with Him through His Word.
Spending time with the Lord through His Word and prayer also tore down the warped way I had viewed God for so long. When I regularly looked at porn and masturbated, I started to see God as angry, vindictive, waiting for me to fail, and eager to punish. My own disobedience was the enemy’s primary tool in changing how I viewed the Lord. In my mind He was no longer my Advocate, but my accuser, and that only drove me further from Him. It was only after I daily spent time with Him that I began to see that yes, He is holy, He is Judge, and He cannot tolerate sin, but He also has compassion on us like a father and remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:13–14). He understands our temptations and sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). He promises to be with His children through the fierce trials of temptation (Is. 43:1–3).
The continual fight for purity
While I have finally experienced ongoing victory in this area of my life, I still have to stand guard and sometimes actively fight against these same temptations. What I watch, read, and listen to directly affects my mind. Every day I have to think about and practice what I know to be good and godly (Phil. 4:8–9). I take extra precautions to stay busy and prayerful during the times of the month I know I’m most vulnerable. But above all, I make it my priority to stay in fellowship with the Lord, and walk in holiness. Through that obedience, He has transformed my life in very tangible ways. Christ redeemed my unplanned pregnancy, and my daughter is a living, breathing testament to His mercy and grace. He has used my past sexual sin and my present victory over it to equip me to minister to women wrestling with the same struggles.
So if you are struggling with pornography and masturbation, or other sexual sin, I want you to know some things: The Lord loves you and wants you to be free from this prison. Confession and community are not your enemy. Saturating yourself in Scripture and spending time in prayer is the best thing you can do right now. There is victory in our Lord Jesus Christ, and He can redeem anything.
Contributors to the "Behind Closed Doors" series are sharing personal stories about sin, and the redemptive hope found in Christ within Christian community. Our mission at Well-Watered Women is to equip women with a deeper understanding and love for God's Word, and we also encourage women who are struggling to seek the help of biblical counselors and/or medical professionals. You are not alone!