My parents asked me if I had any questions. But, I simply nodded no and told them I understood what was happening. But I did have questions. Big questions. Maybe I was afraid to know the answers because all of this scared me: My sister was really in fact my brother. What?
My brother A.J. was born with severe birth defects that affected both his reproductive and digestive systems. He was born a eunuch, meaning he had no penis or testicles. He also wore two colostomy bags and took most of his nutrition through a feeding tube where his belly button should have been. At his birth, the doctors had advised my parents to raise him as a girl. They thought he would have an easier time socially if he did not have to account for his missing genitals and they could provide hormones so he could develop more like a female. My brother lived as a girl for the first five years of his life, until the night my parents sat me down to tell me that God had convicted them about A.J.’s true identity and gender and had decided he should live as the boy he was.
Overnight, his long wavy hair was cut short. Dresses were replaced with pants and t-shirts and even his room got a makeover. I can still remember him walking into church declaring to everyone, “I’m a boy now!”
I often wondered….could I be a boy too? Was I supposed to be a boy? It wasn’t long until evil came to answer those questions for me.
One afternoon, I was home alone and happened upon a scrambled up channel when I was watching TV. I was about to change it when the screen briefly cleared enough to show a woman’s breasts. I could hardly believe what I saw and I watched intently to see what I could make out from the scrambled up screen. I came back to it the next day, and the next, and the next. I remember asking myself the question, “Is this sex?” My mom had described it to me much differently when explaining to me all about my period and how babies were made.
Church was the first place I ever heard about pornography. And anytime it was brought up, Pastors always seemed to be directing those messages to the men in the congregation. What did that say about me if this was a “man’s struggle”? My shame begin to mount in heavy layers. I concluded I was the only “Christian” girl in the world who had ever struggled with something like this.
I tried confessing to a woman at church once in high school, but she shut me down quickly before I could talk about it, saying that we as Christians don’t need to know one another’s dark secrets as in doing so, we could cause others to stumble. She said that if I simply prayed more, read my Bible every day, and confessed my sin to God, it would be the cure. That never worked for me, and it added to my shame and all that I believed about myself.
My addiction went on for years and increased with easy accessibility on the internet. My addiction led me down some very dark roads, to unsafe places. It shifted my view on sex, my own sexuality, and how I viewed my body and who I would share it with. I was 26 by the time I had found someone I trusted enough to share my secrets with.
She kept asking for my face. If I tried to look down, she asked again for my eyes. I spoke every wicked, deplorable thing I had ever done, exposing all of the things my addiction had led me to. I thought she would run out, ask me to leave, or reply with some kind of ominous warning. But her face for me was one of sorrow, kindness and love, understanding, and compassion. She spoke to me words of truth and grace.
I heard that day that pornography is designed to make you question your sexuality. I heard that I wasn’t the only woman in the world who struggled with this.
She told me that Jesus did not see me as the pervert I believed I was, but instead His precious daughter. I had to wonder, if this was her face for in the midst of sharing all of my ugliness, maybe Jesus’ face could look the same for me too. I looked love in the eyes that day and let it cover all of the places that had been in the dark for so long. And something inside of me broke free.
Through all of this, I discovered that when we shine the light of the cross on our sin and shame, we are able to take hold of the grace we have in Jesus, because He died and rose again for this very thing. It is in these sacred moments of vulnerability and exposed depravity that Jesus shines the brightest within us. I believe that sharing these places with one another gives us the chance to love others as Jesus does. What a gift we can give to one another if we expose darkness to the light!
For almost ten years now, I have been free from the addiction of pornography. I would love to say that I’ve never looked at that garbage since that time. But, on occasion, I still do. I’ll slip up, have a bad day and I’m usually pretty aware of the triggers that set me off when I want to go to places of violence against my heart and body. But for me, freedom has looked like brushing off the shame. Confessing my sin to my husband and clinging to the truth of who God says I am in His eyes.
To answer my 11 year old self, “No, Jennifer. Pornography is not sex. Pornography is a cheap and disgusting counterfeit for something absolutely beautiful, amazing and intimate to be shared within the safe covenant of marriage.”
The truth is, pornography is not only a man’s struggle. It’s a woman’s also. I can’t help but think how different my story would have been had I heard another woman talking about her own struggles with pornography when I was younger. And today, because of God’s grace, because of Jesus, and because I found someone safe to share these things with, I get to be that woman for this generation. One who speaks freely, without shame and embarrassment. I have been able to embrace other young women who have found themselves caught up in this very thing and give them my face and ask for theirs. Because love always looks you in the face and asks for your eyes.
Deeply rooted in South Texas, Jennifer Stamness is a sunshine-lover, wife and mother to two young boys. She enjoys creating beauty in places like writing, music, decorating and throwing parties. She desires to follow Jesus into the unknown places He invites her to and is thankful for His abundant and amazing grace. Jennifer writes, dreams and shares pieces of her story here.