Not Just a "Man" Issue: Jessica Harris
Jessica Harris is the 29-year-old voice behind Beggar's Daughter, an online resource for women who struggle with sexual sin. The aim of Beggar's Daughter is to educate about female lust addiction, encourage the addict, and equip the church to help. Harris struggled with a pornography addiction for nearly 10 years and now writes and speaks, sharing her own story of addiction, grace, and healing in hopes of helping others find freedom.
What is it that hooks women into using pornography, especially when most porn is degrading to women?
Harris: It's important to remember, first off, that pornography is not a "man" issue. It is a sin issue, which makes it a humanity issue. A woman can be drawn in either visually or emotionally. There is this incorrect idea that only men are visually stimulated, so we get confused when women struggle.
There are women who are drawn to pornography simply because it arouses them sexually. A woman may start with something "soft" like romance novels or nonviolent erotica. Then eventually she can build up to using hardcore pornography, which is degrading toward women. She won't even realize it's degrading, because it's all about the sexual stimulation. It's similar to watching a train wreck. There might be graphic and disturbing images, but in the context of the unfolding drama, viewers just can't look away.
That's the same line of reasoning that plays in an addict's mind. If you showed her a video of a woman being beat up, she would likely be appalled, but if it's in the context of pornography where it's sexual and the woman appears to be consenting, then it's "different." It's excusable to her. What she doesn't realize is that she is becoming desensitized. The longer she stays involved the more violent and bizarre her preferences will become and the more likely it is that she will act out her addiction.
For other women, it is an emotional hook. Many of the women who come to me have a background of abuse. There's a history of brokenness, pain, and degradation. In a way, that has become a norm for her. She thinks, consciously or unconsciously, "This is just how life is. This is just how women are treated." She may start with sex chatting as a way to feel connected and accepted.
When that woman stumbles across pornography, as violent and degrading as it can be, she sees it as love. These two people on the screen are being intimate. This woman usually imagines herself in the scene as opposed to standing outside of it looking in. She is not visually stimulated by the sex; she is stimulated by the fantasy of being that woman in the video. She doesn't understand she is worth more and deserves better.
What does the church need to do to help women who are trapped in a porn habit?
Harris: When Jesus came, he didn't march around informing people they were sick; the sick came to him for healing. If the church is the body of Christ, the representation of his hope on earth, then we need to be that same beacon of hope, healing, and grace.
Churches need to have women who can step up as mentors and accountability partners for women who struggle. Churches need to openly address the reality that, yes, Christian women can be trapped in sexual sins. People need to extend grace, not judgment; men may respond well to being hit upside the head with truth, but women need compassion more than we need confrontation. A couple of years ago I sat and listened as a pastor went on and on and on about how sick pornography was and how sick people were who watched it. With every "sick" I wanted to cry. We know we're sick. Tell us how to get better! Give us hope that there's a way out and encourage us to walk in the freedom that is ours in Christ.
How did you get out?
Harris: Someone else started the conversation. I had been waiting for years for someone else to acknowledge I was there. All of the resources were for men, and I had no clue how to ask for help!
At my lowest point, I was actually considering joining the porn industry. I was caught in my addiction, and I kept hearing people say, "Women just don't have this problem." I figured I had no choice but to actually become an adult actress. I was so tired of pretending to be someone I wasn't. I was 17 when I sent out my first pictures. I felt so disgusting and worthless.
A year later, during an all-women meeting at college, the dean of women stood at the front of the room and said, "We know some of you struggle with pornography and masturbation, and we're going to help." She encouraged us to let someone know if we were struggling with this. I did, and it was probably the scariest thing I have ever done, but I've never regretted it.
Healing is a journey. When a woman watches pornography for so long, she loses a sense of her worth not only as a woman but as a human being. It can completely destroy how she views her body, men, sex, her faith, love, and so much more. The process of freedom is more than just not watching the porn anymore. Freedom is about being healed from all of its effects, too. It is a long process.
Over the following two years, various women invested their time and effort into helping me find healing and freedom. Everything I do today is a direct result of their willingness to talk about what no one else would. I do what I do in hopes that it will start that process of freedom for someone else.
Harris recommends the book Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, edited by Ellen Dykas (New Growth Press, 2012). Learn more at BeggarsDaughter.com.