Using Porn to Heal

Using Porn to Heal May 5, 2016

Legs in the tubRelocating to a new town as a thirty something with four kids wasn’t exactly easy, but the opportunity came at a pivotal time in my life. It was 1999, only I wasn’t partying. My marriage was ailing under the stress of my recovery from sexual abuse, and the Christian faith I had built my life around was crumbling right along with it. During the long hours my husband spent at his new job and with a new home being built, I found myself in a huge turn-of-the-century rental with afternoons free for continued work on my inner “issues,” the largest being sex.

Oh, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to have sex, or even that I couldn’t enjoy sex to a certain degree, but I have this history—six or seven years of my dad molesting me as a kid. So, as any survivor will tell you, sex is hairy for us. Couple that history with fundamentalist Christianity and you can imagine the obstacles. Whenever I would manage to make some kind of mental progress in the pursuit of my own pleasure, the Bible was right there to put me back in my place.

I remember hearing a sermon once which taught that my husband was the ONLY one who should ever arouse me sexually. Being aroused by any other source was a sin, and that included our own imagination or even our own hands. Ever since I was eight years old, my sexuality belonged to someone else: My dad, my husband, God? I also recall an unbelievable conversation between my husband and our pastor about whether it was a sin on my husbands part that he married me, knowing someone else (my father), had “had” me before him. I was seventeen when we married, and ironically I had to have my fathers consent because I was a minor. So, yeah.

So there I was years later in this great big,house, trying to fix my marriage by fixing myself and my own sexuality so that I could somehow be what he wanted: something un-damaged and unused. I had by this point attempted suicide twice and had spent enough time with an amazing therapist to have made great strides with my past, but I couldn’t seem to ever get the residual smell of cigarettes and semen out of my head.

That’s the thing with trauma. It pounds new imagery into your brain and kind of locks it there, making it your default setting so that no matter how much time you spend talking about what happened, and letting yourself feel all the emotions surrounding events, that shit still attaches itself to the sex like malware. What to do?

Mail-to-Order Solution

UPS brought some large brown boxes to the door that would hold the answers I needed. The brand new Dell desktop had arrived. I had already been contemplating a secret foray into the sinful and corrupt world of internet porn. I was more than curious—I was on a mission. Several calls to a frustrated geek from tech support and I was hooked up and ready to go! Without knowing exactly what I hoped to find, here was a new way to spend my afternoons while the kids were napping. Let me stress here that this approach may not be the best for every survivor, depending on where you are in the process and whether you have a supportive sex partner (mine was not). It does run the risk of exposing yourself to more traumatic visuals, depending on what you search. First up, the dark side…

One of the penchants my lovely past endowed to me was a mad streak of violence that ran through my sexual pathways. I frequently fantasized about sadomasochism, bondage and discipline long before Fifty Shades made it popular. Despite the fact that there exists an entire subculture of this sort of thing, my Christian upbringing would never let me accept it as something normal. “Deviant,” a word used to describe pedophiles, was the same word used for pretty much anyone engaging in any kind of sex outside the married, penis-in-vagina kind. I never considered that in my case the kink might actually coincide with my religious experience, or that what turns me on could be altered to where I was in control. Rest assured, no judgement is being made here with regard to what kind of sex any consensual adults enjoy, but for me the only avenue to arousal involved pain, and I was no longer ok with that.

I started out by searching still images that interested me. Just typing the words in the search bar would set my heart racing and my mind flooding with a mixture of excitement and dread. This is so wrong. What about the corruption within the industry? Do I really want to support that? But I need to do this. What if I will burn in hell? But I want to live while I am still here. “You will become addicted and this obsession will take over your life.” But I need to explore how these images make me feel. I’m going for it!

Soon my screen filled up with artwork and actual photos of women bound and gagged, often naked, sometimes being spanked or whipped. I would linger with it. I would pay attention to everything I felt. Did it turn me on? Did it remind me of something that happened? Did I want to try this? Were there other scenarios that could sustain the same level of arousal? Did it feel wrong or bad that I was drawn to this or could I accept that about myself?

Cut and Paste Porn

To make a long story short, I engaged in this endeavor for the better part of one Winter and Spring. I would often sit there at the computer, naked, in order to become comfortable with my body while I processed all of this, and also to allow for the possibility of using my hands in ways I was warned about. I eventually found what I considered to be sex-positive scenarios where the women were smiling and participating without shame and without being violated. More often than not, they were having plain old, run-of-the-mill, vaginal intercourse and loving every minute of it.

What was the difference between them and me? Words like “unworthy” and “undeserving” came into my mind, and I mean about me, not them. Words I had heard in church. Why couldn’t I smile like that? Why couldn’t I even laugh? Sex should be fun, right? All it took was a decision. The real miracle of this experiment was how I learned to use some of that material like erotic substitutes in my mind, giving myself permission to make those faces and sounds, almost by way of imitation. Every time having sex would trip that trigger, causing my father’s face to loom over me, I would grab hold of one of those smiling goddesses and let her merge with me.

It would still be another few years until I would end my relationship with Jesus—and divorce my husband. But I am real, I am whole, I am free…and I am damn angry. My fears were so unfounded. Not only am I not addicted, but I now find most porn kind of boring and much prefer participation to watching. It did not create the need to fantasize during sex, although I often do and enjoy it immensely. On the contrary, it allowed me to learn to be present by letting me control what was happening in my mind and my body. I have learned that there is even a name for this now, Voluntary Image Replacement therapy. Through my own determination I managed to discover a technique that is helping countless sufferers of PTSD.

I wish I could somehow convey to the Christian community how very essential our sexuality is to our relationship to ourselves and others. When it is injured, repressed, denied, or owned by someone else, it can’t possibly become an expression of love.

[Image Source: Adobe Stock]

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Marcia Wickham is an organic farmer in central PA, a mom of eight, and is in her second marriage to an amazing chef/ farmer/atheist. She will be 50 in June.

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