Three Things You Don’t Know About Your Children and Sex

( This moving article was written by Anne Marie Miller…I had to share it )

Dear Parents,

Please allow me a quick moment to introduce myself before we go much further. My name is Anne Marie Miller. I’m thirty-three years old. I’m newly married to a wonderful man named Tim. We don’t have any children yet, but we’re planning on it. For the purpose of this letter, you need to know I’m a recovering addict. Pornography was my drug of choice.

I grew up in the church – the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher man with a passion for learning the Bible. I was the honors student; the athlete; the girl who got along with everyone from the weird kids to the popular ones. It was a good life. I was raised in a good home.

It was 1996, I was sixteen, and the Internet was new. After my family moved from a sheltered, conservative life in west Texas to the ethnically and sexually diverse culture of Dallas/Fort Worth, I found myself lonely, curious, and confused.

 

Because of the volatile combination of life circumstances: the drastic change of scenery when we moved, my dad’s depression, and a youth pastor who sexually abused me during my junior year of high school, I turned to the Internet for education. I didn’t know what certain words meant or if what the youth pastor was doing to me was good or bad and I was too afraid to ask. What started as an innocent pursuit of knowledge quickly escalated into a coping mechanism.

When I looked at pornography, I felt a feeling of love and safety – at least for a brief moment. But those brief moments of relief disappeared and I was left even more ashamed and confused than when I started. Pornography provided me both an emotional and a sexual release.

For five years I carried this secret. I was twenty-one when I finally opened up to a friend only because she opened up to me first about her struggle with sexual sin. We began a path of healing in 2001 and for the last twelve years, although not a perfect journey, I can say with great confidence God has set me free from that addiction and from the shame that followed. I returned to school to study the science behind addiction and family dynamics.

Over the last six years I’ve had the opportunity to share my story in a variety of venues: thousands of college students, men, women and teens. This summer, I was invited to speak at several camps to both junior high and high school students and it’s without exaggeration when I tell you with each year I counsel students, the numbers and the stories shock me more and more.

This summer, by a long stretch, was the “worst” in terms of what secrets I learned students carried. After my last night speaking at my last camp, I retreated to my room and collapsed on the bed face-first. Tim simply laid his hand on my back to comfort me.

 

I could not logically reconcile in my mind all the confessions I heard over the summer with the children who shared them. While every story was unique in the details, in most situations, there were three common themes that kept surfacing.

: Remember the first time you, as a parent, saw pornography? Likely it was a friend’s parent who had a dirty magazine or maybe you saw something somebody brought to school. Now, when a student hears a word or phrase they don’t understand, they don’t ask you what it means (because they fear getting in trouble). They don’t ask their friends (because they fear being ashamed for not knowing). They ask Google.Google won’t judge them for not knowing. Because of our short attention spans and desire for instant gratification, they don’t click the first link that shows up – they go straight to Google Images. In almost all of the stories I heard, this is how someone was first exposed to pornography – Google Image searching. The average age of first exposure in my experience was 9 years old.Google Sex Image Search

: Another extremely common theme was children being inappropriately touched, often by close family members or friends. When I was molested at sixteen, I didn’t tell a soul until I was in my twenties. I didn’t tell my own mother until I was twenty-eight. The stigma and shame of being a victim coupled with the trauma that happens with this experience is confusing to a child of any age: our systems weren’t made to process that event. Many things keep children from confessing abuse: being told they’ve made it up or are exaggerating, being a disappointment, and in most cases, getting the other person in trouble. While a child can look at pornography without being abused, children who have been molested by and large look at pornography and act out sexually.

: After speaking with a youth pastor at a camp, he said most parents live with the belief their child is the exception. Your child is not. The camps I went to this summer weren’t camps full of children on life’s fringes that one would stereotypically believe experience these traumatic events or have access to these inappropriate things. You must throw your stereotypes aside. Most of the children at these camps were middle class, mostly churched students.Let me give you a snapshot of a few things I heard from these students:

They’ve sent X-rated photos of themselves to their classmates (or received them).
They’ve exposed themselves to strangers on the Internet or through sexting.
They’ve seen pornography.
They’ve read pornography.
They’ve watched pornography.
The girls compare their bodies to the ones they see in ads at the mall or of actresses and keep those images hidden on their phone (or iPod, or whatever device they have) so they can try to imitate them.
They question their sexuality.
They’ve masturbated.
They know exactly where and in what movies sex scenes are shown and they watch them for sexual gratification.
They’ve had a same-sex experience.
And they’re terrified to tell you.

(Update: The focus of this article is on the conversation, not the action, though as parents, you need to be aware of the fact young children are experiencing these things. I feel the need to clarify none of these actions make someone a “bad” person. While this specific list does contain things many people with a Christian background consider to be sin, it is lack of communication that makes this dangerous at this age. Most of us go through exploratory phases before sexual phases: a three year old masturbating because he knows it feels good and a seventeen year old masturbating to porn for a sexual release are two different things. If your child is uninformed or uneducated about things they need to know based on what is appropriate for their age and sexual development, regardless of your beliefs, it leads to shame and self-doubt.)

But maybe you’re right. Maybe your child is the exception. I would argue at this juncture in life, being the exception is as equally dangerous.

At the end of every session I presented I intentionally and clearly directed students to ask me or another leader if they didn’t understand or know what a certain word meant. “Do not go to the Internet and look it up.”

Sure enough, there is always the child who stays behind until everyone leaves and quietly asks what the word “porn” means or if God is angry because that boy or girl from down the street told them it was okay for them to touch them “down there.” There is the child in the back row who leans over to his friend and asks, “what does molest mean?” and the other boy shrugs.

This summer, I am beyond grateful that mature, God-fearing adults were available to answer those questions with grace and tact and maturity; that we were in a setting that was safe for questions and confessions. It was entirely appropriate. Not every child gets that opportunity. Most won’t. Most will find out from the Internet or from a peer who isn’t equipped to provide the correct answer in the correct context.

Parent and Child

As the summer camp season ends, I feel a shift in my heart. For the last six years, I’ve felt a calling to share with students how God has set me free from the shame and actions of my past and that they aren’t alone (because they truly believe they are). One college dean referred to me as “the grenade we’re tossing into our student body to get the conversation of sex started” because they realized how sweeping these topics under the rug caused their students to live trapped and addicted and ashamed. I will continue sharing my testimony in that capacity as long as there is a student in front of me that needs to hear it.

However, I am more aware now more than ever before in my ministry how little parents know about what’s happening. And because I’m not a parent, I feel terribly inadequate in telling you this.

But I can’t not tell you. After seeing the innocence in the eyes of ten year olds who’ve carried secrets nobody, let alone a child, should carry; after hearing some of the most horrific accounts from students I’ve ever heard this year, I cannot go one more day without pleading with you to open up and have these difficult conversations with your children. Would you prefer your son or daughter learn what a “fetish” is from you or from searching Google Images? Talk to them about abuse and yes, even trafficking.

Just this month I met a relative of a girl whose own mother was selling her body from the time she was five until now, when she’s sixteen. This was not in some drug-infested ghetto you’d see on a news story. It was in a very upscale town in a very upscale state known for its nature and beauty and summer houses. Abuse does not discriminate.
If not for them, maybe for a friend. Maybe they can help bring context or see warning signs.

Ask them what they know. Ask them what they’ve done. Ask them what’s been done to them. Show grace and love. Stay far away from judgment and condemnation. If you feel ill equipped, ask a pastor or counselor for help. If you hear an answer you didn’t expect and your first instinct is to dismiss it – don’t. Find a counselor. Look for resources. Continue following up. If you struggle with this (and let’s admit it, statistically, a lot of us do), get help too.

Do the right thing, the hard thing, for the sake of your children. If we don’t do this now, I am terrified of how the enemy will continue stealing hope and joy from our youngest generation and how they’ll be paralyzed to advance the Kingdom of God as they mature.

Here are some follow up posts to help answer your questions.

20 Resources to Help talk to Your Kids (Link)

My Story – Part 1 (Link)

My Story – Part 2 (Link)

Follow Up Post to “Three Things…” (Link)

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*Specific details that could identify children have been changed in such a way that it does not affect the story and only protects the children. Mandatory Reporters reported confessions that involved abuse or neglect or situations that indicated a child was in any type of danger by using proper state laws and procedures.

Fight Porn In Your Church

Fight Porn in Your Church

Dead. That’s exactly how John felt that morning as he faced the platform. He was singing along with the music, eyes closed, trying to focus on the lyrics, trying to lift his heart to God as best he knew how. But like many Sundays before, his soul felt shriveled and uncomfortably numb. If those who stood around him only knew the depths of his sin, how would they treat him?

If they knew about the websites he visited the night before, what would they say?

What would his wife say?

Men like John are all too common in the church today. According to Pure Desire Ministries, after collecting thousands of surveys from churches all over America, men like John comprise 60-70% of the men in our pews (plus 25-30% of women, and sadly, 50-58% of church leaders).

Can churches become communities where people like John find repentance, hope, and healing?

The good news is many leading churches are striving for this, and they are reshaping the culture of the church to change lives.

Dry Drunks in the Pews

How could so many Christians be so sexually broken and go unnoticed? Is this problem really as large as it is made out to be?

According to Leadership Journal, more than half (57%) of pastors surveyed say porn addiction is the most sexually damaging issue to their congregation.

Some in the pews are undeniably addicts of the first degree: their sexual compulsions have brought them to unfathomable depths of perversion. And they are paying dearly for it.

But others have only convinced themselves they don’t have a problem. Ted Roberts of Pure Desire likens these men and women to “dry drunks”: they watch a little porn now and then, they masturbate, they sexually fantasize, but they would never call themselves “addicts.” Outwardly their sexual habits might pass for unharmful, but inwardly they are filled with loneliness, bitterness, and lust. Their marriages are far from intimate. Their fellowship with others is shallow at best. And week after week they lose a little more hope that things will ever be different.

“Our church, every church, all this culture are awash in lust, pornography, and every manner of sexual perversion,” says Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church. “We are, in fact, so awash that we’ve become fish who don’t even dream about air anymore.”

Opening the Can of Worms: Taking on Taboos

Some church leaders have said enough is enough, and they have become intentional and strategic about tackling this issue head-on.

James Reeves, senior pastor of Celebration Fellowship in Fort Worth, likens the damage of pornography to a coming tsunami. “The issue of sexual addiction caught us unaware at first,” Reeves writes. “All around us marriages began to fall apart, husbands started getting caught with pornography, in affairs, and visiting prostitutes, and we knew we had to do something. Although we were heavily involved in recovery ministry already, we knew very little about how to deal with the specific issue of sexual addiction. So we got informed, educated, and went to work.”

On Sept. 21, 2003, they devoted a special Sunday to the issue, entitled, “The Day Celebration Told the Truth about Pornography.” They had a panel discussion where six couples and one man, all of whom were in recovery, told their stories. They spoke about the shame, frustration, and despair that comes with this addiction, and they talked about their path to recovery so far.

Reeves didn’t announce the topic beforehand to his congregation so people would not come up with convenient excuses to miss church that morning. “From that day forward,” says Reeves, “we were off and running in ministering to men, women, and families caught in this area.”

Even smaller churches are taking action. Rev. Hank Van der Woerd ministers to a growing congregation of 250 families in the immigrant community in Southern Alberta, Canada. Even among this farming community, the members of Trinity United Reformed Church are no strangers to the problem of pornography.

Rev. Van der Woerd, along with ministers from surrounding churches, decided to organize a seminar for all their men, age 14 and up, where they communicated biblical, psychological, and practical advice for men facing this temptation. The event was well-attended, and while there were some naysayers, critics were soon silenced when they were confronted with the enormity of the problem.

For the elders of Trinity, this is only the beginning of their approach to this problem. Determined to help their 900 members, the elders have decided to set aside funds every year to purchase Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability for any family who wants it in their church. They are sending a message to the church-at-large: we want to be a community of hope and healing, where secrets sins can be brought into the light.

The Inevitable Fight with Shame

For many men and women who deeply struggle with sexual sin, a feeling of shame clings to them like a wet blanket and often become the biggest barrier against seeking help. Biblical counselor David Powlison says shame and guilt are related but distinct experiences. “Guilt is an awareness of failure against a standard,” such as a rule or a personal expectation. But shame, says Powlison, is “a sense of failure before the eyes of someone else.” Shame is overtly relational.

For many porn and sex addicts, the shame is so acute, being open and honest in a spiritual community sounds like the last thing they want to do. So for churches that are proactive about this issue, disinfecting the shame-dynamic is a constant battle.

Disinfecting Shame at Hospital Church

And religious environments, unfortunately, encourage masks and pretension. A few decades ago, Pastor James Reeves came to believe that the church (as he experienced it) was not a safe place to talk about real problems.

Reeves was saved at age 18 right off the street. He grew up, as he says, “poor white trash in a tin-roof house.” He was no stranger to drugs and alcohol. His own father died a penniless alcoholic in a flop house. Coming to Christ brought about a radical change in his life and eventually, after college, he entered a life of vocational ministry.

However, six years into his pastoral career he sunk into an inexplicable and deep depression. His fellow church leaders gave him a short sabbatical, during which Reeves discovered how insufficiently he had recovered from the hurts and sins of his past. He returned to his church, not only refreshed, but with a new vision for what he wanted his church to become. He desires his church to become a place where people feel free to bring their deepest hurts and their biggest secrets.

He calls it “Hospital Church.”

The church, says Reeves, is meant to be like a hospital gown. “The hospital gown is designed not for concealment but easy access.” Reeves dreams of a church where people can be completely transparent—warts and all—and for the past 20 years, Reeves and the leaders of Celebration Fellowship have worked hard to intentionally create an atmosphere of grace to make transparency possible.

Similarly, Dr. Bill Berry of Central Church in Collierville, Tennessee, says battling the shame-orientation is crucial to helping men and women come out of hiding. Dr. Berry has been the director of Battle Plan Ministries for 12 years in his church, and through this program he has watched scores of men walk out of the darkness of porn addiction and into the light.

He knew men and women were seeking private counseling for these problems—a tactic he calls “covert warfare”—but he wanted his church to be a place where men could be honest publically about their struggles. Berry says he started Battle Plan for this very reason: to change the culture of his church and give men a safe forum for being honest without fear of condemnation.

He now oversees four Battle Plan groups around the Memphis area.

Modeling Brokenness from the Front

Where does transparency start? Jon Acuff calls Christian leaders to give “the gift of going second.” When one brave soul speaks first, when he or she shares the raw and dirty details off their life, others in the room are given “the gift of going second.”

It’s so much harder to be first. No one knows what’s off limits yet and you’re setting the boundaries with your words. You’re throwing yourself on the honesty grenade and taking whatever fall out that comes with it. Going second is so much easier. And the ease only grows exponentially as people continue to share. But it has to be started somewhere. Someone has to go first, and I think it has to be us.

In the New York metropolitan area, Grace Community Church reaches thousands with its weekend services. Nearly every week Pastor Jarrod Jones will stand on the platform and remind his congregation, “This is a church where it’s okay to not be okay.” Jones, himself, is no stranger to the struggle of sexual sin. He writes candidly about what he has learned from his own struggles in his book, 13 Ways to Ruin Your Life.

This environment of grace is one of the reasons why their Men’s L.I.F.E. Accountability Group is as strong as it is. Mike Pagna, who leads this Saturday morning fellowship, believes strongly that leaders need to set the pace when it comes to transparency. “I don’t care if I’m labeled a sex addict,” he says. Wanting more guys to come clean about their struggles, he would create venues to tell his story: men’s breakfasts, youth group events, anywhere he was given a platform. This not only drew guys to his group, but it also empowered men to be honest when they got there. “The leader needs to really, really lay it out. I need to lead with my junk so other guys can talk about theirs.”

This is the same approach used by Pastor Darrell Brazell of New Hope Fellowship in Lawrence, Kansas. Brazell struggled with pornography since he was 10. He pursued a career in ministry believing if he devoted his life to God in full-time service, God would make his sexual struggles go away. When this did not happen, his heart was eaten alive with shame, and the addiction only became worse.

Brazell started to find freedom when he opened up about his struggle to other fellow pastors. Because of his willingness to share his story with others, more and more men came to Brazell for help for their sexual sins. In October 2003, Brazell founded New Hope Fellowship, and to this day its sexual addiction recovery ministry is the church’s largest outreach to the surrounding community.

Brazell knows his situation is unique: not every pastor’s story is like his own. But he believes strongly that pastors need to be honest about their own weaknesses. “If the teaching pastors do not understand their own brokenness and constantly proclaim grace, no recovery ministry is going to thrive.”

Safe Place, Safe Process

Pastor Reeves says churches often make two mistakes when they reach out to sexually broken people: their church is either not a safe place, or they do not create a safe process. You need both, he says.

“The church has to be a safe place for people to tell their secrets and has to have a safe process for people to experience emotional and spiritual healing,” says Reeves. You can preach about grace and transparency, but if you don’t provide a forum for people to be discipled, learn, and grow, you will never see change. Similarly, you can create groups where sexual strugglers can go, but if the church is not a safe place to be a sexual struggler, very few people will take advantage of these ministries.

Read the rest! Learn how to create healthy freedom groups.

Fight porn in your church -PDF