The true price of porn, and how faith can set you free

I was recently part of a panel on the BBC One show The Big Questions, discussing whether or not pornography is damaging to society. If you didn't see it, you can probably imagine how the conversation might have gone. There were strong views on both sides of the debate, and the host Nicky Campbell did his best to keep things balanced.

I had been invited on the show because of my experience of having been set free from addiction to porn through an encounter with Jesus, which I wrote about in my book, A Better Kind of Intimacy. I first began to explore porn at the age of thirteen, after seeing a page three feature in a tabloid newspaper. I kept that newspaper hidden in my room, so that I could look at it whenever I wanted. Around that time, I was introduced to porn online by a friend when I was round at his house after school.

My curiosity piqued, I started to look online for myself. It was just a bit of fun really - a thrill that I hadn't experienced before. I was completely unaware of the effect it would have on me. Before long, this 'fun activity' became a compulsion, and I did whatever I could to find some time alone with the family computer (there were no smartphones or tablets back then; we only had one computer in our house) so I could download some more porn to look at. After a while, I was even prepared to risk discovery by looking at porn while my family were in the house.

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As my drive to look at porn increased, so did my appetite for more extreme content. There has been a trend in pornography - since the beginning of the internet age - of increasingly extreme and violent content being created. What was considered 'hardcore' twenty years ago is now featured in prime time drama on TV; some wouldn't even consider it porn anymore. This trend in content creation is mirrored in content consumption. As I became aware of more extreme content, the images and videos I was looking at before simply didn't satisfy any more.

Proponents of porn naively assert that it does no damage to society. They say that if something brings you pleasure and doesn't harm anyone else, nobody should have the right to tell you that it's wrong. While I'm sure there are many men and women within the porn industry who feel content with what they do, and would argue that it does no harm to them or others, it would be foolish to believe that this is true of everyone involved.

Fight the New Drug, an organisation that campaigns against porn, has interviewed former porn actors about their experiences. Many of these actors have found that their sex life, relationships with family, and ultimately their self-worth have been negatively affected by their work in the porn industry. Some of these testimonies are from porn actresses who had consented to be in a film, only to find that once filming began they were required to do more extreme things than they had agreed to. They were then coerced into doing these things with threats of not being paid or being blacklisted from ever working again.

Hope for Justice and other groups like them report frightening figures on sex trafficking's links to porn, all of which prove that we cannot simply assume that because someone in a video seems to be enjoying what is being done to them, that this is the truth of what is happening. Nearly half of all sex trafficking victims who have been rescued report that pornography was made of them at some point during their ordeal. It's not unreasonable to assume there are more victims of this atrocity than have been rescued or have reported it.

I was set free from my addiction after over three years of struggling with a deep sense of shame over what I was doing. I knew that it was wrong, but I didn't have the strength to stop. Some argue that porn addiction isn't psychologically possible, but my experience shows to me that it is.

Ultimately what changed for me was that I came to a point of desperation. I knew that I couldn't break free from this addiction on my own. In a meeting at Soul Survivor camp, I responded to an appeal for prayer about addictions. I received prayer, and when I sat down again I felt light, as if a heavy backpack had been taken off my back. I knew in that moment that I was free. Jesus had set me free, and I could move on with my life. Over the following years, God began to show me that the shame I was carrying was no longer necessary. I had been forgiven and made new because of what Jesus had done for me, so in God's eyes I was a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Some people reading this will be struggling with porn. My message to you is this: there is a better way. You may have discovered already that what porn offers is a shallow misrepresentation of intimacy, which ultimately does not satisfy. Jesus offers true intimacy; a life-giving and eternal relationship with God, who made you, loves you and is calling you to experience His love for yourself. Freedom from porn is possible. It may not be an easy journey — mine certainly hasn't been — but it is most definitely worth it.

The Rev Jack Skett is Associate Pastor at Elim Church, Selly Oak.