I woke up from a deep sleep, bothered, but confused about why. It was around 2:00 a.m. on a weeknight. I got up to check on my children. As I quietly opened the door to my nine-year-old daughter’s room, the soft light from the hallway illuminated her sleeping face. I turned and lightly walked to my thirteen-year-old son’s door; however, he was not there when the light shone on his bed. Maybe he was in the bathroom or the kitchen getting a drink. I checked both places – empty. I was now wide awake, and panic started to knock on my conscience. I checked the family room, but he was not there. Something was not right. I continued to search. As I rounded the corner to the living room, the picture before me was something I had heard about in other settings but not in my home. My home was a safe haven from the ugly world, yet before me was my young teenage son viewing the most horrible images of women I had ever seen. My heart sank as I witnessed the scene before me.
What seemed like an eternity was only a few seconds. My emotions were everywhere – horror, sadness, shock, gloom, anger, and ones I could not identify. None of them were pleasant. This could not be happening. The one computer in our home was in a place everyone could see. I tried to suppress my emotions, but they won. I yelled in a whisper and exclaimed my son’s name. As he quickly turned around, I could see the terrifying surprise in his glazed eyes. He knew he was caught with his hand in the pornography jar, and many emotions surfaced for him as well. In so many relationships, the exact phrasing that has sounded throughout society found its way out of my son’s mouth, “I’m so sorry, I will never do that again.” I could see the shame on his face and feel his humiliation. So began a tumultuous journey that detoured our happy family. This family's pivotal point would be heavily weighted by sadness, frustration, loss of trust, and grieving on many levels.
Paul Harvey used to say there is a “rest of the story.” I will write about it, but first, let me share a few research findings. The “majority of adolescent boys use sexually explicit websites” (Beyens et al., 2015). The “average age of first exposure” to pornography for boys is age 13, “with the youngest exposure as early as 5” (APA, 2017). Those who view pornography at younger ages are more likely "to want power over women” (Bischmann as reported in APA, 2017), and loneliness can be an ill effect of pornography (Butler, 2018). Following the disheartening evening, many talks about pornography were pursued, parental filters were put on the computer, appointments with professional counseling were followed through with, and the hollow “I won’t do it again” words lost their meaning. My son’s attitude started to change. He became defiant of any rule that did not suit him, and his social relationships among his peers began to suffer. He became so depressed he was often found sleeping as it became a form of self-medication. He was on the path to quitting life.
So, for the rest of the story. My husband and I sent my son to a place where he could get professional help. I prayed to God to help my son see that he was loved, valued, and important. Through very hard work, my son returned home a year later with the tools he gained to help him self-regulate. He knew that his addiction would only be managed through a life-long journey of being committed to an addiction program, embracing moral values, and using all his gained tools. Eight years later, his eyes are bright; he is highly involved in serving others and his family and has a remarkable career. He lives one day at a time with purpose and strives to make working choices. He lives within boundaries he created for himself, calls a sponsor if he feels the need to talk, and is willing to visit with others about the ill effects of pornography. The pornography jar has long since been tossed out.
As a mother, there will always be voices in my mind reminding me that there are no guarantees and that there is always a chance my son may relapse, but I strive to keep those voices calm. I am grateful that my son is alive, that he knows his parents love him unconditionally, and that he matters and is wanted as a valuable part of our family and society.
American Psychological Association. (2017, August 3). Age of first exposure to pornography shapes men's attitudes toward women [Press release]. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/08/pornography-exposure
Beyens, Ine, Laura Vandenbosch, and Steven Eggermont. 2015. “Early adolescent boys’ exposure to internet pornography: Relationships to pubertal timing, sensation seeking, and academic performance.” Journal of Early Adolescence 35(8): 1045–68. https://search-ebscohost-com.byui.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=eric&AN=EJ1078042&site=eds-live&scope=site
Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B. (2018). Pornography use and loneliness: A bidirectional recursive model and pilot investigation. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44(2), 127–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2017.1321601