WE’RE ALL VISUAL CREATURES

I received an email from Craig Gross at XXX Church the other day.  I had not signed up for emails from them.  This is because XXX Church and Craig Gross purchase email address lists to be able to market to the people on them.  Find out more about that HERE.

 

This uninvited email was telling women how to deal with their husbands’ viewing pornography.  I was horrified and angered by the content that was in the email and took to Twitter to communicate that to Craig Gross.  I shall be spending this blog articulating WHY his email was so dangerous and will by referring t the email, the blog that the email is an excerpt from and my Twitter interaction with him.

 

Being pseudonymous on Twitter and when blogging is intentional.  I have felt compelled to make my communications about the issues I am passionate, not about who I am professionally.  I value the Twitter community as friends and never want to veer into seeing my Twitter account as a “platform to build” or a place to “promote myself”.  This generally works fine.  However, it does mean that in cases like this, the people I am critical of are unaware of the credibility of my perspective.

 

I am an international campaigner, media voice, trainer, writer, consultant and adviser on issues of gender justice.  I am a specialist in responding to and preventing male violence against women and my specialisms include; domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, pornographies, equal platform representation, gender reconciliation, right use of power, working with young people and Christian feminism amongst other things.  I have contributed chapters to a number of books and offer consultancy services to many organisations.

 

Craig Gross’ (and his wife’s) words are in red throughout this.

 

Hey Friend,

 

It’s Craig Gross and wanted to share with you something that I get asked a TON. I asked my wife this question.

 

At no point during the email does Craig Gross mention is wife’s name.  Though he states that his wife has given this information, it is his photograph, signature and name that is on the bottom of the email.  The entire content is clearly endorsed and delivered by Craig Gross.  There is no distinguishing between what Craig is saying and what his wife has said, no delineation.  That leads to an email that for all intents and purposes is a man communicating to women about what they should do about their husband’s choices to use pornography.

 

“What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

The first mention of pornography within this email uses the euphemistic term “looking at adult content”.  I’ve written about the issue with euphemising pornography HERE.  By characterising the issue as “looking at adult content” this makes what follows more palatable.

 

A couple of ways to phrase this question that are not euphemistic:

 

What would you do if you walked into a room to find your husband masturbating to images of young women been sexually violated and degraded?

 

What would you do if you discovered your husband’s internet search history included “slave farm Asian” “teen models” “nubile cum” ”mistress pegging”  “wants you to cum” “ebony double penetration” “brutal fuck” “lick cum from stomach”?

 

[These are actual search terms from www.pornmd.com/live-search which shows current search terms that are being typed for pornography sites]

 

I thought it would be good to hear from a women’s perspective not a guy’s. I thought it would be great for you to hear from my wife who has witnessed this again and again in people’s lives over the last 15 years.

 

He doesn’t mention his wife’s name (I know I’ve said this before, but I find this incredulous).  As far as we know, his wife has no qualifications to offer advice on this except her personal experiences of witnessing women finding out their husband’s are using pornography.  And as much as personal experience is valuable, it needs to be coupled with expertise and knowledge.  We don’t even know her name, never mind her qualification levels to offer this advice.

 

So, here it goes.

 

Your husband just confided in you that he looked at adult content. I know it must bring up a lot of emotions:

 

– Betrayal … because he didn’t stay faithful to you.

– Mistrust … because how can you trust him in the small or big things if he couldn’t be trusted not to look.

– Self-doubt … because you think it may have to do with you not being pretty enough or satisfying enough in the bedroom.

– Anger … because he didn’t put you above himself and think about how his actions could affect you.

 

Firstly, that’s not how this situation has been framed.  It is framed as “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”  Suddenly, this has shifted to your husband “confiding in you”.  They are not the same situations, and conflating them is both unhelpful and confusing.  Are we talking about a situation where a man has been caught?  Or a situation where he has volunteered information?

 

The tone of this is unhelpful.  Telling someone who is hurting that “I know” is not helpful.

 

These are just a few emotions that may have surfaced for you, and these are normal feelings.

 

I can agree with this statement.

 

What you do from this point with those emotions will set the tone for the rest of your marriage. Good, Christ-filled men are trying to do what is right when it comes to lust and their visual nature.

 

I cannot agree with anything in these two sentences.  The tone has already been set for the marriage BY THE HUSBAND who has been masturbating while watching images of women being objectified and sexually degraded.  The woman’s feelings and emotions should be validated, grappled with and held as true for her.  Let’s not immediately put them aside.  All that invites is denial and emotional suppression.

 

Immediately, the subject has shifted from experience and pain of the woman to the man.  The man who is described as “good” and “Christ-filled”.  At no point is the woman described as good or Christ-filled.

 

Biblically, what is “right when it comes to lust” is “if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:47).  Also “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:28).  And “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”  (Romans 8:13)

 

Right, let’s get this VISUAL NATURE nonsense.

 

Cordelia Fine’s book “Delusions of Gender” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the basics of neurobiology.  NOTHING IS HARDWIRED IN THE BRAIN.  The last ten years has seen neuroscience reject the idea of hardwiring in the brain.  The most recent science states that NEUROPLASTICITY (http://www.whatisneuroplasticity.com) is how the brain works.  The frontal cortex of the brain (the bit which deals with cognition) only really begins to develop after birth.  This means that almost everything brain based is malleable according to context and socialisation.

 

It is not in men’s “nature” to be visual, it is in their socialisation.

 

Your husband wants to honor you, but God has wired his brain so differently from a woman’s that it is a constant struggle.

 

God has not wired men’s brains.  The Christian faith is founded upon FREE WILL. Humans are designed, wired and created with the capacity to make decisions and choices.  Men are not robots, wired to respond to stimuli (naked women) in a certain way.  And the nature of neuroplasticity means that the differences between men and women have been proven to be socialised more than any neurological difference.

 

Talking about men and women as homogenous groups is dangerous and unhelpful.  Women are also visual.  We have eyes.  We may not be socialised to understand or own this.  But women are sexually aroused by visual stimuli.  I am not making this up.  It is an actual real thing.

 

Is God so short sighted in creating humans that he made one half of them sexually stimulated by visual stimuli and the other half stimulated by something different?  Did God create man thinking “I want to create human beings with free will, but I think I’ll ensure half of them are unable to function properly.  They’ll be affected by certain visual stimuli in such a way that it will override that free will and make them a slave to their penis.”  No, He did not.

 

Men and women’s brains are not that different.  If you were to look at a brain scan, you would not be able to tell whether it was a male or female brain without further investigation.

 

Please take heart that he actually came to you before getting caught — he is trying to honor you and make things right.

 

See the point above about the conflicting statements in the email.

 

Admitting to having done something is not necessarily motivated by honour.  This email has been sent out to (potentially) THOUSANDS of women.  How can they make any assumptions about men’s motives for admitting they are watching images of women being sexually degraded and masturbating to them?

 

Maybe they knew they were going to get caught?  Maybe they are admitting it to manipulate the situation for their own benefit?  Maybe they genuinely want to change things?  Maybe they are abusive and they are going to use the confession as an opportunity to bully, shame or sexually abuse their wife?

 

Sending this content in an email is so dangerous.  There will be women who receive this email who are currently being subjected to abuse by their husband.  There will be women who see this email as a sign from God that they should do what the email says.  And for women whose husband’s are currently abusing them, this email may cause them to continue to be abused.  This email may be a tool for an abuser to further abuse their wife.

 

Even if this is the case for one abuser, that is one abuser too many.  We must consider that with every blog/article/bulk email we write there will be people reading who are currently being subjected to abuse.  As Jesus instructed us, we must prioritise the needs of the broken hearted, the wounded, the captives.  And if our communications provide ammunition for abusers; we have certainly failed.

 

By using pornography, a husband has already dishonoured his wife and every woman or girl he has masturbated to.  Even if his motives in owning up are good, celebrating his honour without acknowledging that is not helpful.

 

Your job is NOT to withhold sex from him, to question his integrity in all areas of his life, to play detective or police his every move, to not forgive him and always punish him, to shut down and put up a wall, to think it’s your fault.

 

We can infer from this statement that a wife’s job (after discovering her husband has been masturbating to images of women being sexually violated and degraded) is to:

 

·      Provide sex

·      Assume his integrity in the rest of his life is intact

·      Not check up on him

·      Not have any trust issues

·      Forgive him

·      Place no consequences in place

·      Stay fully vulnerable

·      But at the same time, blame him for what he has done

 

A woman has found out her husband has been viewing images of women and/or girls (most online pornography is of teenage girls) being sexually degraded and violated.  Penetrated by multiple men (sometimes in one orifice), ejaculated over their faces and bodies and generally used as objects by men.  He has been doing this while masturbating.  He has been doing this secretly.  What that woman does to deal with her husband’s infidelity is entirely her choice.

 

Telling her what to do is not acceptable.  Telling her what not to do is unacceptable.

 

In February I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop in the UK (it was brilliant and I’ll write about it at some point…).

 

Within the workshop we learned about the Cycle of Reconciliation…

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Finding out about this betrayal requires the Cycle of Reconciliation to be implemented.  This email sent by Craig Gross in no way explores the necessary steps for reconciliation to take place.

 

Once the injury has taken place, the woman needs to be able to withdraw.  To withdraw without being judged or shamed or told she cannot.  Once withdrawn she needs to work out how to reclaim her identity.  Finding this out about her husband will have caused great damage to her and that has to be grappled with.  Working out if/how she can reclaim her identity while staying married.  She may work out that she can, equally she may work out that she can’t and that the marriage has to end.  Either way, she needs the space and confidence that her choices and needs will be valued and respected.

 

If she discovers that her identity can be reclaimed while staying married, the next step is to make an internal commitment to reconciliation.  At not until this point.

 

Once that internal commitment has been made, there is a need to restore the potential for harm to be done again.  Again, she may decide that the risk of her husband doing this to her again is too much and she may need to end the marriage.  Something she has the right to do (both Biblically and in every other sense).

 

If she does feel able to restore the risk then there needs to be a negotiation of needs.  She needs to lay out what her needs are and how they will be met.  She may need to insist that her husband no longer has a smart phone, no longer uses the internet when she isn’t present, that he doesn’t delete his internet history or that she checks his devices every day.  He may not be willing to do that.  In which case the negotiation results in the marriage ending.  Or he is willing to and the negotiations moves towards reconnecting.

 

This same process should be enacted each time the husband uses pornography.  Because a new injury has taken place.

 

This email reduces the deep and profound process of reconciliation to dictating what and how women should respond to injury, ironically this is something they are telling women they have no right to do to their husbands.  Their husbands being the ones who have made the choice to masturbate, to turn the computer/device on, to search for the images and to continue to watch them and lie about it.  While the wives have not done anything wrong in relation to this.

 

Those things might make sense emotionally, but they won’t help you or him.

Instead, your job IS to understand his visual nature and encourage him to have accountability with trusted people who will call him out on things, to extend him grace and realize that we all screw up and are selfish, to seek out counseling with him or by yourself, to pray for him, to pray for your marriage, to welcome honest conversations.

 

See above regarding the nonsense of visual nature.

 

Some of these suggestions are helpful, but not within the context of the wider messages in the email.  The woman is being told to be gracious and giving.  Which is a theme that runs across the oppression of women across history.  Sadly, this defiles the profound power of grace and of selflessness and reduces them to yet another painful and heavy yoke for women.

 

If you can openly talk about how hurt you are that he looked at that stuff, about things in both of you that need work, about what triggers him to look at adult materials, about taking steps to improve the issues that come up, then you can push through the hard conversations and come out on the other side stronger.

 

“Things you both need to work on”.  What does this mean?  Her husband has been watching images of women being sexually degraded while masturbating.  This idea that there’s “things you both need to work on” suggest the problem is not the man’s.  Which they’ve spent the rest of the email saying it is.  His “visual nature” and all that.

 

This is one of the few times where the woman’s hurt is acknowledged, but it is less than one sentence.

 

There is very little compassion for the woman within this whole email.  It is all about how the woman can meet the needs of the man, of his visual nature, of his triggers.

 

This email reduces women to objects whose sole role is to service men.  It dehumanises women and dictates to women how they should feel and act.  Which is exactly what pornography does.

 

You both love each other and want to work through these things, which is a good thing.

 

But his love it tainted by him masturbating while viewing images of women being sexually violated.  And so that changes everything.

 

Divorce is not an option, and it never should cross your mind.

 

Divorce is an option, as mentioned above.  The woman needs to know she has choices.  If divorce isn’t an option, then the woman is not choosing to stay in the marriage, she is being forced to.  If she is given the time and space to consider divorce and she chooses not to, then she has chosen to stay married.  If she chooses divorce then that’s valid.  Jesus’ teaching allows for marriage in cases of adultery, and if that’s how the woman experiences what her husband has done, that must be validated and supported.

 

This email is not sent into a context where Christian women are divorcing their husbands’ willy nilly (no pun intended!).  There are Christian women who have endured decades of their husband’s abuse, rape and violence because they church taught them divorce wasn’t an option.  Women rarely opt to be single parents or divorced.  There is much pain and trauma from being a divorced woman in the church, I know, I was one.  I endured rape, emotional terrorism, my ex-husband’s affairs because I thought divorce was not an option.

 

Women don’t need to be told divorce is not an option.  It’s what they’re always being told.

 

Women whose husbands have been using pornography need our compassion.  They need us to weep with them.  To hug them and tell them that we’ll support them whatever they do.  Sadly, many women won’t talk to anyone when they find out about their husband’s pornography use because there’s so much shame and fear attached to it.

 

This email speaks into a context where women are made to feel terrible about themselves.  The UK beauty industry is worth £17 billion.  An industry selling luxury products nobody needs is worth so much because it drags women’s self value out of them and sells it back to them for a large profit.  Every image of women that we see if digital manipulated, every shop manikin is 4 sizes thinner than the average woman.

 

Consumerism thrives on making women hate themselves.  Patriarchy thrives on blaming women and ensuring they are men’s caretakers.

 

Craig Gross’ brand of church views men as the primary leaders, of churches, homes and organisations.  Yet he believes that men’s visual nature makes them incapable of not masturbating while watching images of women being sexually violated.  Those two views are utterly incompatible.  Either men are competent human beings or they’re not.

 

If being a visual creature is the problem, it seems Jesus’ solution may be the one we should look to.  Blinding.  Each man should gouge out his own eyes to solve this.  As Jesus said, it is preferable to lust.

 

Yet, Jesus’ teaching was allegorical and “mystical”.  He was not advocating self mutilation.  He was pointing out the futility of blaming the eyes for an issue that is rooted in the heart.  This is a heart issue.  And while Craig Gross (and his wife) advocate this “visual nature”, they are speaking counter to the message of Jesus and are colluding with bad science and the excuses of men watching pornography.

 

Even if this time seems desperate and that it will never pass, divorce is much harder and more painful than this one experience in your relationship.

 

This is not “one experience in your relationship” this is (likely) a pattern of behaviour that the husband is choosing which involves secrecy, masturbation and images of women being sexually violated.  I have been divorced.  It was painful.  But I can assure you, not anywhere near as painful as staying married to a man who watched pornography and then made me enact those scenes (amongst many other painful abuses).

 

That’s not to say that a husband’s use of pornography is impossible to overcome.  That divorce could be more painful?  Of course!  But sending out a bulk email with these sorts of absolutes is dangerous to the most vulnerable and damaged amongst us and as such should not be written.  There is no “one size fits all” solution to the huge problems of pornography use among men, and any solution is not going to focus on what the man’s wife should, or should not be doing.

 

You and your husband can get through this and wind up even stronger than you were before. We’ve seen it over and over in the couples we’ve worked with through our ministry.

 

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

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It’s great that they’ve had success.  But see above, this is not a “one size fits all” solution.  This is a ministry.  It is a not a scientifically robust understanding of pornography.  It is great that they are committed to ensuring men stop watching images of women being sexually violated which masturbating.  However, if the methods with which this is done echo those within pornography, objectifying women and reducing them to how they serve men.  Then they need a new model.

 

You can read my tweets about this email in the Storify I have done HERE.  As you will see towards the end of the Storify, Craig Gross responds to my Tweets.  I will offer some views on this too:

 

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Telling me to “settle down” immediately shapes his response as patronising and rather than engaging with the content of my criticisms, he focuses on the tone with which I sent them.  He assumes I hadn’t read the whole blog, which I had.  His use of “woman” with quote marks is odd.  And as already mentioned, the fact he says this is his wife’s comments does not help his argument at all, given that he doesn’t mention her name and signs the email from himself.  He states that it is for “if [the] husband confesses” even though the email is responding to the question “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

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Shaunti Feldhahn is the co-author of Craig Gross’ most recent book “Men Are Visual”.   Her background is in economics and she has no qualifications in neuroscience or psychology.   HERE (http://www.shaunti.com/2016/02/women-three-phrases-to-never-say-to-your-husband/ ) she tells women they should never say to men:

 

·      “What were you thinking?

·      “You didn’t do a good job at…”

·      Sigh in exasperation

 

She essentially trades in gender stereotypes, neurosexism and Christianese to fix relationship problems and sell books.

 

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Admittedly, he doesn’t know from my Twitter profile than I am not clueless, however assuming that is problematic, given that I’m not.  He infers that my tweets suggest I am clueless and unwilling to understand about men.  Neither of these things are true.  I am an expert in my filed and I spend a whole lot of time reflecting on and engaging with toxic masculinity (something he is promoting).  I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop because I strongly believe in the need for men to engage with the toxic and damaging effects of patriarchy, something the pornography is a part of.

 

My anger is righteous.  I wasn’t ranting on Twitter because I don’t have a clue, but because I do.  I know the damage the messages in his email cause women and men and it makes me angry that he is choosing to use his platform to spout nonsense.

 

Men are not wired differently to women.  If people are interested in a different perspective to Craig’s on the idea that people are wired to want pornography, read THIS blog by Glen Scrivener.

 

I shall spend the rest of my day reflecting with hope on Matthew 5:6

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

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The Spectrum of Pornographies: A Man’s Perspective PART 2

This post is part of the series I’ve been doing about the spectrum of pornographies, you can read the others (along with a few of my previous posts that cover the subject) here.

This is the second guest post from a Christian man who I asked to share his views…

I personally have been helped by some of the literature and resources developed by Christians aimed at men who consume porn of the types I did. Their frameworks for understanding compulsive behaviour and my motivations were very useful, as were the practical strategies for changing problem behaviour. I would commend the work of XXXChurch in the US particularly, especially as it is noteworthy that they are addressing aspects of the production of porn as well as its consumption.

However, the language in the books and on the websites produced by Christians can be problematic. Talk of addicts and addiction, of being a user can reinforce the notion of men being primarily victims and analogous to drug users. Yes, the literature does address the effects on family and friends of an ‘addicts” behaviour, just as those addressing alcohol or drug abuse do.

But telling men they are victims in a spiritual battle – whilst partially true – is only a part of the bigger picture.

The battle can be too often described only as the struggle of ‘good men tempted’ against the ‘flesh and blood’ of naked women (or men) having sex on screen.

It is closer to the truth, I think, to say that men are called – no, compelled – to take up a battle against the ‘powers and principalities’ behind the systematic and all-pervasive denigration and objectification of women of which pornographies are manifestations of.

That may mean men learning not to solely be obsessed with maintaining personal purity (though resisting the lust Jesus speaks of IS a non-negotiable) and being willing to speak about and root out every form of misogynistic thinking and practise. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and but it’s essential we stop casting ourselves as the victims of the piece and face up to our greater responsibilities.

What does an effective response to this issue look like?  Do you have any thoughts about what a theological response to the issues looks like?

I only have tentative answers but there are some things I think we definitely do.

Firstly, given that the majority of exploitation and degradation one can observe in pornography of all forms is enacted by men against women, we men firstly need to listen to what women would have us do. Men are not the saviours of porn performers nor of porn consumers but we do have responsibilities. We need to learn not to shrug off our responsibility to act but we do need to curtail our assumption that men know what is best for women and that we know what women need us to do.
I think too that men need to engage more readily in conversation with – and especially in listening to – feminists within and outside the Church. They are able to teach us how pornography connects with wider issues of sexism and women’s liberation.

We also need to talk together more frankly and honestly about what is out there – I don’t mean talking porn for the sake of showing how much we know or how in touch we are with what is out there but in order to confront the realities and expose the mechanisms of exploitation and damage.

As I’ve suggested, we need to think more carefully about our language and terminology. Can we find language which is more accurate and honest than only “addict/addiction/purity/lust”? Should we be speaking of consumers not users given most pornography is unashamedly cynically marketed product, given that many pornographies is outworking of capitalism?
What about the language of “models” and “performers”? Where is the line between “performer” and “product”? I don’t want to deny the self-determination of women nor the fact that women do choose to produce and act in porn movies, and I don’t wish to speak for women (see above) but when women are saying “pornography is hurting women in all manner of ways” then to fall back on language which emphasises freedom and consent and downplays power and exploitation is disingenuous.

This goes for the larger narratives we employ in our writing and speaking about pornographies in the Church. Whose stories do we emphasise: men who have “suffered” loss due to porn, men who have “recovered” from addiction? Or do need to give more airtime and platform space to women telling their stories about porn? About the effects of the men they know consuming porn? Of their own experience of having been exploited by porn producers? Do we need to pay more attention than we do to the voices of women who have suffered sexual violence due in part to the shaping of men’s minds and actions by violent porn?

In some of the Christian books and websites I’ve read addressing pornography I’ve read much about men who “use prostitutes” and stripclubs, or pay to access porn online, but next to nothing in the same books and sites about who these prostitutes are, who works at these strip clubs, who made the porn and “performed” in it.
For every man’s life “ruined” by pornography consumption there is at least one woman whose life has been ruined and whose health and well-being have been compromised.

Even the well-meaning talk of “would you want your daughter to be watched in that way?” is problematic. We should instead be saying things like “should any woman be treated in this way or feel compelled to make a living like this?”

We need to resist shallow stereotypes about men and women and sex. Addressing porn has to be connected with what we teach in churches about men and women and sex more broadly. Much teaching can inadvertently give more license to men to consume pornography by emphasising “men’s needs” and their apparently greater sex drive, and women’s supposed more “emotional” and “passive” view of sex. If our church teaching on sex reinforces male potency and drive, and female passivity and receptivity, does this not shape men’s expectations of sex to conform to what they see on their screens?

We need to join the dots in our speaking and acting between pornography, sex trafficking/slavery, and sexual violence. These relationships are complex. Not all that comes under the banner “pornography” is necessarily exploitative and connected with sexual violence; but much is. However, we need to resist seeing ourselves as the male saviours of poor helpless women – back to listening and learning before acting – whilst still acting when we can.

We need to read our bibles “better” – to see the narratives of sexual exploitation, the gender stereotypes often under the surface of texts we read too simplistically.

A quick example:

David and Bathsheba: do we read this as David in a moment of weakness succumbing to temptation? Or do we notice and highlight the power dynamics at work: the powerful king seeing another woman as a sexual object to own and consume, a woman who could not realistically say no to the summons from the King who “sent messengers to fetch her”? In our modern terminology, was this really fully consensual sex or was this exploitative behaviour within an asymmetrical power relationship?

I’m not advocating that we demonize King David or dismiss the fact that he was a man “after God’s own heart”; rather we perhaps need to learn that “good men” are not simply “tempted”; sometimes they are exploitative and abusive.

We need to open our minds to recognise that when we laud a biblical character simplistically as a “goody” we risk overlooking the patterns of sexual exploitation and sexism even within our scriptures.

The same goes for other aspects of the Bible – how do we read Paul’s epistles within a “pornified” culture where women are routinely objectified on camera and in print? When I read in 1 Corinthians that a wife is not “master” of her own body, I must treat and read that text extremely carefully given that pornographies so frequently depict a woman’s body simply as an object for a man or men to use to achieve orgasm. Paul had his reasons for writing, and I don’t think he is advocating the routine objectifying of women. However, thousands of women within pornography industries are routinely treated and told that they are not “masters” of their bodies; they are told that their bodies exist for men’s pleasure, and their value as people is proportional to the degree of pleasure a man derives from gazing at or physically using their bodies.
We certainly can draw on Paul’s writing to develop a healthy theology of the body and of sex BUT we need to be very careful and not rely solely on a simplistic reading of him.
I’d also ask: please, please, please resist quoting chunks of Proverbs to address porn and sex. I’ve heard that book used too often to endorse narrow sexual roles especially for women, and to perpetuate the notion that men are “potential victims” who must resist the advances of “temptresses” whether in the flesh or on screen.
Finally, if we want to hold up Samson and Solomon as heroes of the faith, also be honest about the massively exploitative sexual behaviour they were engaged in. Solomon’s harem of women were not in his royal court purely of their own volition, acting from true freedom and self-determination. Our ancestors In the faith used women as objects for pleasure and to continue their bloodlines. Yes, God was gracious enough to “use” these men for his purposes but let’s at least be more honest about the long legacy of sexual exploitation in our faith’s story.

I realise I’ve offered more questions than answers. I realise I’ve offered no programme of action or 10 steps to eradicating pornography. I hope these suggestions about how we think and speak and listen will provoke others to develop appropriate ways of acting. My greatest concern is not so much ridding my home or computer of porn (though this is essential), nor to rescue men from addiction (though men do need help stopping what they’re doing). There is a bigger cause of ridding the world, our communities and churches of the ways of thinking, speaking and behaving which contribute to pornographies being so pervasive, and increasingly violent and damaging. That’s a huge and more complex task.

The Spectrum of Pornographies: A Man’s Perspective PART 1

This post is part of the series I’ve been doing about the spectrum of pornographies, you can read the others (along with a few of my previous posts that cover the subject) here.

I asked a Christian man I’d been chatting with about the issues around pornographies to write about his experiences.  He said a question and answer approach would work well, so here is Part 1…

How long have you been in Church?

Church has been a constant part of my life since birth. My parents are Christians and there’s never been a time I’ve not been heavily involved in Church – attending, helping lead worship, children’s work…

What is your current church involvement?

I’m currently a full-time paid minister of a church as part of a small team. I’m still relatively new to full-time leadership having spent time training full time at a theological college and on placements.

My work is very varied: from work with older people to all-age worship, preaching, community engagement and work with schools.

I’ve previously had a fair bit of experience of working with teenagers.

My work with teenagers in a number of settings gave me a greater awareness of the rapid and constant changes in that wide range of media we call ‘porn’ and how and what young people access.

What are your thoughts on the spectrum of media that makes up what is commonly described as pornography?

In a previous blog post you made the very helpful point that pornography is not one monolithic entity but a vast spectrum or diversity of material and media.

Not only is this true; I also feel it is important to note that porn users are diverse, have very different patterns of usage, and access porn for different reasons and with a variety of felt needs or drives.

My first experience of pornographic material was at around 11 seeing magazine of what would today be regarded by many as very ‘tame’ – essentially naked or scantily clad women in ‘alluring’ poses (it’s worth noting they had pubic hair in contrast to the seemingly ubiquitous contemporary requirement for women in most forms of porn to be hairless, as you’ve noted previously).

My ‘descent’ into what I would call a porn addiction followed a path from ‘softcore’ still images online (dialup internet and 1990s tech precluded my viewing moving images for several years) to hardcore short movies online by about 2010.

I shocked myself at how rapidly my choices of material accessed changed over a few years, in terms of the shift from softcore “lad mag”/playboy stills to short movies of male-female and female-female explicit penetrative sex.

What I note now looking back is how a click on a free site offering playboy images of nudity always offered up immediate free access to still images and videos of ardcore penetrative sex acts, mainly m-f or f-f. ‘Escalation’ of usage happened very easily.

My main motivation for using porn was initially curiosity – not having had sex until my 20s and married, I was curious about the naked female form and the mechanics of sex.

The motivation shifted in time such that it became about relieving boredom or low mood by seeking sexual stimulation.

I have accessed hardcore porn over a period of maybe 10 years on and off.

One of the motivators in recent years to get help and kick my habit has been the realisation of what is out there, how easily I was being sucked in, and the risk of my beginning to access more extreme and degrading material.However, in what must have been just 3 or 4 years, as my access escalated from nudity to watching two people having penetrative vaginal intercourse, so I became rapidly aware of what I found and find a far more disturbing, degrading and violent world of pornographies.

For example, while I may have clicked on a page to view still full frontal nudity and/or a ‘model’ masturbating, sidebar ads and pop ups offered an array of other content: anal sex, ‘facials’ (a man or men ejaculating on a woman’s face), gangbangs (multiple men penetrating one woman, sometimes simultaneously), bondage/S&M, and a variety of content specifically offered up as being what I’d call ‘deviant’. By this I mean content which involves physically abusive, overtly exploitative sexual activity.

I didn’t explore much beyond what would be called “vanilla” male-female/female-female porn, and I quite frankly didn’t understand why anyone would be interested in some of what seemed bizarre or disturbing types of porn. I’ve never been drawn to some of the forms you listed in your previous blog: porn involving other bodily functions, ‘facials’, orgies, gangbangs, what would be called ‘fetish’. But the realisation of what was out there disturbed me deeply.

Now, to be clear: I would say from my experience as a user and from my research that the vast majority of pornographies involve some form of exploitation of women; most porn in whatever form almost always places men in a position of dominance and power over women. This is often explicit in the behaviour of ‘performers’ and the scenarios offered up; it is almost always the case in what goes on behind the camera and when the cameras aren’t rolling, in how the industries operate.

This being said, there are forms of porn which are actively marketed using the language of exploitation, of men forcefully “doing to” women with no attempt to suggest that there will be mutual pleasure.

It became clear that porn as one woman and one man depicted as engaging in mutually pleasurable sex (yes with the man being more dominant, but seemingly mutually consensual and ‘vanilla’) had become just one thing on a vast menu.

The descriptors attached to videos and screenshots I began to see on the two or three sites I visited became ever more violent, degrading, explicitly objectifying and insulting of women. They were all about what one or more men would do to this or that orifice. Women were “sluts”, “bitches” and “whores” whom the viewer could see degraded. There was/is no veneer of respect in these forms of porn. The language was/is debasing women in every way possible without actually coming out and saying they are being raped. Some descriptions on ads for sites or videos treated the woman-as-person as incidental or irrelavant – they described only what would be done to one of her body parts by a man or men.

I personally felt not even much curiosity never mind desire to access these more violent and abusive forms BUT they were just a click away, as easy to access as a ‘Nuts’ image.

The near ubiquity of ejaculation onto a woman’s face (something I’ve witnessed and have no desire to see again – it left me feeling not only ashamed but disturbed) seems to me to highlight the fact that porn usage or addiction is far more complex and bigger than being just about (mainly) men looking lustfully at a woman or watching a couple copulating in order to gain a sexual thrill.

There are aspects of the array we call ‘porn’ which are not just about the lust to enjoy sexual pleasure with another person: how do we Christians address the fact that some of our brothers are choosing regularly to access still and moving images of women being physically abused, subjected to obvious discomfort, used as no more than a collection of orifices, and humiliated?

In some porn there is still the effort made to depict scenarios of mutual pleasure and relative respect for each other’s comfort and wellbeing.

In other forms, the pretence isn’t so much abandoned as actively opposed.

The material I saw offered was seemingly designed to appeal to male fantasies of subjecting a woman to anything he chooses for his own pleasure with no interest in woman’s bodily safety never mind pleasure. Women are written about as having no say nor right to derive pleasure or comfort from sexual acts; they are there to be used and to be either silent or only open their mouths to acquiesce to a man’s demands.

Do you think the current focus of the church on addiction and purity around this issue is helpful? 

An emphasis on purity and resisting lust does have its place in the church’s addressing of porn ‘addiction’ but is insufficient on at least four counts:

1) These approaches can make men feel misleadingly that they are the primary victims in the porn addiction narrative. They are victims yes of their own lusts, but these lusts as provoked and exploited by the loose women onscreen: that’s sometimes what the purity/lust narrative implies and leads men to believe. Careless citation of stories about Solomon or King David, or quotes from Proverbs often do more harm than good: they overlook the exploitation and dehumanising of women in those texts for a start; they also place the emphasis on men resisting “the temptress”. If men addicted to porn are victims, they are victims of a mainly male capitalist and misogynistic machine which treats them simply as interchangeable consumers.

2) This emphasis on purity/lust seems inadequate for dealing with the many men among us either for pleasure or out of compulsion watch women being degraded in material marketed as such. I’m not sure what the answer is to this but it must be more complex and far reaching than treating and supporting the individual addict.

3) In and of themselves, approaches which focus solely or mainly on purity and abstinence only address the problem of breaking an addictive pattern (no bad thing) and not the problem of thousands of women’s lives being ruined and bodies exploited. There is a pressing need for the church and men ourselves especially to address the foundational misogyny, systemic sexism which means that there is a market for the full array of pornographies.

4) This approach does little or nothing to address the phenomenon of people accessing porn depicting sexual or quasi-sexual behaviours which radically depart from what the church would generally advocate as healthy, desirable, and safe within a marriage; behaviours which many of us would see as suggestive of problems with a person’s psychological/emotional/sexual health and development. I realise that makes a value judgement but that seems inevitable even desirable if we wish as the church to tackle porn in all its forms and with all its problems.

I will publish Part 2 of this piece over the next few days…

De-Euphemism-Ising Pornographies

In the last piece in this series on pornographies I wrote about the shape of the Christian conversation on pornographies and considered how it needs to be broadened.  Today I thought I’d create a handy “de-euphemism-iser” so that when you read Christian articles about the spectrum of pornographies you can translate them and understand what they’re actually saying.

 

I was discussing the idea behind this post with a very wise friend who worked for many years as a counsellor.  She said that when counselling people who had suicide ideation and those engaged or thinking about taken drastic action that would damage themselves or others it was very important to de-euphemism-ise the actions they wanted to take.  Where someone said they “wanted to fall asleep”, there was a need to make that real; to not enable them to use language to hide the reality and consequences of what they wanted to do.  As this resource states, when working with people considering suicide, “Use clear, direct terms, not euphemisms for suicide”.

 

In the same way, the current language surrounding the spectrum of pornographies (especially within Christian conversations) does not use language which discourages  people from accessing explicit material; it does not use language which leaves them unable to justify, minimise or rationalise their behaviour and choices.

 

Though some men are viewing images and videos of gay men, or men performing gay sex acts, the vast majority of men are viewing images of women and “teenage” girls.  Yes some women do view pornographic content, but not to the same degree. Images of children being sexually abused are often referred to within the media as “child pornography”.  This term is reprehensible as it hides the perpetration and crime of child sexual abuse.  At some point, I may write a separate piece about this, but for clarity, it is not part of this piece.

 

So without further ado, may I present the DE-EUPHEMISM-ISER.

 

(Many of the phrases listed come from Christian websites about pornographies)

 

Using pornStruggling with pornBattled with porn; Watch porn; Sin onlineLustful indulgenceThe consumption of pornInvolved in pornIllicit sexual behavior they’re engaged inStruggling with sexual brokenness, woundedness, addiction or dysfunctionVarious forms of sexual bondage and brokenness.

 

ALL THE ABOVE TRANSLATE AS: Masturbating until ejaculation while choosing to watch images of women being degraded, objectified and punish.

 

Pornography provided me with me with a sense of security

 

Choosing to watch images of women being degraded, objectified and punished, while masturbating until I ejaculated, provided me with with a sense of security…

 

All of my stress and worries could be solved with a simple click

 

All of my stress and worries could be solved by clicking on images of women being degraded, objectified and punished while I masturbated until I ejaculated.

 

The Temptation of Pornography

 

The temptation of choosing to masturbate until ejaculation while watching images and videos of women being degraded, sexually humiliated and dehumanised.

 

Explicit photographs and footageHardcore sexual acts

 

Images and videos of women being degraded, objectified, penetrated (usually by multiple men), ejaculated on and generally used by men, that are then posted online to enable a small number of very rich men to get richer.

 

Fictitious sexual scenarios with made-up people

 

Degrading and violating sexual scenarios created with real people whose lives are being destroyed in the process of being turned into a product for (mainly) men to masturbate while watching, until they ejaculate.

 

Porn ruins lives

 

Watching images of women being degraded, objectified and punished, while masturbating until ejaculating ruins lives.

 

The enemy is using media to destroy a generation

 

Rich (mainly) white men are producing images and videos of women being degraded, violated and dehumanised, in order to sell them to (mainly) men to watch while masturbating, in order to get even richer.  In the process the women/girls and (to a lesser degree) men who are often manipulated into being filmed are being destroyed.  When (mainly) men are masturbating while watching images of women being sexually degraded and abused they are losing their humanity as the dehumanise the people in the images and videos they are watching.  This is evil.

 

Pornography is a serial killer

 

The lives of women and girls who are being objectified, degraded and humiliated are being destroyed.  But we’re not actually talking about the people most damaged by an industry designed to make rich men even richer.  We’re talking about the people who then watch the images and videos of people being degraded and violated to masturbate until ejaculating.  We are more interested in their souls being defiled than we are in the actual people whose actual lives are being decimated.

 

Escape this trapBreak free from pornographyPursuing sexual purity

 

Someone choosing to stop degrading, objectifying and dehumanising women and girls through watching images and videos of them being sexually violated so that they can masturbate until ejaculation.

 

The generation that has been raised on porn is becoming less able to enjoy sexual intimacy

 

The majority of young people in the UK are learning about sex from watching images of women (and girls) being objectified, degraded and dehumanised.  They are learning that during sexual contact boys (and men) should be violent, aggressive, have enormous penises and should never be kind or gentle towards the girl (or woman) they are having sex with.  Girls are learning that they should be penetrated without any affection, love or care.  That they should be hairless and that they should want to end sex by having their face ejaculated on.  These images are also encouraging girls and boys to see having multiple boys/men penetrating one girl at one time as normal and desirable.  Sexual intimacy has become an alien concept due to this.

 

How Christ destroyed my addiction to lust

 

I was compulsively looking at images and videos of women being objected, degraded and humiliated.  Masturbating until ejaculating while watching those images changed the way my brain worked so I felt I had to continuing watching images of women being sexually violated.  I chose to act upon those compulsions.  Jesus helped me to choose to no longer act on them.

 

Men are hard wired to like watching pornMen are visual creaturesThe thing women do no seem to fully grasp is that the temptation towards lust does not stop; it is continual; it is aggressive; it does all it can to lead men down to death.

 

ALL OF THE ABOVE TRANSLATES AS:

 

I am going to use bad science to justify why men can’t help but degrade, objectify and sexualise women (and girls).  Even though much research has shown that the brain is not hard wired and that humans have neuro-plasticity (the connections in the brain change depending on our environment and experiences) I am going to continue to perpetuate the myth that the free will (which we hold so dearly as core aspects of the Christian faith) fails at the sight of a woman’s ankles, skin, “toe cleavage”, leggings etc.  Because men are not capable of choosing to see women as human beings and cannot treat them with respect unless they adhere to a strict dress and behaviour code which avoids every possible sexual desire a man might have.

 

Modesty: The Other Side of the Pornography Coin

 

The clothing and behaviour choices women make are at least 50% responsible for men choosing to find a private space, open a web browser, search for videos and images of women (and girls) being sexually degraded, violated and penetrated, and then masturbating until ejaculation while dehumanising the women in the videos and photos.

 

Lust and sexual pursuits are evidence of our need to experience the presence of God intensely

 

Choosing to objectify, degrade and dehumanise women is evidence of our need to experience the presence of God intensely.

 

Fathers, Step Up: Teaching Modesty and Purity to Our Daughters

 

Fathers!  Make sure you start early in telling your daughters that it’s their job to stop men choosing to objectify, dehumanise, sexualise and masturbate while watching images of women (and girls) being degraded and sexually humiliated.

The Christian Porn Conversation

Last week I wrote “Porn is not a thing”.  It was a piece exploring the idea of a “spectrum of pornographies” as apposed to seeing porn as one entity.  Today I want to consider the messages we see across that spectrum.

 

Recently Hannah Mudge posted a fascinating article about a man who spent 5 years filming hardcore pornographic material.  He isn’t “anti” pornographic material and says he doesn’t regret his decision to work in the industry, yet his experiences of filming heterosexual content was on every level different than when filming pornographic content of gay men.  He describes the environment with women in these terms “it almost seemed like an entire gender was being denigrated, like that was the whole point—where very young women were choked and slapped and written-on with lipstick, simply for the crime, it seemed, of being a woman.”  Whereas in shooting gay content he said, “The sadness and the degradation I had come to associate with my job, with videotaped sex for money, was suddenly absent.”

 

Though this man is part of the very culture he critiques, he raises the greatest issue we face from pornographic material; the degradation, objectification and utter decimation of women.  There are other issues, but fundamentally the many and varied ways the spectrum of pornographies destroys men’s (and boys’) views of women (and girls’) is the greatest issue.  It is also rarely articulated in the Christian “porn” conversation.

 

The Christian conversation on “porn” has (in the main) these aspects:

  1. Purity: viewing defiles the person looking.
  2. Addiction: people get addicted to viewing and so it becomes treated as a medical disorder.
  3. The redemption narrative: (mostly) men sharing their stories of moving from sin (watching “porn”) to redemption (no longer watching “porn”)
  4. Neuroscience/Intimacy: After Dr William Struthers (neuroscientific theologian) wrote a book covering the ways viewing pornographic content affects the brain and communicated the solution as greater intimacy, this is regularly talked about and he is the go to person Christians usually quote or invite to talk about “porn”.

 

Though all of the above can be part of the issue, I would suggest of greater significance are the following layers underpinning the spectrum of pornographies:

  1. A gendered analysis: this is about men consuming women.  Man as subject, woman as object.
  2. Industry: people make vast sums of money from selling pornographic material.  Viewers are groomed into harder and harder core porn, in order to bring financial benefit to (mainly) white men.
  3. Power: as we’ve seen in the latest power plays of The Sun around Page 3, pornographic material is more about power than it is about any sort of meaningful sexual experience.
  4. The broken lives: the (mostly) women who are groomed, used, abused and discarded by the industry.

 

Not only does the Christian “porn” narrative mostly lack articulation of these issues, some elements of Christian culture reinforce attitudes within the spectrum of pornographies.  Talk of manly men, who are aggressive and testosterone driven creatures feeds into the messages of men as animals.  The feminisation of the church conversation perpetuates the view that women are the problem.  Modesty culture at root states “men objectify” so women must cover up, the irony of modesty culture and the pornography industry essentially both treating women as sexual objects should not be ignored.  Even responses to the use of pornographic material is problematic.  Talk of “fighting porn” and the war imagery that it often conjures up does not stand apart from and in abhorrence of the violence across the spectrum of pornographies.  Rather it becomes violent language to respond to sexual violence.

 

Then there is the lack of women’s voices within the Christian conversation about the spectrum of pornographies.  Women feature usually as wives or daughters of the men using pornographic material.  “What would your wife think?”  “How is this affecting your marriage?”  “Would you want your daughter to be a porn star?”

 

Women are included mainly only within their relationship to the men using pornographic material.  Just as pornographic material reduces women to ornaments with holes, so this approach reduces women.  Not as far, but still solely as men’s attachments.  Why do women have to be thought of as having a personal relationship to a man in order to have value.  As this edited image powerfully challenges, why can’t women simply be “someone”?

Unknown

The other way women are included is: “women use porn too you know?”   This isn’t inaccurate, women do use pornographic material.  However, rarely are women spokespeople on this issue, or the ones shaping the conversation.

 

We need to change the conversation, broaden it, increase the number and diversity of voices.  We need a conversation which fully acknowledges the industry and the money being made, that sees the connection between selfish capitalism and the increase in the commodification of human beings.  We need to recognise the power imbalance and gendered dynamic across the spectrum of pornographies; being willing to look at our own community and the attitudes to gender and power that reduce women and create a deep imbalance of power between men and women.    Until then, we will never delve beyond the surface of this issue.

Porn is NOT a thing

I’m not a pro-blogger at all.  I just write things as they occur, but it seems this piece has already become part of a series.  I’ll post Part 2 soon (I know, I know, the suspense may be too much for some…).  So consider this the introduction…

 

It seems in Christian circles that the word PORNOGRAPHY is an agreed upon term that is universally understood.  It is rarely explained in the articles or resources talking about it.  Porn; a single entity that according to Martin Saunders’ recent survey 42% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women “struggle” with on a regular basis.

 

Pornography is not one entity.  Pornography is not a THING.  It is a spectrum of THINGS.

 

For many pornography is the sort of thing this cartoon by @easilytempted jokes about:

Porn Plumbers

At one point in time, pornography was an entity that involved bad acting, scenarios and actual scripts.  That time was about 20 years ago.

 

The problem with those talking about pornography in the church is that they have rarely seen any (which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself) or if they have seen any it’s usually because they have personally struggled with the desire to watch and use it.  This means that those who have seen it talk about it from a perspective of an ex-user (well hopefully EX-user), and those who haven’t often don’t actually know much about it.

 

The other problem with the word “porn” is that it hides the reality.  Language is very important.  We must stop reducing this huge thing that is the pornography industry to a four letter word.  It makes it easier to ignore, explain away and assume we understand.  At the very least we need to refer to this issue as a “spectrum of pornographies”.

 

Pornography can be written descriptions (often called erotica), photographs, video footage or animation.  It is either soft-core (“pornographic material that does not show penetration, genitalia, or actual sexual activity”) or hard-core  (“contains graphic sexual activity and visible penetration”).  Since the ‘90s hardcore pornographic material has become the norm.

 

According to Wikipedia (the MOST reliable of sources clearly…) pornography can be separated into different types:

Genre by physical characteristics

  • Age (This includes everything from “mature” women (MILFs) to “barely legal” images of adult women and pseudo child abuse images of adult women made to look like children.)
  • Body Features
  • Race
  • Subculture

 

Fetish

  • Bondage/BDSM (Everything on a spectrum between performers being tied up, blindfolded, enduring pain, to simulated rape.)
  • Bodily Functions (Varying from men ejaculating on women to scenes involving women lactating, urine, vomit and faeces.)
  • Other fetish (Scenes focussed on fetishes around particular acts, clothes or parts of the body.)

 

Sexual Orientation:

  • Men with women, women with men
  • Men with men
  • Women with women
  • Multiple men and women
  • Transexual or transgender people

 

Reality:

This includes amateur footage, “Gonzo” or “POV” footage is where a performer films while “performing” and also hidden camera footage.

 

Specific sex acts:

  • Anal
  • Other sex acts (This includes (usually) women being penetrated by multiple men at one time)

 

Other categories 

  • Computer generated, interactive and animated
  • Miscellaneous (including content created for and by women)
  • Extreme/illegal (this includes bestiality and some would include child sexual abuse images)

 

To view the most popular pornographic internet search terms across these categories in 2014 click here.  The most popular is “teen”.

 

From this brief overview it is clear that the idea of “porn” including plumbers or pizza delivery guys are a thing from a bygone era, almost quaint really.  The vast majority of pornographic content include or end with a man ejaculating on a woman’s face.  Almost all mainstream pornographic videos and images only feature female performers who have no pubic hair.  This has led to a generation of young people and young adults who think girls and women should be hairless (essentially pre-pubescent) and that the pinnacle of sex is not mutual pleasure or intimacy, but rather a man ejaculating on a woman’s face.

 

If we as the church want to engage with the issues we need to start by understanding what they are.  We can’t have conversations about the spectrum of pornographies without acknowledging what we’re dealing with.  And that means no longer being blind to the issues, but instead becoming informed.  Because currently it seems like the blind are leading the blind on this issue.

 

If you want to get a more informed a good (but deeply depressing) place to start would be by reading Gail Dines’ book “Pornland”.

The Lost Daughter

As another day turned to evening, she sat on the balcony in the sagging old armchair, her heart and soul weary. In the first few weeks after it happened she had wept every single day. Not a minute would go by when she wouldn’t wonder where things had gone wrong, what she could have said or done differently. As the weeks turned to months the sadness became a knot in her stomach. Occasionally she would laugh, at a joke or something Martha said. Then the sadness would overtake her, combined with a guilt for almost forgetting what had gone before. Martha would see the darkness overshadow her smile and her face would fall. “Everything we do will always be about her.” Martha, the One Who Had Stayed, had spat the words at her the other day. It had been a slap in the face when already the pain of was unbearable. She slowly pulled herself out of the chair, it seemed her body had grown old fast. Soul pain did that. She walked to the railings, squinting into the twilight, hoping that this would be the day things changed. By the time she walked indoors, the twilight had turned to thick darkness.

 

She undressed slowly, her limbs heavy with grief. Once in her nightclothes she looked in the mirror, the woman in front of her no longer familiar. Her lined face and silvery hair, once proudly held high a crown of wisdom now left her feeling old and lost. Her shoulders slumped slightly and the energy she had lived her life with was lost in the pain of the day things changed.

 

The sheets cold against her skin, as, the silence shouted louder than the busyness of the day. Nothing to distract her from the memories, an onslaught of pain that never stopped.

 

“I want it now.” Evelyn had said. Her face hard, her words cold. “There’s a whole world waiting for me and I want to explore it. You’ve always said we shouldn’t be ruled by the traditions. Let me go, give me my share.” Martha’s mouth had hung open. Shocked by her sister’s audacity.

 

As their mother, she had always offered them freedom. Never holding to the old ways of control, she wanted her daughters to know their worth and value. To have choices, make decisions, live in freedom not duty. Never once had it occurred to her that freedom would break her heart.

 

She had heard them arguing later that night. Martha’s voice hissing words while Evelyn’s voice had rung out loud and clear, “It’s my choice, you stay here if you like, but the world is waiting.”

 

As she lay in bed, heart aching, tears slowly trailing down her face, she wondered whether she should regret giving her daughters the power to choose for themselves, to have freedom. She heard the whispered comments of the others; the neighbours, so-called friends and the employees. Her own mother’s words came back to her, “You mark my words Sophia, you’ll regret giving them freedom. Discipline and duty is the only way.” Yet, even in the midst of the screaming memories and darkness, she couldn’t muster any regret.

 

The darkness and shame overwhelmed Evelyn. Regret sat like poison in her stomach, no amount of vomiting able to purge it. She thought back to her dreams, when she thought the world was waiting. The way her money, her mother’s money had opened the doors. The parties, the film crews, her name in the credits, her conviction had grown with every success. She had been right; Martha wrong. Rich girl, famous girl, star of the reality show, living the dream.

 

But the dream is just that, one day you wake up. To find your private sex tape watched by the world. She didn’t know exactly when the regret had taken hold. The topless shots sliding into soft porn movies, if the world wanted to watch her, well at least they could pay her. Her FU to the world was to show she could still make it. Yet here she was sore and degraded, shame filling her head with thoughts of destruction.

 

She’d been given some powder to fix it; so they had told her, “It’ll make it better. It’s no big deal.” Yet, the tiny bags had laid in a drawer, the line she had yet to cross. She wondered whether now was the time. She walked over to the cabinet, took one out and stared at it. Could this take away the terrible poison within? Her mother’s face came into her head. Perhaps, maybe, she could go home. She could offer to work for the business. Find herself a bedsit. It could be better than this porn hell.

 

Sophia awoke, the state of half-awake providing blissful ignorance from the loss of her precious oldest child. The feelings of grief flooded in as consciousness overtook her. She sat up, squashing the ache in her soul. Before That Day she had regularly read the newspaper over breakfast, but with the first sight of Evelyn in the pages, she had avoided it like the plague, as the sickness took hold in her heart.

 

She completed each day on automatic pilot. Meetings, conversations, projects, reports; all of them completed by her body, while her soul wept. She knew Martha struggled. So many times they had gone round the same circle, “Evelyn has chosen her path; you’ve got to move on. Not least because I’m still here. I need you Mum.” Sophia had tried to awaken from the nightmare, for her younger daughter’s sake. But it was so hard. She lived for the evenings where she could sit in the chair on the balcony and hope that would be the day.

 

It had been months since that first night Evelyn considering returning, succumbing instead to the comforting powder. Her soul eviscerated by the photo and video shoots. Man after man, woman upon women. The irony of it being called a shoot. If only someone would shoot her.

 

She used all her pay to buy the escapism powder, living on the sofas of the men who filmed her. In one of her only recent lucid moments she remembered that time, how she considered going Home; after so long, that’s still what she called it. Home. This was the day things had to change, she was better off there as a worker, no matter how menial, than on the sofa of a pornographer. She had no belongings, nothing to pack. She walked out the door and started out Home.

 

Sophia was curled on the chair, the evening air cool. She had almost given up hope. She stood, her joints almost audibly creaking, shuffling to the balcony railings. Staring at the horizon she waited. In those moments she allowed herself to hope.

 

In the distance a speck emerged from nothing, gradually becoming the shape of a person. She gripped the railings and squinted. It was a person. She held her breath, willing herself to stay calm. To keep the hope in check. Yet as the person drew closer, she saw it was her lost daughter. In that moment the heaviness disappeared along with the joint pain and the soul ache. She turned and lunged for the door, leaping down the stairs she shouted through the house, her daughter had come home!

 

She ran down the path, her bare feet thudding on the ground. She needed to reach her daughter; to hold her. She stopped.

 

Ahead of her was her beloved daughter, thinner, older, eyes cast down, trudging forward, she hadn’t seen her mother running. Sophia held her breath for a long moment, tears dripping off her chin, she dared not move in case it was just a dream. Out of her mouth a groan of agonised hope escaped, causing her daughter to look up. As their eyes met Sophia knew it was real. This was it. She ran to her daughter, scooping her thin frame up into her arms, holding her tight as she wept.

 

Evelyn froze. This was not the plan. Her mother shouldn’t be here. And yet she was. Evelyn forced herself to recite the words she had been saying over and over, “I’m sorry. I’ve hurt you so much. I’m no longer your daughter, if you’d let me work for you, that is more than I deserve.” Her muffled words were spoken into her mother’s hair as she dangled in the tight bear hug her mother had enveloped her into.

 

Her mother loosened her grip, stepping back and attempting to look her in the eye. Evelyn kept her eyes on the ground. The shame twisted, squeezing her insides and leaving her wishing she hadn’t come. The silence was thick as she felt her mother’s eyes boring into her. Suddenly her mother grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the house. She allowed herself to be pulled along. They reached the door and her mother bellowed up the stairs, “Evelyn is home everyone, we must have a party to celebrate! She has been lost, dead and yet here she is, we’ve found her, she’s alive!”

 

Evelyn’s heart sank, she didn’t deserve this. She shouldn’t have come.

 

As if her mother knew how she felt, she felt arms surrounding her. Evelyn began to weep, raw pain escaping from her every pore. She had messed up. Yet here was her mother, still loving her. She collapsed into her mother’s arms and sobbed.

 

The people were everywhere, the “Welcome Home” banner declaring to the world that she was indeed Home. Evelyn sat at the edge of the room, not quite knowing what to do. How many of these people had seen the movies/photos she had been in? How many knew what she had done? Yet her mother was smiling, telling the room how wonderful it was to have her home. Every so often her mum would come to Evelyn, telling her how happy she was.

 

Martha was nowhere to be seen.

 

Martha sat on her bed crying bitter tears. How dare Evelyn waltz back into their lives? How dare their mother just throw her a party, after all she had done? Didn’t her mother know how much it had hurt, the jibes and comments? “Sister of the whore!” That’s what they’d called her. The calls from journalists, the way people looked at her. The shame and humiliation. How dare she? How dare Evelyn just walk back into their lives? Then the party! That had been the last straw. She had waited, kept working hard for the family business, been obedient and not so much as a celebration! She could have been out, partying, having the time of her life like Evelyn and yet she had been the dutiful daughter. And where had it got her? Nowhere.

 

The knock on her door brought her up short. Who was bothering with her when the precious lost daughter had returned? Slowly someone pushed the door open and her mother crept into the room. She refused to look at her, watching as her mum’s feet stepped towards the bed. She felt the bed move as her mum sat down. “Aren’t you joining us for the party?” Her mother gently asked.

 

“Join you?! I never left you! And that whore who abandoned you, wasted all you gave her and brought shame on our family’s name is being thrown a party! You never gave me anything.” Her mother recoiled at her bitter tone and harsh words.

 

Her mother smiled sadly, reached out and took her hand. “Martha, you are always with me and all I have is yours. Your sister will live with the consequences of her decisions and the decisions of those who hurt her for the rest of her life, but she has been found and for that we can celebrate.” Martha’s eye filled with the tears, the feelings of unfairness overtaken by a desperate need to feel her mother’s love. She stared at the bed covers, tears overflowing, great drops falling onto the sheets. Her mother moved closer and held her. Martha clung to her mother, great sobs escaping from her mouth. Her mother stroked her hair whispering over and over, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”