A couple weeks ago, my friend Crystal Renaud released her book Dirty Girls Come Clean. The book is about pornography and sex and Crystal’s journey of recovery. The book is written primarily for Christian women, but I think some Christian men would glean some wisdom from Crystal’s journey, too. Like most topics regarding sex and Christianity and pornography and recovery, the book might be controversial to some. Conservative Christians who shy away from conversations about sex might be uncomfortable with Crystal’s frank approach, and certainly those who don’t identify as Christians would find issues with the book, too. But this Crystal’s journey. And while even Crystal and I have different opinions regarding a few sexual topics, I believe her message is good and her intentions are good. Crystal knows what it’s like to feel lost and alone and overwhelmed for sexual intimacy of some kind and I believe her story can and will help many through their own struggles regarding sexual topics.
Last week I interviewed Crystal, here’s our conversation…
For those who aren’t familiar with your Dirty Girl Ministries, can you give us a short synopsis? How would you define a “dirty girl”?
Dirty Girls Ministries serves as a resource for women who are stuck in pornography and sexual addiction through accountability, support groups and other recovery tools.
One of the most common responses I hear from women in the throes of this addiction is, “I feel so dirty.” The name Dirty Girls isn’t about defining or referring to women with these addictions as dirty. We are simply taking on a stigma so many women are already feeling and providing them a safe place to come and find help and hope for recovery through Jesus.
We understand that not every woman who views pornography is addicted, and while we do believe that even just dabbling in it is a slippery slope to be climbing, our focus is truly on those women whose pornography use and sexual behavior has become unmanageable and destructive to their lives. (Learn more about Dirty Girl Ministries here.)
In your book “Dirty Girls Come Clean,” you write about your personal battle with pornography addiction. When were you first subject to pornography and how did you come to believe that you were addicted?
I first came into contact with pornography at the age of 10 when I found a pornographic magazine in my older brother’s bathroom. There I was at such a tender age and nearly oblivious to what sex was face to face with what was fairly hardcore material. I had a decision to make in that moment to either turn away from it, or open the magazine up and peruse what I had discovered. I chose the latter. What would follow the fateful decision would be an eight-year addiction to pornography and pornography related behavior. I get posed the question often of “well, why didn’t you tell your mom about what you had found.” Even my mom has since asked me that very question and the answer is this simply—the material immediately filled me with two very different feelings—1) Shame and 2) an odd sense of satisfaction. A battle of feelings that would keep virtually anyone in a bondage of confusion and secrecy.
I realized I had an addiction when my looking at that magazine escalated to seeking more material and the introduction of masturbation and other pornography related behavior began to manifest. And my efforts to “stop” my behaviors remained unsuccessful. My acting out had become unmanageable and destructive to my life in more ways than one (relationally, physically, emotionally and spiritually).
Now, just to be clear, when you say “pornography,” are we talking about XXX movies/videos and magazine or a different medium of erotica?
‘Erotica’ may be my least favorite description of pornography. Ha! It’s just a fancy way of saying pornography so that the consumer doesn’t feel as bad. In my humble opinion. But to answer your question, pornography as we see it consists of Internet, movies, videos, magazines, romance novels, and all forms of ‘erotica’ that women are finding themselves consumers of. We’re finding that these days Internet takes the top spot because it’s accessible, affordable and anonymous.
From your perspective, what are the main connecting points for women and pornography? How do you believe it’s different from the connections that men find in pornography?
Men are typically classified as the “visually stimulated” of the human race. While this is true, women are also visually stimulated and are attracted to pornography in many of the same ways as men are. But what makes women and women’s use of pornography all the more destructive and potentially dangerous is our innate desire for emotional connection. 81% of women, who frequent pornographic websites, will eventually escalate their addiction to in-person encounters because of their desire to be close to someone.
Women desire intimacy and emotional connection in a much different way then men do, so pornography looks like a great option to receive both because it creates fantasy and a false sense of intimacy. False, and yet still intimate. Many times we find that women also get caught up in pornography because of a past experience with sexual abuse. Either they were shown pornography by an abuser, or they sought out pornography as a way to understand what happened to them.
How do you believe pornography addiction is different from sex addiction?
I like to say that pornography addiction is sort of the gateway drug to sex addiction. Pornography addiction is almost always a symptom of a sex addict’s life.
What’s important to know about pornography and sexual addiction as a whole is that it’s almost never about sex. It’s a core intimacy disorder. We see women all the time addicted to pornography simply because they are using it as a way to cope with pain in their lives. Just like women who cut, or have an eating disorder, pornography functions in the same way in their lives.
Typically the core struggles are unhealed wounds from sexual abuse, absent parent(s), spiritual abuse (the failure of a spiritual leader in their lives) and others.
Do you still identify yourself an addict?
Trying to understand this question, I believe you’re asking if I still identify myself as an addict. To pornography? No. But I am aware that I have an addictive personality so I am still engaged fully in accountability relationships, but those go deeper than just porn use. Those are relationships that challenge me in all areas of my life from emotional health or spiritual health to even physical health. Having relationships in one’s life where all the walls are down and one can be as honest as possible is vital—regardless of where an addict or former addict may be in their journey.
When you decided to get help with your addiction, can you give us an overview of what that journey looked like for you?
I didn’t come clean about my addiction until I was nearly 19 years old when a woman I trusted shared with me about her past struggles with pornography use. It was through her confession that I was able to confess my own struggles and finally surrender this addiction to Jesus Christ and to a relationship of accountability with that woman. The journey to sobriety wasn’t flawless. There were many slips and trip-ups along the way, but I am happy to say that today, I am over seven years sober.
Can you tell me what you believe is the difference between a sex/pornography addiction and simply a normal and healthy sex drive?
My stance and the stance of Dirty Girls Ministries is to pose the question, “has your behavior becoming unmanageable or compulsive?” If the answer to that question is yes, then it is likely that your behavior has crossed a line to addictive and that is our greatest concern.
I’ve heard you say that pornography addiction is difficult for women to discuss. Do you think that’s true for all women? Or for Christian women? And secondly, why do you think it’s hard to talk about?
Here we can go back to the stigma that surrounds women’s sexuality. For those women who use pornography recreationally and are proud of it, it is not difficult to talk about. But for the woman who is stuck in a cycle of unmanageable and destructive behavior—that is when it becomes difficult to talk about. Not just Christian women.
But then you have the Church and our nearly silent stance on pornography as it affects men, paired with women in the congregation being the ones who are addicted, and you have a hot soup of silence, isolation and shame. Who are they going to turn to when the world says it’s okay, and the Church is silent?
Last year your ministry was mentioned written about in the New York Times. While many praised the article, you also received a lot of criticism from NYT readers. How did that first venture into national media affect you and your faith?
Yes, there was many a criticizing comment. But I think that was to be expected from such a largely viewed platform. I know that my stance on pornography use is not common of ‘the world’ so some backlash was not surprising. But expecting it and then receiving it are two different things. Of course it hurts. It hurts to be thrown into the same category as clergy who hurt children as some commenters stated. It did show me where I needed to grow some tougher skin because if God called me to do something I know that with that comes persecution.
If anything, it gave me more resolve to keep doing what I am doing because while the criticisms came, no one saw the emails that also flooded my inbox from women pouring out their hearts and their stories. Thanking this ministry for finally speaking out on their behalf. That is worth every criticism. And as I walked away from my cushy church job at the end of January, into the unknown that this ministry could and will be, God has been faithful—so who am I to not remain faithful?
You can buy Crystal’s book here: Dirty Girls Come Clean
QUESTION FOR YOU: How does one know that he or she is addicted to pornography or sex?