Anne Kerr

Those Uncomfortable Talks: Moving Past the Pause By Anne Kerr of TrueNorth Freedom Project

Talking about sexual things is uncomfortable. I know. As a child, I looked at the porn I found, yet couldn’t tell anyone. In college, I fit the description of a “good” Christian yet crossed many boundaries sexually. My closest friends had no idea, and I carried a lot of shame. As my own kids grew, we had a few talks about sex. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t enough.

Most parents aren’t comfortable talking about sexuality. They pause, and in the silence, the sexualized culture rushes in. 

 Sexuality is God-given and one of the most common aspects of our being! Everyone is sexual. This isn’t the same as saying everyone’s ready for sex. At a deep level, even molecularly, we are all sexual beings from birth, male or female. A boy has a penis and experiences erections, a girl has a vagina and can feel arousal, but do we ever talk about that?

We discuss other body issues like skin and eyes and keeping them healthy. We teach kids to bathe. But when it comes to private parts and related issues, we Pause. It can feel uncomfortable. We learned to be reserved.

Many realize the importance of early and regular talks about bodies and sex. We all encountered something sexual early on without having a framework for it. Maybe you saw a more developed peer or a friend showed you porn. Maybe it was more harmful like inappropriate touch or exposure. Perhaps a sexualized scene in a book or a magazine ad felt arousing. In an instant, your light, innocent heart became heavy with shame, and sexuality became taboo.

Now you have little ones, and you want to lead them. But you pause, hearing excuses; “I have no idea what to say.” “I’m no expert on all this.” “I don’t want to make them curious about something they might be too young for.”

Did your first sexual encounter catch you off guard? Your loved ones will have similar experiences.

Did you make mistakes sexually? Most of us did, and your kids will.

Did you have someone to talk with about sexuality? Most of us didn’t, but your loved ones can.

Will it be easy to become a safe place for your loved ones? Maybe not, but it will be worth it, and God is on your side.

We have an enemy working to derail us in our sexuality. We are inundated with overt and subliminal sexual messages. Cartoon characters have shapely bodies, wear revealing clothing, and are targeted to young children. Viewers internalize messaging that may be contrary to your values. Children, teens, and adults may see pornography that is simultaneously exciting and shameful. These images can’t just be wiped away. Don’t think your kids would never look at porn. Remember things you did that your parents still don’t know about? ALL kids can fall prey to these temptations, and adults can too. We are sexual beings living in a sexualized world. You cannot protect your loved ones from every harm or temptation.

These questions can help you move beyond Pause:

How well was wholesome sexuality modeled for me?

Most of us received limited information about sex or learned about it via unhealthy means. You can learn the wholesomeness of it and forge a new way for your family. God redeems our past and equips us. Check out Authentic Intimacy, or God’s Design for Sex Series.

How did my experiences affect my understanding of sex or sexuality?

Are there wounds, past sexual sin, or areas of weakness God may want to redeem? We all have some level of sexual brokenness. Consider a Christian counselor, perhaps someone who specializes in trauma care or sexual addiction.

Are current sin patterns keeping me from living authentically?

God’s best for us is to live fully known and fully loved. His perfect love helps us live authentically. Bringing our sin into the light, confessing to others, repenting, and working to restore broken relationships are markers of an authentic life being conformed to the image of Jesus. Find a more mature Christian to speak with as a starting point, someone who will call you up into your holy identity in Christ. Satan’s power begins to diminish as we bring our sin into the light and God’s healing grace transforms us. Read my husband’s five-part blog series here.

How have I modeled healthy sexuality? Does it go beyond simply what not to do?

In terms of sexuality, we need identification as much as information. Remember confusion from your early experiences? Have you asked your children about feelings associated with things they’ve seen? Even a lingerie ad can be arousing. God wired the brain to respond to sexual things in various ways at every age. A friend’s seven-year-old had seen porn and said this: “It makes your penis hard!” Yes, it does! And porn might give a girl a funny feeling in her vagina. It can feel good, but children aren’t ready physically or emotionally for sex. Parents can help kids separate the good feelings from what is best for them and give them a plan for when they encounter something sexual. Teach about God-honoring sex and that porn is the opposite of that.

Could God have more for me?

Satan works to bring couples together sexually before marriage then keep them apart after. Sex is a sacred gift for marriage, bonding couples at a deep level. Science proves this. Brain chemicals released during sex bind us with the object of the encounter and remind us of pleasurable feelings associated with sex. This happens naturally in God-honoring sex or counterfeit sex. Begin to talk more authentically with your spouse, repent of past mistakes, and ask God to redeem this aspect of your marriage. A Celebration of Sex, shares biblical truth and practical application. Find other resources here.

Sexuality is precious, but also fragile and easily marred in a broken world. We need a guide. Become a trusted source of information for your kids and work to create a shame-free home where you can talk about anything, and prayerfully move beyond the Pause.

Written by Anne Kerr of TrueNorth Freedom Project

 

 

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Talking with Your Teen About Porn: Is Today’s Porn Harmless? Part 1 of 2  

Do I really need to talk to my son? It seems like viewing porn is pretty harmless and just a normal part of being male these days.  Isn’t this just a phase most boys (or young people) go through?

Yes, the male brain is wired for visual stimulation. So, yes, it is normal for boys (and men) to be aroused by and interested in the sexual imagery available through pornography.  Dr. William Struthers’ book “Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain” offers a fantastic explanation of how the male brain is designed to be captivated by the sight of the female’s body, without the typical “boys will be boys” (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) excuse-making our society condones. 1

Although it is normal to be curious and interested, the average young male today will not “casually” view pornography without being seriously impacted by what he consumes. There are several reasons for this and therefore several reasons parents need to be talking with their kids about pornography.

1.     The adolescent brain is in a critical stage of development. Extensive literature points to the negative impact pornography has on young people, developmentally.

The brain stores our first sexual experiences with a chemical stamp that makes them incredibly powerful. For example, most people can easily recall (in vivid detail) their “first love,” their first encounter with pornography, or their first sexual experience. This serves us well, where our first experiences are healthy, and where our first sexual relationship is with our spouse – bonding us to that person with a powerful chemical attachment. It can create real difficulty where our first experiences are unhealthy or harmful.

The arousal template (what a person finds arousing) is significantly impacted by and strengthened by early sexual experiences. So, whatever a young person is experiencing sexually (whether it is healthy or unhealthy) – is then paired with sexual arousal. The result is often that the brain easily grows attached to that stimulus. So, whatever your teen is experiencing and aroused by is also shaping what he (or she) will tend to desire. Repetition reinforces these patterns of arousal.

Although it is certainly normal to be curious and interested, the average young male today will not “casually” view pornography without being seriously impacted by what he consumes. There are several reasons for this and therefore several reasons parents need to be talking with their kids about pornography. Here’s a second reason that viewing porn might not be harmless.

2.     Advanced brain imaging scans now show us that viewing pornography creates a neurochemical high in the brain that compares closest to the high of using Heroin. The pleasure centers of the brain are impacted, neurochemicals are firing (ie., norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, testosterone, endogenous opiates), and connections are made that reinforce the desire to repeat the behavior.4

The chemical high of arousal, pleasure, and euphoria serves to reinforce the false message that porn is an easy escape from anything dull, boring, or unwanted. Porn temporarily masks the pain of loneliness, rejection, fear, worry, loss, stress, or anxiety. This neurochemical reward cycle makes it easy to create a life-dominating habit.

"I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman." Job 31:1 NIV

Written by Mindy Pierce, LPC

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Hope for the Porn Problem by Guest Blogger Anne Kerr, Founder of TrueNorth Freedom Project

Recently a friend forwarded a Fox News article that asserted five ways that porn was good for us.¹ It was directed to women. I guess they figured most men didn’t need convincing to head over to their favorite porn site. Statistically a lot of men use porn, but a growing number of women also fall prey to it. In 2016 one porn site alone logged 4.6 billion hours of porn watched—that’s over five thousand centuries.² Sounds pretty hopeless, but it’s not, because we were created for something much greater. I'd like to share some thoughts for the millions of porn users in the world and for those who love them. (I use he and she interchangeably.)

Porn never satisfies. 

The temporary ecstasy that porn can elicit is just that: temporary. Just one more click will not reveal the perfect body that will make one cry out, “Eureka!” and end the search. No, one click leads to more clicks. Porn is an endless sexual abyss that pulls the user deeper into shame and isolation. It will mercilessly tempt again. Porn creates chemical longings in the brain that long to be fed. And the cost? It will only increase with time. Porn can steal one's self-esteem, faith, job, relationships, and family, and it will not stop there. Porn is bondage of the worst kind. Our hearts long to be satisfied, but they will never be satisfied by porn.  

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Porn keeps the user from true intimacy with others, and we all need to be known.

A desire for intimacy is beautiful and good. Our relational design moves us toward other people because we have been created to live in communion with others. But our desire for sexual gratification can get in the way of true intimacy with others. Knowing and being known are deep human needs fulfilled only by genuine relationships—by connecting with others. Porn does not lead us to connection; instead, it isolates. The image on the screen cares nothing for the user. In fact, it is actually hurting him at a soul level even as his mind enjoys the temporary euphoria. We need real relationships and using porn isn’t going to help us develop those. But a desire for true intimacy in actual relationships can be a great motivator to give up porn.

Porn doesn’t help one become the person she or he truly wants to be.

We grow in character through adversity, experiences, delayed gratification, perseverance, and hard work. Unlike character building experiences, porn asks nothing and steals everything. Real relationships are demanding, complicated, multifaceted, and a lot of work, but they're worth every ounce of effort because they shape us and bring value to our lives. Porn requires nothing and takes no work whatsoever. It can be addictive as it causes high levels of dopamine to release in the brain much like cocaine does. No one wants to be addicted to porn. 

Porn is a killer of love, and we truly desire love.

Love grows best in a secure environment. Exclusivity in love is one of its most beautiful and timeless features. Love takes trust and requires vulnerability. Porn takes a beautiful gift like love and makes a mockery of it. In the moment it’s exciting, but a real-life partner doesn’t want to be second to anyone, including a pixelated image of someone in porn. A desire for true love can be a strong motivator to walk away from porn and begin to enjoy the love found in an authentic relationship with God. 

Porn will always be a counterfeit.

True sex is amazingly good. God-honoring sex is even better. It bonds a couple at a soul level. It is pleasurable to both the man and the woman because it honors, is tender, sacrificial, and takes into account the whole person, not just certain parts. This kind of sexual experience makes one desire a spouse again and again. Porn will always be a counterfeit, a poser, a cheap imitation that falls short of the real thing. Like any counterfeit, it will eventually be exposed for what it truly is. God-honoring sex within the safety and security of marriage is the best sex.  

Porn makes God feel distant, but He stands ready to forgive and redeem our wandering. 

This is where our true hope lies. Because we need God’s grace in our lives. We depend on His unmerited favor. I love how the father (representing God) ran to the prodigal son in the parable that Jesus told. He said the young man “came to his senses” and decided to return home to the abundant household and the gracious father.³ Turning away from our sin is the essence of repentance. God wants to redeem our past and make something beautiful out of the rubble.

For years my husband battled a porn addiction and kept his struggle hidden from everyone including me, his best friend. It broke my heart to learn of it a few years ago. Like the prodigal son, this man I love had been in a dark and destructive place, but thankfully, Jesus ran to welcome this repentant sinner home. We have worked through the messiness of redemption together, and my husband walks ever closer to Jesus now. We have honesty and transparency in our relationship. His faith is growing. He found true freedom, and you or someone you love can know this freedom too. 

The tomb is empty. Jesus conquered sin and death once and for all. He came to set captives free and He lives and intercedes for us even now. A porn user is every bit as precious to Him as every other sinner. Jesus died not just so we could stand righteous at the gate of heaven, but so we could live a life of freedom on the earth. Jesus satisfies every need, and He loves us with a perfect love that nothing on this earth can match. Jesus is our living hope!

TrueNorth’s website has resources for someone struggling with sexual sin and for those who love them. You'll find information about weekend retreats, men’s and women's groups, and more. Read some of our past blog posts under "Stories" to learn more and find hope.

¹ Suzannah Weiss, 5 Ways Watching Porn Can Make You a Better Partner, FoxNews.com, 2017.

² Sage Lazzaro, 9 Crazy Stats That Prove We Watched a Whole Lot of Porn in 2016, Observer.com, 2017.

³ The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, verses 11-32.

Written by Anne Kerr, Founder of TrueNorth Freedom Project

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A Living Hope

by Anne Kerr, Guest Blogger & Founder of TrueNorth Freedom Project

“The one thing I didn’t have when I was addicted to pornography was hope.”

Last year, my husband spoke these words to a group of supporters of TrueNorth. God set Greg free from his bondage to pornography in a powerful way in the fall of 2013. I learned of his addiction a few months after God rescued him from it, and his journey toward restoration and wholeness became our journey of transparency, healing, and hope.

Casual porn use can escalate into repeated porn use, affairs, purchasing sex, and abuse. Addiction is multi-layered and different for everyone. Porn addicts are not on a quest to find the perfect body. They are seeking to repeat pleasurable feelings in the brain that viewing porn generates. These feelings are a result of a chemical called dopamine which is released into the brain.

Dopamine plays a healthy role in everyone’s brain. Chocolate can give us a sweet reward, no pun intended. Joyful experiences like a wedding, or birth of a child, can send dopamine levels sky high. But watching moving porn can release up to ten times the amount of a normal, healthy dopamine spike. The brain literally gets high on it, higher than the brain was designed for. Similar to the neurological response to cocaine, the brain remembers the feeling and initiates a desire to feel that way again. Tolerance for the good feeling can develop, and more hardcore porn or riskier behavior may be needed to achieve the same chemical levels. This can lead to addiction.

God designed our brains to respond to sexual sights and experiences, and even children can get aroused by them. Many of us have forgotten how various sexual encounters caught our attention when we were young. Learning to talk about those feelings and to channel them as God intended is important, whether we are young or old. God-honoring sex within marriage also produces dopamine along with other chemicals that bond us to our mate. Sex outside of marriage, or variations of it such as viewing porn, creates unhealthy bonds that can leave us empty, isolated, and alone in our shame.

I began TrueNorth a few years ago to help Christians learn to talk about sexual issues and struggles more authentically within relationships. We’re working to bring information from science and God’s Word to help others understand the truth about sex and porn use. While God designed us as sexual beings, His Word gives direction for living within a sexualized culture and for raising children in this environment. Since we cannot fully shield kids from an overly sexualized culture, we must prepare them for it and lovingly guide them through it. And since we cannot completely avoid the temptations that a sexualized culture brings, we must learn to handle the temptations in a way that leads us toward God and each other and keeps us from falling deeper into sin and despair.

God has a clear message of hope, but sometimes habitual sin can make it harder to hear truth. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Slavery can take many forms. Porn addiction is a form of bondage, and Christ came to set us free.

 Some who use porn may not hear God’s freedom call because they are bound by sin and shame. Some may believe it’s too late for them, or that God doesn’t hear their cries for help. Others may be wounded by another’s sexual sin and feel hopeless themselves.

God has so much more for us when He opens our eyes to the things that give us less. Porn is something that not only gives less; it steals more. My husband can attest to this. And when God reveals the truth of our sexual design and shows us that none of us are immune from the temptation of sexual sin, I believe we can begin much-needed conversations that lead to deeper intimacy with others.

My husband found a living hope in Jesus and together we have found healthy, healing ways to talk about sexual struggles and sexual intimacy within our marriage. If you’d like to read more about how God began changing Greg’s heart and his restoration journey, check out the blogs he wrote earlier this year beginning with Revealing the Heart. (click bold 'revealing the heart' to read that blog).  Whether you struggle with sexual sin or someone you love struggles with it, Greg’s story will give you hope.

TrueNorth has resources and information for couples, parents, ministry leaders, and anyone desiring deeper intimacy with God and others while living with the challenges of a sexualized culture. You can find these by clicking “Tools” or “Stories” on the TrueNorth Freedom Project website, which is www.truenorthfp.org.

Christ, our living hope, frees us from our shame, gives us courage to step into the light of truth and grace, and invites us to go deeper with Him as we face the challenges this culture presents. Ask God to show you the next step and trust Him to lead you into truth for your journey. You will find grace for your own sin or perhaps God may use you to help rescue someone you love from their own bondage to sin. Trust Him to provide all that is needed.

Written by Anne Kerr, Founder of TrueNorth Freedom Project

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