You’re trying to change. Really, you are. You’ve decided to quit using porn and stop engaging in the other unwanted sexual behaviors that often accompany it. You’ve gritted your teeth, clenched your fists, and determined to try harder. You might have even put Covenant Eyes on all of your devices.
You’re a strong woman; you can do this!
But as helpful as those things are, how long will you be able to do this using sheer willpower?
Look Under the Surface
The old brain pathways developed as a result of your past behaviors and ways of thinking are strong. And compared to them, you’re not feeling strong at all. You may have found yourself slipping back into old behaviors again and again. Or perhaps you’re feeling tired of trying so hard. And if you slip, the result is always the same: a brief moment of satisfaction, and then shame, guilt, and feeling defeated.
It can feel overwhelming and hopeless.
Doing the work, making the decision, and exerting 100% of your effort to quit and stay sober from porn is so important. Tools like Covenant Eyes are pricelessly helpful. You cannot become free by going half-way. This is not playing games; you’ve got to go all in.
But such effort by itself will, at best, only leave you worn out and empty. There are things under the surface of your heart as a woman that will sabotage your recovery, freedom, and restoration unless they are dealt with.
Perhaps you’re successfully remaining clean and sober over a long period of time, but something in your soul feels hungry, empty, unsettled. You’re wondering if this struggle is worth it. Or perhaps you’re frustrated at what seems like your inability to remain free for any significant length of time and wonder what else you should be doing.
Let me invite you to look under the surface, to look past the behaviors, and look at your heart.
What’s Unique About a Woman’s Heart
A woman’s heart is a beautiful and priceless thing. John and Stasi Eldredge describe who a woman is meant to be:
“A woman who at her core was made for romance, made to play an irreplaceable role in a shared adventure, and who really does possess a beauty all her own to unveil. The woman God had in mind when he made Eve . . . and when he made you. Glorious, powerful, and captivating.” 
How do you feel even reading those few sentences? It’s likely you feel anything but glorious, powerful, and captivating. That certainly could not be you!
But it is. The core of who you are as a woman is a large part of why evil has worked so intensely to distract, mar, corrupt, damage, and enslave you. It also speaks to the very reasons you keep being drawn to porn.
Since the days when you were a child, something inside of you has longed for that glory—to be desired, known, connected, filled, needed, cherished, loved, honored. At its root, the pull of porn (or any other addiction) begins by appealing to something related to that inner longing.
And once you’re hooked, the message played to your heart is that your very inner desire is too dark to even look at. The best you can hope for is to anesthetize your soul. And porn is a perfectly engaging and available way to do just that.
What IS Under the Surface?
It can be scary to look under the surface of your life, your heart. But this I know; you did not wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to mess up the rest of my life and relationships by getting hooked on porn.” Something happened to you. That “something” involves stuff that others or circumstances did to you, and also stuff you did to yourself.
Most of the time it’s difficult and perhaps impossible to truly differentiate between what others did to you and what you did to yourself. But Jesus is not nearly as concerned with apportioning out blame as He is with inviting you into a journey of healing and transformation.
And the only way to get there is to deal with what’s under the surface.
Dealing with what’s under the surface is a powerful and necessary dimension of finding and living in freedom. Bringing your stuff into the light disinfects the shame and loosens the chains that bind you to your past. When you feel stuck in darkness that may seem difficult to believe, but I challenge you to give it a try.
You were sexually formed long before you ever realized that’s what was happening to you. You picked up the attitudes and behaviors you saw modeled in your family of origin—beliefs and ways of being around family, intimacy, relationships, sex, womanhood, and a whole lot more. You were almost certainly sexually harmed, perhaps repeatedly and in many ways. Traumas you experienced—sexually-related and otherwise—led you to self-protect and self-soothe just to survive.
Your Story Has an Impact
And then there’s the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy that God made you with. That’s part of how you are created in the image of God. The stuff that happened to you, and your porn use in response, are in part an attempt to meet that legitimate need in your soul. The desperate and damaging ways you’ve tried to meet that need have not changed that core part of who you are—as a woman.
It may be that reading this stirs up some deep things in your memory and in your soul; it’s intended to. But you may be tempted to think, “What happened to me wasn’t really that important. It wasn’t that big a deal.” However outwardly “small” what happened to you may seem, it’s not the event(s) themselves that is the point; it’s the impact they had and continue to have on your heart. And that’s always a big deal.
Or you might be tempted to think, “What happened to me was too horrible to address. I’ll be swallowed up and never get past it. Anesthetizing myself is the only choice I have.” Let me encourage you to suspend disbelief and borrow hope from others for a time if you need to. This is for you too! The freedom, joy, and restoration that will come as a result of dealing with your story will be more than worth the difficulty of doing so.
Your story is unique, and it matters.
A Framework for Dealing With What’s Under the Surface
Dealing with what’s under the surface in your heart is not a one-moment thing. You didn’t get here in a day, and you won’t experience the full and complete restoration Jesus has available for you in a day. This is a journey and one that’s worth taking.
Three important steps will need to be incorporated into your journey.
1. Own Your Story
Owning your story may seem daunting. If so, it may be important for you to seek some help from a counselor or therapist skilled in helping you walk such a journey. Regardless of whether you do this alone or with some professional help, it will become such an important part of you finding wholeness.
It will help to write out your sexual story, either as a timeline of significant events, or a narrative in whatever way your mind remembers. Get to know the younger parts of you; it’s common through trauma for such younger parts of you to become disengaged from your adult self. Many find journaling a useful way to “go there.”
The events that happened are important, but even more important is the impact they had on your soul. As you explore your story don’t only think of external facts; also look for elements such as rejection, exploitation, anger, loss, confusion, shame, isolation, or other heart-wounds. And what beliefs did you develop about yourself, about others, about the world, or about God as a result?
The purpose of exploring your story is not to wallow in darkness, but to understand how you came to be who you are now—and to bring that into the light. This is not about making value judgments or assigning blame; it’s about looking at reality.
And then it’s about owning your reality. “This is me. This happened to me. This is how I responded. And this is how I have been impacted as a result.”
Owning your story is an important step, but it’s just one step in the process of finding restoration. There’s more.
2. Share Your Story
Your story deserves to be shared. There’s something immensely powerful and liberating about sharing your story with a safe person(s). Even if you’ve explored your story on your own, sharing your story will disinfect the shame and open the door to immense freedom and healing.
But don’t just share your story with anyone. Think of it as a priceless treasure; choose carefully and prayerfully who is safe enough to entrust with your story. You’re looking for a person or a few persons who can listen and be there with you in your story, without offering magic fixes or minimizing what you’ve experienced.
You might share your story with a counselor or therapist, with a safe ally, or with a small group of girlfriends who are also walking a journey of restoration. You may find it helpful to share a small part of your story first and assess how the other person responds before deciding to share more.
In the thousands of people I’ve talked with, this is one of the steps they find most challenging, but one that usually ends up bringing the greatest amount of freedom. You’ll probably resist the idea of sharing your story, but I encourage you to find a way to do so. It will be worth it.
3. Invite Jesus Into Your Story
Healing and transformation come from Jesus. Behavior change—ending your porn use or other unwanted and damaging sexual behavior—has real value, but that in itself doesn’t fix you. Only Jesus can do that, and He wants to!
Invite Jesus to go with you into your story. One by one, imagine yourself back at those important moments in your story, the ones you now see as having been part of shaping who you are. Imagine Jesus being right there with you. Invite Him to actually be present with you in that moment.
See Him right there with you. How close is He to you? What is the look on His face? Is He saying anything to you?
As you allow Jesus to be with you in your story, it will be changed, and you will be changed. You may need to come back to your story repeatedly, inviting Jesus into each part. Take your time. This is important and often challenging work. Journaling as you do this will often be super helpful.
Regardless of how “bad” your story has been, it will lose its sting. You will be able to remember the events, but they will no longer have power over you. And that is wonderful freedom!
Dealing With Your Story Brings Freedom
As you experience the freedom that comes through dealing with what’s under the surface, the old brain pathways begin to lose their power over you. Your ability to choose positive behaviors becomes greater. You no longer have to run to porn (or something else) to anesthetize yourself from the underlying “issues.”
Don’t get upset when this process doesn’t lead to one magic fix in a day. Frankly, your story is almost certainly too complicated and too dark for you to work it through all at once. Give yourself grace as you walk this journey. Jesus certainly does, and He will walk with you!
And you will discover the glorious, powerful, and captivating core of you under the surface of your womanly heart.
 John and Stasi Eldredge. Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 19.
Dr. Carol Peters-Tanksley, M.D., D.Min., is an author, speaker, licensed OB-GYN medical doctor, and ordained Doctor of Ministry. As an expert on the integration of wholeness for body, mind, and soul, she interacts daily with individuals from around the world helping them experience the Fully Alive life Jesus came to bring.