Recovering porn addict Jonathan Daugherty talks candidly about the effects of porn on the brain and behavior. Although involved in a Bible study in college, Daugherty led a double life and continued to satisfy his lust through porn and illicit relationships. Daugherty met his wife in 1994, and explains how he kept his secret addiction hidden as they planned their future.
About the Guest
Jonathan Daugherty talks candidly about the effects of porn on the brain and behavior. In college Daugherty led a double life and continued to satisfy his lust through porn and illicit relationships.
Bob: When Jonathan Daugherty’s relationship with his girlfriend became serious, he knew he had to come clean with her about his past—but he decided not to come all the way clean—not to tell her about his involvement with pornography.
Jonathan: When we did start talking about marriage, I felt like, “I have to share something with her,” so I did share with her that I was not a virgin. That was difficult to get through, but she came back and essentially offered me this incredible grace of saying that she loved me and wanted to marry me.
But also, that’s the moment when I said, “Okay, I’m not going to share anything more from my past,”—not because I wanted to seek to destroy her life but because I had the same thinking that a lot of men have, which is what I call the “fallacy of fresh-start thinking.”—“If we can just start something new, that’d leave everything in the past. We don’t ever have to bring it up, then everything will be better.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 14th.
Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How many fiancés—who became husbands—have fallen prey to the fallacy of fresh-start thinking only to find themselves still going to pornography after their marriage? We’re going to talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I was just sitting here thinking about the fact that when you and I grew up, in the culture, at that point in time, there was beginning to be a promotion—a normalization—of pornography. Magazines like Playboy came out and tried to make pornography feel sophisticated, tried to take it out from hiding and say, “No, this is good, this is healthy, this is something that we celebrate.”
I was talking to a friend recently who said his son was with a group of young professionals and they were having a get-to-know-you conversation, and the first question that was thrown out was, “What’s your favorite pornography?” This young man looked up and thought, “This is the conversation we’re going to have to get to know one another? ‘What’s your favorite pornography?’” That’s how normalized this activity—this behavior—has become in our culture today.
Dennis: I’m glad for guys like Jonathan Daugherty, who heads up a ministry called Be Broken Ministries that is a ministry to men who have had experience with pornography, perhaps addictions. Jonathan has written a book called Secrets: A True Story of Addiction, Infidelity, and Second Chances, and is back with us for a second day on the broadcast. Jonathan, welcome back.
Jonathan: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.
Dennis: Jonathan, you shared earlier that, as a 12-year-old boy, you were exposed by a friend to pornography. You didn’t ask to see it, you didn’t know what it was, but it was electrifying—
—and it started you off on a quest where you began to feed that addiction throughout your teenage years. I was curious—tell me about your dating experience as you were addicted to pornography. How do you think it impacted your opinion of girls as you dated them?
Jonathan: Sure. Well, through my high school years I really didn’t date anybody, and part of it was—you know, I mentioned to you guys in the last broadcast that I was kind of chicken on many different levels. Here I am—I’m a great athlete, kind of popular in school—but I was not typical in that way, where it’s like I’m girl-chasing or whatever. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested—there was a sense of shyness to me, socially—in that regard.
That was another reason why pornography became this attractive outlet to me—because it could be private—it could be isolated, it could be secluded, separate, and kind of a fantasy world. The problem with that, it was constructing an idea in my mind—
—about what femininity was, about what relationships look like, about what sex was really all about—and of course, everything about pornography is a lie—in all of those categories. So then, when I got into college and I actually did start pursuing some dating relationships, none of them went beyond three months. Part of it was because here I had been building this double life, right—this dividedness—where I had this image that I would present of this guy who’s a great Christian guy, got it all together—while on the inside I’m kind of decaying with all of my lies.
What typically happens in a dating relationship once you get about three months in? It’s kind of like the person you’re dating says, “So, let’s get to know the serious you. Let’s dig a couple layers deeper.” I would always just freak out and say, “See you later. I don’t want to do that.” Pornography in some ways also creates a shallowness to us in terms of our ability to connect with other people—
—because pornography keeps us from actually dealing with the deeper issues of our hearts—in terms of our emotional selves.
When we look at pornography—even going back to what you were talking about, Bob, with the Playboy and the normalization of pornography—it sort of became a gateway for every kind of perversion and pleasure and anything that you could imagine sexually. We see a lot of the results, then, of pornography today in all of the sexual confusion.
Even pornography has changed over the years in terms of its focus. The massive amounts of confusion and availability that there is of pornography out there, it’s causing us to then think that, “Oh, maybe we should just reconsider this whole idea of marriage, maybe we just reconsider this whole idea of gender.”
Everything is being questioned, and I think pornography has had a huge influence in that because it has normalized what has historically been a perversion of the design that we were made for by God.
I think that’s an entry point for all of that kind of confusion—also delay—because people are then saying, “I don’t want to have anything to do with something so archaic as those biblical ideas.”
Bob: What we’re seeing—as we talk to couples in marriage—is a decline in husbands being interested in marital sexuality. It used to be—the old stereotype was that the husbands were always interested and the wives had a headache. There are a lot more men who are reporting headaches these days because they have bonded with their pornography—it’s much easier for them to find gratification there than it is in a marriage.
Jonathan: That’s what we try to uncover when we’re doing our workshops and dealing with husbands and wives. In fact, our workshop—what we end up doing is we focus very little on behavior—because what we have found over the years in doing our workshops with men is that what men need more than anything is they need emotional training. So, what happens is it’s almost like, if you only deal with the symptom—you’re not going to get to the root issue.
When I use the word “emotional,” we use it synonymously with “spiritual.” You need emotional training, because where do we live from? We live from our hearts. When guys have been consuming pornography to where it sinks down into their hearts, what ends up happening is the way they react to life from their heart is through a pornographic grid.
They might have all this head knowledge of Scripture and the Bible, but they’re living from their broken, porn-infested hearts. So we want to help them grow up emotionally, and then it takes care—later on—of the behavioral issues.
Bob: That was the case for you in college—you were compartmentalized, active in the Baptist Student Union, known around campus as a guy who was a Christian—with this secret that was regular for you. Was this a daily, weekly activity for you to look at porn?
Jonathan: At least weekly, yes. It was regular at that point in time.
Dennis: Yes, and I just want to go back and touch on something you just hinted at. You talk about how men need to grow up—you didn’t say it this bluntly—but we need to grow up emotionally. I agree with that.
I feel like a good bit of my first years of marriage—Bob and I have talked about it here on FamilyLife Today repeatedly—how marriage is an opportunity God gives us to grow up emotionally and to get in touch with some of this. There was something else that occurred in your life right around your senior year in high school—or in college—where your dad became ill and something happened that touched you dramatically.
Jonathan: Yes, speaking of traumas and the things that can traumatize—so, I’m 18 years old—I actually had gotten selected to be an all-star in the McDonald’s all-star basketball game—I mean, it was a great honor. While I was away in the summer for that I get the call from my mom that my dad’s been put in the hospital—and I didn’t know what was going on. Two months later, my dad passed away. Just the shock of that, not only how I learned about that, but then here I am—
—less than one month into my freshman year of college—and I lose the one man that I respected more than any man alive.
I think that created a lot of confusion in my spirit and in my soul because again—here one of the things that my struggle with pornography was causing me to believe about God was, He either doesn’t care or He doesn’t hear or He’s not powerful enough. And then, for Him to take my dad away—that’s the way I saw it—God gives and takes away; right? So I saw that He took my dad away and I’m thinking, “Now God’s cruel.”
At that point I sort of drove a stake in the ground, where “I will continue to present myself as others want to see me—but my heart will grow cold towards God.” I was angry with God. That’s what really—I think—started to accelerate the pornography and sexual addiction, because I truly believe that our hearts cannot contain the weight of that kind of pain—and anger even—towards God perpetually—so we need relief.
The only place I felt I could find relief was in the pleasure of pornography.
Dennis: When did you begin to experience it in community?
Jonathan: Yes. I call it crossing the flesh barrier—that was in college. It wasn’t just pornography anymore—now I’m actually being sexual with other people. That is something that continued on through college. The whole time, though, I’m living this double life—I’m still part of the BSU, I’m still leading—even leading Bible studies. That’s something I look back on with a great deal of—I think—godly shame. I’m ashamed that I was portraying God’s Word through such a disingenuous vessel.
Bob: When you—in the summer of 1994—met the woman who would become your wife, how was your double life going at that point?
Jonathan: Pretty strong. When I met her—and this is the case sometimes—isn’t it, with our wives—we meet her, and then it’s like—
—“I want to change everything. I want to be good. I want to be the best guy there ever was,” you know? But she didn’t know anything about what was going on.
Bob: Your secret life was completely sealed off.
Jonathan: Yes. Now, what ended up happening was when we started talking about marriage, I felt like, “I have to share something with her in order to at least say—” I don’t know if it was like testing the waters or what—I did share with her that I was not a virgin. That was difficult to get through, but she came back and essentially offered me this incredible grace of saying that she loved me and wanted to marry me.
That’s when I knew, “Something’s unique about this woman”—but also, that’s the moment when I said, “Okay, I’m not going to share anything more from my past,”—not because I wanted to seek to destroy her life but because I had the same thinking that a lot of men have, which is what I call the “fallacy of fresh-start thinking.”—“If we can just start something new, that’d leave everything in the past. We don’t ever have to bring it up, then everything will be better.”
Bob: You had to be thinking too, what a lot of young men think, which is, “Once I’m married, then the desire for pornography is going to go completely away because I have opportunity, anytime now, to have sex with my wife;” right?
Jonathan: Sure, that’s a really common thought, especially among Christian men. This idea that—because sometimes the way we frame up sexuality when Christian kids are growing up in their homes is it’s all a, “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” Anti-, Anti-, Anti—so all that guy can think about is, “I want to get married because I want to be sexual;” you know? It’s kind of poor framing on our part, sometimes, as parents.
I absolutely had that thought—not realizing that actually the depth of real sexual intimacy is completely tied to the depth of true relational and emotional intimacy—and because I was so stunted and sort of cut off from myself emotionally—I was going into something that was destined to not work out very well.
Dennis: When you ended up tying the knot, you’d still not confessed what you were experiencing. You said earlier that you’ve seen a direct correlation between men who are addicted to pornography also have a problem with anger. How did anger show up in your marriage?
Jonathan: In every possible way. I mean, even silly things like—I can’t open a bag of chips so I’m going to punch a hole through the kitchen wall. I mean—just irrational responses to very small things. My wife was just struggling—because then she’s thinking, “What happened to this guy?” When you’re dating, you can put on a good show; right? I mean, who puts forth their bad foot when they’re dating—you’re going to put forward your best foot.
The thing is, getting married began to expose some of these areas that showed just how broken I was, but I was still staunchly committed to not—
—sharing anything about what had gone on previously with the porn.
Bob: How long into your marriage before you started looking at porn again?
Jonathan: Yes, it was probably about five to six months in. The thing is, I mean, the honeymoon phase was awesome. I really wanted to go out and tell every guy, “Hey, go get married, because it will absolutely cure your porn problem,”—for about six weeks. But after that, the stressors started to come up, and really—actively getting back into pornography happened about six months in—because that’s when we got a computer. This sort of dates ourselves; right?
We got a computer, got on—this was when dial-up internet was just coming out—and I got on and got back into pornography. Then it eventually led to other things as well.
Bob: This was all hidden from your wife? She knew nothing about what you were looking at. So this is late at night—she’s gone to bed—and you’re just surfing, finding porn on the internet?
Bob: Yes. And you said it led to other things later in your marriage?
Jonathan: Yes, because eventually…they came out with chat technology, and then I started using chat rooms to eventually set up offline encounters and be sexual with other people. That’s really when deep depression, severe anxiety, suicidal ideations began in my life—because I thought, “There is really nothing that’s going to cure my problem,”—and I became hopeless.
For the next four years it was this journey into deeper, deeper hopelessness, where eventually it was not uncommon for me to get on the internet in the morning and by that night I’m having sex with somebody I just met online.
Bob: And this is acting out on an ongoing basis—it’s leading you deeper into hopelessness—but you’re not seeing, “There’s a link here between what I’m doing and the depression and the hopelessness I’m feeling”?
Jonathan: Oh, there’s definitely a link, but there is a certain point—we kind of call it the tipping point—when you’re starting to talk about things that might be compulsive or addictive behaviors—there’s a tipping point at which you have so—
—sort of dug yourself into the quicksand that anything you even try at that point, you’re just getting deeper. It’s kind of a tipping point where it’s like, “I’m stuck,” and even feeble attempts to try—it’s like, I’m only going to keep going in one direction.
Dennis: I want to go back to when you fell in love with Elaine. Ultimately told her you loved her—which you’ve never done with another woman—and then asked her to marry you. I’m wondering, what would have happened—I’m assuming it didn’t, by the way—but what would have happened if her father had asked to meet with you and said, “Jonathan, we’re going to have some heart-to-heart talks over the next five or six weeks,”—or five or six months. He would have asked you point-blank, “Tell me about your history with pornography.” What would you have done?
Jonathan: I probably would have given him maybe the party line that I had given my wife when I had confessed to her previously about not being a virgin.
The amount that I would want to share, just to show that, “Hey, I’m a regular guy, I’m just kind of like any other guy—” You know, the idea that it would not show the devastating nature and depths to which I had gone. I probably would have pretended.
Dennis: You would have kept a secret.
Jonathan: To a certain degree, absolutely. The fullness of it—absolutely I would have kept it a secret—because that was the paradigm that had been established, was this secrecy that kept me in the center and tried to have everything else revolve around me.
Dennis: I would just say to any mom or dad who does have a conversation with your children about pornography and they talk about something they’ve been exposed to—just realize that the way Jonathan has just described—it’s a little bit like an onion. You’ll be allowed to see a layer, but you’ll have to keep asking questions and ask if that’s all—and keep probing—appropriately—with grace and compassion obviously.
Bob: I remember seeing a series of accountability questions that—I think Chuck Swindoll wrote about it in a book one time—
Dennis: I remember that. Yes.
Bob: —where he talked about, “Have you used money unwisely?” “Have you said wrong things?” and one of them was, “Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t look at this week?” But the last question was the best question, “Did you just lie to me about any of these things?”
I’m thinking of that father having a conversation with his own son or a father-in-law with a son-in-law. Part of the probing may need to be asking that other question, “Are you telling me the truth here?”—or doubling back and saying, “You shared this with me. I appreciate you sharing with me. Is that all? Is there more here?”
Dennis: Yes, and I’m not wanting to be simplistic about this. This is—as you said earlier, Bob—it is an epidemic in our country. But I think one of the reasons why it is—is that fathers and mothers have allowed too much distance to occur between their relationship that they have with their son or daughter and are not probing.
Given the culture we’re in—this is a sex-saturated culture! I pray for my grandkids—I tell you—and I pray for my adult children as well, because no one is exempt from this. I couldn’t help but think of your question that you ask men to share in your retreats that you do for your organization—Be Broken Ministries—have them share about the first time they saw pornography.
Honestly, I grew up in such a Leave It to Beaver little small town—1300 people—and I didn’t buy it at the drugstore, because the lady at the drugstore would call my mom. She’d have told on me. So, I don’t think I’d ever really seen true pornography until I got to college—and even then it was not the exposure like you’re talking about.
I walked by a set of steps that went down in my fraternity house when I was a junior,
I heard some ruckus going on down in the darkness.I said, “What are they doing down there?” They said, “Oh, they have skin flicks.” I had to have them tell me what a skin flick was—I didn’t know.
I look back on my protected environment, and I thank God for it—I really do—because it’s like—I could have been addicted—just like anybody else—if I’d have been exposed at 12 years of age.
Bob: But it may be that dads who are listening today need to figure out when they’re going to have the conversation with their sons to say, “I want to share with you about my first exposure—my first experience—and tell you what it did for me,”—and have that kind of a confession session that opens up the dialogue and the conversation.
It might be good to have a copy of Jonathan’s book, Secrets, available before you have that conversation.
Jonathan shares his story but also shares help and hope for people who have found themselves where he found himself in his marriage and in his family. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order the book Secrets: A True Story of Addiction, Infidelity, and Second Chances by Jonathan Daugherty. Our website again—FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
I’m thinking about the ongoing back to school parenting prayer challenge that we’ve had going on here for a few weeks. Moms and dads have been getting in touch with us—giving us their email address—and we have been sending out a regular daily prayer prompt for your children as they head back to school. How many young men and young women are finding themselves tempted or exposed to pornography in a school classroom—
—because of somebody’s smartphone—or in a college dorm room, where there’s unfiltered access to all kinds of evil?
This is something we need to be praying for for our children—as their parents and as their grandparents—and I hope the moms and dads who are listening—or the grandparents who are listening—will sign up for this 30-day back to school parenting prayer challenge. We’ll start sending you a prayer prompt every day in your e-mail inbox for the next 30 days so you can be praying for your kids—or your grandkids—during this transition time as they head back to school this fall.
Here at FamilyLife®, our goal is to provide you with practical, biblical help and hope for your marriage and family—things like the prayer challenge. You make that possible when you support this ministry, when you partner with us and help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program, helping us get the word out to more people through more platforms—like the Amazon smart speakers, where you can now hear FamilyLife Today.
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We hope you can join us back tomorrow. Jonathan Daugherty’s going to be here again and we’re going to talk about how a man can begin the process of being set free from bondage to sexual sin. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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