The Secret Begins
About the Guest
Jonathan Daugherty tells how a friend introduced him to pornography at the age of 12. Daugherty shares how his involvement in porn eroded his faith and affected his relationships.
The Secret Begins
Bob: Jonathan Daugherty remembers a day when he was a boy, a day that started innocently enough, but that wound up being life-changing for him.
Jonathan: I was a kid—12 years old, growing up in central Texas—and one summer I’m spending the night at a friend’s house. We get up the next morning, we start playing around in the woods behind his house—just like little boys are to do. He starts taking me out in this open field where there’s nothing but grass and then a tree stump in the middle of the field.
When I get to the tree stump—he has his arm down in this hollowed-out section of the tree stump—and when he pulls his hand out there’s this magazine. When he opens the pages of that magazine—it was pornography.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 13th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. That day—that unforgettable day in Jonathan Daugherty’s life—put him on a path—
—that led him, ultimately, to the destruction of his marriage. We’ll hear more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
We’re going to be talking today about an epidemic that is happening in our country that hospital emergency rooms are not equipped to handle.
Dennis: It’s not just impacting men, but it’s impacting women as well. Jonathan Daugherty joins us on FamilyLife Today. Jonathan, welcome to the broadcast.
Jonathan: Thanks, I’m glad to be here.
Dennis: We’re talking about the subject of pornography. Jonathan gives leadership to a ministry called Be Broken Ministries and is the founder of Gateway to Freedom workshop for men, also hosts a podcast called Pure Sex Radio.
Jonathan: That was strategic and on purpose. In fact, over the years we’ve had—
—I can’t even count how many men that have told us, “You know, I found your program because I wasn’t looking for your radio program, but I’m glad I found it, because I’ve drifted from the Lord,” or, “I’m glad I found it because I didn’t know there was another way to think about sex and sexuality.” We’ve had a lot of listeners gained through—they weren’t looking for us.
Dennis: Yes—and you weren’t looking for pornography when it found you in the middle of a field that a buddy led you into. You tell about it in your book, called Secrets: A True Story of Addiction, Infidelity, and Second Chances. Share with our listeners how you start the book with that story.
Jonathan: Sure. I never wanted—like you said—I never set out to look for pornography. In fact, I don’t think any child sets out as a child with an intention to find pornography. I think pornography has to be introduced into our lives as children.
I was a kid—12 years old, growing up in central Texas—and one summer I’m spending the night at a friend’s house. We get up the next morning, we start playing around in the woods behind his house—just like little boys are to do. I mean, if I can put it one word, it was innocence—we were just playing—like little boys.
He starts taking me out in this open field, where there’s nothing but grass and then a tree stump in the middle of the field. He’s heading for this tree stump—and I’m following him—and when I get to the tree stump—he has his arm down in this hollowed-out section of the tree stump—and when he pulls his hand out there’s this magazine rolled up in it. When he opens the pages of that magazine—it was pornography. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I typically define trauma in a very simple, sort of every man’s language as, “anything that overwhelms your system.” For me, that was a traumatic moment.
I think it was a big trauma, because it left an imprint—it stuck with me—because I didn’t know what to do with what I had just seen. I didn’t even know how to explain what I had just seen. But I felt—in that moment—a sense of kind of a mixture of guilt and fear; you know? That moment when anything happens to you and you have that sense like, “I should look over my shoulder, because something doesn’t feel right about this.”
Simultaneous to that I had this feeling like, “Something is exciting about this, too.” All of those emotions I had no way—as a 12-year-old boy—to explain.
Dennis: Did you have a good relationship with your dad and mom?
Jonathan: Well, yes—and here’s the thing that was interesting about it. I had a good relationship in the sense that my parents loved me. I mean, my mom and dad loved me deeply. We had a safe home—and what I mean by that is there weren’t outside influences like drugs or alcohol or pornography.
Even when I actually ended up trying to find pornography in my house, there wasn’t anything to be found.
In terms of my relationship with my dad—sometimes I describe it this way: we knew how to intellectually love one another, and I think that was—you know how, when things are just passed down from generation to generation; right? That’s not always sin, but it’s patterns. I think the long history of the generations of men in my family—there wasn’t a whole lot of emotional bonding.
My dad, my grandfather, my uncles—they would literally give you the shirt off their back to help you, so they had a high service orientation towards those that they loved—but I don’t know if we necessarily knew how to connect emotionally.
Bob: Why did you go to that question, Dennis? Because here he’s talking about finding pornography in the middle of a field with a buddy, and you ask him about his relationship with his dad.
Dennis: Well, my next question was going to be—
—so, had you had a “birds and bees” conversation with your dad?
Jonathan: We didn’t have those specific conversations. It was one of those things where—I always have this struggle in talking about my parents in historical terms in this way, and the reason is because it’s like—okay, yes, we didn’t have these robust conversations about sexuality and all these kinds of things—but I think most of that had to do with—again—the context in which they grew up. These were things that weren’t passed down to them—so in some ways—if something hasn’t been modeled before us it’s hard then, to model it down the line.
I will tell you this—the way we train others on this is not necessarily your typical way that people train on this. The way we train dads is we say, “You have to tell your son about the first time you saw porn,” and sometimes things that are out there are just trying—it’s sort of what I call one-way communication, where it’s essentially saying—
—“Dad is just giving information to his kid and thinking that, ‘if I pump enough information into my kid about what’s right and true and good and pure—that then that will automatically spit out what is right and good.’”
The problem with that that we’ve found—even in my own life as a testimony to that—is hey, my parents did a wonderful job of putting the right information into me, but there is a point at which I’m living my life, and when these two opposing ideas come in.
We have the word of God and then we have pornography coming into this little 12-year-old boy’s life—we have a war going on that—if there is not the opportunity to have a safe enough environment to have that two-way conversation going on—where dads can get vulnerable enough and say, “Let me tell you about my experience with sexual brokenness,”—I don’t know if we’re going to create the kind of safety in the home to have the dialogue about some of these issues.
Bob: We did what you’re talking about with our youth group and the dads. All of the fathers and sons got away for an evening, and after we’d had burgers and stuff we sat around in a big circle and we just had the dads share their stories—going around the circle. We didn’t ask the dads, “Have you ever seen porn?” we just asked the dads, “Tell about the first time you saw porn,” because every dad there had seen it—but most dads had not had that kind of a conversation.
So, the sons got to hear not only their own dads’ stories, but they got a chance to hear a lot of other dads’ stories as well—including some dads who were able to say, “This really wrecked me for a number of years.” I think that sobered everybody up—but it also created now a new opportunity for fathers and sons to have ongoing dialogue about these issues as those sons went through their junior high and high school years.
Jonathan: I think it’s important to do those kinds of things because—I hate to say this—
—I’m not actually a pessimistic, ominous, you know, I don’t think that the sky is always falling kind of a thing—I’m actually very optimistic because of the grace of God. But I do think we are beyond the days where we can actually believe that anyone can live in the United States without seeing pornography growing up. That doesn’t mean it always turns into a pornography addiction—but exposure to pornography will happen in our culture.
For parents to—sort of—get beyond themselves and go, “Okay, this is about how am I going to create a healthy, safe, grace-based environment for my kids.” The way you do that is you share about your own history of brokenness.
Obviously, you do that in age-appropriate ways. For instance, with my son—when he started hitting around ten years old—that’s when I started talking to him about, “Hey, let me tell you about the first time I saw pornography and those kinds of things.” Prior to that we’d had many conversations about—
—your body, gender, sexuality, the goodness of all of that. You do have to kind of set a context to even have those conversations—but we have to share from our own.
I do believe it’s the parents’ responsibility to initiate those conversations. One thing I found out—both from being a kid and then having kids—is that if we’re actually expecting the kids—even if we say something as wonderful as, “You can always come to me and talk to me about anything”—they’re not going to come to you! You have to actually be asking questions—you have to kind of be pressing in—in order to draw them out.
Dennis: To that point, I have no other explanation for a question I asked my oldest son, Ben—one day when he came home from school—but I just said, “Hey son, have you been looking at anything you ought not to be looking at?”
He looked at me like, “Are you omnipresent or something?” He went on to tell me a story of how he’d been in the back of the classroom over lunch—
—and he’d opened his little paper sack that his sandwich and apple in it and was working his way through his meal when a couple of buddies came in, sat down at the teacher’s desk, and unfolded pornography on the desk and said, “Hey, Ben, come look!”
As a dad, I said, “So what did you do?” He said, “I wrapped up my sandwich—what was left of it—put in the bag, and walked out the door.” What I had the chance to do with him at that point was to cheer. Hopefully if he’d have said he walked over and looked I would have put my arm around him and equally shared compassion with him about what he’d just been visited with.
What I want to do now, though, is I want to go back to what happened to the 12-year-old boy and how that immersion in pornography—one-time immersion—set you off on a quest. Where did you go from there to find pornography—because I’m assuming that did ultimately send you to look for it elsewhere?
Jonathan: Yes. Shortly after that I had this thought, “Hey, I’d like to see some more of that.” That’s when I started looking around in my house and didn’t find anything—I was actually kind of frustrated with my dad. I’m thinking—at this point I’ve actually found out from some of my friends their dads have this stuff on the coffee table—so in some ways that started even the trail of frustration that was going to be coming regarding this pursuit.
One of the things that we like to let people know is a hundred percent of the men that I’ve dealt with personally in ministry that could be classified as sexually addicted—a hundred percent of them have an underlying anger problem. So, for me this started early—even with just a seemingly innocuous frustration with, “I can’t find this material.”
Then—if you extrapolate that out to then when you start getting more and more consumed with it, like I did through junior high and high school, where it started becoming a regular part of my routine—
—of secretly getting little stashes of porn here and there and looking at some pornography—then the frustration builds because it’s creating a double life. The amount of energy that has to be put out there in order to keep secrets and try to present yourself in a certain way—I call it image-building—you start constructing an image for all of your various environments. That gets exhausting.
When you’re young, it doesn’t seem exhausting, because you have all this energy; you’re young, and you feel like you’re invincible—you can do anything. “I can have this on the side and my life can be just fine.” “I’m an athlete,”—all these kinds of things. Of course, also as a kid you think, “I do this now and give it up later anytime I want to.”
Jonathan: That’s just the deceptive nature of sin—it starts to take ahold of us in that way—to think we can do something we can’t.
Bob: In your day—if you wanted to access pornography you had to go find a magazine somewhere. Today, a young person who would be curious like you were at age 12—
—has the device in the home—maybe in his room—where he can just type in a few search words—and voila! —he has access to whatever he wants to look at. That’s the reason we’re reaching pandemic proportions when it comes to this issue; right?
Jonathan: We need to understand too, that a lot of the brain research now is showing that there’s actually even a difference in how our brains react to the quantities that are available now versus…back when I was a kid—we’re talking mid-’80s, when all this was going on. Like you said, there is a time delay—even in being able to have possession of pornography—then if you had possession of pornography, there is a limit to the amount of pictures or things like that.
Now-a-days, you could go to one website and get hundreds of thousands of images—just click after click after click after click.
Historically, 25—30 years ago, in order for a person to get to the place where we might diagnose them as sexually addicted—you’re talking about maybe a nine-month timeframe—with regular pornography consumption use. Nowadays—with the Internet—we’re looking at that same kind of possibilities in the brain—in three weeks. So it actually has a much faster effect on even changing brain chemistry.
Some of this research is just brand new, so it’s not like—things are happening at such a fast pace with technology nowadays that—whatever kind of research there is—is new because technology is still new.
Bob: So, for a 12-year-old boy living in central Texas with no pornography in the home but curiosity on your mind—where did you go? Where did you find what you were looking for?
Jonathan: It’s interesting, because—like I said, I was an athlete—there’s a reason why there are some stereotypes regarding athletes—locker room talk—
—because it was real—it exists. Some of it was just stuff being passed around in the locker room—some of it was, again, going over to friends’ houses on the weekends or something and ripping a few pages out of some porn, or whatever. That’s kind of the way it was.
One of the things that I was so proud of—if I can use air quotes on the radio—was that I had gotten through my high school years without ever purchasing anything—and I was so proud of that, because it’s like, “I never went and bought—”
And part of it was because I was a chicken. I wasn’t going to go to the store—I knew what you had to do—you had to go to the store and kind of ask for the stuff behind the counter that’s below the counter—I wasn’t about to do that.
I think—back to your question, Dennis, about me and my dad—I think in that regard I actually had what I would call a healthy respect of my parents, because there was still a part of me that I think that a shred of integrity that was like—
—“I am not going to bring this into our home. I’m not going to do this to my parents.” I wouldn’t say those were the first thoughts I had in terms of not going and buying something—but I do think that it was established in my home that respect was a value, it wasn’t forced or demanded, but it was a value—and I think I did respect my dad highly.
Bob: Was there anything going on with your conscience—or was there any spiritual foundation in your life that was causing you to go, “Hang on, this is not right”?
Jonathan: Oh, absolutely—all the time. That’s what I tell people, is—it’s not as if in the progression of my eventual addiction that I completely abandoned my faith—I had a constant wrestling going on. I call it being divided—this dividedness—where I know what’s happening inside me in terms of how this is decaying my soul.
On the other hand, I had a genuine love for the Lord. I do love His Word and I want to do what He’s calling me to do.
It’s the whole Ephesians 5—the desires of the spirit and the desires of the flesh—and there was a war going on.
Not to jump too far ahead, but I wouldn’t discover until years later that the way that war was eventually won in my life didn’t come until I got into the light fully and started engaging in community and dealing with the struggle with others—because it didn’t actually break apart—it didn’t actually resolve—until I stepped into environments where I could work on it with other people.
Bob: Until you came clean—out in the open, admitted—and started to get help with others.
Jonathan: Yes. The struggle that that was for me—especially during the teen years and even into the college years—was that I began to believe that God either didn’t care, didn’t hear, or wasn’t powerful enough to actually free me.
Dennis: Yes. That’s a lie.
You know it’s a lie today, but in a young man’s life growing up—again, if you’re addicted you’re going to need somebody to intercept your life—have an intervention of some kind—and we’ll hear more about that later. I just want to turn to the parents of raising boys today—and, for that matter—girls—because this is no longer just a boy issue.
I think you need to be asking your children, “What have you seen? Share with me,” and maybe begin by modeling what Jonathan just did with us. Share with your children what you have seen, and then create an atmosphere of grace and forgiveness and security that can enable a child to ultimately express what they have seen and what they have experienced.
I do know this: there are some parents who need to get this book—but there are likely also more than a man or two, Bob, who needs to get this book—called Secrets: A True Story of Addiction, Infidelity, and Second Chances.
The Gospel is about the second chance. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about reconciliation—and it helps us bring healing to relationships. Where pornography goes, it divides—it destroys individuals and relationships, marriages, families, and generations.
Bob: We have the book Secrets in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy. Again, the title is Secrets: A True Story of Addiction, Infidelity, and Second Chances. Order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call to order. 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. We also have a link to Jonathan’s website—you can find out more about his ministry—find out about his podcast, and listen to it.
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Tomorrow we’re going to continue our conversation with Jonathan Daugherty. We’re going to be talking about how pornography ultimately led to the destruction of his marriage. We’ll hear that story tomorrow. Hope you can be with us 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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