Hardly anyone can escape from the epidemic of pornography in today’s culture, and students at Franciscan University of Steubenville are not exempt. That’s why support groups have formed on campus to help students heal from and conquer their struggles.
Mary and Joe, whose names have been changed for anonymity, are leaders of the on-campus groups for women and men who struggle with pornography. Both of them began as participants in the groups and — through the success they found — have now become two of the leaders for the ministries in order to help other people.
The men’s and women’s ministries each have two groups that meet once a week.
Mary explained that the women’s meetings are grounded in forming community and celebrating each other’s successes. The discussion during meetings can involve pinpointing triggers and creating strategies for avoiding temptation, but the women truly focus on supporting each other as they heal.
“We’re there for each other when one person falls, so (we) give them goals and have accountability partners,” Mary explained, “but we also celebrate each other at whatever point they’re at.” Whether they have made it a week or a year, she said, women can set landmark goals and say, “I want to be celebrated, so I’m going to get cookies when I go a month.”
The meetings operate similarly for the men, who also set goals and keep each other accountable. The groups are “a really good way to be humble and embrace the fact that you can’t do it on your own,” said Joe.
The women’s group started in the fall of 2014, the men’s in January 2017.
Joe joined the men’s group when it first began and said he’s been free from pornography ever since. He appreciates that the group doesn’t just focus on what people have done but on growing in virtue as a community.
“It’s more so growing to be authentic men,” said Joe. “You’re surrounded by guys that really want to grow in holiness and grow to be loving fathers someday, whether that be in a priestly setting or as a husband.”
One of Mary’s goals for her group this year is to give accountability partners more of an active role. “I’ve found the more you talk about it, the easier it is to talk about it. It kind of gets it in the open, and whenever you’re addressing the issue, you know, everyone says, ‘The first step is admitting something’s wrong,’” she said.
Both leaders expressed the need for these groups on campus to address the “elephant in the room,” as Joe called it.
“It’s not like because we’re at Franciscan, we’re completely cut off from the culture,” he said. Having this community of men who want to overcome pornography and strive for holiness has played an instrumental part in his faith journey, he explained.
“I think it’s very crucial not to be living a dual life,” Joe said. “Like, if you’re studying theology and you want to be a youth minister or something but then you have this problem, you need to address it in order to really be genuine and authentic in your future.”
Mary explained that one of the dangers for a woman, especially at Franciscan, is the fear that she is the only one who struggles with pornography. “One of the things I want to get across,” Mary said, “is that is not true. … Women who struggle often feel so alone. So, I definitely want to bring light to that issue, and I think now’s the time to do it.”
To the men and women on campus who are struggling with pornography, both leaders want them to know that this problem is possible to overcome, and they do not have to do it alone.
“Your desire for intimacy is good, is healthy, and it’s something that we all desire as people — to have genuine intimacy with others,” said Joe. “In reality, pornography is not the thing that’s going to bring you that fulfillment of your heart that you’re looking for.”
Joe explained, “Pornography is like the dragon that a man has to slay in order to have a good relationship with his wife and to have a marriage that will last.”
“It’s worth it. Whatever your vocation is, it’s worth slaying that dragon in order to have a joyful life and truly experience the love that our hearts are desiring, that pornography promises but doesn’t actually give,” he said.
It is also important, Mary explained, for Christians to support their brothers and sisters without judgment. “Love them where they’re at. Let them share their story, listen, ask if there’s any way that (you) can help … and be patient,” she said. She also emphasized the need for men and women to pray for each other.
Mary wants the women on campus to know “that they’re not alone, that they’re loved, that there’s no judgment here (in the group) whatsoever. I want them to know that they’re beautiful, because I feel like pornography plays a lot with your mind and can convince you that you’re not beautiful. And I would just encourage them to take a leap of faith and reach out to the group.”