Women and Pornography

The Mistakes We Make With Accountability

Ask any group helping people overcome a struggle with porn and you’ll probably hear them talk about the importance of accountability. Even Christian organizations will emphasize this important step. But, did you know, accountability as we define it is actually nowhere in the Bible?

There are Biblical principles of confession and honesty in community, but there is no chapter and verse that tells you to tell a friend/stranger about your struggle and ask them to check in on you daily.

Accountability is a tool that many of us have found useful in our own journeys and in the journeys of those we help.

However, based on emails I have received over the years, it seems like there’s a lot of confusion about what it is, who it’s for, and exactly how it’s supposed to work.

We tell a stranger everything about our struggle and expect them to fix it.

We tell a friend a little bit and expect them to ask for more.

We refuse to tell a trusted friend because they work crazy hours and “wouldn’t be available” when we need them.

And when it doesn’t work, or it’s hard, we get frustrated.

When I asked my Facebook readers to define accountability, the responses I got were varied. Some were vague. Some were structured. One reader even shared what she had heard it defined as and then proceeded to share what she believed it to be.

In other words, there is no one single definition for accountability.

And that’s because it’s an invention. It’s a recipe. We understand what an apple pie is but there are hundreds of recipes. I cut my apples really thick and use a graham cracker crust with a crumble on top. My mom slices the apples really thin, uses traditional pie crusts, and uses tapioca as a thickener. Both are delicious apple pies.

We might get the basic concept of accountability but there are hundreds of different ways it can be lived out. There are many different “flavors” of accountability, if you will, but regardless of how you define it, there are some common mistakes I see people making when it comes to accountability. They show up in three particular areas.

Who we tell.

Healing is meant to happen in community. In fact, community is part of our healing. So, it matters who we share our struggles with. The most common mistake I see is asking for help from a complete stranger.

I get emails all the time from women asking me to help keep them accountable. I can’t. And if you think the reason is because I’m a new mom working on a new book, you would be wrong. The reason I can’t and won’t agree to keep you accountable is because I don’t know you and you don’t know me. We don’t have a relationship.

Could I send you an email every day checking to see if you’re steering clear of content? Sure. Will that help? No.

Why not?

To understand the answer to that question, we have to explore why we would want to share everything with a stranger in the first place. I have shared about the false freedom of anonymous confession before here on the blog, but let’s talk about why we would be driven to ask for help from a stranger versus asking someone we know.

Read: The False Freedom of Anonymous Confession

Are there legitimate reasons? Of course. But for many of us, the real reason that drives this decision is fear.

You share your story with me because it feels safe. You aren’t afraid of me. You know I’m not going to judge you for your struggles.

But you don’t have that same security with your friends, family, or even pastors. You could very well be the first woman your pastor has encountered who has this struggle. Your parents might be very hurt, confused, or disappointed at first.

Your fear may be warranted. But it’s still fear.

And guess what can’t follow you into freedom- Fear.

What you’re afraid to tell them now, you’ll be afraid they’ll find out later. If fear is driving you away from sharing with those closest to you, that fear will remain even after you stop watching porn.

That fear will drag its buddy shame right along with it, and you may stop watching porn, but you’re still going to feel stuck.

Does that mean you need to tell everyone you know? Absolutely not.

Does it mean you can’t share your story anonymously online? Of course not.

Does it mean you can’t head over to the contact page and write it all out? No, you are more than welcome to share.

But understand that sharing your story is different from inviting someone into it.

Accountability is ultimately that. It is opening yourself up to a community that knows your story.

A relative of mine serves as accountability partner for others through Covenant Eyes. He gets a report that notes whether or not his friends have viewed questionable sites on their devices. If the report has something on it, he gives those friends and call to see how they’re doing and to figure out what’s going on.

But they are his friends, and he has relationships with them outside of the “what’s this about” phone call. He has lunches with them where they don’t talk about porn. And I believe it’s that relationship that makes the “accountability” successful.

Another common mistake in this same vein is only wanting to be accountable to people who have been through exactly what you’ve been through. Many women have told me, “They can’t help me because they haven’t struggled with this.” Fear and shame are the operators behind this as well.

Here’s something to think about:

When we’re wanting someone to commiserate with us, we search for someone with the same life experience. But, when we’re wanting to grow, we search for someone who is where we want to be.

I love to cook and I want to get better at cooking. I do that, not by reading up on blogs from self-proclaimed home chefs. No. I do that by learning from actual chefs. I watch cooking shows and dream about taking Master Classes lead by Michelin star chefs.

The problem is we misunderstand what accountability is for (and I’ll address that later in this post).

We often think it’s about “not watching pornography.” If we think that, then it makes sense why we would want to find someone who used to watch pornography or who also needs help not watching pornography.

But that’s not the main goal of accountability. Accountability is about the pursuit of freedom and healing.

My response to people who say, “Well, how can I help? I’ve never been there” is:

“You don’t need to have been where they are. You need to know where they are going. Do you love Jesus? If the answer is yes, then you are perfectly qualified to show her how to grow in her love for Jesus too.”

How much we tell.

Another area where people trip up is how much they share with an accountability partner.

When it comes to sharing our stories, there are two extremes.

On one extreme, we share every nitty gritty detail. We overshare. It’s often an honest mistake. It’s like the ultimate, “Can you really handle my issues?” test. People need to know what they’re getting into, right? It’s like years of built-up pressure are being released all at once. If you don’t get it off your chest now, you may never get another chance!

Don’t let shame tell you that you need to try to scare this person away.

Read: When People Lack Grace

It’s so important to remember that the idea of accountability, healing, and community are long-term. It is not a one-and-done thing. It’s ok if you don’t unpack 5 years of pornography use in one thirty minute phone call. It really is.

And on the flip side, it’s ok if you don’t feel mountains move and life changing progress after a 30 minute phone call. My husband often counsels people who have had issues for years. They come to him at the end of their ropes, on the verge of disaster, see him once and get frustrated when he doesn’t fix it.

Accountability and community are a “long game.” It’s ok if it takes time for you to build trust and open up, and it’s ok if it takes the other person a little time to understand how best to respond and help you. Stop expecting this to be an instant fix.

On the other extreme, some of us can be incredibly vague. If you’ve read my book you know that at the height of my struggle I thought of telling one of my aunts. I planned on asking her to pray for my “fault.” That’s what I called it and exactly how I intended on explaining it to her.

But there again is the voice of shame and fear. It’s telling but not telling. What exactly is someone supposed to do with that information other than pray?

We share, vaguely, and yet expect it to somehow make a difference. It won’t. 

If you’re not willing to come out and share the exact nature of your struggle just yet, at least point the conversation in that direction. The trouble many run into is that they give some vague confession and ask for some vague prayers and then expect the other person to read between the lines and know what to do next. That’s not fair.

That’s the equivalent of a person cracking the blinds into their home but refusing to open the door or the window and then getting mad when no one comes to visit. That’s not community and it’s certainly not accountability.

That leads to the final of the three areas where I see people make mistakes with accountability.

What you expect.

It’s important to understand what you are wanting from accountability. Don’t just “get an accountability partner” because it sounds like a good idea or because some book or blog told you to. If you do it without a true motivation then it’s not going to be helpful. Period.

This is a major one. The expectations of accountability run the gamut.

I expect it to fix things.

I expect them to know the right questions to ask.

I expect her to be available at 3 in the morning when I’ve already entered the address into the browser and am getting ready to click “enter.”

I expect her to remember our weekly meeting.

I expect her to call first.

I expect them to know what to do next.

She didn’t call me last week, so I gave up and looked at porn. I’m so disappointed in her. I was depending on her to help me.

We can get so ugly, and prideful, and selfish, and self-entitled when we start to view accountability as something other people do for us.

While there are a lot of “recipes” for accountability, let’s look at what accountability is not:

  • Accountability is not passing the responsibility for your struggle on to someone else.
  • Accountability is not demanding that someone else constantly check in on you.
  • Accountability is not a replacement for the work you need to do to get free.
  • Accountability is not the “secret” that will set you free.

That last one is huge.

Yes, we encourage accountability because it is a helpful tool. It is a helpful tool not because the accountability partner is some savior, but because the nature of accountability encourages you to be honest, mindful, and in community. 

If you lie to your accountability partner or avoid your accountability partner, you’re sabotaging your own journey of freedom. Accountability doesn’t fix or solve anything. Your response to it is where the growth happens.

Here’s how accountability has looked in my life:

In the beginning, when I first confessed my struggle with pornography, I had weekly mentorship meetings with a member of the college staff. We went through a workbook specifically about breaking free from pornography and I had questions that I had to answer every week. (I often lied.)

After I found freedom from pornography, I didn’t really tell anyone about my struggle. I still struggled on and off but would still consider myself free.

When I first shared my story publicly and started Beggar’s Daughter, I contacted a dear friend, Abby, and asked if it was ok if I could reach out to her when things were tough. That’s accountability.

Abby agreed, and over the years, I took her up on that offer. When I housesat for a family and found sex toys and knew the temptation was strong, I reached out to Abby. When I spoke at a conference and spent the night in a hotel and heard the couple next door having sex, I reached out to Abby. Did I tell her every time I was tempted? No, but I could have and probably should have. Did I slip up in those years? Yes.

Read more of my story here.

Abby is one of my best friends. My struggle never consumed our conversation. It is part of my story, and therefore became a topic of discussion in our friendship. It wasn’t the only topic we ever discussed. In fact, it wasn’t even one of the biggest topics we discussed.

When I was tempted, I would reach out for help, we would talk for a bit, I would feel better and then she would check in a little later to see how I was doing. If I was doing good, she would ask if I wanted her to check in again. If I said yes, she would. If not, she would leave it be. We never did a Bible study together. We never had a weekly check-in. We just do life together even though she lives hundreds of miles away with her three beautiful girls and pastor husband.

Eventually, my husband came on the radar and, as we approached marriage, I started opening up more and more to him. He already knew my past struggles, but I would begin to include him in my current ones too.

It makes complete sense to me that I would share sexual struggles with my sexual partner.

As our wedding approached and I struggled, I shared that with him. When I actually fell in the months before our wedding, I shared that with him. Since we have been married, when things have come up, I share them with him. I share dreams that are tempting or things I’ve stumbled across online. I share temptations I may have while he’s gone for work trips.

It’s part of who I am, so it’s part of our relationship. It’s not something I dread. He doesn’t hold them over my head or reprimand me for them. In fact, most of the time, he thanks me for telling him, asks if there is anything he can do to help and then we just move on. Because life goes on.

Accountability is about living life together. It’s about community and honesty. It’s about grace in real time and seeing for yourself that there is life beyond your struggle. Used right, it is a powerful and helpful tool. Used wrongly it will be a frustrating struggle that will drive you away from people.

In fact, let that be your litmus test for accountability.

Ask yourself: is the choice I’m making right now (who to tell, what to tell, or what to expect) drawing me closer to community or is it driving me (or others) further away?