Editor's note: The following story deals with sexually-themed subject matter that will not be appropriate for some readers. Discretion is advised.
LAS VEGAS — Tucked into the corner of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino convention hall in Las Vegas, Jillian Bloomer and Annette Screws smile at people who walk past their booth that proclaims in retro font: "Jesus Loves Porn Stars."
"Here, have a sticker," Bloomer says, gently plunking a neon-pink circle with the same message on the shoulder of a college-age man, while Screws drops a Bible into his backpack.
At first glance, the booth run by XXXchurch seems out of place next to booths advertising escort services and promoting X-rated websites at the annual Adult Video Network Adult Entertainment Expo. But the nonprofit church has been going to porn conventions for more than 10 years — not to picket or protest, but to share their message.
"For the person who is addicted to viewing porn, XXXchurch offers some answers," group founder Craig Gross writes in an essay included in the mini-Bible they pass out at each convention. "For the person who is performing, it offers some alternatives. Regardless, XXXchurch is expressing its voice of hope. I want to connect both with people who are in the industry and those messed up by the industry."
Screws knows firsthand the damage pornography can cause; she said both of her marriages ended because of pornography.
She said she found comfort and solace in her faith and wants others to know they're not alone. Many women find support through Alcoholics Anonymous-style meetings that allow spouses of addicts to share their experiences in a safe, confidential environment. They are also linked with a sponsor to help them work through their own recovery.
"We think porn is the No. 1 issue facing families, relationships, men, women," says Jake Larson, a pastor with XXXchurch. "I think it's at the root of everything. People turn to porn for a reason — there is a lot of other hurt. To us, the solution is awareness and breaking down stigmas that 'this isn’t something we talk about.’”
The more people understand the nature of addiction, the more willing they'll be to talk openly about it and those affected by it, Larson says.
Youth pastor and devoted XXXchurch volunteer Rachel Collins has been to more than 40 adult conventions and has developed real friendships with the female performers. Although she may only see them for a few hours a year as she passes out granola bars, bottles of water and hugs, they keep in touch via email or texts, and she's often a confidante when something goes wrong.
Larson remembers one female performer who kept one of their mini-Bibles in her purse for five years, unable to throw it away.
Then, emotionally broken and disheartened by some physical health challenges, she pulled it out, began reading it and called soon after.
XXXchurch helped arrange some mentoring and connected her with a church group, and today she's out of the world of pornography after 18 years. It wasn't easy, says Larson, but then again, neither was the performer's life in the industry.
During the January AVN Expo, one woman walks by the XXXchurch booth and stops, a bit puzzled.
"What do you guys do here?" she says.Comment on this story
"We are XXXchurch," explains Leslie Hawkins, a volunteer from the EastLake Church in Bothell, Wash.
"So are you guys anti-porn?" the woman asks.
"We are more into 'We love the people and not the porn,'" Hawkins replies. "Jesus said love everyone."