The Secret Women's Porn Problem
It's difficult to find concrete numbers on women's pornography viewership. We shouldn't be surprised; adult entertainment has always been designated as the "man problem." But the little research on the topic, plus anecdotal evidence, reveals otherwise.
In 2007, Nielsen/NetRatings found that approximately 13 million American women click on pornographic sites each month. They make up an estimated one in three visitors to adult entertainment websites.
With the uptick in Internet use and the growth of online pornography, we can assume more men and women are viewing this content. Women also read erotica in huge numbers, with 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James breaking records as the fastest-selling Kindle eBook and paperback novel in history, according to Business Insider.
Even as Christian groups work to combat our culture's porn addiction, their efforts continue to skew male. The Gospel Coalition editor Joe Carter published helpful findings on the effect of pornography on the brain, adding to the ongoing discussion over men and porn.
It's much harder to find similar articles tailored for women, leading many to deduce that pornography remains a struggle only for men. When we don't talk about women and porn, women everywhere hide in the shadows with this deep-rooted secret. Thousands, perhaps millions, of Christian women struggle with sexual sin, and we must speak openly about these temptations.
Many of these women start viewing pornography young—very young—and continue to struggle into their 20s. Three have volunteered to share from their stories.
Rachel: Googling Sex
It started when I was 9. A few days before, some friends were giggling about this thing called sex. I searched for it on Google, and up came countless links to pornographic websites. I clicked on many of them, and the screen was soon covered with explicit pop-ups. A flood of intense shame came over me, but I wanted to see more. I almost got caught, so I resolved to never do it again. I came too close to being exposed, and the shame was too much.
As a teenager, I became romantically involved with a guy who had just graduated from my school. Before long, we were discussing sexual fantasies. I went back to pornography, and I began to masturbate frequently. When things between us ended, I combated rejection and heartache with pornography and masturbation. It was an intimacy that I could control.
Every morning and evening—sometimes even in the afternoons—I would engage in those things. On the outside I was a straight-A student, a leader in my high school's chapel band, a core part of my youth group, a social butterfly, and a talented athlete. On the inside I was slowly wasting away, chained to my addictions and the woundedness that I was trying to avoid. For those four years I led a double life, and I was good at it.
Sally*: Chasing Endorphins
When I was 13, I would stay up late at night and watch scrambled porn on my TV in my room. I still remember, on my cable provider the Spice channel was 73, which happened to be the reverse of VH1, which was 37. I found it by accident one night, and it changed my life for several years. When my friends came over, we'd watch it together.
I eventually started experimenting while watching it. I was a virgin and I was curious, and at the time, I didn't think it was doing any harm. My addiction with porn and masturbation lasted until I was a senior in high school, when I entered into a relationship with a guy in my church. We were both Christians, but neither had any self-control or a strong conviction about premarital sex. We swore it off at first, but after a few months, I had experienced my first kiss, and then I was rounding second base and third base and was headed quickly for home plate. It was only by the grace of God that we never actually had sex.
After our relationship ended, I craved that feeling that I no longer was experiencing. I wanted those "feel good" endorphins. I knew it was wrong, but I still wanted to experience an orgasm. I remember watching a steamy scene from The Notebook (and if you've seen the movie, you know the one) on YouTube, and before I knew it I was viewing pornographic material. I was shocked at how fast it led there. The Lord had worked to get me out of that bad relationship, and I didn't intend to go down that path again. I closed the computer and wept. It was a changing point for me. I cried out to the Lord for help. I asked to be delivered from my sexual sin, and I was.
Sarah*: Satisfying Curiosity
As a kid, I was exposed to sex scenes in movies and sex chatter among other students at school, who repeated details of what they had heard of, seen, or done. I began to develop impure thoughts and daydreamed about sexual activity. I knew this was not right, but I continued to talk with others about sex, and imagine what it was like. Even at age 11, I heard a sermon about lust that ended with an altar call for congregants struggling with lust. I knew I had impure thoughts—I was yearning to see something that I had never seen before—but I could not stand because I was too ashamed.
A few years later, I realized I could gratify my desire to see what I was imaging in my head, so I would stay up and watch porn after-hours on premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime. When I was about 15, someone prayed that lust would be removed from me. I felt much better, shared my issue with my mother, and did not have any desire to watch that stuff anymore.
In college, I was a virgin addicted to pornography. More of my friends were having sex and telling me about it, and I wanted to see it for myself without actually taking part. I ran into pornography on social networking sites. I would go to sexually explicit chat rooms and watch webcams. Though I was raised in the church, I did not realize my true identity in Christ and wanted to experience life on my own. I knew it was wrong, but I did not really care. I just wanted to satisfy my flesh. I went through periods where I felt completely stuck in my addiction to this stuff. I could not go to bed at night until I watched it.
Helping Women Fight Sexual Temptation
These few stories offer a small sampling of a widespread problem.
Women, you are not alone in this struggle with temptation to sexual sin. You aren't the only one ashamed of the sexually explicit material in your browser history or on your e-reader. For all who face these temptations, the power of the gospel enables you to say no to sin. Each of these women eventually confessed their sin to friends and received the grace available to them by the Holy Spirit to stop watching pornography.
While I have not struggled with pornography or erotic novels, I did fall into sexual sin prior to marriage. I write as one who has had to remember that as temptation came once I became a Christian, I was no longer a slave to sin but a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:17). God's restraining power is greater than our sin and so is his grace.
If you are tempted to hide your sin and temptation because of shame, regret, and fear, know that in Christ, you are forgiven and pure—righteous, just has if you'd never sinned and always obeyed (1 Cor. 1:30).
You don't have to hide your sin and temptation to sin, even when it's a sexual sin, the kind we don't like to talk about. You are forgiven and loved. Let this knowledge of amazing grace motivate you to cry out "By no means! I will not continue to sin that grace may abound" (Rom 6:1). God can enable that in you.
Trillia is a wife, mom, and writer who loves Jesus. She is the author of United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity (Moody Publishers, March 2014). She is the lead editor for Karis, the women's channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the consultant for women's initiatives at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention.
*Sally and Sarah's names have been changed for privacy.