The discussion around pornography frequently focuses on men, and women who struggle in this area are often left unacknowledged and wondering if they’re alone in their painful addiction.
At dinner with some friends and friends-of-friends, I turned to the woman beside me and asked what I felt was a fairly innocuous, get-to-know-you question. “So, what do you do for a living?”
“I’m an erotic romance author.”
A what? Wait…for real? I had so many questions; the hardest part was asking them all tactfully.
By the end of the evening, I’d discovered that no, she didn’t have a side-job; yes, she made a healthy six-figure salary; no, she didn’t get bored writing essentially the same thing (i.e. lots of sex) over and over; yes, she did have a pseudonym because she didn’t really want the general public equating what she wrote with her personal life.
Not a Little Angel
In Victorian times, the idea of women as the “domestic angel” came into circulation.
Women were put on a pedestal of purity and expected to shower endless love, patience and general saintliness down upon their family with every flutter of their white wings.
While modern culture has generally moved away from this classification, a few vestiges of it remain for women, especially for Christian women, unfortunately.
On the UK news outlet Daily Mail, one young women recounts her mixture of shock, relief and shame when she was summoned by the disciplinary panel of her university because of the excessive number of porn sites accessed on her computer and their most pressing question was, “Do you know how any of the male students might have got your log-in and password?”
While escaping punishment was technically a relief, “it confirmed her darkest fears: there must be something terribly wrong with her, because women don’t get addicted to pornography, do they?”
To make matters worse, many people assume that women or girls become addicted to sexual materials because of abuse. As author and ministry leader Jessica Harris explains, “For men, pornography use is explained away because men are visually wired. We miss the fact plenty of men do suffer from trauma.
“We also miss that many women don’t. I personally know several women with pasts of porn addiction who had no history of sexual trauma.
“The reality is that plenty of women get hooked on porn simply because they’re curious and sexual release feels good.” Many are lured in by curiosity and assurances that women can’t become addicted like men, and then they are trapped by guilt and shame.
Equating this addiction to a history of abuse increases the shame women feel since many of them don’t have any “excuse” for their habit.
Pornography in Another Guise
Studies are finding that one in three visitors to porn sites are women, and others are discovering that women may have a higher risk than men of addiction.
This research, however, only takes specifically earmarked pornography websites into account.
If that pool was widened to include erotic fiction, which can be every bit as explicit and objectifying as online porn videos, would the number of women addicted to sexual materials be nearly equal to men?
Let’s be honest; men were not the overwhelming majority of buyers for the book 50 Shades of Grey. Yet 125 million copies were sold, and the movie made $571 million in box office sales.
Let’s have another moment of honesty. 50 Shades of Grey is pretty vanilla by most standards of erotic fiction out there on the market. Similar to pornography videos marketed to men, erotic fiction invites readers into increasingly violent or perverse sexual voyeurism. Not only that, but the market has exploded ever since the internet offered consumers both anonymity and instant gratification with the added “benefit” of not being classified as porn most of the time.
Many of the defenses for erotic fiction are that it’s “empowering” and helps women “improve their sex lives” along with doing away with that pesky “shame culture” that discourages women from having sex.
Unfortunately, these are many of the same arguments that have been made for pornography and which are rapidly being dismantled by modern studies on the actual neurological damage porn causes to its consumers, both male and female.
Escaping the Cycle to Find New Life
The unease around the sexually explicit is the tension between our spirit’s natural cry for what God has made for us and revulsion for its sinful permutation.
“My personal belief is that what Satan is really after is not necessarily to get a man or woman to look at pornography but to become stuck in a pattern of shame,” Gary Wilkerson says in his podcast on the issue of sexual addiction. “Relief from the shame by viewing something that brings us temporary pleasure, then dipping back down to being so ashamed.
“…that cycle continues for such a long time unbroken without victory that ultimately, I believe the enemy's after our faith: ‘Are you ever going to really be set free? Is God strong enough to help you with this?’”
“It is a topic fiercely close to God’s heart, a topic that flows from the pages of His Word. A topic laced with affirmation, guidance, and reproof. God, after all, is the inventor of sex. We were made, by Him, as sexual beings.
“Reclaiming sex as the act of holy worship God always intended it to be isn’t taboo or embarrassing—it’s eternity-shifting.”
As discussed in a podcast and previous article, healing from sexual addictions takes time, grace and good friends. Though God may heal some instantly, for many others, recovery is a process with slips and stumbles.
“If you are tempted to wallow, don’t let your (good) intuitive hatred of sin lead you to hate yourself,” Paul Maxwell urges. “Be patient with yourself, because God is patient. He is fighting for your life (Genesis 32:24; John 10:10). He has not forgotten you. He has not left you.”