The discussion about 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.
In Victorian times, the idea of women as the “domestic angel” put them on a pedestal of purity where they were expected to shower endless love, patience and general saintliness down upon their family. 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 woman 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. Their most pressing question was, “Do you know how any of the male students might have got your login 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 that 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 assumptions that women can’t become addicted like men, and then they are trapped not only by their addiction, but also 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.
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. 50 Shades of Grey is pretty vanilla by most standards of erotic fiction 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. 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.
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.
Gary Wilkerson says 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—relief from our negative emotions by viewing something that brings us temporary pleasure, then dipping back down to being so ashamed. The cycle continues for such a long time, unbroken without victory. Ultimately, the enemy is after our view of God and our faith: “Are you ever going to really be set free? Is God strong enough to help you with this?” Satan wants us to believe that God won’t help, he’s not strong or powerful, he’s not on our side, we’ve failed so much that he’s forgotten us, we’re such losers and such sinners that we’re no longer in His grace or favor so He’s cast us out.
Let me remind of you of the truth: God is faithful, no matter the addiction or hardship we face. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Healing from sexual addictions takes time, grace and community. Though God may heal some instantly, for many others, recovery is a process with slips and stumbles. Remember to be kind to yourself and be patient. Ours is a loving God who is always patient and will always fight for you. He will not leave you or forget you.
Rachel Chimits is a writer for World Challenge, a global ministry that encourages people to live a better life and make a better world through Jesus Christ.