How Does Porn Affect Women?
Last week we were talking about the harm pornography can do to a marriage–but we were looking at it primarily from a “man uses pornography” standpoint.
Then I started receiving emails, and a comment was left that focused more on what happens when it’s the female that begins to get addicted to pornography, and finds that she can’t stop.
I know not all of my readers have these sorts of problems, and if you’re not bothered by porn at all, feel free to skip this post. But based on the emails that I received, and the hurt that was there, there’s a lot of anguish about this topic. And worst of all, there’s nowhere they can turn, and women wonder if they’re the only ones. So let me summarize what I read, use pseudonyms and change some details a bit, but tell you some stories of how women can become embroiled in this as well.
It tends to start in childhood.
Either a little girl is being sexually abused, or she sees pornography when she’s in those crucial years of 10-14, when puberty is happening and she’s starting to develop sexual feelings. When you’re just starting to get those feelings, and then you see porn, something happens in your brain where the two become linked; you equate arousal with picturing something external from yourself.
So let me tell a story of a girl whom we’ll call Jennifer.
As a child, she was in a dentist’s office playing in the toybox one day, waiting for her appointment, when she found a Playboy. That’s right; some sicko had left a Playboy in a toybox at a dentist office. She began to leaf through it, and many of those pictures made her feel very funny.
A few years later, she was at a sleepover with a friend when her friend decided to show her a stack of her father’s Penthouse magazines. She began leafing through these, too, and those funny feelings returned.
As a teen, though, she experienced some pretty awful things with sex. She was date raped, and she never told anybody. Nothing “bad” happened from it; she wasn’t pregnant, she had no STD. So she decided just to put it behind her. She was a Christian, and she wanted to forgive the boy, so she did. Forgive and forget, as they say.
In her mid-twenties she married a wonderful Christian man who was involved in the ministry. They had great fun making out before they were married, and she often found herself quite breathless, but they never did any heavy petting or anything else. Then, on her wedding night, she froze. She wanted him to love her without needing sex. She was afraid that it was too much like the date rape, where he needed something from her and he just took it.
She didn’t want to. Her whole body froze up, and it was as if she wasn’t even part of her body anymore. And it really hurt!
(This seemed to be a common theme in the emails; sex hurt or was rather uncomfortable. There’s a condition for this called vaginismus, when the muscles at the beginning of the vagina tense during sex and won’t relax, so that sex becomes very painful, if it can be completed at all).
Over time, wanting to please her husband, she did have sex with him. Quite a bit. But she didn’t enjoy it, and she found herself trying to think of anything BUT sex in order to get through it. It was almost as if she left her body and was trying not to think of what was going on.
After a few years she felt like a freak. Everybody else was enjoying sex, but she saw it as a chore, as just something to get through. She didn’t like it. It didn’t hurt as much as it used to, but it was still uncomfortable. Surely she was capable of enjoying sex, wasn’t she?
And that’s when the pictures started to come back. She remembered all those magazines she had seen, and remembered that they had made her feel aroused. She did some research on the internet about this, and found some inappropriate sites. And soon she had a whole bunch more pictures in her head to go along with the ones from her childhood.
Now, the next time she had sex, she started thinking of those pictures. She found herself getting aroused. And she finally felt like she wasn’t a freak! Her husband was happy because she was enjoying it. But the problem was she was still separate from her body. She still wasn’t actually present during sex. She still was “running away” in her mind from what was going on. Yes, her body was responding, but it was because of something she was doing, not something he was doing. And over the years she got better at it. And he didn’t know. He thought he was a good lover. But how could she stop now, because then he would know that everything, up until now, had been a lie?
Does that sound familiar to you? If it doesn’t, please don’t judge Jennifer, because there are a lot of women hurting like this. It seems that these women fall into several different categories:
1. Those for whom sex was painful, and they need an “out of body” experience
2. Those for whom sex just wasn’t fun, either because he didn’t know how to properly stimulate her, or they just had never bothered to figure out how to get it to work together (this seems like one of the most common scenarios). But she didn’t want to be labelled frigid, and she was afraid there was something wrong with her. So she tried to reawaken her sex drive.
3. Those who were abused as children or teens and were used to this idea of separating one’s mind from one’s body just to get through it.
4. Those who had been heavily involved with porn as children, usually because someone else showed it to them, and now they can’t get the images out of their heads.
Can you see how painful this is?
In many ways, a woman’s sexual drive is more complicated than a man’s. Her brain is much more engaged in the sexual act than his is. If a woman does not want to become aroused, for instance, it is very hard to arouse her. Her head has to be in the game. For men that’s not the case.
Therefore, if a woman for whatever reason CAN’T get her head in the game, her body won’t respond. And now she’s stuck.
These women don’t want to disappoint their husbands. They don’t want to feel like there’s something wrong with them because everyone else in the world seems to like sex. So they look desperately for some shortcut to arousal, and find it in pornography.
Women who have issues with porn usually aren’t compulsive users the way men are. They don’t need the constant high, or the new fix. They usually just use a few pictures in their head, that they can keep there for years, to help them get aroused. The problem is: how do you get rid of them? And how do you end your reliance on them?
That is a big problem.
I’m a little torn about this, and I don’t want to advise either way, because I think you just have to rely on where God is nudging you. I can picture marriages that are very healthy, where the man thinks that he is a wonderful lover, being devastated by the news. But on the other hand, I don’t know how she can achieve real healing without telling him. Leave a comment and tell me what you think, but I really feel like I’m not supposed to lay down a rule on this one. I think you need to go to God.
But what isn’t negotiable is this: you need to train your body to “be present”.
The only way you’re ever going to experience true intimacy with your husband is to be there, body, mind and soul. And it is a beautiful thing to experience real spiritual connection when you make love. We’re going to talk on Wifey Wednesday about how to train your body to be there, and how to start experiencing some real pleasure in your sex life. This will have relevance not only for women who are stuck in this rut, but also for women whose sex lives have just been so-so, and they haven’t been able to fly. So tune back in on Wednesday for some more advice.
In the meantime, please comment if you can relate to any of this. Make it anonymous if you have to (I’ll delete any posts that are too racy or inappropriate or don’t really edify). But if you’ve been there, just leave a note saying “I understand exactly what you’re saying”, because so many of the women who emailed me said they feel completely alone. Let them know they’re not!
And if you had the experience of being shown a Penthouse or a Playboy as a kid, what did that to you? And how do we protect our own children?
Let me know in the comments, and let’s talk!