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What Pornography Does to 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. Myfathersdaughter told her story so beautifully (and I used a lot of hers in this composite!), and she ended up telling her husband. Now together they're going to work on helping her be present.

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!

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At 9:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

That could have been me. I was molested when I was very young, then exposed to pornography when I found it in my parents' bedroom. I ran into porn again later looking through magazines at a house where I was babysitting. All together it goofed me up badly and led to an on and off again problem. (I was left with the idea that sex and love were equivalent and so I was inclined to turn to porn when I was feeling most alone.) I worked on it (therapy, prayer, personal efforts) and by the time I got married (31) it wasn't much of an issue anymore. My husband and I had a very happy sex life and I didn't "need" that fix for loneliness.

A few years ago, though, my husband started experiencing health issues that forced some changes in our intimate life. Since, for me, the emotional connection of sex has always been the most important aspect of it, this became a problem. The changes we had to make left me feeling less emotionally connected to my husband during sex. It felt more impersonal, more like a simple physical release than an expression of love and intimacy. I started having problems responding and feeling pressured to keep my response to him at the same level it was before we made the changes.

The stuff I was exposed to when I was young came back to me and I started thinking about that during sex. And yes, just like in the story about Jennifer, it helped me become aroused and respond, but I felt horrible, like I was being unfaithful to my husband by thinking about other men in such a way and at such a time.

So, I've been working on that. I haven't discussed my fantasies with my husband, but I have been trying to talk with him about things we can do to help me feel closer to him during sex. I've been working on concentrating on my physical reactions to his touch and staying in the moment instead of disassociating. It's helped. I have enjoyed our last few times together much more and have felt more of the emotional connection that I used to feel at those times.

I do believe that God wants me to have a happy marriage just as much as I want one, and that He has been helping me as I've tried to figure out a solution to this.


At 9:39 AM , Blogger Sheila said…


Thanks for writing!

I love what you said about concentrating on not dissociating and instead just concentrating on his touch! That's exactly what we're going to talk about on Wednesday: how to be present again by learning how to pay attention to your body, and not just the thoughts in your head.

Thank you, too, for pointing to how God can help heal you from this and can help you move through this problem. He does want our marriages to be great, and He is there!


At 10:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Thank you, Sheila, for tackling this tough subject. I don't really have the heart to go into our story. But just know that I appreciate what you are doing. I have been reading the posts and the comments. I am looking forward to your post on Wednesday. Thank you.


At 12:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I posted last week a bit about my story and how I finally told my husband and he confessed to me of his issues too.
Vaginismus is a big problem that just doesn't get enough "publicity." We did some heavy petting before marriage and I always felt really guilty. Then our weding night came with a lot of heartache and pain. We weren't able to achieve intercourse until almost 3 years into our marriage, and then only because I really wanted a baby. It hurt badly every time.

Since my husband and I have talked very openly about the pornography, we started having sex again. And God gave us the miracle that we have been waiting for: it doesn't hurt anymore!!!!! It's still quite uncomfortable and scary but I'm not crying out in pain every time and sore for days afterwards. It feels like we're at the honeymoon phase in the bedroom. Not quite as exciting but we are focus on learning what works and what doesn't. And how to talk about it all.
Thanks so much for going into all of this. I'm also really looking forward to Wednesday's post. I'm sharing al of this with my husband and he keeps telling me "that makes sense, I understand you so much more."

I still wish I could erase the images in my mind. And the ones in his too (since his confession I also understand more his view on sex too). But we are both learning to be very open and honost throughout everything. And I know that God will continue to heal. And who knows, some day I may actaully start to enjoy sex again and actually get a libido of my own!!

Hubby actually asked me last night, "honey, do you have a headache tonight?" So I think that's a hint to actually read that book that I've had sitting in my house for a while. I've been too nervous to read it for fear that you would ask me to do things I'm not ready for.

God bless all these women that are struggling with the same thing. God is amazing and He hears your prayers. They WILL be answered.


At 3:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Here's a question: my husband and i have a seemingly healthy sex life despite our speckled pasts. Sometimes during sex I fantasize, but always about him. Is this wrong/perverse? I'd actually never given it a second thought until reading this post. Your Godly insight would be appreciated.


At 6:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I found my dads penthouses when I was 12. Sex was an open subject in my house. So it wasn't like the photos shocked me. I kept thinking how beautiful the women were and I wanted to be like them. So through my teens I'd look at them. They gave me those arousal feelings but I didn't know that.

When I married my DH he had a Playboy subscription and I didn't care. After all it seemed normal to me that men read them. When we had kids I put an end to the subscription. Although I saw nothing wrong with the mags somewhere in me I knew I didn't want my kids seeing them. So instead we turned to porn movies.

I got so used to those images that I would have to picture them in my head in order to "feel sexy" for DH. Especially as I gained weight. Although my DH would insist he found me sexy at any weight I didn't believe him. How could he find me sexy? I didn't look like those pics anymore. I lost my libido completely. Now the only way I could get aroused was w/porn. When the internet came into our home we started to view things online. Newer technologies just kept feeding our addiction.

Then one day 3 years ago I walked in on DH masturbating to porn. I was devastated. I NEVER imagined that he was doing that by himself. I always assumed we were watching it together. I knew I wasn't looking at it without him so I naively assumed he wasn't either. I only needed the porn to arouse myself for him. It never crossed my mind that his addiction carried into the rest of his day. Since men think about sex every 8 seconds (so statistics say) and with his raging libido...he needed more. It was crushing to me.

Then I saw an HBO show and the sex therapist noted that the woman she was observing always had her eyes closed during sex. She stated this happens when a woman is disassociating herself from sex. Often by fantasizing about someone else, porn images or just closing out her lover. She encouraged the woman to open her eyes, look at her lover so she could be present in the moment and enjoy the looks on her lover's face.

I realized I always closed my eyes so I could see those images to arouse myself. But God used that little bit from the show to change something in me. I started to look at my DH during sex. I found that I couldn't pull up those images because my entire focus was on him. I started to really enjoy his expressions because I started to realize that I was the one making them happen. It wasn't some fake woman. It was me!

God continued to work in our relationship. My walking in on DH was where it all changed. We were both so startled by it that I know it was God shaking us awake. We took the TV & laptop out of our bedroom. Our sex life was definitely different for a time. We had to relearn how to arouse each other. The thing that helped the most was looking at each other. Seeing the love in each other's eyes...the rest just started to come naturally.

We both still struggle with the feelings of wanting the porn every now and again. I will firmly admit I struggle the most. I have a couple times suggested bringing the laptop to our room. My DH usually says flatly no but one time he allowed it and we both felt so dirty after. We had a LONG talk the next day and agreed thats never happening again. Here's the thing that might shock you...that was only 3 months ago...we've been married 17 years. Yes it has been that long of a problem. But we are 3 months clean and I do believe for good. Something changed for us. We never felt it was completely wrong before but that time we did. We didn't enjoy the sex as much. Honestly I think that was God. It was something that needed to be cleansed out of both of us and that's what God did.

It is such a taboo subject in Christian circles. Which is sad because it makes the shame that much deeper. Especially for women. Which causes many to suffer alone. So thank you for bringing this subject to light. It's about time someone did.


At 6:05 PM , Blogger e-Mom said…

Hi Sheila,

You are a bold lady for opening up this topic to the Christian blogosphere. As I read the comments of these precious women, I hear oceans of pain. May God bring healing to each and every marriage.


e-Mom @ Chrysalis


At 10:45 PM , Anonymous Latasha B. said…

I'm not married, but have struggled with romance addiction and internet pornography. I've been able to experience freedom through Sexaholics Anonymous (which are predominately male meetings) the last four years and would also recommend "No Stones" and "Facing Love Addiction" as additional resources to anyone who is suffering.

If you want to know more about any of these resources, you can e-mail me at the address below.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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