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Fighting the ‘new drug’ – a woman’s perspective

It’s accepted that men make up the majority of consumers of pornographic material however, women do access pornography, and become addicted. Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon put a few questions to a woman recovering from her addiction.

Tessa (not her real name) grew up with her parents and brother in an Anglican and Catholic home.

She was introduced to pornography when she was about ten years old. “My older cousin was looking at what was called a ‘blues’ movie in those days and I, being curious, looked on”.

The passage of time saw her access pornography through novels, movies and the internet. She would access porn two to three times monthly. Graphic sex scenes in movies and the internet were appealing as “it showed the entire sexual act in very graphic, focused way”.

Tessa observes that the viewing of pornography has an impact because the images “play on your mind and objectifies the body, makes you want to try all sorts of sexual acts”.

She experienced an elevated response to sexual scenes and they made her feel she was not “sexy enough”. There was also “internal conflict” as she went to confession with different priests.

Tessa adds, “It was also drilled into me that it was a sin i.e. a selfish act, self-gratification”. Asked when she recognised it was creating problems in her life, she replies, “It heightened my sexual response”.

Finally, Tessa sought help through confession with one priest and shares her journey with young adults at Choice retreat weekends and the Theology of the Body programmes.

She avoids explicit sex scenes in movies, on the internet and in books. Tessa recognised that her triggers for turning to porn happened when she was feeling lonely and during her menstrual cycle when she was more sexually heightened.

It has been a 15-year journey away from porn use for Tessa. She has this advice for females: “Pornography is sometimes used to ‘spice up’ the relationship and is not considered harmful [but] it objectifies the body. The images remain and are hard to get out of your mind. It gives you heightened sexual desires; it reduces your body and your sexuality to only a sexual act. It is a selfish act that uses images to gratify yourself. Find ways to get to the root of what is causing it; having one confessor and sharing your struggle helps.”

Research on women who watch

Although not as extensive as with men, research has been done on women’s experiences watching porn. One study looked at qualitative research between 1999 and 2016 using a thematic analysis of 22 articles based on 21 studies from nine countries.

The authors’ findings were published in The Journal of Sex Research. Dr Sarah Hunter-Murray writes about it in ‘4 Revelations About Women and Porn’ on the Psychology Today website (June 2018).

There were examples of women feeling empathy for the performers and their feelings of sexual pleasure and enjoyment were influenced by their perceptions of the sexual activity being “genuine” or “unrealistic”.  Women’s perception of their bodies was impacted as they judged their bodies by what they saw.

On the other side, there were women who saw some physical similarities and had positive feelings about their bodies. Porn gave some women ideas for their relationships but for others their partner’s porn use and arousal caused them to feel threatened.

Some women had difficulty reconciling negative cognitive and moral beliefs about porn while still continuing to watch and respond to the scenes.