In the early 2000s, my colleague Al Cooper dubbed online pornography “the crack cocaine of sexual addiction.” He wrote about the “three A’s” that spur users increasingly deeper into a pathological attachment to the mood-altering experience that pornography viewers may experience:
Accessibility: Users don’t have to get dressed, drive to the nearest porn shop, park, partake, or drive home. The internet is open 24-7.
Affordability: Pornography found online is often free, and can be downloaded and stored or “hoarded” for later viewing.
Anonymity: No one ever has to know what you’re doing in the privacy of your home—the morality police will never spot you entering or leaving the sleazy part of town where “adult stores” are often located.
It’s primarily the ease of these three A’s that lures not only men, but also women, to online pornography. Sometimes their occasional use spirals out of control and into addiction. In the past 10 years I have seen an increasing number of women who recognize that they have a serious problem.
Early in the history of the internet many women, both single and married, spent a great deal of time using the internet for chatting and developing relationships. Now, of course, social networking sites encourage much more of this. A woman unhappy in her marriage can easily connect with her high school boyfriend on Facebook, and many women are quite smitten with the big FB.
But women can become addicted to online pornography in the same way as men, though I’ve observed men being more easily and quickly visually stimulated. Before the internet, many women who sought emotional gratification would live vicariously through romance novels, while men would look at pictures of scantily clad or naked women or go to strip clubs.
Now women of all ages and socio-economic status are turning to the internet for sexual excitement. A 2003 survey in Today’s Christian Woman found that one out of every six women, including Christians, acknowledged having a problem with addiction to internet porn. Three years later, in 2006, the Internet Filter Review reported that 17% of women said they struggled with it, and that 33% of visitors to porn sites were women.
I must confess that these figures did surprise me at first. But now, as usual, I’m learning from women who come to my counseling office or work with me over the phone. They remind me that it’s not just men who “like to watch,” as Peter Sellers’ character intones in the movie Being There. Just recently a female client gushed, “I don’t have to sneak furtively into the red light district anymore—it’s right in my own home!”
Many women find it easy to glide their mouse to search for sexually alluring material on the internet. One woman recently spoke with delight and astonishment when she told me that she was just beginning to learn what really turned her on. Unfortunately, she’s too embarrassed to share her favorite sites with her husband, and he keeps his favorites secret from her! Both of these people could be headed toward addiction, since secrecy and shame are two of its hallmarks.
When I first began working with people who struggle with compulsive sexual behavior, “sex addiction” was seen as being something that was perverse, uncommon, and highly unusual. Only recently have we really begun to understand how pervasive it is, and how the internet can exacerbate it. I’m not opposed to porn on principle, but when it becomes an absorbing habit that gets in the way of real-life relationships, it can create huge problems.
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