Life & Relationships

Are We Failing Women in the Battle Against Porn?

Imagine an army made up of men and women with broken ankles.

They are in a fierce battle, and as bullets fly at them from all directions, they need to keep moving forward. But they can’t walk properly, and they certainly can’t run.

The shame attached to sexual sin, including addiction to pornography, may be the wound keeping a generation of Christian men, and increasingly women, from the life God intended for them.

In the conversation about the effects of pornography on the sexual, emotional and spiritual health of men, experts are suggesting that women are often overlooked and misunderstood.

Is porn really a problem for women?

According to The Porn Phenomenon, a Barna Group study commissioned by Cru, 41% of male practicing Christians aged 13-24 use porn at least once per month. But the study also shows something that we don’t normally talk about. Women increasingly struggle with the same problem.



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Research suggests that 13% of female practicing Christians in the same age bracket said they also use porn with the same frequency.

Jessica Harris struggled with an addiction to hardcore pornography for years before finding help. She recently spoke at Set Free, a summit hosted by Josh McDowell to help the church respond to the porn epidemic.

“We have this script that talks about pornography as a men’s issue. And we talk about it in a very manly way, with an aggressive kind of boot camp approach when we deal with men. But listen to me,” says Jessica. “I, as a woman, was addicted to hardcore pornography. And the way that the church handled it nearly killed me.”

One common misunderstanding is that women who say they struggle with porn are referring to their husband or boyfriend’s addiction to it, or else a toned down version of what men use. This only adds to the sense among young women who struggle that they aren’t normal, and therefore need to hide the truth even more.

Jessica Harris speaking at the Set Free Summit in April 2016

Why do women use porn?

Although men and women may be watching the same pornographic material, the reasons can differ according to gender.

In a TIME magazine article entitled “How Porn is Changing a Generation of Girls,” Peggy Orenstein says, “An 11th grade girl confided to me, ‘I watch porn because I’m a virgin and I want to figure out how sex works.’”

When young women use porn, many are trying to learn how men want them to behave in sexual situations. They’re allowing fantasy to write the script for their reality. As Jessica Harris puts it, “Porn is the only addiction you can become.”

This self-objectification inevitably leads to a sense of inadequacy and shame in young women who feel they can never live up to what men are watching.

The ambiguity over what’s classified as porn creates another obstacle to helping young women. Roxanne Stone, of the Barna Group, has written about the sexting crisis, which she labels “Porn 2.0.” It’s becoming commonplace for teens to share sexual images of themselves with each other. Nearly 40% of teens and young adults say they have sent someone a nude image of themselves.

Stone suggests that sexting has snuck under the radar because many don’t consider it porn at all. But she asks, “Why not? If our general definition of pornography is a sexual image used for personal arousal, then is our goal in getting a nude picture of a boyfriend or girlfriend any different?”

Smartphones have become the primary arena for relationships among young people. Men tend to be the initiators in sexting. Teenage girls increasingly face severe peer pressure to participate in sexting because it’s considered a “normal” part of teen sexuality. As Stone puts it, “If I want him to like me, I have to do this. All the other girls would do this.”

The church needs to think carefully about educating both genders about what sexting really is, and how damaging its effects can be. Teenagers are learning about intimacy in ways that require no lasting sense of responsibility to another person, or even that both parties be physically present. Porn 2.0 is a crisis that could hinder a generation’s ability to develop healthy, Godly relationships.

We need to be wary of looking for quickfire solutions to deeply rooted problems. Sexual addictions, including porn use, need to be understood in the context of issues like broken families and abuse. Focussing solely on disciplines to maintain abstinence is a strategy doomed to failure, if we don’t understand where addictions are coming from in men and women.

How do we care well for Christian women affected by porn?

  1. How did Jesus respond to a woman caught in sexual sin? (John 7:53-8:11). Jesus was facing a woman caught in adultery. The first thing he did as accusations came flying at her was to bend down. Perhaps that’s the only way He could make eye contact with a woman hanging her head in shame.

    Secondly, he confronted those who were quick to judge, with their own hypocrisy. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    Finally, as the only man with a right to judge the woman, Jesus instead released her from condemnation.  His first and greatest priority was her restoration. He knew punishment would never achieve that, but expressing the woman’s value to Him could.

  2. Men are getting help, women are getting shamed. The stigma attached to porn use among men, including Christian men, is less than it once was because the problem is more known and talked about. This makes it easier for men to seek help among their peers. A wealth of resources exists for men trying to overcome addiction to porn. Not so for women.

    “A man’s struggle is often attributed to a combination of how men are visually wired and a sex-saturated society that contributes to it,” says Jessica Harris. “Women get judged while men get explained – that is the root of so much shame.”

    Christian women who struggle with porn will feel like a particularly sinful minority within the church. It’s vital we start talking about this issue in relation to women, so they have a place to begin seeking help.

  3. Help Christian parents respond in a healthy way. Jessica Harris argues that parents can sometimes be so ashamed of having a child struggle in this area, that they throw that shame on their kids, “How could you do this to us? How could you do this to our family?”

    Christians using porn, male or female, will already be burdened with shame. Stripping teenage girls of their purity rings because they’ve been caught or confessed to using porn, may only make the problem worse. How parents and others deal with their struggle, is one of the most important factors in whether people end up drowning in it.

Here are some practical first steps you can take to help women find freedom in this area:

  1. Connect with a ministry such a Beggar’s Daughter which helps women trapped in sexual sin.
  2. Invite someone like Jessica Harris to speak to your community.
  3. For a range of resources check out the Set Free Summit website.
  4. Get informed by reading The Porn Phenomenon, commissioned by Cru because we believe this issue represents a challenge and an opportunity for Christians called to be a light to the nations.

Women’s addiction to porn is a complex issue, and one that’s just beginning to get the attention it deserves. Your Christian community can help turn back the tide by starting the conversations many of us have wanted to avoid for too long.

Ross has served with Cru since 2004. He currently serves on the Digital Marketing team. Born in Scotland, Ross attended the University of Manchester in the UK and Louisiana State University. His passion is writing about God in ways accessible to those who don’t know Him. Contact Ross at Ross.McCall@cru.org.

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