women porn addiction

Do Women Even Look at Porn?

It’s no secret that the Internet is bursting at the seams with pornography, and lots of people are looking at it. For instance, research conducted in 2009 and 2010 by neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam analyzed 400 million Internet searches (representing more than 2 million people), finding that approximately 55 million of those searches (13%) sought some form of erotic content. And this analysis didn’t include the countless people who surf for nudie pics and vids on social media sites, dating sites, hookup apps and the like. Moreover, the amount and variety of porn that’s available has increased exponentially since Ogas and Gaddam conducted their study. So it’s hardly a surprise that porn addiction is now the most common form of sexual addiction. In fact, almost all self-identified sex addicts now list compulsive porn use as one of their primary problems. If you don’t believe me, go sit in on a few “open” 12-step sexual recovery meetings and listen to the shares. (“Open” 12-step meetings are groups in which you don’t have to self-identify as addicted.)

Of course, porn is a guy thing, right? And porn addicts are all men, right? Women are too smart, personal, and genuine to get turned on by and hooked on something as base and gross as porn, right? Or so the thinking sometimes goes. And the thinking is not entirely wrong. It’s just not entirely right, either.

The simple truth is that women do search for erotic content online, they just tend to search for different erotic content than men. For instance, according to Ogas and Gaddam the five most popular sites among men are Pornhub.com, RedTube.com, Xhamster.com, YouPorn.com, and XNXX.com – all of which are adult video sites. Meanwhile, the five most popular sites among women are FanFiction.net (a story site), StephanieMyers.com (a romance author fan site), eHarlequin.com (a romance novel fan site), AdultFanFiction.com (an adult story site), and ForTheGirls.com (an adult video site).

So it’s pretty clear that men want to watch sex, while women want to read about, write about, and discuss sexual relationships. In other words, male porn is all about objectified body parts and graphic sexual activity, while female porn is all about the intimate connection between two people. This is why guys want to watch “Debbie Does Dallas” and women want to read Fifty Shades of Grey. But it’s porn either way. After all, the sex is just as prevalent and just as graphic in Fifty Shades as a typical porn flick. The only real difference is that the characters in Fifty Shades develop an emotional bond (a romantic relationship) over the course of the story, while porn for men tends to ignore that aspect. And we should not overlook the fact that the #5 site for women is, in fact, a hardcore video site, indicating that plenty of women are into that just as much as men are.

So yeah, lots of women do look at porn, even if it’s not always the same porn that men use.

The Basics of Porn Addiction

Porn addiction occurs when a person loses control over his or her use of pornography, experiencing negative life consequences as a result. Research suggests that porn addicts spend at least 11 hours per week engaging with porn. And that amount is the low end of the spectrum. Many porn addicts lose 20, 30, or more hours per week to their compulsion.

Common signs and symptoms of porn addiction include:

  • Continued porn use despite promises made to self or others to either quit or cut back
  • Continued porn use despite directly related consequences – relationship woes, trouble at work or in school, financial problems, legal problems, etc.
  • Diminished self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and/or other emotional and psychological issues
  • Progressively using porn for longer and longer periods of time
  • Progressively using more intense or bizarre pornography
  • Lying and/or keeping secrets about porn use – amount of time, nature of the porn, etc.
  • Substance use/abuse/addiction in conjunction with porn use/abuse/addiction
  • Escalation from compulsive porn use to other forms of sexual compulsion (webcam sex, hookup apps, affairs, prostitution, strip clubs, etc.)
  • Reduced interest in real world sexual activity

Porn Addiction by Gender

The aforementioned signs and symptoms crop up regardless of the porn addict’s gender. Nevertheless, there are some important differences between male and female porn addicts. Most notably, female porn addicts are nearly always more difficult to identify, diagnose, and treat than male porn addicts. There are two primary reasons for this.

  • Women in general are unlikely to tell you about their porn use because they face tremendous social stigma if/when they are highly sexual. Men, meanwhile, are lauded for such behaviors. Essentially, hypersexual women are called sluts and whores, while hypersexual men are called studs and players. Because of this, female porn addicts typically find it traumatic and shaming to discuss their porn use, whereas men will happily and proudly tell you all about it.
  • Female porn addicts tend to talk about their issues, even when they are being sexual in the same ways and just as often as their male counterparts, in terms of relationships rather than sex. Basically, they talk about their inability to find the right partner, or that men don’t ever live up to their expectations, or something similar. As such, therapists often have to ask very pointed questions to get accurate answers about the nature and extent of a woman’s porn use.

Sexual Dysfunction Related to Porn Use

As you may have noticed, I listed “reduced interest in real world sexual activity” as a common consequence of porn addiction. This is true for both men and women. Interestingly, sexual dysfunction is, in general, a more common complaint among women than men. In fact, research shows that 43% of women complain about some form of sexual dysfunction, compared to 31% of men.

With women, porn-induced sexual dysfunction tends to manifest as inhibited sexual desire, inability to become aroused, anorgasmia (inability to reach orgasm), or painful intercourse. With men, problems typically manifest as erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, or anorgasmia. With both male and female porn addicts, sexual dysfunction occurs more with real world partners than with porn.

Taken together, these facts suggest that in both male and female porn addicts, compulsive porn use is creating an emotional and psychological disconnection that is manifesting physically as sexual dysfunction with real world partners. And why not? After all, if a person spends 90% or more of his or her sexual energy focused on an endless, constantly changing stream of hyper-arousing digital erotica, a lone in-person partner can’t really compete. The stimulation just plain pales in comparison.

It is important to point out that what I’ve stated in this section is based more on clinical observation than peer-reviewed, quality controlled, double-blind studies – especially in regard to women, on whom there is very little sex/porn addiction research. That said, I can assure you that as porn has become more and more ubiquitous, affordable, and accessible, the number of men and women getting hooked on it has also risen. I can also assure you that female porn addicts experience the same degree of emotional pain and life consequences as male porn addicts, including various forms of sexual dysfunction.

Treatment of Female Porn Addicts

As alluded to above, female porn addicts are often reluctant to discuss their issue, even in a therapeutic setting. And when they do seek professional assistance, they typically skirt the porn issue, talking instead about their addiction’s related symptoms – depression, loneliness, and relationship troubles. Many porn addicted women can attend psychotherapy for months (or years) without ever discussing or even being asked about things like pornography and masturbation. As such, their core problem can remain underground and untreated, and their troubling symptoms may continue unabated.

Much of the time, porn addiction in women is identified only after a woman has entered treatment for another issue – most often depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or a substance use disorder (alcoholism and/or drug addiction). Either the woman acts out sexually online or in-person, or the therapist astutely directs a portion of his or her assessment at the female client’s adult sexual life, including her use of porn and masturbation. This means asking personal questions that may cause discomfort to both the therapist and the client, such as:

  • Do you watch pornography? If so, how often?
  • Do you read erotic stories and/or romance novels? If so, how often?
  • Do you masturbate? If so, how often? And does this masturbation occur in conjunction with porn use?
  • How do you react to feelings of loneliness?
  • Do you use porn/erotica/romance as a way to escape emotional discomfort?
  • Has your porn use ever caused problems to you or someone you care about?
  • Etc.

Further complicating matters is the fact that female porn addicts are much more likely than males to present in treatment with a history of early life sexual abuse. When this happens, many therapists will automatically want to focus on resolving the woman’s past sexual trauma – forgetting (or not understanding) that she might not have the ego strength and social support to effectively do this highly distressing work. As such, the client will likely become even more compulsive with pornography (and perhaps other sexual activity). In turn, her depression and shame will get worse rather than better because her sex life feels more out of control than ever. Without doubt, a better approach in these situations is to establish sex/porn sobriety first, addressing childhood trauma issues a few months later when the client is more grounded and more able to relive and healthfully process traumatic early life events. (This is true regardless of a sex/porn addict’s gender.)

Once porn addiction is identified and diagnosed in a female client, treatment proceeds much as it would with a male sex addict. Usually, the most effective approach is a combination of individual and sex addiction focused group therapy (gender separate), coupled with an outside sexual recovery support group. Generally, the most female friendly sexual recovery group is Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), though Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA), and Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) can also be welcoming.

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