The Top 12 Reasons Porn is Bad for Women

By Staci Sprout, LICSW, CSAT, www.stacisprout.com

 

I thought porn was just bad for me. Well, I didn’t start out thinking that. When I was first exposed to pornographic images at eight years old, I wasn’t thinking at all. My brain was flooded with powerful neurochemicals that were all about my reactions, not contemplations. I wrote about that moment in my memoir Naked in Public: A Memoir of Recovery from Sex Addiction and Other Temporary Insanities in a chapter called “Nancy Drew and Other Role Models.” Here’s an excerpt:

 

When I was eight years old, Nancy Drew was my hero. After reading my first Nancy Drew Mystery, I decided I wanted to be a detective just like her when I grew up. I loved to sit cross-legged on the orange carpet in front of our monster floor TV to watch her escape from danger and solve devious crimes that stumped even the grownups.

One day, while no one was around, I embarked on a sleuthing adventure in my parents’ bedroom. I routinely searched the house when the opportunity struck, looking for hidden clues, change left in coat pockets, and other treats. This time I found one, but I didn’t yet know it was a trick in disguise. In my dad’s top dresser drawer, under his folded white-and-navy socks, I uncovered a Playboy magazine with my heroine, Nancy Drew, on the cover. Wearing a partially open khaki trench coat, her bare thigh poked out of the opening, hinting of nothing underneath. Her face was heavily made up and she held a magnifying glass. My small fingers trembled as I opened the cover to search the glossy pages within.

At eight years old, I believed it really was Nancy Drew in the pictures that greeted me, and that she was posing naked, looking even more glamorous than on TV. I didn’t understand the difference between the fictional character and Pamela Sue Martin, the actress who played her. I was fooled into thinking that Nancy Drew, whose cleverness and bravery I loved, also liked to model without any clothes for anyone to see. I was shocked that her nude body was so compelling, even my dad kept pictures of her—and not my mom—hidden in his dresser drawer. I knew I shouldn’t tell anyone; dad’s secret was safe with me. But as I carefully replaced the magazine under his socks, I felt a heavy sensation crawl over me and take root inside, mingling with the excited tingling that seeing the pictures had evoked. Years later I would learn how to describe that shadowy feeling: shame. Unable to understand the significance of what happened, I came to associate sexual arousal with a subtle and persistent sense of dread.

 

Now, forty years later, I understand that experience as this: My thirty-six-year-old father, feeling entitled by the cultural messages surrounding him in 1978 and porn’s easy accessibility, bought and kept a Playboy magazine in his dresser (later there were more), despite my mom’s discomfort with it. His overt emotional/covert sexual infidelity to my mother was part of the shame that was transferred to me, an innocent, curious child who’d been given no useful sexual education (at that point, my first and only “Don’t have sex ‘til you’re married” talk from my parents was ten years down the road).

 

As I found and viewed my role model naked, my naïve mind internalized several new beliefs that have taken me decades to recognize were there, and even longer to de-program. Most of these beliefs sprung from lies, but they took hold nonetheless. The magazine cover read “TV’s Nancy Drew Undraped,” not “Actress Pamela Sue Martin, Who-Quit-the-Nancy-Drew-Show-in-Frustration-Because-Her-Screen-Time-Was-Cut-in-Favor-of-the-Hardy-Boys, and Poses Without Her Clothes for Money and Attention.” [1] Here are a few of the beliefs Playboy gave me, toxic gifts that kept on giving:

 

Women’s bodies should be captured and collected for men’s entertainment – in secret

Nancy Drew posed naked, so that’s a glamorous, empowered thing to do

Being sexy and beautiful naked is more important than being clever, helping the vulnerable, or fighting for justice

Being “bad/sexy” like Nancy Drew is a good way to get attention from men

Marriage isn’t stronger than porn

My dad is more powerful than my mom – his will wins, especially when it comes to sex

 

Today I have come to different knowings, hard won by my own painful experiences of being collected by men, trying to be beautiful for them, have power, and be sexually “liberated” like “Nancy Drew” (and other porn performers I later saw on cable). Like Pamela Sue Martin, I too have ended up with multiple failed relationships (she was married and divorced three times) and jobs where I’ve been frustrated to find myself devalued in favor of men. What I once thought was sexual power became sexual enslavement. For me that translated into sexual compulsions that took years of painstaking effort in the rooms of 12-Step sexual recovery and therapy to transform. And what has all this healing work shown me is the most valuable thing of all, worth working for? The thing Nancy Drew – the REAL Nancy Drew – has in abundance: integrity and strength of character.

 

This article is titled The Top 12 Reasons Porn is Bad for Women, not just bad for me, because I’ve learned I’m not the only one with a “dad’s sock drawer” story. I thought I was alone, and my shame kept me isolated, but I’ve learned since publishing my memoir and getting feedback, as well as in my role working with women as their sex and love addiction therapist, that my experience is near-universal among women. When I ask women who told them the lies that took toxic root in their inner garden of meaning about who they are sexually, I hear the same culprit, over and over: pornography. Sure, it’s also the absence of sex ed, harmful family and cultural messages, abuse experiences, and bullies at school. We know about #metoo now, embodying the statistics of sexual violence:

In the US 1 in 8 women are raped, 25% of college women experience rape or attempted rape in their four years at college, 50 % women will be sexually harassed on their jobs at some point in their lifetime and by the time a female is 18 years old, 38 % have been sexually molested.

Mary Anne Layden, Ph D

Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program Director

University of Pennsylvania

 

Yet despite the horrifically common neglect and “big T” traumas that happen to girls and young women sexually, the basic text of sexual violence always harkens back to the same source – pornography. Like an intrusively obnoxious song in the background of every conversation, porn is there. And since I was a girl in the 70’s to today, the volume has been turned up – way, way up.

 

Seeing this deceptive image of “Nancy Drew” damaged my sexual self-development. It wasn’t the only damage, nor the worst, but the harmful impact is clear to me. But thankfully due to years of effort and help, I’m over it. I’m happily married now, I love my body (even as it ages) I love sex, and I’m faithful to my husband. We’ve decided not to use porn, and we keep this commitment. I feel secure and delight in my coupleship, but do you know something that keeps me from sailing off into the sunset? The anxiety and concern I feel for girls today, and the women they will become. I can’t cast off the truth that my exposure was mild compared to the streaming horror video porn that girls are exposed to today. What is happening to them now, I worry, when the images they first see are brutal rapes accompanied by violent and degrading verbal abuse, that they are told that defines sex? Who does that tell them they should become sexually, and should want to become – particularly when the boys they may be attracted to seem so completely captivated by pornography? The article Sex Before Kissing: How 15-Year-Old Girls are Dealing with Porn Obsessed Boys is a poignant illustration of what teen girls are facing today. Another excellent collection of women’s voices about the harmful impact of pornography can be found at Porn Problems: Here Come the Women. And porn’s distortions of healthy sex can be harmful to lesbian girls and women too.

 

What I have learned as a therapist working with straight, lesbian, and bisexual female sex and love addicts for over a decade is that what’s bad for girls is also bad for the women they will become. And porn, no matter how anyone might try to dress it up, is bad for girls.

 

In summary, here are my top 12 reasons pornography is bad for women – and even worse for the impressionable minds of girls:

 

  1. Porn harms girls’ and women’s sexual identity

Pornography is a toxic influence on girls’ and women’s identity formation – Giving harmful answers to the questions all girls ask of Who am I sexually? and How Do I want to be seen sexually? Most porn offers the polarizing “Good” girl – “Bad” girl forced choice – but the answer is far more complex and celebratory of feminine sexuality than porn can begin to comprehend. Girls and women can internalize the contemptuous, misogynist pornographer’s gaze as their own – and suffer chronic hateful sexual self-objectification as a result.

 

  1. Porn portrays inaccurate sexual education

Porn creates unrealistic expectations of sex, relationships, and feminine sexuality, instilling mistaken beliefs like:

  • My body should look like that
  • All women want/like/do that
  • I should want/like/do that
  • Sex should work like that

As Meghan Donevan writes in her book ‘Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism’, pornography “portrays sex as an encounter predicated on submission and domination…in a fantasy world where women are always ready for sex, enjoy all types of sexual activity, including aggressive and degrading acts.” [2] Real women having real sex are not like that – at least not sustainably.

 

  1. Porn glorifies hypersexualized images

These extreme images can overwhelm girls, and prevent them from seeing what’s really happening: that porn performers are victims of self-exploitation and other-exploitation. [See my blog post How to Grow Understanding and Empathy for Women in the Sex Industry for a more realistic view of what’s typically behind the camera.] This desensitization through sexual objectification interferes with empathy and understanding, and normalizes using images of strangers – no matter what they are actually going through when recorded or live – for self-centered sexual entertainment. Reducing others to objects rather than fellow humans becomes easier when the mind is conditioned to do so through porn’s objectifying lens.

 

  1. Porn can cause psychological trauma

You don’t have to be a therapist to recognize that viewing images of sexual violence, misogyny, and humiliation/degradation, so prevalent in today’s porn content, can be overwhelming and traumatic, especially to a girl’s developing brain. For a clear analysis of the traumatic content of today’s pornography, read Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines, PhD.

 

  1. Porn normalizes sex without love

Porn can hijack a girl’s natural romantic, heart-centered sexual self-development, blocking her from developing her own ideas and experiences about what sex means in the context of natural connection and pleasure from the inside out, versus narrowing the focus to artificial sexual stimulation from the outside in. Fantasies that take hold in childhood often persist into womanhood. The crass culture of porn devalues vulnerability, playfulness, cuddling and intimacy as it promises the quick fix, rendering invisible the very qualities that are essential in a lasting intimate relationship.

 

  1. The supernatural stimuli in porn can damage girls’ and women’s sexual functioning – just like it does in men

There has been much talk and some research about porn-induced erectile dysfunction in men, but less is said and studied about the sexual dysfunctions that girls and women can suffer as a result of problematic porn use. According to research on women seeking help for porn-related sexual problems, they suffer from sexual difficulties including:

  • loss of sexual desire
  • loss of genital sensitivity
  • inability to sexually desire one’s partner (in favor of porn)
  • inability to be present during sex due to fantasy
  • masturbation to the point of self-harm, and excessive use of sex toys

The good news is that these difficulties may diminish or go away completely when women stop using porn.

 

  1. Violent porn conditions viewers to link sexual arousal with violence

Women and girls can be sexually conditioned by violent porn to experience physiological pleasure paired with viciousness – which may then influence domination or rape fantasies that overwhelm their natural sexual curiosity and innocent exploration. For more information, check out Adolescent Brain Meets Highspeed Internet Porn.

 

  1. Porn sets up girls and women to imitate what they see – and suffer painful, harmful consequences

Scenarios depicted in porn are often criminal acts and human rights violations, yet this gravity of risk and harm to women and girls is erased and spun by porn producers as “fun,” “naughty,” and “adventurous.” Girls and women who internalize these scenes as arousing fantasies can escalate them to actual behaviors when such fantasies are “acted out” in the real world. This can lead to dehumanization from hookups for sex that can feel like or result in actual rape, public exhibitionism that leads to an indecency arrest, or unsafe sex that results in an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, among other painful consequences.

 

  1. Porn undermines girls’ and women’s sense of non-sexual value, power, and positive influence in the world.

As anyone who has read my memoir can tell you, focusing so much energy on appearance, “beauty” and how to get and keep attention from men – or anyone outside yourself – stunts character development. Today’s mainstream porn encourages young women to be superficial, self-obsessed, and inauthentic. If girls buy into the message that their value comes only or mostly from sex, they will not be motivated to engage the disciplines of self-reflection, braving vulnerability with partners, living their visions, and making a difference through service. Easy attention, easy sex, and easy money are the false promises to girls and women who trade seduction and sex, but the actual results of doing so are painfully clear – girls and women need more meaningful experiences to have lasting sexual self-esteem.

 

  1. Porn pressures girls and women into bad sex

Porn pressures girls and women into its reenactment, called “hookup sex”– sex with no intimacy, connection, nor commitment. Research has shown that the more hookup sex women engage in, the lower their self-esteem and the more likely they are to experience depression. Women also experience far few orgasms from hookup sex than heart-centered sex in a secure relationship. Porn’s emphasis on novelty, risk, and orgasm don’t turn out to be in sync with the authentic sexual rhythms of women’s nervous systems, which respond to feeling safe as the doorway to healthy sexual contact. According to science researcher and professor Dr. Stephen Porges, a pioneer in the study of trauma and connection, closeness can be established through three steps [3]:

1) safety as communicated through eye gazing, facial expression and a soothing or lyrical voice,

2) coming closer and holding each other in a relaxed state and finally

3) bonding through touch and sexual interaction.

As I’m defining it (porn = depictions or portrayals of sex without love), these steps are NOT what viewers see.

So what, you might ask, has feeling safe have to do with really wonderful sexual encounters? The kind of encounters I am referring to are the enhanced sexual experiences created by profound feelings that facilitate true emotional transparency with your partner. As it turns out, we need to feel safe to completely open up sexually, and this is especially true for women.

–Linda E. Savage, PhD, MFT, Certified Sex Educator

Spiritual Sex: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe

 

  1. Porn can be addictive

Porn is a powerful distractor from reality, inviting viewers into instant fantasy sexual arousal and pleasure. Yet women who use porn report the same symptoms of addiction reflected in other kinds of addiction like alcohol or drugs. A 2011 survey [4] of 261 women who self-identified as sex and love addicts, 70 percent said they felt degraded by their behavior and 62 percent said they had made failed attempts to stop.

In a 2014 survey of Christian women on social media, 60% of responders said they had struggled with porn at some point, and 40% self-identified as addicted [5]. First exposure to porn was between 10 – 12 years old, and the most frequent age their porn use became habituated was 18 – 20. The most frequent sexual activities were masturbation (87%) and watching pornography (68%). 71% of these women admitted their masturbation behaviors felt “out of control.”

Here are ten symptoms of porn addiction [6]:

  1. Inability to stop when you want to
  2. Seeking more intense stimulation to get the same pleasure effect
  3. Using it more often than you want to
  4. Having a “porn hangover” afterward using it
  5. Obsessing about using porn – and obsessing over the images from porn
  6. Using porn instead of work (or at work), school, social or other commitments
  7. Continuing to use porn despite it causing problems
  8. Using porn for longer periods of time than planned; losing track of time
  9. Not trying new things, meeting new friends, taking risks – using porn instead
  10. Feeling bad, scared, restless, irritable/angry if you try to stop

Porn addiction can escalate in to other forms of sexually acting out, serving as a “gateway drug” to other harmful compulsions. Yet if caught in time, this can be prevented. Many women who stop using porn after compulsive use report their problematic symptoms go away, and they experience less depression, better self-esteem, effectiveness at work, and energy to use toward making conscious choices to make their life better. They break free of loneliness and find community instead.

 

  1. More porn use is correlated with higher likelihood of relationship breakups [7]

I believe this is due to changing the porn users values toward their partner, as influenced by the content in mainstream porn:

  • entitlement toward multiple partners,
  • limited to no care or attachment,
  • unwillingness to work at nurturing relationship,
  • high sexual stimulation and novelty creating boredom with fidelity to one person;
  • gender linked-aggression,
  • degrading attitudes and behaviors

 

A simple solution…that may not be easy

So, what’s a porn-savvy girl to do about porn? After my own experience and witnessing so many horror stories of what happens to women who use porn, here’s my advice – and to many this makes me a radical. But to me – it’s simple logic + experience + compassion for girls and the women they are becoming:

  1. Porn is toxic. Don’t consume it.
  2. Don’t date boys/men or other girls/women who watch it. To do this you will need to learn dating discernment skills – essential to making smart choices when choosing who to be with – that include how to talk about porn use and beliefs about porn in a potential partner.

“It would be wise to talk about pornography use early in a relationship, before forming a serious attachment to someone, if one is considering taking the emotionally risky step of forming a serious relationship. Ideally, there is agreement about and periodic revisiting of the topic from time to time.”

Grant Hilary Brenner M.D. ExperiMentations

  1. Find other, more accurate ways to learn about and cultivate your own sexual beauty, pleasure and power in the context of positive characteristics – and free from porn’s messages of hatred and debasement of women, and men.
  2. If you do watch sexually explicit media, be conscious about what you are actually seeing, and make ethical, empathic choices of what you look at, so you don’t become part of the chain of sexual exploitation of other girls/women and boys/men.
  3. If you do choose to be with someone who uses porn, be smart about the risks to your relationship and sex life, and intervene to protect yourself and your relationship as needed.
  4. If you try your best but can’t maintain #’s 1 – 5 above, or if you think you might have a problem with porn, consider getting professional help. Ultimately it’s your decision, but if you feel ambivalent or uncertain, I encourage you to get qualified support from someone you trust. If you find yourself powerless over porn, check out my resource page for women and teens. You’ll find links to help you find a specialized therapist and 12-Step support groups, see female-specific resources for inpatient treatment and intensives, and you can scroll to the bottom for books, links, and free literature. Help is available – now – and more resources are being created all the time!

 

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamela_Sue_Martin

[2] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/parents-vs-the-porn-industry-isnt-a-fair-fight_uk_5aa0df69e4b0ef2aaff70489

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-e-savage/sex-and-relationships-_b_3309291.html

[3] Closing the Gap: Results from the Women’s Sexuality Survey on Female Sex and Love Addicts, Corley & Delmonico http://slideplayer.com/slide/7936178/

[4] http://dirtygirlsministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Infographic-20141.pdf

[6] Adapted from Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D., “Sexual Addiction and Compulsion: Recognition, Treatment & Recovery,” CNS Spectrums 5, no. 10 (Oct. 2000): 4. “Am I a Sex Addict” questionnaire at http://www.stacisprout.com/am-i-a-sex-addict/

[7] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/experimentations/201707/pornography-and-broken-relationships

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Published by: Staci Sprout

This is my positive sexuality/sex addiction awareness-raising/anti-sexploitation platform. Contributing to this keeps me feeling sane, like I'm doing something about the horrors of sexual exploitation I am reminded of daily. Thank you for your interest!

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