The Truth About Female Porn Addiction From a Recovered Addict

When I tell people that I’m a recovered female porn addict, the typical response is surprise. I can’t blame them. Not only is talking about porn considered culturally taboo, but most of the narratives around the topic have focused on men. I’m usually the first woman people have met to reveal this, even though U.K. sex therapist Paula Hall noted in a 2012 study of sex addiction that she found 25 percent of addicts were women and 74 percent of those women were heavy porn users. Though I don’t usually confess this detail about my past when first meeting someone, as a writer and researcher who has spent years advocating for an accurate representation of female porn addiction in the public space, it tends to come up.  

My Journey Into and Out of Porn Addiction

My porn addiction started at the age of 12, when I’d sneak downstairs after my parents went to bed to watch softcore porn on Cinemax. Though my curiosity (and fondness) for those late-night movies doesn’t necessarily mean I had an addiction, that same year something shifted my curiosity into obsession. Age 12 was the year I was diagnosed with scoliosis, resulting in my having to wear a clunky metal back brace under my clothes. Insecure about my body and terrified of social rejection, I spent most of my time avoiding people so I wouldn’t draw attention. It didn’t work. I started getting bullied at school, which filled me with anxiety and self-hatred. Unsure of how to escape these turbulent emotions, I turned to the screen even more, using it as an escape route.  

Maybe I would have eventually lost interest in using porn this way, but this all happened around the advent of the internet. Opportunities proliferated to have cybersex with strangers, download graphic pictures and eventually browse clips on streaming websites. I soon found that I came to depend on porn, secretly watching it for sometimes hours at a time and always feeling ashamed. This dependency lasted for nearly two decades until my 30th birthday, when I decided to make a change. It was clear to me that pornography addiction was wreaking havoc on my life, including desensitizing me from sex in real life and keeping me from dealing with life’s challenges in a productive way. It would take therapy, 12-step programs, meditation, a healthy relationship and a variety of other tools to not just pull me out of the depths of my addiction, but to also allow me the space to forge a healthier, shame-free sexual life.

While porn addiction resulted in several destructive elements in my life, shame was probably the most painful. Because I never heard about other women going through this, I felt like I was the only one. As isolating as addiction is, especially to something as taboo as porn, it is even worse to be isolated because of your gender. It’s my hope to change that. Here is what I have learned about female porn addiction.

Women Experience More Stigma

I often wonder now, as a woman who has been through the throes of porn addiction and now leads a sex-positive life, how differently my path would look had I simply understood that there were other women out there going through the same problems. The sexual double standard (i.e., separate rules and standards of sexual behavior for men and women) suggests that women are judged more harshly than men if they engage in promiscuous sex or watch porn to excess. Research has found that women (particularly young women) may be “malingering and/or minimizing the effect of symptoms and consequences of their sexual behavior to avoid being judged by others.”

Research is Lacking on Female Porn Addiction

It seems that female porn addiction has only recently become a topic of mainstream concern, yet empirical research on both addiction and treatment remains limited. Because of the gender double standard, research on female sex and porn addition reflects a gigantic blind spot. While mental health clinicians began using the Sexual Addiction Screening Tool (SAST) in 1988, researchers didn’t develop a version to satisfactorily assess sex addiction in women until 2010.

Women Tend to Watch More Hardcore Scenes

One of the results of being addicted to porn is that addicts may become desensitized to one type of porn or “milder” scenes and start seeking out more hardcore scenes of misogyny, rape fantasy and rough sex. Stats from PornHub found that women are actually 113 percent more likely than men to watch hardcore scenes. While this doesn’t automatically mean that watching hardcore porn reflects addiction, it may be a clue if you think you may have a problem. At the height of my addiction, I obsessively searched for the “right” clip that would give me both sexual excitement and shame because both had become arousing to me. These scenes were often of women being humiliated, abused and verbally demeaned. This ended up affecting the sex I had in my real life, in which I would seek out partners who could reenact those types of scenes.

Female Porn Addicts Are Not so Different From Male Porn Addicts

Researchers led by Christian Laier at University of Duisberg-Essen, Germany have found that male and female porn addicts are actually quite similar. Both men and women who displayed “problematic” or risky sexual behavior most often also had a tendency to abuse porn. Porn addiction for both men and women had little to do with real-life sexual encounters—porn addiction did not necessarily mean addicts were sexually dissatisfied with their partners.

Perhaps we’ll have more insight into these similarities as more women come forward and more research becomes available. It seems that, while men and women are not so different in how they develop and feel about porn addiction, the biggest difference of all is that women just aren’t talking about it enough.

Erica Garza is the author of the memoir Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, The Telegraph and VICE. She lives in Los Angeles.

Banner Image: Charles Deluvio / Unsplash

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