Increasing numbers of women admit to being hooked on internet porn. Why is this happening, and where are they finding help?
"I remember the feeling of being sucked in, really wanting that two-minute fix, that numbness I got when I used porn," says Caroline. "I was stressed out, and I risked being late for my interview, but I pressed play anyway and fast-forwarded it to the bit I wanted. It took two minutes." But the relief was to be short-lived. "Afterwards I just hated myself for giving in and getting off on images that treated women like pieces of meat. But I kept going back."
Caroline is not alone. While it's accepted that women are watching – and enjoying – porn more and more, it's less recognised that some are also finding it hard to stop. At Quit Porn Addiction, the UK's main porn counselling service, almost one in three clients are women struggling with their own porn use, says founder and counsellor Jason Dean. Two years ago, there were none.While more than six out of 10 women say they view web porn, one study in 2006 by the Internet Filter Review found that 17% of women describe themselves as "addicted".
There is little difference in the way the genders become hooked, says Jason. There is the same pattern of exposure, addiction, and desensitisation to increasingly hardcore images. The main contrast between male and female porn addicts is how much more guilty women feel. "Porn addiction is seen as a man's problem – and therefore not acceptable for women," says Dean. "There's a real sense among women that it's bad, dirty, wrong and they're often unable to get beyond that."
The first support group in the US run for women by women was founded by Crystal Renaud, who also wrote a new book on women's addiction to porn, called Dirty Girls Come Clean.
A committed Christian, she first came across porn at the age of 11 in a magazine that belonged to her brother, and was addicted for eight years before she got her wake-up call when she arranged an anonymous hook-up with a man she met over the net. Renaud recalls: "I had no friends. No passions. I had one mission and purpose in my life: pornography. Any way I could find it, I would. It didn't matter where I was or what I was doing. Home, school, my friend's houses, summer camp and yes, even church: my addiction came too.
As a trained counsellor, Renaud now calls women's addiction to pornography "widespread and silent". In almost every case, the women she meets believe they are the only ones ever to have struggled with the issue. "Porn and sexual addiction has always been referred to as a man's problem," says Renaud. "But for women it's an unspoken struggle. We have to give them the opportunity to say: 'Me too.'"
(for more see Tanith Carey, Why more and more women are using pornography, Guardian.co.uk, April 7, 2011)
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