Women's Secret Shame
© 2007 Teresa Cook
Published in Light And Life March 2007
With no Internet filter and little supervision, it was not long before fourteen-year-old Kelly* began viewing obscene material. Overnight, her attitude, appearance, and behavior changed. When she was barely eighteen, Kelly's mother read an email in which her daughter detailed how she had become addicted to pornography. Shocked, Kelly's parents realized the mistake they'd made by allowing her unrestricted web use. By then, it was too late. Kelly now lives in an abusive relationship with a married man and still struggles with a pornography addiction.
Stephen Arterburn's popular Every Man's Battle series has made most people aware of the intense warfare that men and boys wage against pornography in our world today. However, few people realize that many women, and now young girls, face the same struggles with sexual addiction as their male counterparts. In fact, as reported by MSNBC, roughly one third of sex addicts are women. With an estimated 16 million Americans struggling with compulsive sexual behavior, this means an astonishing 5 million or more women face a foe of incredible power!i
For many of us it is difficult to imagine how "sex" or "pornography" can be an addiction in either men or women. Since nothing is ingested, how could the body possibly become addicted as it would to alcohol or drugs?
n a sense, drugs are involved. According to Dr. Patrick Carnes, a pioneer in the treatment of sexual addictions, natural endorphins, which mimic opiates but are many times more powerful, are released into the bloodstream during sexual arousal.ii The thrill of seduction, the stimulation of pornography, or the danger of sex with multiple partners can trigger the secretion of these endorphins. The addict literally gets "high" on his or her own brain chemicals.
Additionally, just as with any other addiction, there is the potential for the development of tolerance for these natural "drugs" and a resultant progression into deeper and deeper forms of enslavement in the search for a similar mood-altering experience. Just as with men, women can follow the addictive cycle of preoccupation, ritualization, acting out, and shame and find themselves repeating the same behaviors over and over with seemingly no way out.iii
Historically, female sex addicts fell into the categories of romance or relationship addicts. While many times this is still the case, a growing number of women are becoming addicted to pornography and other forms of sexual behavior previously thought of as being unique to men. According to Dr. Mark Laaser, who heads the Christian Alliance for Sexual Recovery, the female brain is literally being rewired to be more visual and aggressive, especially in those under 35.iv
This should not be surprising given the cultural obsession with sex that we see today. From magazine covers in the grocery store check-out line to Britney Spears music videos, from R-rated movies to the television shows playing in our own homes, men, women and children are being desensitized to the point that they can not determine what is appropriate and God-honoring sexual behavior.
In our media-driven society, young people are being saturated with the world's view of sex. Is it any wonder they seek more and more visually stimulating versions of what they have grown up with?
So what does all this mean for Christian women? Sadly, many Christian sisters are also struggling with sexual addictions, perhaps as many as non-Christian. According to a survey cited by the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, 34 percent of "churchgoing" women had intentionally visited pornographic web sites.i Consequently, Christian organizations which conduct programs for the sexually addicted have seen a dramatic rise in the number of women seeking freedom from pornography addictions.
Ironically, many times it is more difficult for women, especially Christian women, to admit they have a sexual addiction and request the help they so desperately need. Whereas, when men look at pornography, they may be regarded with an attitude of "boys will be boys," women are considered sordid and immoral if they do the same. Women are our wives and mothers, the keepers at home, the mainstay of sexual purity. For a woman to admit she is addicted to pornography is unthinkable, causing a level of shame that may keep her from getting help.
But help is available. Several Christian ministries have developed programs for women who struggle with pornography addiction. Some are based on 12-step plans, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, but combined with sound Christian principals and dependent upon the hope found through Jesus Christ. Women can also find an increasing number of experienced Christian counselors to help them overcome a sexual addiction and support groups to aid in accountability, although most are still geared toward men.
Finally, what can we who are not struggling with an addiction do to help our Christian sisters trapped in this maze of sexual sin? Above all, we must follow the example Jesus set in forgiving the woman caught in adultery. He never asked how on earth she got into such a situation. He did not lecture her on the inadvisability of her actions. He simply forgave her.
Over and over again, women addicted to pornography speak of the shame they feel and the destruction it does to their souls. More shame is not what they need. Although they should be held accountable for their sins, what they need first and foremost is understanding, support and unconditional love. Sometimes a close friend is the first person to whom a woman will pour out her heart and can make the difference in whether she seeks help or goes deeper into hiding her shame.
Jesus said, "everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34), but the Bible also assures us that God is faithful and will always provide a way out. We never know when we may be called upon to be an instrument God can use to lead another to the path of freedom.