Researchers have long known that the Internet has contributed to pornography addiction by making it so easily accessible — no need to go out in a raincoat, pull a hat down over the face, and sneak furtively into the red-light district.
But that ease of access also has leveled the playing field between the sexes — men are known as the sexual risk-takers, after all — and psychologists and researchers have seen an increasing number of women becoming addicted to pornography on the Internet over the past 10 years.
In 2003, Today’s Christian Woman found in a survey that one out of every six women, including Christians, acknowledged struggling with the same addiction.
A 2006 survey released by Internet Filter Review showed that 17 percent of women said they struggled with pornography addiction and that one in three visitors to pornography sites were women. About 30 percent of Internet pornography consumers are women, according to the 2008 Internet Pornography Statistics.
Psychologists and researchers attribute the increase to the Internet’s anonymity and safety. Now a woman needn’t sneak into the places good girls avoid.
“Women can still become addicted to pornography in the same way that men do,” said Douglas Weiss, a licensed psychologist and executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs. “I do think that the partial reason for this is women becoming more intelligent about usage of the Internet — going online and chatting, developing relationships and acting out sexually.”
Studies have shown that women find it easier to click a few buttons on the Internet to search for sexually alluring material. In the absence of a social context, pornography is more appealing to women because there are no social repercussions for using it.
A 2006 Internet Filter Review poll found that 9.4 million women access adult websites each month, and 13 percent of women admit to accessing pornography at work.
“The more pornography women use, the more likely they are to be victims of non-consensual sex,” said Mary Anne Layden, professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. “The earlier the male starts using pornography, the more likely they are to be the perpetrators of non-consensual sex.”
Men in general have always been considered the more visually stimulated of the two sexes. Before the advancements in technology, young women who wanted a sense of emotional gratification would live vicariously through romance novels. Young men would get some of their sexual gratification from photographs of scantily clad or nude women, or go to strip clubs.
Pornography is nothing new. However, with the introduction of the Internet, it has become much more accessible to people of all ages.
Sex is the No. 1 topic for Internet searches, according to the Sexual Recovery Institute, and more than 1.3 million porn sites are available. The pornography revenue in the U.S., in 2006 alone, was approximately $13 billion. The pornography industry is also larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc., eBay Inc., Yahoo Inc., Apple Inc., Netflix Inc. and EarthLink.
“Pornography is the drug of the millennium and more addictive than crack cocaine,” said Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, a Virginia-based nonprofit that works to make the Internet safer for children and families. “[EIE’s] goal is that there be as much protection online as there is offline.”
Ninety percent of pornography addiction begins at home, Ms. Hughes said, adding that organizations like EIE can give families safeguards to help avoid addictions.
With children becoming more technologically savvy, she said, “It is no longer a question of if they will come across porn, but when.”
Science has shown that the brain reacts and takes in images in a certain way and can be detrimental in the developing mind of a child. When a man or woman becomes sexually aroused, the levels of endorphins and enkephalin in the prefrontal cortex are at their highest.
Whatever a person visualizes at that point — real or imaginary — his or her body glues to, hungers for and craves, and the adrenal glands imprint that image on the mind.
“If a man or woman ejaculates to pornography on a regular basis they will actually attach to sex as object relationships as opposed to intimate relationships,” Mr. Weiss said. “So they will actually hunger for object relationships, creating over time what we call intimacy anorexia.”
Sex, in its ideal sense, is relational, and object sex does not fulfill the relational aspect of that, said Mr. Weiss. A person doesn’t get that full satiation, but gets a different kind of buzz with object sex because it’s a different kind of sex.
With someone having to visualize that object in order to achieve sexual gratification, barriers are created, even at a young age, said Ms. Hughes.
“If they’re an addict, they stop developing spiritually, relationally and morally, at the age of the onset of the addiction,” said Mr. Weiss.
Pornography has become more interactive since leaking into other kinds of media and social networks. A “Campus Kiss and Tell” University and College Sex Survey in 2006 found that 87 percent of those students polled confessed to having virtual sex using mainly Instant Messenger, webcam and telephone.
Christian women aren’t safe from the influence and addictive qualities of pornography, either.
“I’m less and less surprised by it,” said Joshua Harris, author of the book “Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is)” and pastor at Covenant Life Church in Maryland. “Seven years ago, when I was writing that book, I was so surprised at how many women struggle with lust as much as men do.”
Many expectations and desires are set by society at an early age, which makes it easier for people to shrug off pornography as no big deal, Mr. Harris said.
Pornographic material, under the Constitution, can be put into two categories: soft-core and hard-core. Hard-core pornography is prosecutable under the law. Organizations like EIE are fighting to save children, teens, and parents from porn addiction by trying to get it off the Internet, Ms. Hughes said.
“If you don’t think you can fall into any kind of sexual temptation, you’re either godlier than David, wiser than Solomon, or stronger than Samson,” said Ms. Hughes.