Author: Renee James

Several years ago, Amy Brown’s* phone call to CBWOQ’s offices resulted in this article, the first in an award-winning three-part series that ran in live magazine (formerly The Link & Visitor). Amy had called about the magazine’s series on women whose partners were hooked on pornography. “You write about women in our churches whose husbands and boyfriends are addicted to porn,” said Brown. “When will you write about women like me? Women in our churches who are addicted to porn?”

“It began as a conversation that went from ‘What kinds of things do you fantasize about?’ to ‘Do you want to watch these things on the Internet?’ When he said yes, we started watching Internet porn together,” Amy Brown* remembers. Brown, now studying to become an ordained pastor, had just invited her husband, a pastor with Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec into a world of beautiful bodies and pictures that for almost 10 years, had made her feel like she could be wanted and loved.

The numbers

“It’s a myth that if you’re a Christian woman, you won’t have an issue with porn,” says Dr. Marta Durski, a certified marriage and family therapist based in Oakville, Ontario, who specializes in sex, Internet and relationship addictions. “Being a [woman] of faith doesn’t inoculate you from the problem.” Over the last 13 years she’s noted a shift in her practice as more women disclose their addiction to porn. The statistics bear her out. In 2003, Today’s Christian Woman reported that one of out every six women, including Christian, used porn. A 2007 poll put that number at one in five. With women making up 60 per cent or more of church membership lists, these numbers assume some urgency. In November 2009, reports that one in three U.S. visitors to adult websites each month were women, prompted Oprah to explore why millions of women used porn and erotica. “It’s pretty much mainstream,” she announced in her show’s teaser.
You may wonder why these numbers aren’t higher given the over-sexualized culture in which we live; a culture which romanticizes self-soothing and encourages girls and women to think of sexual pleasuring – some form of masturbation – as part of their self-care package, according to Elaine Pountney. Based in Victoria B.C., Pountney counsels and coaches in the areas of gender relations and spiritual life. “To what are you self-pleasuring or masturbating? Porn? What’s going on in your mind? What are you looking at?” she asks.

Brown had dropped out of school by the time she discovered her brother’s video. Fourteen, lonely and rebellious, she decided to watch. “What I saw as ‘affection’ . . . made me feel like there may be something out there for me,” she says. Her family had just hooked up Internet and her addiction took root. “There was a whole world of porn out there. I could seek out whatever I wanted to see . . . it was captivating.” Brown’s addiction continued into her ’20s and into her marriage and while her choice of content rarely changed, she watched porn more and more: up to three times a day.

Today’s porn industry counts on women like Brown. While men continue to fuel the billion-dollar demand for porn, producers now make porn with more storylines, romance and foreplay, targetting female consumers who tend to gravitate to porn and encounters online that are emotional. And more women are producing porn for women. But those storylines come with a hefty price tag.

The costs

Brown questioned her sexual orientation: “I knew I was attracted to guys but couldn’t figure out why I was so interested in looking at pictures of women.” Her self-esteem suffered after pregnancies left stretch marks and sagging skin. She no longer measured up to the beautiful women whose images had pulled her in. “How do I measure my beauty against the bodies in my head?” she asks. The biggest cost of all is the thousands of images she’s seen: “They are now burned in my mind and I fear they will be for the rest of my life. The addiction in some way continues in my head.”

Recovery’s road

Brown and her husband stopped watching Internet pornography the night they couldn’t enjoy each other without the fantasies and pictures. They banished Internet for a year. Secrets and the shame/blame game were no longer acceptable. “If and when we relapsed, it was important to communicate and talk through it,” Brown says. “It’s been an amazing journey. It’s a total miracle.”

Brown guards her routines too: exercise, regular journalling (“ . . . to write about the feelings before they get too big”) and studying to become a pastor make it easier for her to push back when the images threaten to overwhelm.

Even with these supports in place, Brown admits to feeling isolated. She couldn’t find many resources for women with pornography or sex addictions. The Church wasn’t a resource . . . in large part because she was apprehensive about opening up. Many of the women and girlfriends she’d spoken to about pornography in general were dealing with their husbands’ addictions. “ . . . I could identify more with their husbands,” she remembers.

Lessons learned

Brown has had to rely on God and the Spirit for how she lives her life. The lessons she’s learned bear witness to her journey:
“- If you’re a woman struggling with a pornography addiction, you are NOT alone. There are other women out there struggling, and you need to reach out. Hiding only makes things worse. Bringing darkness into light breaks up the darkness. Seek help and be honest.
– Addiction in all forms is brokenness within the addict; it’s not an attack on loved ones. An addict needs love, not condemnation. Whether the addiction is food, drugs, shopping or pornography, an addict needs someone to walk beside them.
– Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even an addiction to pornography. God loves us, no matter what.”

Author: Renee James
*Not her real name.