"Broken relationships. Zero self-esteem. Spiralling depression. The terrible price being paid by the young women addicted to porn" (UK)

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  • It's accepted that women watch porn but some can find it difficult to stop
  • At least one in three visitors to porn websites are estimated to be female
  • Unrealistic depictions of sex can have a detrimental effect on women’s love lives

    Emma Turner had always been the perfect daughter. A classic ‘good girl’, she won prizes for her academic achievements throughout her school career before being voted deputy head girl in the Sixth Form.

Now as she faced a disciplinary panel at her university, she was struggling to think how on earth she was going to explain this to her proud parents. She was about to be ‘sent down’, i.e. kicked out.

The reason? Moments earlier, Emma had stared in abject horror at a document listing every website she had visited on her laptop in her halls of residence since starting her degree at the start of the year.

It spanned ten sheets of A4, and there, highlighted in an orange pen, were all the pornographic sites she’d visited. Emma, now 24, cringes as she recalls: ‘I’d been caught red-handed by the IT department. Now all I wanted was for the ground to swallow me up.

‘I’d never kept track of the hours I spent looking at porn. Now, here was the evidence right in front of me. In my shock, I could half hear it being explained that it was in the contract of my hall of residence that I didn’t use the university computer network to use or download any pornographic material.

‘Then just as I was expecting to hear the words telling me I was out, the Warden said: “Of course, we know it wasn’t you. Do you know how any of the male students might have got your log-in and password? You realise it’s illegal to share them, don’t you?” ’

Although Emma couldn’t believe her luck at getting off the hook, it confirmed her darkest fears: there must be something terribly wrong with her, because women don’t get addicted to pornography, do they? Men do. Yet here she was, unable to go more than a day without it.

However, despite the fact that porn addiction is seen as a male problem, Emma is far from alone.

While it’s accepted that women watch porn — at least one in three visitors to such sites are estimated to be female — it’s less recognised that some find it difficult to stop.

And the sad reality is that, just like with men, being bombarded with degrading and unrealistic depictions of sex can have a detrimental effect on women’s love lives, leaving them feeling empty, not empowered.

Only now, six years after the near-miss that almost derailed her university career, can Emma, who works in TV production, finally see the effect porn had on her life.

Brought up the youngest of three children in a naval family, her curiosity was piqued when she stumbled across porn while researching an art project when she was 15 — but even more so when she borrowed a copy of Fifty Shades Of Grey.

‘I found myself turned on by the descriptions of sex and started searching online for clips. Until then, I’d thought porn was something horny teenage boys used.

‘No one would ever have suspected me because I was a classic goody two shoes.’

When she went to university to study languages, Emma’s porn use turned into a habit. ‘With no parents to hide from, and with a lock on my door, I could look at it as often as I wanted,’ she admits.

‘So I found myself looking at it when I woke up, at night to help me get to sleep and two or three times during the day.

‘The temptation was always there because of my laptop. It was like trying to wean myself off a free drug right in front of me.’

Indeed, it seems women experience the same pattern of exposure and addiction to hard-core images as men, according to Gary Wilson, author of Your Brain On Porn. ‘The key thing is that both male and female reward systems can be activated by porn.

‘Since sexual arousal releases the highest levels of (feel-good chemicals) dopamine and opioids — the potential for sexual conditioning, or even porn addiction, is possible for both sexes.’ And it’s increasingly being recognised that women may have a higher risk than men of addiction.

This is because, as women who have shared their experiences with Wilson have pointed out, they don’t need as long a recovery period after climaxing as men. As a result, women have reported going on ‘porn binges’.

But while some therapists hear young women say the violence of porn makes them too afraid to have sex, others like Emma found the constant exposure made her feel highly sexed.

‘I had lost my virginity to a boyfriend before university but after I started watching a lot more porn it was all about hook-up sex and one-night stands. Sex became like starring in my own porn film in my mind and I thought I knew exactly what to do.’

However, what at first seemed liberating, started to feel soulless, says Emma. ‘The men loved that I was up for all the things they’d seen too. For me, after a year or so, the novelty wore off.

‘I realised that here I was, an educated young woman, volunteering to behave for free like porn stars who were paid, or forced, to pretend they were enjoying it.’

Indeed, the main difference in the way men and women use porn seems to be how women feel afterwards.

According to social worker and church pastor Karin Cooke, who has spoken to young women like Emma for her book, Dangerous Honesty: Stories Of Women Who Have Escaped The Destructive Power Of Pornography, many feel desperate because they think they are struggling with porn alone.

Karin says: ‘It’s a taboo subject. One way that porn imprisons women is that they feel isolated and feel they have no one to talk to. It can start to dominate their thinking because they live with the constant fear they will be found out.

‘I’ve spoken to professional women, like teachers, who could not sleep at night unless they got their fix. Even when they try to put it out of their minds, unwanted images they have seen keep popping back in their heads.’

Another of the women Karin interviewed for her book was Sophia Thomas, a 30-year-old project manager who lives in the Midlands, who also started watching porn at university.

What began as entertainment became a habit which became hard to break when she ended up watching it up to seven times a day. Sophia says it was a sure way to achieve an orgasm and, crucially, something she could control when ‘everything else was on everyone else’s terms.’ But then it started to impact on her real sex life.

Sophia said: ‘I had to watch different porn for longer and more often. I became agitated and stressed if I couldn’t and it would play on my mind all the time.’

When she discovered her boyfriend was also using porn on his computer, she was not concerned, but relieved. There was a crucial difference in how it affected them, however: ‘While I was enough for him, soon he became too boring in bed for me.’

It was when she took an online test, which asked questions about whether she was using such material to control her mood, that Sophia realised she had a problem and joined a support group for women.

‘It didn’t feel sexy or fun any more,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t nice to see my habit for what it was.’

Karin says Sophia was a fairly typical addict, who got lured in by curiosity, but then trapped by feelings of guilt. ‘Porn provides an escape, an immediate hit of pleasure to drown out any pressures and discomforts of life. It usually starts as an avoidance technique, either for failure, depression, loneliness, stress and boredom.

‘But of course after using porn, those problems haven’t gone, and now on top of dealing with them, women are also dealing with the shame, guilt and discomfort. And so they turn to porn again.’ Yet psychosexual counsellor Krystal Woodbridge, of the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, insists that, when used in moderation and within a loving relationship, porn can benefit some women.

‘For some, it enhances their intimacy with their partners. Some couples are pleased it’s something they can do together,’ says Krystal, who is based in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

However, for those who are not in secure equal partnerships, porn can be destructive and dangerous, teaching vulnerable young women to comply without question with acts they see on screen.

In one academic study, it was found that nearly 90 per cent of 304 random scenes showed ‘physical aggression, principally spanking, gagging, and slapping,’ while half contained ‘verbal aggression, primarily name-calling’ against women.

Which is particularly disturbing when you consider how Swedish research recently discovered that, like young boys, young girls now use pornography as their principal source of sex education. It discovered a third of 16-year-olds regularly browsed porn websites, 43 per cent fantasised about mimicking what they saw, while 39 per cent had gone on to try them.

It’s meant that violent, brutal sex acts have become the norm, at the expense of more tender gestures, like kissing.

Angela Clifton, a sex and relationship psychotherapist at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, said many women are not getting the love lives they deserve: ‘What it’s not about is love, teasing, sensuality, massage, eroticism or emotion. Often young women do stuff to please the guy. It’s less about their enjoyment and more about guys saying: “If you like me, you’ll do these things.” In the long term, I think it will have emotional consequences. Women end up feeling used.’

Sociology professor Gail Dines, of Boston’s Wheelock College, says that the more porn girls watch, the more coercion becomes a feature of their relationships. Professor Dines, author of Pornland, says: ‘If girls watch it from a young age, their whole concept of what constitutes a normal sexual relationship shifts. It grooms girls into accepting male sexual mistreatment as normal.

‘The result is that women don’t become more sexual or liberated. They get more open to porn sex in which they don’t get any pleasure in return. It becomes all about pleasing the man.

For girls and young women, this can create an emotional hangover. There are fewer relationships, and more “hook-up sex” leaving them more prone to anxiety and depression.’

Indeed, according to one NSPCC survey, led by researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire, as many as 40 per cent of 13 to 17-year-old girls in England said they’ve felt pressured into a sexual activity.

The human cost of trying to live up to ‘porn sex’ is obvious when you speak to young women like Philippa Bates, a 20-year-old business student from Bournemouth.

When she started dating her last boyfriend, he began turning porn on in the bedroom during sex, saying it would give them ideas. But soon her boyfriend was watching the screen more than her.

‘It didn’t make me feel sexier. I just compared myself unfavourably to the women on the screen.

‘It got to the point where I felt like I could have been anyone. I started to feel degraded.’

‘I also felt that whatever I did for my boyfriend was never going to be enough because he was logging onto more extreme things.’

Studies have found that girls subjected to sexual coercion turn their feelings of anger back on themselves.

Research by the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic in the U.S., found women repeatedly pressured into sex become ‘two to four times more likely to develop clinically significant symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance use than those who experienced only one incident.’

Since she left university two years ago, Emma has been single and intends to stay so until she finds a meaningful relationship in which sex is more than just a performance.

Although still embarrassed by that phase of her life, the shame has lifted now that Emma knows she is not on her own.

‘I felt such a freak. Now it’s a relief to see other women coming forward to say: “I’ve been to and come back from that place, too.”’

Original article