Survey Shows That Women Feel Isolated in Their Struggle With Porn

One of the problems of working in the field of porn addiction and recovery is that many of us tend to assume certain things about porn users. We tend to stereotype them as men married to a gorgeous woman. They’re just starting their own families and they want to be better. You can see that stereotype play out even in images here on our own website.

That’s one reason I wrote the ebook More Than Single a few years ago: we heard a recurring clamor from people saying that our assumption of marriage was hurting them. A number of people say “Don’t watch porn; just have sex with your wife instead.” This advice isn’t particularly helpful even for married male porn users, but it’s especially alienating to single porn users. And female porn users are just left completely out in the cold.

I should know. I’m one of them. It just took me a while to realize it.

A Story of Struggle

My own struggles don’t look like any of the stereotypes. I’m a woman, I’m single, and my temptations are extremely sporadic (a week or two at a time, with months or years between struggles).

Moreover, when I struggle, it’s through video games. I have never voluntarily watched live pornography. The closest I’ve come is through fan art, and even that is just an escalation of a struggle in a game. Rather, for me it’s about character customization options. The Sims, the game series where I struggled for the longest stretches, became about digital voyeurism. I eventually had to physically break the disks. In other games, if the clothing options are customizable, I struggle with picking the most revealing outfits.

Especially in periods of deep stress, something about a character who is simultaneously far more powerful and attractive than I will ever be scratches at an old wound within me. Even now, I have to make the conscious choice to say no to that sort of customization.

I’m not alone as a woman who is tempted by this, but you won’t generally find us represented on porn recovery websites. For that matter, it’s hard enough to find women with more traditional porn struggles represented in recovery sites. Part of Jessica Harris‘s story, for example, is that she searched for websites about women with porn addictions and she couldn’t find any. It’s incredibly isolating. The shame of porn is bad enough in general, but it can also lead to women second-guessing their identity. If I struggle with porn, and porn is a man’s issue, am I even a woman?

New Data for a New Picture

This lack of representation is part of the reason Crystal Renaud Day approached us to create new resources for women, including a conference and an ebook that she and I are cowriting, both to be released in October. To prep for the book, Crystal and I decided to run a survey to get a better picture of what female porn users look like.

It’s worth noting that this survey is subject to self-selection bias. We sent the survey to a small selection of Covenant Eyes users, Crystal’s counseling clients, and a small handful of other partner organizations. In other words, these responses are by women who are already pursuing recovery in some format. Still, there are some interesting details that help us understand female users better.

For one thing, 67% have never been married. This isn’t exactly surprising; the average age of first marriage and the overall rate of singleness has been on the rise for years (see this chart of the average age of first marriages for one example). What it does mean is that we cannot assume marriage, or even a stable long-term relationship, for women who are struggling with pornography.

Second, while the vast majority of women who say they struggle with pornography struggle with porn websites (78%), we also struggle with a number of other forms. Next up, unsurprisingly, is erotica (62.3%), followed by live-action sex scenes in traditional TV and movies (58%), and social media sites like Instagram and TikTok (36%). And yes, 7% of women reported struggling with video games. In other words, many of us struggle with multiple forms, and they don’t even have to be image-based for us to use them for sexual purposes.

Perhaps the most telling data, though, is in how isolated women feel. A full 38% of women did not report knowing any other women who struggled. Furthermore, 20% only knew of one other woman. And while 88% reported attending church regularly, only 7% said their church had openly addressed female pornography use.

What’s Next?

Now that we have a better picture of what female porn users look like, what’s next? How do we take better care of women who are dealing with this addictive behavior themselves?

First, if you’re talking about pornography in general, use inclusive language. Something as simple as saying “men and women who struggle” can be life-giving to the woman who is feeling alone and alienated. That doesn’t mean you have to open everything up and make it gender neutral. Male and female-specific recovery groups definitely have their place, and in most cases will be better choices for those recovering from sex-based addictive behaviors like pornography use. But you need to start by acknowledging that women struggle with porn too.

I also invite you to fill out this form to be notified when the new ebook and the online conference are available. We’ve been diving head-first into the research, and we’ve lined up a number of experts to discuss women and porn use and how to find healing. Both are intended for the woman who struggles, but even if you just want to be prepared to support the women in your life who struggle, you’ll benefit from these new resources.

And finally, if you are a woman struggling with porn use, remember this: you are not alone.