While porn use has traditionally been seen as a men’s issue, it’s vital to raise awareness of the struggles women face too and remove the shame and stigma that prevents so many women from seeking the help and support they need. 

The Issue

Decades of media depicting guys hiding porn under mattresses, ‘boys will be boys’ rhetoric and limited resources addressing female porn use have all created a misconception that only men watch porn. The stories of our community paint a different picture. 

Bethany stumbled across porn by mistake at a young age. Naturally curious, her accidental exposure grew into a habit that was all-consuming by the time she reached university, impacting her studies, her relationships, her mental health, and her faith. Driven to secrecy by shame, she carried the weight of her addiction alone for years.

“Being a woman made this stuff more difficult to talk about.  Shame is the thing that makes everyone keep this a secret, but even the times that I tried to find help, the resources were all for men.”

So, how many women watch porn?

It’s a commonly-held belief that men are more ‘visual’ than women, and more prone to seeking out sexual content. Statistically, men are still the primary creators and consumers of online porn. But our understanding of male and female sexuality is changing, with a 2019 meta-analysis* confirming that while women may express their sexuality differently from men, there is no difference in how our brains respond to sexual images. One of the researchers on the study stated that “at the level of neural activity, the brains of men and women respond the same way to porn.”**  Statistics from Pornhub themselves reveal that over 1 in 3 visitors to the world’s largest pornsite are female.***

“At the level of neural activity, the brains of men and women respond the same way to porn.”

Given this new data, there are varying views on why we have differing numbers of men and women consuming porn – whether it is down to innate biology, or the different expectations society has of men and women, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality. The stigma that exists around women watching porn (or indeed, enjoying sex at all!) is historic and not easily shifted.

But whatever the statistics and research say, the reality is that women watch porn too, and many, like Bethany, live in fear and shame, needing help but believing that they are totally alone.  Bethany says her porn use left her feeling “disgusting, abnormal and unfeminine”, and the shame she experienced, fuelled by only ever hearing porn addressed by and for men, began to define her identity. 

“I genuinely believed I was the only woman in the world who struggled with this.

Urgent change is needed in the way we approach this issue in our communities.  Bethany’s turning point came when she courageously seized an opportunity to confide in a female leader at her church, unable to journey alone any longer. Through that brave disclosure, she discovered she wasn’t the only woman in the world watching porn, as she had believed for so many years.

Bethany now works to help others find the freedom she is living in, but it took a decade of heartache and desperation before she found help. What would it mean for the lives of women who are looking for help if conversations around porn were reframed? For too long, discussion around female porn use has been lacking, leaving women believing they are abnormal and alone in their struggle.

But what’s needed to move forward is as simple as conversation and community. We have the power to change the story by creating a culture of openness in our friendships and communities, allowing individuals to step out of hiding, and, with the help of those around them, move away from shame, fear and doubt, into the freedom they are longing for

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