As More Women Admit to Using Porn, I Realize the Impact It Had on Me

One woman’s lifelong struggle to overcome her teenage addiction
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One woman’s lifelong struggle to overcome her teenage addiction
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I was 14 years old the first time I looked at porn. I was an outcast teen with unsupervised Internet access and the desire to get out of the dumps. Porn was something I’d file in the same mental category as my desire to drink and do recreational drugs. My family moved a lot, and continually struggling to make friends in a new town, I began to seek my own little escapes.

I searched online for images of scandalous things and felt a rush of sensation come over me. For someone who felt numb to practically everything, this was divine. I scrolled through more thumbnails. I watched some videos. I was hooked.

Turns out, I wasn’t alone. While mostly reported on as a male phenomenon—and it is, statistically speaking, much more of an issue for men—porn use among women is something that has become more prevalent (or at least more openly discussed) in the years since my own stint. A recent Pew survey found that the percentage of women who admitted to watching online porn quadrupled in just three years, between 2010 and 2013.

Some women say that masturbation is pro-feminist because it helps women understand their bodies and is the closest thing to making women climax as easily as men. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a value we should prize above all else. Something happens when you climax: It’s a huge dopamine rush to your brain, and I believe that all those instances watching or reading porn wired my brain into viewing sexual arousal in a certain way that’s hard (but I hope not impossible) to undo. Let me tell you my story.

Casual Web Surfing Became Something Much More

After my initiation to porn, I found the Internet to be a bottomless well of exciting content. I’d log on to the computer more and more to see what I could find. As time passed, reading erotic literature was more effective at arousing me.

Not long after, I found a tutorial on how to climax myself. My nether regions, previously a mystery to me, became a flashing pleasure-button marquee. With an abundance of alone time, I soon became a pro at inserting a quick porn fix and getting off throughout my day with stealth and speed. No one had to know.

It became a compulsive habit. I didn’t even think twice about it. I’d feel lonely and reach for my fix. Each time, I’d feel a rush. When it dissipated, though, I felt lonelier than before.

It reminds me of a line in Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl, where she blandly references her memories of masturbating in her childhood bathroom, remembering, more than anything else, the empty and lonely feeling that followed. I remember the distinctly dull malaise that would come over me. I’d be disappointed it was over, for one. I was alone again and back to reality; the fantasy was over. I’d also feel an aftertaste of guilt. I remember seeing a funny poster in some college dorm room that read, “Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten.” It made me chuckle, but it also hit a true feeling: Somehow it just felt wrong. No matter what you think about the morality, it’s definitely true that I would have been mortified if anyone found me out.

When I look back, I realize that porn lead me to some weird, even dangerous, scenarios. It felt cool at the time, but at 14, I’d click from porn to chat rooms, where I’d connect with men much older than me. They seemed nice and weren’t too aggressive in conversation. Things seem much more aggressive today in the age of the “dick pic.” But back then it seemed normal that I was chatting with a twentysomething marine who had a handsome face. Now, that idea totally sketches me out, and I’d never want a 14-year-old I care about to do that.

Then I began to find disturbing things arousing. Was it the shock value? Was it because unconventional things can be titillating? I don’t know, but I can tell you this: Unhealthy things became really attractive to me. Just thinking about them would intoxicate me. I won’t give airtime to the exact fantasies that porn sowed into my brain (and, even though they’re common in porn, I think they’d be disturbing to some of you), but suffice it to say, they weren’t good. Coercive sex? Forbidden relations? Nothing was off-limits when it came to the erotic literature I read, and when things got old, I would search for something new. In doing so, I’d invite into my psyche more and more bizarre sexual scripts.

My Habit Is Gone, But the Effects Remain

Pornography ultimately had both immediate and lasting effects on me. For one, porn manipulated my earliest sexual experiences. Just the simple fact that my first sexual experiences were selfish and alone is sad to me. But the one-sided nature of porn, for me, fed into a selfishness that pervaded other areas of my life. I would wallow in my misfortunes with a personal pity party. I would lie to get things my way. I would pocket things that I justified were rightfully mine. I would mooch recreational drugs from other people I thought were my friends, until I realized they were selfish too and just used me for my car.

Perhaps what I find most upsetting, though, is the damage that porn has done to my actual sex life. Technically speaking, being a former porn user and, therefore, a seasoned masturbator, has inhibited me when it comes to real sex. Even now in my marriage, I struggle to get aroused and climax without mimicking my old go-to stimulation. My husband knows about this and was at first concerned that he wasn’t arousing enough to me. Now he just accepts it as the way I am, and we have found our own rhythm as a couple. I appreciate his understanding, but I still feel cheated. I personally believe that my exposure to unnaturally hypersexual content at a formative age has changed my ability to enjoy sex in its natural simplicity.

‘Porn Didn’t Ruin Me’

While this all sounds grim, I must admit that today I feel very far from the negativity that porn caused me during those clueless years as a teen Internet surfer. I was lucky—a couple years passed, and things got better in my life. I was accepted by a great group of loyal friends, and I felt fulfillment for the first time in a long time. My porn habit completely dried up. And it rarely occurred to me to pleasure myself.

Today, I have a beautiful life filled with fulfilling activities and relationships. And I feel like just acknowledging this journey helps me understand more about myself and the challenges I’ve faced, and I’m even closer to resolving the issues I tried to cover up back then. Overall, porn didn’t ruin me. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t lure me in at a vulnerable time of my life and hasn’t had residual effects.

Thankfully, there’s a lot more life-giving and joy-fulfilling stuff in this world that has grabbed my attention since then. I’ve learned how to seek out those more healthy avenues. And I’ve distanced myself enough from the addictive content out there to see clearly and live more freely and grow from this experience. Part of that means, now that I’m in this better place, I am more able to articulate its effects on me. Knowledge is power, right? Yes, even if it’s in regard to what I’m convinced was a less-than-empowering habit.