One woman's journey out of an addiction to fantasy and pornography

Did you know Playboy used to make a smaller TV guide-sized magazine full of erotic stories? I didn’t until I encountered it while babysitting for a friend of my mom’s in 1990. After putting the kids to sleep, I tidied up a bit and had my first encounter with erotic literature. It only took one hit and I was totally hooked. I read the whole thing, skipping the comic-style graphics and jumping to the next story. When I was done, I hid behind the couch and relieved the sexual tension myself. What a powerful combo!

I babysat every time they asked. I even tended the kids for free on occasion, just for access to the stories. As soon as I could get the kids down, I’d tidy up the house until I found a new issue, then I’d cozy up on the couch for a binge and release session. I’d always feel horrible about it the next day, then promise myself to never do it again. The commitment didn’t last any longer than the next time the couple needed a sitter. It was the only place I had access to this kind of thing, but my resolve to not go back always weakened by the time another weekend rolled around. It lasted about a year.

Toward the end of that year, I made new friends in online chat rooms and would hang out in person with this group of kids, my age and older. We’d watch Anime, eat popcorn, and play Truth or Dare. It was almost as good as those magazine binges. Then the Anime got more and more dramatic, more and more sexualized. I didn’t need to babysit anymore; I could get the same hits with friends, then relieve the tension myself that night.

Soon, I couldn’t go to sleep without masturbating. I learned the power of fantasy. With or without new stories and Anime, I could create quite the adventure inside my mind. Eventually, those fantasies became even more powerful, but they couldn’t replace a good sex scene or Hentai (pornographic Anime) for new ideas. This went on for about three years until I realized the dangerous spiral I was in. Now, there was alcohol and marijuana at the parties, and the guys were getting more and more courageous. I was sixteen—and three years into patterns that would affect me well into adulthood. Even after I stopped my sexual self-soothing, the fantasy was just as potent. It took on a new meaning quickly as I tried to “be good.”

The Decision to Stop Porn

It wasn’t easy, but I decided I had to stop the Anime party scene because I felt things were escalating from watching sexually suggestive material toward acting it out. I didn’t want to make choices I’d regret. It was painful to stop attending those parties, and I struggled with anorexia to cope with my desperation and sadness. I was chronically suicidal and absolutely obsessed with being online in chat rooms. It was the closest I could get to a hit without putting myself in dangerous situations.

After I started college, I grew a new group of friends who weren’t into any of those things (not openly, anyway) and finally got some good space from my obsessions. After about a year, the pull toward the porn and chat rooms started to die down and I started dating a really great guy. I would fantasize about our wedding, the design of my ring and gown, even imagine our kids with his beautiful Puerto Rican skin and my blue eyes. No sex though. I didn’t want to taint this relationship with that. It was real. I fought to keep it that way. We became engaged with a custom ring of our design, and I felt my life was finally going to be perfect. I’d never need all the sexual baggage again. Then we broke up. He left for the Navy, and I hardly got out of bed for a month.

At this point, I started to recognize I had a problem. Something about the way I got stuck in thought cycles and did relationships felt really off. I talked to my doctor and got on my first round of antidepressants. Now, I felt capable of doing something besides obsessing. I recommitted to school and “cleaning up” my sexual energy. After a while, I could see the historically destructive patterns and decided to do whatever it took to have a healthier life.

The long journey to mental and relational health

I didn’t truly break through the damaging cycles for a couple decades, long after I got married. I learned my husband had his own sex addiction spanning almost 17 years. The trauma of that sent me into a deep abyss of fantasy, and I spent most of my waking moments in a different make-believe world where I never had to have sex.

It felt safe and okay since I still changed diapers, made dinner, and wasn’t doing anything. As the years moved on, my fantasy world gained more and more power. I knew it wasn’t healthy but figured it was all in my head, so it wasn’t hurting anyone. Then I crossed a line while at dinner with a friend. I had been flirting a bit too much with our waiter, and the waiter decided to follow my lead, sitting down with his arm around me.

My friend about lost it. I knew she was right. That night started a period of deep introspection that led me to my first 12-step meeting for women with pornography addiction. At this time, I hadn’t even really faced the erotic materials of my youth. I was 32,; it had been almost 20 years since my first experience with destructive sexual energy. Nevertheless, recovery began.

It’s a long, roller coaster ride to relational and mental health from such deeply rooted harmful patterns. So much needs to change. But in my 12-step group, I met other women with similar issues, and eventually went to work on my pornography consumption and compulsive relationship patterns. I bought every book on the topic I could find, read them cover to cover, did everything the authors told me to, and began to really see hope for myself and my marriage for the first time. Recovery took me a few years, because I had started in so much denial.

Yet, as I recovered, my focus and love for life increased to the point that I went back to school to get a degree in Psychology. It was while researching a paper on female pornography usage that I first began to wrap my mind around how long I had been participating in compulsive and unhealthy sex-based behaviors. My mind was blown. I was the woman I was researching! No wonder I felt so drawn to and passionate about learning to help her. There was so much to learn about female sexuality, and I wanted to lead the charge.

Now I began reading every treatment manual and research paper I could get ahold of. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much on women and porn. I decided to do my own research study, got approval through my university, and stared gathering data. The results were stunning. So much pain and so few resources. I jumped in with both feet. The movement to end exploitation and childhood pornography exposure welcomed me with open arms. I had found my calling and had been lucky enough to find a platform for it.

Why I’ve Made This My Mission

Ryhll Crowshaw, co-founder of SA Lifeline, an organization dedicated to sexual addiction recovery, once said, “When women recover, societies recover.” I think she’s right. It was scary to stand up to big names telling me porn addiction was only a guy’s problem. Five years ago, most everyone believed that. Now we are seeing the reality of female pornography addiction and compulsive usage. My goal is to help women combat the stereotypes and shame while finding their own unique forms of recovery.

I also want to help tease apart the types of porn usage. Just watching porn does not make someone addicted, although for many it ends up that way. Recovery programs written by men for men aren’t as powerful or helpful as the trauma-recovery based programs now popping up for women. We are entering a new era, where I hope we can move beyond just male/female issues and start talking about how the two intersect for healthy sexuality and relationships. I also hope we can start to see the value of these new, distinct women’s recovery programs, created by and with the women who needed them years ago.

What I’ve Created

Earlier this year I published my first book, Overcoming Love Addiction. It became an Amazon International best-seller overnight. After it was picked up by a New York publisher, my book was given a less clinical, more approachable title, Addicted to Love.

Because of the incredible response, I saw a clear need for more resources, so I used the book chapters and my additional knowledge to create an eight-week women’s online boot camp and community. It has had an international reach and is now in Australia and South Africa. I’m hoping to have a presence in Brazil or Mexico by the end of 2019. Training has begun for therapists and women in solid recovery to expand the reach of REAL Love Recovery.

Porn may be viewed as a male problem, but my story and this response is proof that it affects women detrimentally as well—and that it can be overcome.

Addicted to Love is now available for paperback pre-order on my website, www.herrecoveryroadmap.com. The REAL Love Tribe, as we call ourselves, can be found on Facebook. To get on the email list, go to www.HerRecoveryRoadmap.com and scroll to the bottom. To email me directly, use Lacy@HerRecoveryRoadmap.com.