To better address the struggles women face, licensed addiction counselor Rob Jackson conducted the following interview with a recovering female addict. We hope this will shed some light for others who struggle with the issue.
Rob Jackson: Many of the men I talk to who are addicted to pornography had childhood experiences which “sexualized” them sooner than they might normally have experienced. Did you have any sexualizing events early in your life?
Anonymous: Yes, several different types, in fact. First of all, my family did not practice much modesty or personal boundaries. I regularly was exposed to my Mom completely undressed and my Dad wearing only his underwear. I remember in third grade even drawing a picture of my Mom naked and getting in trouble at school. I was asked to bring toilet paper to my Dad as he used the bathroom quite often, and used the sink and mirror as he showered behind a translucent shower door. There were many other instances like this, which aroused a great deal of curiosity in me about the human body.
RJ: Did your parents give you any teaching about sexuality?
Anonymous: None at all. The subject was “taboo” and made them very nervous. I learned quickly that you didn’t ask questions about sex at our house. This lack of information coupled with my curiosity seemed to fuel in me a compulsive search for sexual information.
RJ: Where did you find information about sex?
Anonymous: At first I would look up the words “sex” or “reproduction” in every dictionary and encyclopedia I could get my hands on. Then, I discovered a stash of explicit romance novels at my grandmother’s house. Whenever I would spend the night over there, I’d stay up all night just overwhelmed at the feeling I got when I read those passages.
RJ: How old were you at the time you were reading the novels?
Anonymous: About nine or ten, I guess. Some of it I didn’t understand, but there was enough I did understand that I could kind of put the rest together in context. I had grown up seeing my parents and one grandmother watch soap operas religiously every day—I remember the days before I started school, our day’s schedule revolved around it—so the dramatic, romantic stories in the books already had a familiar appeal to me. I was an advanced reader, so I just took to them like a fish to water.
RJ: Did this material cause you to seek pornography in other forms or places?
Anonymous: By the time I was eleven or so, I started babysitting. Every single house I went into, I would search to see if there was any explicit material. Whether it was a medical dictionary at a doctor’s house or more romance novels, I would find them.
RJ: Were those the worst things you found?
Anonymous: Unfortunately, no. I mean, these were all families from our church, so you would think they would be pretty safe, but I found everything from sex manuals and toys to soft-core pornography. The pornography was incredibly exciting, since I now had pictures of what I had formerly just imagined. The sex manuals taught me how to masturbate, and that added another level of intensity in the process. Many of the houses had HBO, which also added the visual enactment of sexual situations instead of just reading about them.
RJ: Did you ever try to act out the things you were seeing?
Anonymous: When I was about eleven, I was approached by an older teenager in my youth group who was kind of a misfit and happened to be overweight and adopted like me. I realize now, as an adult, he was also addicted to pornography. He started telling me how beautiful I was and would offer to “teach” me about sex. I wanted more than anything to be adored like those women in the novels, and, even though I fought off his advances because I knew it was “wrong,” I kept wanting to be with him because I wanted to feel loved.
After several weeks, he forced himself on me even though I was crying and telling him to stop. Even then I continued to see him because I thought being loved was worth performing sexual acts for him. Of course some of the sexual behavior created pleasurable responses in me, so I almost felt betrayed by my own body because I didn’t want him to do these things to me, but I liked them.
RJ: How did all this influence your relationships when you started dating?
Anonymous: I was very hungry for love, due to the emotional climate at our house. And, I think being adopted played into my love hunger. I was also already addicted to food, and had a weight problem, which of course is a very big deal when you are entering your teens. So there was this constant conflict inside me of wanting food but wanting to be thin, wanting sexual experiences, but wanting to please God.
RJ: Was there anyone you could talk to about your conflicts?
Anonymous: I’m sure there were people who would have tried to help if I had reached out to them, but one of my main goals in life was to win everyone’s approval. I was a performer. So I ended up leading this double life, where I was the star of the youth group and the school clubs, but was just melting down inside, driven by these uncontrollable compulsions. When I was about fifteen I confided in a youth minister from a church in a nearby town. He responded by not only sharing his own story of sexual trauma and depression, but he came on to me sexually. Even though he didn’t force himself on me, there was a huge feeling of betrayal for being sexualized by this adult.
RJ: Did your stress cause you to have trouble coping with the challenges of being the star student?
Anonymous: Oh, yes. You can only keep so many plates spinning at once without dropping some. I was very depressed in private—isolating in my room and having trouble keeping my grades up. I was suicidal at times, and my parents would actually use the idea of “getting me some help” as a sort of threat. You know, “If you don’t shape up we might have to get you some help or something…” like that would just be mortifying to them.
RJ: How did you finally get the support you needed?
Anonymous: Well, fortunately I married a very grounded, supportive Christian man, and with his encouragement I sought therapy from a number of different professionals, and also found a Christian twelve step recovery group which has been very effective, too. Even though it is an OA (Overeaters Anonymous) group, the principles apply well to any compulsive behavior because they point you inside, to your spirit. I’ve also found that medication for my depression was essential for certain periods of time, to support my mood enough to build the behavioral coping skills I was trying to work on. Basically, though, I learned that when I work with Christ to see that my spiritual and emotional needs get met, that makes it possible to change the behavioral stuff.
1. I have had some of these experiences, but don’t think I am a sex addict. How do I know if I am an addict?
If you are concerned you might be an addict, you can learn more by reading Characteristics of Addictions. The reader should realize, however, that not all of life’s problems rise to the level of addictions. The term “addict” is neither a judgment nor a prison from which you never escape. The truth is that all people experience brokenness in their lives. Whether this develops into an addiction or not, a person should not ignore any problematic areas in his or her life. To learn more about brokenness, read Understanding Intimacy Disorder.
2. Are sex addictions different for women and men?
Sex addictions can take on many behaviors, some of which seem stereotypically unique to men and others to women. As the sexually addicted population grows due to effects of the Internet, the differences between male and female sex addiction are lessening quickly. It is widely accepted that the underlying issues for sex addiction are the same for both males and females. Females tend to report greater shame or embarrassment than males, because of various cultural expressions like “boys will be boys”, but “good girls don’t….” And, thus far, professional help seems to be less available for female addicts than for male addicts.
3. How do I prevent my own son or daughter from becoming sexualized too early?
Perhaps this question can be better phrased as, “How can I prevent my child from becoming inappropriately sexualized?” Children are sexual beings from the moment of conception. That is, they are genetically determined as a male or female from the moment the sperm and egg combine. From that point on, they will live out their life as male or female and will experience life uniquely from this perspective unless their sexual development is injured or arrested. Even young children can learn about sex, either in a negative or positive way. Understanding how a child develops is important to understanding how to nurture your child’s natural interest in “where babies come from” while protecting them from age-inappropriate material, speech, or media that can hyper-sexualize them too early in their development. To learn more about these issues read Understanding Child Sexual Development.
4. I think I might have a problem with some of these issues. How do I get help?
If something in this article or any others you read on this site alerted you to a potential problem in your life, you can get help. Seeking a friend to talk through your issue or meeting with a trained professional counselor for more thorough assistance could be the bravest and wisest thing you could do. Fortunately, you do not need to take these steps alone.
Focus on the Family has a staff of trained counselors who are ready and willing to help you determine if you need counseling help and how to find a trained professional in your area. Please contact the Counseling Department to take the first step toward healing and recovery.