Focus on the Family

Girls Snared by Porn and Cybersex

If your daughter has been repeatedly looking at porn, this article may help. Girls who struggle with pornography will find hope and healing as they learn how to get out of a porn addiction and discover what healthy sexuality is.

by Rachel Zoller

Anne stumbled across it when she was taking care of her neighbors' house. The magazine in the trash can fell open to pictures that she still can't forget. From that day on, Anne became more and more curious about sexual photographs, even searching for pornography on the Internet. At first she told herself that she was just curious as to what the big deal was about porn, but her fascination became more intense as her addiction took hold. Anne rationalized that she could stop any time she wanted, but found she never could. Each time she tried to walk away from porn, she was unable to break free. She heard about the addictiveness of pornography at church, but her pastor always said that it was a problem only guys struggled with. Anne felt too embarrassed and ashamed to spill her secret and ask for help.

Kimberlyn was looking for an Internet chat room to spend her Saturday night when she entered a site she'd never visited. She gradually joined the conversation and even had some private messages from a couple of cute-sounding guys. They gave her the attention she craved, and before she knew it, Kimberlyn was involved in a sexual exchange with the guys. She'd heard a lot of the terms in school that these guys were using and tried to imitate some of the conversation she'd overheard from some girls who were bragging to each other about what they were doing with their boyfriends. That cybersex encounter was the start of an addiction that lasted for most of her high school and college years. As much as she tried, Kimberlyn couldn't stop herself from looking for another encounter, and she searched for a more exciting way to respond to this addictive urge, and even entertained thoughts of becoming sexually involved with random men.

Reneé couldn't remember a time she wasn't thinking about something sexual. She'd been sexually abused before she was in preschool, and she never told anyone about it. She grew up curious about anything sexual and constantly felt guilty for her fascination. Reneé felt dirty because of what happened when she was little and saw herself as "damaged goods." This perception led her to seek out porn online when she was home alone. Her visits to sexually graphic sites became more frequent, each incident lasting longer and longer. Even when she couldn't get online to see pictures or read sexual stories, Reneé spent time in her bedroom reliving those sites and masturbating to the images and fantasies in her head. As time passed, her craving for sexually explicit material consumed her and even caused her grades and relationships with family and friends to suffer because she devoted so much energy thinking about how to set up her next opportunity to get online or spend time in her room. When she realized that she was daily looking for time to masturbate, Reneé knew her addiction was out of control.

Seem farfetched?

These stories are not at all uncommon. Pornography and cybersex addictions are becoming more widespread among females. ChristianityToday.com polled their women readers and found that 34 percent admitted to intentionally accessing Internet pornography.1 The New York Times ran an article in 2004, noting even then the increase in viewership of porn among women;2 and, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, "nearly one in three visitors to adult Websites is a woman."3 Although performing an online search tends to bring more links to porn than help for porn addicts, Christian Web sites such as SettingCaptivesFree.com are beginning to pop up in response to this struggle.

Not Just for Guys Anymore

For years, pornography has been considered a "guy problem," but girls who have fallen into porn and cybersex addictions know that this isn't true at all! Although many people, including some inside the church, still think that girls don't struggle with porn, it's becoming more and more evident that this issue is spreading among females.

So why are we seeing more young ladies, even Christians, becoming addicted to porn? Some think that the culture is rewiring women's brains to be more visually stimulated. Although we can't be sure that this is the entire reason for the increase in female addiction to pornography and cybersex, it does cause us to reconsider the influence of the sexually explicit culture we live in today.

Struggling with addictions to cybersex or pornography can leave teen girls feeling lonely, isolated and distressed. Many say that they feel as though they are the only ones facing these difficult issues. Please know that you are not alone! The fact that this article exists is proof that there are quite a few other teens struggling with this addiction.

Whether porn or cybersex addiction is part of your life or the life of someone you care about, it's important to know that this behavior is a problem. Cybersex is not something to do for flirting and fun, and pornography — even sexually explicit anime — is not a healthy expression of sexuality. The Bible is clear in stating that sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful (1 Corinthians 6:13,18; Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; Galatians 5:19). Those who have been caught up in these behaviors confess that their addictions negatively affected their relationships with others, and many say that they had ongoing feelings of worthlessness as a result of this degrading habit.

The Next Step

So you realize you have a problem. What now? First, confess your sin to God — what you've been doing is not unforgivable! He loves you so much and wants you to come to Him and ask for His help. Don't be afraid that He will be angry with you and think instead of the mercy He loves to show His children when they admit their faults. Remember all the great leaders of the Bible messed up — and some of them made pretty big mistakes. Think about King David, whose adulterous involvement with Bathsheba was followed by his decision to arrange for her husband's death rather than to confess his wrongdoing; you can look at his big slip up in 2 Samuel 11 and 12.

If you want to confess to God but are not sure what to say, look at Psalm 51. That's David's lament to God, when he asked for His forgiveness after his sin with Bathsheba. You might also consider writing in your journal to God, if you feel you put your thoughts together better on paper. Just tell Him. He's waiting for you to come to Him and let Him heal this part of your life. We can go to Him with our struggles and trust that He will give us the strength we need to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Second, you need to talk to someone. Although it may be tempting to simply tell a friend and ask for her help, it really is necessary to involve an adult in your situation. James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." Find a Christian woman you trust — your mom, a relative, the youth pastor's wife, a teacher — and ask to speak with her privately. I realize it can be extremely hard to let someone in on your struggle, but you need to break your secret. If you just don't know how to tell her or don't think you can find the courage to actually voice your struggles, try writing it out on paper beforehand and letting her read it. You might even e-mail her this article and ask her to read it and get back with you. Be honest about your problem and ask her to pray with and for you and to help you get the help you need.

Third, you need to get rid of your access to porn and cybersex. If you have a personal computer, put it in the living room so that the screen can be easily seen by anyone passing by. Choose to get on your computer or on the Internet only when there are other people in the room. Don't chat online with someone you haven't met in person. If someone you were involved with keeps trying to IM you, click "ignore" — that person will eventually get the hint. Ask your parents about Internet filters and accountability software (take a look at the options available on our Family Safety Resources page, or consider getting rid of Internet access entirely for a while. Throw away any sexually explicit music or books or videos you might have and stay away from friends who are involved in those kinds of media. And look for a Christian woman who can hold you accountable and whom you can call when you're facing temptation.

And Remember ... Temptation Is Not Sin

As you get help and begin healing, one of the hardest things to remember is that temptation is not sin. Jesus Himself was tempted, and 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man [or woman!]."

The temptation may come around less often as you go through counseling and as God continues to heal your spirit, your mind and your body. But don't confuse temptation with sin. How you react to the temptation is most important. Remember, the rest of the verse in Corinthians promises that "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up against it."

Erasing the "Hard Drive"

One question teens often ask as they work through their addiction is, "How do I get rid of the images and stories and conversations that seem seared into my memory?" Those who have overcome these addictions say that many of the sexual experiences they had, particularly from their first encounter, are burned forever in their minds. Dr. Mary Anne Layden with the Center for Cognitive Therapy says that pornographic images are "burned into the brain's pathways," and one study recently showed that "the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction."4 This can seem overwhelming as you face recovery, but Christian counselor Joann Condie points out that images can become more faint as you consistently choose not to access or dwell on them. She likens the process to a deer path in the woods. You may have already mentally established a well-worn trail to those kinds of thoughts. When you choose to start a new direction, it will be difficult to work your way through the trees and brush. However, as you consistently choose to break in the new path, you'll find the old way becomes harder to find and overgrown by the surrounding woods.5

What about masturbation? Self-stimulation for those with addictions is often intertwined with cybersex and porn, and masturbation is particularly a problem when it is obsessive or is combined with lustful thoughts or images. Because it's difficult to separate masturbation from the lust that it has been paired to throughout your addiction, we encourage you to seek help in overcoming the issues that are behind this behavior.

It Can't Be "Managed"

Perhaps you may think that you can work through this on your own and that you can do it without letting anyone know. However, to overcome this problem and to gain a "lasting victory," it is crucial that you seek Christian counseling from someone who handles intimacy disorders or sexual addictions. If you're not sure how to locate someone in your area who can work with you in this way, you may call Focus on the Family at 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) and ask for a counseling referral.

You see, the real problem isn't the addiction. Christian counselor Joann Condie, who specializes in treating people with these kinds of struggles, explained in a Focus on the Family broadcast that just stopping the behavior is a kind of "sin management approach." That's not enough. This isn't a problem you can "manage." She explains that it's necessary "to address the thinking that's behind the behavior. Underneath that thinking, there are damaged emotions. If those are ignored and neglected, if the therapist is not addressing that, then only part of the battle is done. And then beneath all of that is a strong spiritual component that has to be addressed, too."6

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Whether you've just started experimenting or you've been attracted to pornography for some time, you are probably well aware of the negative influence it's had on you. Sadly, the farther down this road you travel, the less you will be able to recognize the truth about yourself and your sexuality and the more you will be enticed by the lies of this world.

Girls — and guys — who engage in this behavior start to believe the lies of pornography and see other people as objects for self-gratification rather than individuals created in God's image with infinite value in His eyes. They dwell on fantasies that separate the physical aspect of sex from its emotional, mental and spiritual components.

With such a dis-integrated approach, the satisfaction a girl longs for is never truly found. The yearnings of the heart remain because — contrary to the message conveyed by most movies, magazines, and Hollywood celebrities — God intended sex to be experienced only within the protection of marriage. If an individual tries to fulfill her desires outside of God's plan, she will always miss out on the blessings God intends for her and will often be bitterly disappointed.

But, you might say, "Pornography and online sexual activities are fun. It's hard to stop because they are so exciting, and the interactions make me feel desirable."

Those feelings may be present during and shortly after your experience, but those emotions are fleeting, and the intimacy you're craving is not found. Instead, you find yourself filled with guilt and shame as you reflect on what you've done, and your self-esteem, as well as your relationship with God, take a huge hit. To make matters worse, you may seek pornography once again to counter the depression you feel. It can quickly spiral into a sense of hopelessness.

I trust that in the previous paragraphs I've given you some practical guidance that will assist you in making changes in your behavior and empower you to seek healing. But, as I mentioned previously, an important key to success is realizing that the issues you are dealing with are about your heart, not about sex. And they need to be brought to God.

He knows about your desires and cares about you like no one else in the entire world. Even now, as you read this article, our Heavenly Father is calling you to leave the lies behind and take hold of His higher purposes for you. He stands ready to reassure you of your worth and walk with you through the struggles that lie ahead. He wants to rescue you from the counterfeit activities you're engaging in so that you can become everything He created you to be.

You likely didn't get to where you are overnight, and it may take some time to get back on track, but as you strengthen your relationship with God and start to see yourself as the same beautiful young woman He sees, know that you CAN overcome the temptations of the past, step by step.

To learn more about what it means to have a healthy, biblical perspective on your sexuality, we suggest you look at Focus on the Family's statement on "The Value of Male and Female." We think that you'll find some interesting thoughts outlined there that will give you a glimpse of God's wonderful blueprint regarding how men and women need to relate to one another.

The apostle Paul teaches us that "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things" (Philippians 4:8). As you work to replace the deception of pornography with God's truth, you might try meditating on:

Don't Guilt Trip!

We don't mention this to add to the guilt you may be feeling! Remember that Romans 8:1 tells us that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [emphasis added]." Rather, we want to help you understand why it's so important to rebuild your understanding of sexuality. To restate Joann Condie's point, there is a spiritual aspect to your behavior that needs to be addressed. Although you have faced sexual struggles, you can rest assured that God is willing and able to heal your body, mind and spirit. His Word assures us that when we repent from past actions, "[He] is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him" (Daniel 9:9). Working with a Christian counselor can help you to find healing and restoration. And we urge you to seek help from a licensed professional in your area.

In closing, remember that Christ is near and waiting for you to turn to Him for help. Pray as the psalmist did in Psalm 70: "Hasten, O God, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me." The Lord says in Jeremiah 29:12-14, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you ... and will bring you back from captivity." May you feel God standing with you during this time and know that He will never leave your side.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.


1"Dirty Little Secret," christianitytoday.com/tcw/2003/005/5.58.html.
2Susan Dominus, "What Women Want to Watch," Aug. 29, 2004.
3Mark O'Keefe, "Women Account for Hefty Portion of Web Porn Viewing," Newhouse News Service, newhouse.com/archive/okeefe103103.html.
4Stuart Shepard, "Porn Like Heroin in the Brain," Nov. 19, 2004, family.org/cforum/fnif/news/a0034603.cfm.
5Joann Condie, RN, MS, LPC, Interview, Oct. 27, 2004.
6"The Seductive Lure of Internet Porn," originally aired May 19-20, 2004.