By Luke Gilkerson
(Thanks to Jessica Harris for this interview. See more clips from the new documentary-in-progress, Shamed.)
Dr. William Struthers explains that the female brain, unlike the male brain, is wired to understand sexual arousal first as “contextual” and then as “sensory.” What this means is when a young woman looks at porn, their brain learns what it means to be wanted by a man. When women see porn, any attraction to it initially is to think, “This is what guys want, so this is what I should become.” For women, their initial curiosity about porn is usually to imagine themselves as the wanted party. Only after this do women become visually aroused by pornography images themselves.
Why is this? Dr. Struthers explains that when men or women watch porn, the portion of the brain called the amygdala is activated. The amygdala is the negative emotional center of the brain, the part of the brain that is activated when a person becomes aroused and excited, stressed out, or anxious. When men or women view porn, they experience a combination of stress and anxiety. For men, the natural way to interpret this anxiety is sexual tension that needs to be released. But for women, this is not their natural reaction to porn.
However, a shift is taking place today as more and more women are exposed to pornography at younger ages. Dr. Struthers says research indicates women over the age of 35 are much less likely to develop habitual, compulsive, impulsive, or addictive pornography viewing habits when compared to women under the age of 35. The reason is because the younger a woman is, her brain is more able to be trained and taught to interpret the anxiety she feels as sexual tension, and so women “are becoming increasingly more likely to view pornography and to develop maladaptive or compulsive patterns of viewing and sexually acting out as well,” Struthers says.
In a recent survey of the online community of Dirty Girls Ministries (an online support system for women who struggle with lustful behaviors), 95% of the girls surveyed said they started habitually and compulsively watching pornography or engaging in cybersex before the age of 30.
You started habitually and compulsively
watching pornography or engaging in cybersex when you were…
Even among the women who are 30+, 84% said their compulsion started before the age of 30.
For Parents of Girls
Take action and begin preparing your daughters for encountering these sexual temptations. Understand that their first temptation, when it comes to pornography, will be to contextualize it: they will see it as sexual education about what turns a man on. For some, the reaction will be to want to become like what they see in their behavior towards boys. For some, the reaction will be to internalize pornography through fantasy.
What young girls need is strong parenting and guidance that reminds her of her worth apart from sexual prowess or looks. Learn more in our recent article, “Girls Like Porn, Too.”
Luke Gilkerson is Internet Community Manager for Covenant Eyes, an Internet accountability service.