We sat in a circle in our cabin, escaping the heat and humidity. During this final church camp experience, we were reflecting on what our lives had been and beginning to think about what could come with college and careers on the horizon. Then one girl admitted she watched porn and wanted to stop. I will never forget what happened next. Slowly, other girls raised their hands to admit the same. My heart beat faster and I trembled a bit, but I raised my hand, too.
At some point in our lives each of us had struggled, or were actively struggling, with watching porn. I was terrified to admit the truth to my peers, and I know I wasn’t the only one. In our youth group and church, our leaders and pastors had always taught porn use as a male struggle. And yet here I was, surrounded by other young women acknowledging that it was a problem for them, too.
Porn Use Isn’t Just a “Guy’s Issue”
Looking back, I wish someone had spoken up about how porn isn’t just a “guy’s issue.” Ever since the first time I viewed porn at twelve years old, I’d sat alone and wondered, what did it mean for me, as a young woman, to struggle with something that was only supposed to be a problem for guys? Was there something wrong with me? What did this mean for my sexuality?
My youth group never discussed the reality of sexual sin for both genders. The reality is this: 13 percent of Christian girls ages thirteen to twenty-four regularly use porn.1 It is not just the guys in youth groups. Yet no other topic seemed to warrant such a strong gender divide. All of the senior girls would not have waited until one of our last youth group moments to speak up if porn use had been openly discussed with us like it had been for the guys.
Instead, all of the focus for girls was on dressing modestly and not becoming like a chewed-up piece of gum. We carried a weight of responsibility on our shoulders, to guard our hearts and those of our brothers in Christ. We had to guard the gates of male sexuality, but we were never given the key for how to process and understand our own sexuality.
The Gospel Is Good News for Girls Who Use Porn
Acting like porn use is a male-only issue in our churches has caused so much harm over the years. What an incredible disservice to all of us! The messages girls hear about sexual sin only imprison us in shame. They disempower us, and in doing so they give undue power to our leaders and male peers who have decided that only men get to struggle with sexual sin. I grew up thinking there was no gospel available for the girls who watch porn.
The reality, however, is that the gospel is for young women like me, too. Recently, I read The Great Sex Rescue, and a friend asked what my main takeaways were. While I had plenty to say, I kept coming back to something from the end of the book:
Women’s experiences have been largely overlooked or ignored, while women are seen as tools to help men get what they want. That’s not Christian. That’s not of Jesus. Women, though, are people too.²
The Great Sex Rescue affirms that women can and should enjoy safe, healthy sex in their marriages. The book does mention women who watch porn, but only in passing. Now it is simply time to voice what many of us already know and have experienced. We must bring young women’s sexual sin into the light so that all of us may find freedom in Christ. We are all promised that we are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). That message does not just apply to young men—it applies to young women!
A Call for the Church
We’re all painfully aware that women are most often victimized by men’s sexual sin, but there is a growing number of women, especially young women and girls, who are struggling with their own sexual sin. My whole life, I’ve been disheartened by the lack of resources and support for young women dealing with sexual sin. For the young man who confesses his sexual sin, there are books to read and accountability groups to join. The church helps young men walk in the freedom that is promised through Christ. This is not true for young women. We struggle to find a safe person to confide in. We feel isolated, unsure of how to move forward. No one preaches freedom and redemption for us from our sexual sin. And that is not what the gospel offers.
Here are a few ways that churches and leaders can begin helping women walk away from their sexual sin to embrace the freedom promised in Christ.
The church needs a better way forward: we need to love and serve the women who sit in our pews. Just as the church has shown up and offered support for men struggling to overcome sexual sin, we need to do the same for women. And it all begins with conversations. Let’s acknowledge that women are people, too, so they watch porn, too. Pastors and church leaders can help us see that porn use is not a men’s-only issue. It starts with something as simple as adding a couple words to your sermons on sexual sin—say “men and women” instead of just “men” when talking about people who watch porn.
Recently, my church announced that they were creating a group to support men struggling with sexual sin. But they mentioned no group for women. Every time I see the group in the email blast or on social media I think about my sisters, wondering who they can reach out to and who they can lean on if they are struggling with watching porn or other sexual sin. Sure, a group for women may not look the exact same as a group for men. But in churches that already do the work for men, we simply need to create the space and set aside the time to do the work for women, too.
I am deeply grateful for the women in my life who have helped me speak up about the ways I have struggled with sexual sin. When our churches miss that women are people, too, we’re left alone and isolated from the great gift of community. Truly, we are not meant to do any aspect of life alone (Eccles. 4:8–12). God created us to be in relationship, so I know that support, encouragement, and accountability are meant for all Christians.
That moment at church camp was a decade ago this summer. I often wonder what I would tell myself at eighteen. I wish the younger me had the support she needed. I wish she had known to suggest that maybe porn wasn’t just a “guy’s issue.” But I know that eighteen-year-old me was doing the best she could. So if I could, I would promise her that I would bring to light that which is hidden in darkness (1 Cor. 4:5). For her benefit and for the benefit of those around her. I have written this to bring into light my past and the reality that many young women and girls are struggling with porn use, alone and ashamed. We have been in the dark for too long. Let the gospel be good news for us, too.
This article is from “The Problem of Porn,” the Autumn 2022 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.
- Josh McDowell and Barna Group, The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Porn in the Digital Age (Ventura: Barna Group, 2016), 34.
- Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky, The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021), 234.