Last week the Beacon ran an article titled “Porn Study Reveals Surprising Results.” It reflects, in part, on the results of Jenni Kahanic’s recent survey of Northwestern College students’ use of pornography. The article then provides a personal story from Northwestern student Miles Fletcher about his struggle with porn addiction, as well as reflections from chaplain Harlan Van Oordt and students Kippen Larson-Gulsvig and Matt Dowie.
I appreciated that the Beacon chose to write about a subject often unaddressed in Christian circles. I also appreciated the honesty and vulnerability of those interviewed. However, one line stuck with me: “In fact, Kahanic’s study also yielded another surprising statistic: Among Christians, pornography use is not exclusive to men.”
It is “surprising” that people other than men — therefore, based on the prevalence of the gender binary, presumably women — use pornography. This may seem like a nit-picky query; however, this assumption appears throughout the article and is voiced by multiple individuals. “Dowie said he was not surprised by the number of men addicted to porn, but he was shocked by the number of women.” According to Larson-Gulsvig, “Not being willing to give an addiction up changes trust. When guys (emphasis added) think it’s acceptable, that’s when you lose trust in someone.”
I didn’t pick out these lines in an attempt to shame or accuse those quoted (or the article’s author) but to illustrate that the declaration of pornography addiction as a male problem is a culturally pervasive phenomenon.
In my youth group as well as in health classes in high school, girls were told to say “no” to sex. Leaders and teachers said boys will try to talk you into it — they’ll say that they love you, that everyone else is doing it, that you won’t be any different afterward. Like shoplifting or setting the vice principle’s lawn on fire, you know you shouldn’t do it, so when that cute boy whispers sweet things in your ear, you shut him down. Boys want sex. Girls need to stop them from stumbling. I don’t remember any authority figures — or any of my peers — suggesting that girls might have sexual desires, too.
Perhaps my experience is unique and most other women at Northwestern heard a different story about their sexuality. Maybe other women had conversations about pornography and masturbation and lust with their youth group leaders, but somehow I doubt this. I think we live in a culture that paints women as objects of desire rather than people who can do some desiring of their own.
Maybe that’s why it’s surprising that women view pornography. Actively pursuing such imagery demonstrates desire, confusion, and/or curiosity, and while I don’t think anyone denies that women experience sexual impulses, perhaps we focus on men’s sexual identities so often and discuss women’s so infrequently that we don’t know what to expect when the conversation arises.
Stereotypes of porn addiction as a male problem and hush-hush approaches to female sexuality might alienate and shame women rather than offering them the support and love they need