Especially for Girls

Porn Harms Girls in 12 Ways: Fight Back with 3 Empowering Mindsets!

This is a guest article from Staci Sprout, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in helping individuals, groups and couples recover from sex, love and relationship addictions. (See full bio below).

I thought porn was just bad for me. Well, I didn’t start out thinking that. When I was first exposed to pornographic images at eight years old, I wasn’t thinking at all. My brain was flooded with powerful neurochemicals that were all about my reactions, not contemplations. Later in life I came to realize the ways in which porn harms girls--all girls, not just me.

My first exposure to porn

I wrote about the moment I was first exposed to porn in my memoir Naked in Public: A Memoir of Recovery from Sex Addiction and Other Temporary Insanities in a chapter called “Nancy Drew and Other Role Models.” Here’s an excerpt:

When I was eight years old, Nancy Drew was my hero. After reading my first Nancy Drew Mystery, I decided I wanted to be a detective just like her when I grew up. I loved to sit cross-legged on the orange carpet in front of our monster floor TV to watch her escape from danger and solve devious crimes that stumped even the grownups.
One day, while no one was around, I embarked on a sleuthing adventure in my parents’ bedroom. I routinely searched the house when the opportunity struck, looking for hidden clues, change left in coat pockets, and other treats. This time I found one, but I didn’t yet know it was a trick in disguise. In my dad’s top dresser drawer, under his folded white-and-navy socks, I uncovered a Playboy magazine with my heroine, Nancy Drew, on the cover. Wearing a partially open khaki trench coat, her bare thigh poked out of the opening, hinting of nothing underneath. Her face was heavily made up and she held a magnifying glass. My small fingers trembled as I opened the cover to search the glossy pages within.
At eight years old, I believed it really was Nancy Drew in the pictures that greeted me, and that she was posing naked, looking even more glamorous than on TV. I didn’t understand the difference between the fictional character and Pamela Sue Martin, the actress who played her. I was fooled into thinking that Nancy Drew, whose cleverness and bravery I loved, also liked to model without any clothes for anyone to see. I was shocked that her nude body was so compelling, even my dad kept pictures of her—and not my mom—hidden in his dresser drawer. I knew I shouldn’t tell anyone; dad’s secret was safe with me. But as I carefully replaced the magazine under his socks, I felt a heavy sensation crawl over me and take root inside, mingling with the excited tingling that seeing the pictures had evoked. Years later I would learn how to describe that shadowy feeling: shame. Unable to understand the significance of what happened, I came to associate sexual arousal with a subtle and persistent sense of dread.

As I found and viewed my role model naked, my naïve mind internalized several new beliefs that have taken me decades to recognize were there, and even longer to de-program. Most of these beliefs sprung from lies, but they took hold nonetheless. The magazine cover read “TV’s Nancy Drew Undraped,” not “Actress Pamela Sue Martin, Who-Quit-the-Nancy-Drew-Show-in-Frustration-Because-Her-Screen-Time-Was-Cut-in-Favor-of-the-Hardy-Boys, and Poses Without Her Clothes for Money and Attention.” 

The painstaking effort it has taken to heal from these harmful lies has shown me what is most valuable and worth fighting for. It’s the thing Nancy Drew – the REAL Nancy Drew – has in abundance: integrity and strength of character.

Today’s porn is even more harmful to girls

This article is titled Porn Harms Girls in 12 Ways--not just how it harms me, because I’ve learned I’m not the only one with a “dad’s sock drawer” story. I thought I was alone, and my shame kept me isolated, but I’ve since learned that my experience is near-universal among women. 

When I ask women who told them the lies that took toxic root in their inner garden of meaning about who they are sexually, I hear the same culprit, over and over: pornography. 

Sure, it’s also the absence of sex ed, harmful family and cultural messages, abuse experiences, and bullies at school.

Yet despite the horrifically common neglect and “big T” traumas that happen to girls and young women sexually, the basic text of sexual violence always harkens back to the same source – pornography. Like an intrusively obnoxious song in the background of every conversation, porn is there. And since I was a girl in the 70’s to today, the volume has been turned up – way, way up.

Seeing this deceptive image of “Nancy Drew” damaged my sexual self-development. It wasn’t the only damage, nor the worst, but the harmful impact is clear to me. Thankfully due to years of effort and help, I’m over it. I’m happily partnered now, I love my body (even as it ages), I love sex, and I’m faithful in my relationship. We’ve decided not to use porn, and we keep this commitment. I feel secure and delight in my coupleship.

But do you know something that keeps me from sailing off into the sunset? 

The anxiety and concern I feel for girls today, and the women they will become. I can’t cast off the truth that my exposure was mild compared to the streaming horror video porn that girls are exposed to today. 

What is happening to them now, I worry, when the images they first see are brutal rapes accompanied by violent and degrading verbal abuse, that they are told defines sex? Who does that tell them they should become sexually, and should want to become – particularly when the boys they may be attracted to seem so completely captivated by pornography? 

What I have learned as a therapist working with females with sex, love and porn addictions for over a decade is that what’s bad for girls is also bad for the women they will become. And porn, no matter how anyone might try to dress it up, is bad for girls.

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Top 12 ways porn harms girls (and women)

In summary, here are the top 12 ways porn harms women – and even more so for the impressionable minds of girls.

1. Porn harms girls’ and women’s sexual identity

Pornography is a toxic influence on girls’ and women’s identity formation--giving harmful answers to the questions all girls ask of Who am I sexually? and How Do I want to be seen sexually? Girls and women can internalize the contemptuous, misogynist pornographer’s gaze as their own – and suffer chronic hateful sexual self-objectification as a result.

2. Porn portrays inaccurate sexual education

Porn creates unrealistic expectations of sex, relationships, and feminine sexuality, instilling mistaken beliefs like:

  • my body should look like that,
  • all women want/like/do that,
  • I should want/like/do that, and
  • sex should work like that.
[Pornography] portrays sex as an encounter predicated on submission and domination…in a fantasy world where women are always ready for sex, enjoy all types of sexual activity, including aggressive and degrading acts. -Meghan Donevan

Real women having real sex are not like that.

3. Porn glorifies hypersexualized images

These extreme images can overwhelm girls and prevent them from seeing what’s really happening: that porn performers are victims of self-exploitation and other-exploitation. (See my blog post How to Grow Understanding and Empathy for Women in the Sex Industry for a more realistic view of what’s typically behind the camera.) 

This desensitization through sexual objectification interferes with empathy and understanding, and normalizes using images of strangers – no matter what they are actually going through when recorded or live – for self-centered sexual entertainment. Reducing others to objects rather than fellow humans becomes easier when the mind is conditioned to do so through porn’s objectifying lens.

Related: Police Mom Reveals Secret Weapon to Protect Kids from Porn

4. Porn can cause psychological trauma

You don’t have to be a therapist to recognize that viewing the images of sexual violence, misogyny, and humiliation/degradation that are so prevalent in today’s porn content can be overwhelming and traumatic, especially to a girl’s developing brain. For a clear analysis of the traumatic content of today’s pornography, read Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines, PhD.

5. Porn normalizes sex without love

Porn can hijack a girl’s natural romantic, heart-centered sexual self-development, blocking her from developing her own ideas and experiences about what sex means in the context of natural connection and pleasure from the inside out, versus narrowing the focus to artificial sexual stimulation from the outside in. 

Fantasies that take hold in childhood often persist into womanhood. The crass culture of porn devalues vulnerability, playfulness, cuddling and intimacy as it promises the quick fix, rendering invisible the very qualities that are essential in a lasting intimate relationship.

Related: Healthy Sex vs. Porn Sex: 7 Crucial Comparisons to Teach Your Kid (Before XXX Hijacks Their Future)

6. The supernatural stimuli in porn can damage girls’ and women’s sexual functioning – just like it does in men

There has been much talk and some research about porn-induced erectile dysfunction in men, but less is said and studied about the sexual dysfunctions that girls and women can suffer as a result of problematic porn use. According to research on women seeking help for porn-related sexual problems, they suffer from sexual difficulties including:

  • loss of sexual desire,
  • loss of genital sensitivity,
  • inability to sexually desire one’s partner (in favor of porn),
  • inability to be present during sex due to fantasy,
  • masturbation to the point of self-harm, and 
  • excessive use of sex toys.

The good news is that these difficulties may diminish or go away completely when women stop using porn.

7. Violent porn conditions viewers to link sexual arousal with violence

Women and girls can be sexually conditioned by violent porn to experience physiological pleasure paired with viciousness – which may then influence domination or rape fantasies that overwhelm their natural sexual curiosity and innocent exploration. Watch this video for more information.


8. Porn sets up girls and women to imitate what they see – and suffer painful, harmful consequences

Scenarios depicted in porn are often criminal acts and human rights violations, yet this gravity of risk and harm to women and girls is erased and spun by porn producers as “fun,” “naughty,” and “adventurous.” 

Girls and women who internalize these scenes as arousing fantasies can escalate them to actual behaviors when such fantasies are “acted out” in the real world. This can lead to dehumanization from hookups for sex that can feel like or result in actual rape, public exhibitionism that leads to an indecency arrest, or unsafe sex that results in an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, among other painful consequences.

9. Porn undermines girls’ and women’s sense of non-sexual value, power, and positive influence in the world

Focusing so much energy on appearance, “beauty” and how to get and keep attention from men – or anyone outside yourself – stunts character development. Today’s mainstream porn encourages young women to be superficial, self-obsessed, and inauthentic. 

If girls buy into the message that their value comes only or mostly from sex, they will not be motivated to engage the disciplines of self-reflection, braving vulnerability with partners, living their visions, and making a difference through service. Easy attention, easy sex, and easy money are the false promises to girls and women who trade seduction and sex, but the actual results of doing so are painfully clear – girls and women need more meaningful experiences to have lasting sexual self-esteem.

10. Porn pressures girls and women into bad sex

Porn pressures girls and women into its reenactment, called “hookup sex”– sex with no intimacy, connection, nor commitment. Research has shown that the more hookup sex women engage in, the lower their self-esteem and the more likely they are to experience depression. 

Women also experience far fewer orgasms from hookup sex than heart-centered sex in a secure relationship. Porn’s emphasis on novelty, risk, and orgasm don’t turn out to be in sync with the authentic sexual rhythms of women’s nervous systems, which respond to feeling safe as the doorway to healthy sexual contact

11. Porn can be addictive

Porn is a powerful distractor from reality, inviting viewers into instant fantasy sexual arousal and pleasure. Yet women who use porn report the same symptoms of addiction reflected in other kinds of addiction like alcohol or drugs.

In a 2011 survey of 261 women who self-identified as sex and love addicts, 70 percent said they felt degraded by their behavior and 62 percent said they had made failed attempts to stop.

In a 2014 survey of Christian women on social media, 60% of responders said they had struggled with porn at some point, and 40% self-identified as addicted . First exposure to porn was between 10 – 12 years old, and the most frequent age their porn use became habituated was 18 – 20. The most frequent sexual activities were masturbation (87%) and watching pornography (68%). 71% of these women admitted their masturbation behaviors felt “out of control.”

Related: How Porn Use Becomes an Addiction (Simplified!)

12. More porn use is correlated with higher likelihood of relationship breakups 

(See Pornography and Broken Relationships).

I believe this is due to changing the porn users values toward their partner, as influenced by the content in mainstream porn:

  • entitlement toward multiple partners,
  • limited to no care or attachment,
  • unwillingness to work at nurturing relationship,
  • high sexual stimulation and novelty creating boredom with fidelity to one person,
  • gender linked-aggression, and
  • degrading attitudes and behaviors.

Three things parents can do to empower their daughters

1. Teach your daughter to avoid porn

Start having conversations with your daughter early with

  • an age-appropriate definition of porn,
  • how it is harmful, and
  • a plan for when she encounters it.

It's important to talk with her early and often--ideally before she is exposed so she is prepared to reject it. Studies are showing that most kids see porn before age 13. The Good Pictures Bad Pictures series of read-aloud books help parents start these conversations in comfortable, age-appropriate ways.

2. Help her learn to not objectify herself

Our culture is full of toxic media messages teaching unhealthy attitudes towards women’s bodies--to the point where women objectify themselves (and other women), finding great value in our outward appearance. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we’re directly teaching our daughters healthy body image. Teach your daughter where her value really lies and that her body is not to be objectified (by herself or anyone else!), but to be an instrument for her to do amazing things in her life.

Related: Your Daughter’s Body Image - Healthy or Shameful? 4 Ways to Counteract Toxic Media

3. Empower her with dating discernment skills.

Parents through generations have learned the hard way that telling their daughters who to date (or who not to date) usually backfires. But as your daughter enters dating age, you can empower her with dating discernment skills. These skills include

  • considering your own intentions in the relationship and making sure the person you’re dating has similar intentions,
  • ensuring your life goals are compatible with the other person’s,
  • recognizing the markers of healthy and unhealthy relationships, and
  • identifying key issues in which you aren’t willing to compromise, then finding out where the person you’re dating stands on those issues.

One of those key issues is pornography. Our daughters deserve to understand the impact pornography can have on a relationship and we need to let them know that it’s ok to directly ask a dating partner about their stance on porn before the relationship gets too serious.

Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition

"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent

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