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Christian Anti-Porn Ministries Battle Women's 'Porn Addiction'

These groups appear to be helpful to many women. But are they ministering to -- or even perpetuating -- sexual problems the Christian church has created?

Adelaide Brown (not her real name), 29, had, until recently, a big problem with porn. “I would spend every moment after work enthralled in it and stay up almost all night seeking pleasure and relief,” she says.

Hormones and curiosity raging, she wandered into chat rooms at age 13, where she found adult men to be quite generous with nude photos of themselves. That (which she now realizes was abuse) led to an increasingly ardent search for visual stimulation, which ballooned two years ago into endless sessions on PornTube -- and what Brown calls full-on addiction. “I would cancel plans with friends and family just so I could be home alone and soak myself in porn,” she says. “It took away my life.”

When Brown, a single schoolteacher in Seattle who calls herself an “outside the box” Christian, tried to confess to a couple of friends, she found they were more judgmental than supportive. Seeking help from conservative Christian books and porn-addiction recovery Web sites -- and there are many -- made her feel even more alone. “Everywhere I looked, it was all about men. Finding resources for women was nearly impossible,” she says. “There were people who assured me that I was not alone as a woman but I didn’t believe it. I truly believed I was the only woman struggling with this. That just made me even more ashamed.”

Non-Christian resources didn’t help either. “They didn’t really see anything wrong with porn” in the first place, says Brown, who believes masturbation and sex before marriage are wrong, too. Result: “There wasn’t a lot of help out there for me.”

That was until she found XXXChurch, one of the first conservative Christian ministries for problem porn users, and one of the first to reach out specifically to women. “It was when I finally realized that I was not alone as a woman struggling with porn that I gained the confidence and strength I needed to move forward,” Adelaide says.

As the New York Times reported earlier this month, more and more porn-recovery workshops are emerging, in church basements and Web sites, to cater specifically to conservative Christian women. (Here and throughout, “Christian,” even without “conservative,” refers to Christian movements often also described as “fundamentalist” or “evangelical.”) While an easy target for secular snickering, this trend actually -- narrowly speaking -- may constitute a step forward: providing a haven from shame for women like Brown, for whom non-Christian help might not resonate in the first place, and representing a certain collective, overdue, Christian realization that women have sexual agency at all. But are these groups just ministering to -- or even perpetuating -- sexual problems the Christian church has had a hand in creating?

The notion that Christian women might, gasp, ever peek at porn is still a “Not in OUR church!” newsflash for some. As XXXChurch founder Craig Gross told the Times, “The problem is, most churches have male leadership, and if you want to pitch a [porn recovery event for women], they’ll say, ‘Our women don’t struggle with that.’” Except, of course, they do; that invisibility, as in Brown’s case, just makes the struggle worse.

In the realm of porn and sex, women -- at least in relatively groovy, techno-savvy Christian communities like XXXChurch and Dirty Girls Ministries -- are not subject to higher (or different, “lady”-flavor) standards from men. “Sexual purity” is a term applied to -- and a state demanded from -- both men and women; porn is considered bad for both men and women “for the same reasons,” Craig Gross told AlterNet. (Specifically: porn and just about any other sexual expression outside marriage, including masturbation constitute a selfish indulgence and defilement of the sacred, God-made space that is your body.) Ministries like these also don’t employ heinous “head of household” and “helpmeet”-type language. Insofar as women are expected to stay “pure” for -- and yes, please -- their husbands -- so, too, are husbands expected to give back. “The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality -- the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband,” said Gross.

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