At just 12 years old, Erica saw porn for the first time. It sparked a 20-year addiction.

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Erica Garza was just 12 years old when she watched porn for the first time.

She’d wait until her parents were fast asleep, then creep into the living room to watch the late-night films. She’d watch with the volume turned right down, with one ear and eye out at all times for her parents.

“I was sure that the attraction to the images I felt was abnormal and that touching myself was a sin, yet I couldn’t stop myself,” she wrote for Good Housekeeping.

As she got older, what started as soft porn quickly got harder.

“I soon found myself in an endless pursuit of hotter, harder, faster, dirtier. I grew bored and restless. Threesomes were exciting … until I discovered gang bangs,” she wrote.

It started to have a devastating impact on her relationships in real life.

“If I felt uncomfortable with the person I was having sex with, I put on porn as a kind of distraction. It felt like a relief for me because we had a sort of wall between us, and we didn’t have to get as [emotionally] intimate as we could have,” she told the New York Post.

In the book, she also recounts being unable to orgasm with a “late night booty call”. Minutes after he leaves, she climaxes twice while watching a porn scene which featured a teenage cheerleader have sex with her stepfather. That wasn’t even the most graphic of Garza’s favourite go-to films.

“That was my thing. That’s how I got off,” she said.

Describing herself as a “porn addict” for almost 20 years since that first exposure as a tween, the 35-year-old has written a book about her experience, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, out today.

LISTEN: Mia Freedman speaks to Porn star and Sexologist Madison Missina about working in porn, how it changes people’s perspective of you, and what goes on behind the scenes. Post continues after audio.

According to a 2017 survey, 76 per cent of Aussie men and 41 per cent of women had looked at pornography over the last year. Of those, four per cent of men reported they were “addicted”, compared to one per cent of women.

However, according to sexologist and host of podcast Sex and Life Dr Nikki Goldstein, we’ve got to be careful when it comes to the term “addiction” with women and porn.

“What is addiction? It’s a very trend driven word and we like to call people addicts, however, the issue is that if you’ve got women using porn, there’s a lot of people who don’t think women should be interested in it or that that’s normal,” she says.

“So any type of porn usage by women could see them being called an addict. So it’s not easy to say how many people even when we look at the statistics.”

She uses the example of men watching porn and argues that it’s likely that if a man and a woman watched the same amount of porn, he would be labelled a “porn enthusiast” while she would be an “addict”.

She believes watching porn becomes a problem when it is interrupting a person’s life or their sex life.

“Are you not getting work done because you’re watching too much or are you not going out with friends because you’d rather sit on the coach and watch porn? Or are you dissatisfied with your sex life because of the amount you’re consuming?” she says.

“If that’s [porn] what you’re aiming for in the bedroom without understanding that it’s fantasy then you’re going to have a disconnect and never going to be satisfied because you’re expecting porn-like sex.”

While studies have found the exposure of porn can be so great that men are unable to ejaculate unless it’s kinky sex, the same can also happen to women.

It got to this stage with Garza.

She told The Post, after college she engaged in “violent and risky sex” while her preference for porn went hardcore, including one scene featuring “two sweaty women and 50 horny men.”

Her real-life sex life began to resemble some of the porn scenes she was watching, many of which women were demeaned.

erica-garza-social
Garza. Image: Facebook.

“Afterwards, I would feel broken, unlovable, worthless and used. But I was using men for my own needs, too," she said.

In terms of treatment, Dr Goldstein says professionals will often look at what is the underlying cause of the problematic behaviour.

"Is it being used as a coping mechanism? Maybe if you're stressed or anxious or if you've had a stressful past relationship and it's easier to watch porn than getting out there again," she says.

"So you've got to identify what you're using it for and then deal with that first. There's nothing wrong with watching porn but it shouldn't be your default way to deal with things."

For Garza, it was a way of dealing with her fear of intimacy. Around the same time she first watched porn, she was diagnosed with scoliosis which meant she had to wear a back brace for two years which she said left her feeling insecure, self-conscious and wary of those around her.

"Over the years, whenever I detected a closeness developing with someone, I found a way to sabotage things before they went too far. I was always prepared for people to figure me out, uncover my weirdness and decide I wasn't worth their time," she wrote for Good Housekeeping in 2016.

"Porn was a great way to escape myself — just click a few keys, shut off my brain and disconnect from the world for however long I wanted."

In her early 30s, Garza realised how much her porn viewing was affecting her ability to develop relationships. So she took herself off to Bali Eat, Pray, Love style to kick it, where she ended up meeting her now husband.

"We watched porn at the beginning [of the relationship] because that was my habit but he wanted me to talk about why I used porn, and nobody had ever done that before," she told The Post.

"For the first time, I really felt that I could be safe, supported and reveal who I was."

In their early years together, Garza stayed away from porn after the pair decided it was a bad idea to bring it into the bedroom. But she went through relapses, with times she would sneak into another room or wait until he left the house to binge it.

"I got a rush from the secrecy and the shame I felt. It wasn't until I came home one afternoon and caught him in the same secretive situation that we decided keeping porn out of our relationship wasn't worth lying to each other," she wrote.

While both were nervous about removing the ban, they found that once it was no longer forbidden it wasn't as enticing.

"The first time we brought it back to the bedroom, it was exciting for the first few seconds and then became like background noise. I also found that I was turned on again at what I would have previously considered softcore, because I was more excited at sharing the moment with my husband, rather than by myself," she wrote.

A healthy relationship with porn is perfectly normal.

"It's not a problem when you can view it for the purpose intended - fantasy and sexy entertainment. When it's fun and it's a turn on, but you're not comparing yourself or your sex life to it. You can enjoy in the moment and then disconnect with it," says Dr Goldstein.

As sleep deprived new parents, Garza said she and her husband sometimes rely on porn, "as a catalyst to slip into sexy time with ease" when they have limited time in between changing nappies and feedings.

"I realized that I’m not alone [in watching porn], that it’s OK. I just wanted to stop feeling the shame aspect of it, and I succeeded," she told The Post.

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