Highlights
  • Nearly everyone has watched pornography at some point—for some it’s a healthy form of sexual exploration and freedom. But for others, a porn habit can become a pornography addiction. 
  • Some signs of a pornography addiction include neglected relationships, poor work performance, reduced sex drive, and excessive spending on pornographic material. 
  • The true causes of pornography addiction aren’t fully known, partially because clinicians aren’t sure how to classify compulsive porn consumption. However, some factors that might make some individuals more susceptible to pornography include brain chemistry imbalances, cultural factors, sexual dysfunction, and sexual boredom.
  • Even though pornography addiction isn’t a fully-recognized condition, it’s still treatable. Therapeutic options often include CBT and sex therapy, and psychiatric medications such as SSRIs can work to lower sexual urges in combination with therapy.

 

When it comes to pornography usage, mental health professionals are divided. Many believe that pornography may be beneficial for sexual exploration, enjoyment, education, and eliminating feelings of shame surrounding sex—while others deride its consumption, or are ambivalent. Regardless, when pornography usage begins to affect someone’s relationships, self-worth, or daily functioning, a provider may determine that pornography addiction may be the issue. 

Even though pornography addiction has yet to be recognized as a diagnosable condition, it’s still a well-known behavioral problem that can be successfully treated with therapeutic methods and/or prescription medications. With assistance from a mental health professional, as well as family, friends, and partners, people who are struggling with their pornography addiction can relieve their symptoms and begin down the road to recovery. 

How Do You Know If You’re Addicted to Pornography?

As with other compulsive behaviors, a pornography addiction can affect someone’s work, academic performance, and limit their social interactions because of their overpowering desire to consume porn. Watching porn may also interfere with their personal hygiene and their sleep schedule. 

An addiction to pornography can also manifest in the following ways:

  • Progressing to more extreme forms of pornography to find pleasure
  • Experiencing shame following porn use, but being unable to stop
  • Finding sexual intercourse to be less satisfying
  • Hiding porn habits from sexual partners and others
  • Spending excessive amounts of money on pornographic material, sometimes at the expense of their basic living necessities
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior, including condom-less sex with strangers
  • Using porn to avoid processing emotions like pain, anxiety, and sadness
  • Consuming porn at work, during family time, or in public settings 
  • Becoming overly defensive when others question their pornography habit
  • Being unable to quit consuming pornography 

Some research suggests that the greatest predictors for porn use include being a teen or young adult, being male, using the internet frequently, being religious, and experiencing sexual boredom.

What Causes Porn Addiction? 

Recent estimates on the prevalence of porn addiction put the number at around 3-6% of adults worldwide. As mentioned above, pornography is often consumed more by young adults, specifically young men and teens. Currently, 65% of young men and 18% of young women report watching porn weekly, but the actual number is likely higher due to fear of stigma. 

The DSM-5 doesn’t officially recognize pornography addiction as a true disorder—and it’s difficult to explain why some people compulsively consume porn and others do not. However, some factors have been identified as risk factors for developing a pornography addiction. They include:

  • Brain chemistry differences: Some individuals may actually be more chemically susceptible to behavioral and substance addictions, and, as a result, may struggle to contain their pornography addiction. 
  • Cultural factors: Societal expectations about appearance, sex, and relationships can also play a part in porn use. 
  • Avoidant behavior: For some people, consuming pornography may become a form of escape in order to avoid pre-existing mental health issues, or to take the edge off significant life transitions or other large changes and stressors. 
  • Relationship problems and sexual dysfunction: Difficulties with someone’s partner, including mismatched libidos, chronic physical or mental health conditions that affect sex drive, or unresolved tension between romantic partners may prompt some individuals to turn to porn in order to fulfill their sexual desires.

Some people, regardless of their age or gender, consume more porn than others and don’t struggle with a pornography addiction. With this in mind, frequent pornography consumption does not always indicate a mental health condition—it depends on the impact of the consumption of porn. 

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Pornography Addiction Therapy: Is There Hope for a Cure? 

Even though a compulsive porn habit is not an official disorder, professional treatment options for this condition are available. Therapy and medication management together can be the most successful treatment route.

Medication 

Antidepressants, specifically SSRIs, can work to lower someone’s libido. To manage someone’s pornography compulsions, naltrexone may be recommended as a treatment measure. Psychiatric providers will often prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI—a type of antidepressant

Common SSRIs such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa can assist in lowering a client’s sex drive, helping them to make more immediate improvements that can help them manage their pornography addiction. SSRIs can also be used for treating co-occurring conditions, such as depressive disorders or anxiety disorders, which may be causing the individual to binge on porn as an unhealthy coping mechanism. 

Therapy 

Speaking to a mental health professional, most likely a sex therapist, or certified cognitive behavioral therapist, is one of the most effective ways to find relief and better control a pornography addiction. Family therapy and couples or marriage counseling can also help family members to offer better support and improve their understanding of the condition.

Therapy can help to address the behavioral issues that medication works to alleviate, working to adjust the core behavioral issues causing the client distress. Regardless, professional guidance, whether it comes from a psychiatric provider or therapist, can help with wading through the feelings of guilt and compulsion that many of us face when it comes to topics surrounding pornography and sexuality. 

Consuming porn, whether it’s habitual or not, doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem. 

But if it seems like you can’t stop watching porn, or if your pornography habit is affecting your career, relationships, or physical and mental health, it’s a good idea to get in contact with a mental health professional. A provider can help you understand and overcome the unhealthy behaviors you’re struggling with and assist you to improve your quality of life.