August 1, 2023

What Is Porn Addiction?

Porn addiction refers to problematic patterns of compulsively watching porn. When someone has an addiction, their behaviors affect their emotional well-being, relationships, and overall quality of life. Someone addicted to porn may face problems with their partner or have issues with their sexual urges and desires.

Defining Normal Porn Use

Talking about porn addiction also means also talking about acceptable porn use. That said, this topic is largely controversial because porn remains a contentious issue within society. Some people are adamantly against all porn content, stating that it’s largely degrading and harmful to relationships. Others are tolerant of certain kinds of porn, as long as people consume it reasonably. And others don’t know where they stand- or it varies based on their relationship. 

If someone is in a relationship, it’s important to consider discussing boundaries around porn use. This may look different for everyone, but some common limits include:

  • Not watching porn every day
  • Watching ethical porn or agreeing on types of porn that are permissible to consume
  • Watching porn together
  • Prohibiting porn use altogether
  • Being honest about porn use

In most cases, boundaries need to be collaborative and reviewed periodically. If one partner can’t or doesn’t want to maintain such limits, it’s important to discuss the next steps. Ongoing boundary-pushing will cause resentment and can erode the sense of honesty within a relationship. 

Signs of Porn Addiction 

Porn addiction is considered a process or behavioral addiction. The signs and symptoms of being dependent on porn are similar to being dependent on other particular vices, such as shopping, gambling, or video games.

Hiding or lying about porn use: Someone with a porn addiction will often downplay or lie about how much porn they watch. The deceit can be due to shame, but it can also be due to trying to avoid being judged by a partner.

Trying to stop or moderate porn use but feeling unable to do: There’s not a specific amount of time that justifies having a porn addiction. However, someone who struggles with porn use will often break self-proclaimed boundaries about how and when to watch porn. Even if they say they will stop, they can’t adhere to their word.

Spending excessive money on porn or related activities: Someone with a porn addiction may spend money they don’t have to fuel their habit. They might also spend money on other related items, like extra phones or laptops to conceal their use.

Viewing porn in inappropriate places: Someone with a porn addiction may watch porn at work or other locations where it’s typically considered unacceptable.

Disinterest or dissatisfaction in current sex life: Porn can offer an escape from someone’s ordinary sex life. But someone with an addiction will often find that their own sex life becomes increasingly less satisfying.

Relationship problems due to porn use: Porn use can cause problems in romantic relationships, particularly if the other partner disapproves of the habit. It can also cause the person with the addiction to develop unrealistic expectations about their sex life.

Progressively watching more extreme porn: Over time, porn can cause a habituation effect, where people become increasingly desensitized to the type of content they view. This can lead people with an addiction to watch more extreme content to achieve the same release.

Shame and frustration over porn use: Many people with porn addictions experience fear, shame, guilt, and anger about their habits. Despite these intense feelings, they still find it challenging to stop their use. 

Neglecting other activities or responsibilities: Compulsive porn use can cause people to disregard other important parts of their daily routine. They may spend so much time watching porn that they forgo taking care of other tasks.

Causes of Porn Addiction

Sexually-explicit content has been around for centuries. It predates videos and the Internet. But porn really started gaining traction in the early-to-mid 1990s when the home computer became popularized. Today, porn is entirely widespread, with a recent study indicating that 91% of men and 60% of women consumed porn in the last month. Another study found that people are generally first exposed to porn around ages 11-12.

Like all addictions, porn addiction is inherently complex. There isn’t a single factor that contributes to addiction. Instead, it’s important to examine potential risk factors, which may include:

Other mental health concerns: Porn addiction can coincide with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Some people may use porn as a way to self-medicate those symptoms and provide an immediate sense of relief. However, this effect is short-lived, and ongoing addiction problems tend to exacerbate mental health issues.

Sexual problems: Sexual problems sometimes correlate with porn addiction. People may choose to compulsively masturbate to avoid having sex with others, which may be a sign of underlying sexual dysfunctions.

History of trauma: Trauma is a common risk factor across all types of addiction. Trauma can cause feelings of unlovability and unworthiness, which can lead people to abuse certain substances or items, including porn.

Problematic cultural views about sex: Some experts believe that porn addiction coincides with problematic perceptions of sex and attraction. People may turn to porn to fulfill sexual fantasies and aid with masturbation, but over time, this repetitive behavior can become compulsive. 

Relationship problems: Some people may turn to porn to cope with relationship dissatisfaction, especially if they feel frustrated sexually.

Porn Addiction Vs. Sex Addiction

Sex addiction is generally used to refer to any type of compulsive sexual behavior. Such behaviors may include porn, but they can also include infidelity, excessive masturbation, having risky or unprotected sex, using escorts or strip clubs, or even feeling addicted to having sex with a monogamous partner.

The World Health Organization classifies sex addiction as a mental health disorder. However, some mental health experts are cautious to use this term or refute it altogether. 

For example, it can be argued that labeling behavior under the term ‘addiction’ may stigmatize certain sexual actions. Some experts also claim that sex addiction can be used as a weapon for one partner to excuse themselves for engaging in irresponsible or reckless behavior in a relationship.

That said, there is evidence showing that viewing pornography can affect the brain just like addictive substances. It triggers increasing amounts of dopamine, the feel-good hormone associated with pleasure. Over time, the brain craves this dopamine (and more of it) to achieve a baseline sense of contentment.

Porn is also free, easily accessible, and generally socially acceptable. All these factors can reinforce compulsive behavior. Even when people want to stop, it’s very easy to slip back into old habits.

Porn Addiction Treatment

It is possible to recover from porn addiction, but it does require time, effort, and a willingness to change. Many people find that the recovery process is not linear- it is normal to have some setbacks along the way. Here are some steps that can help if you’re struggling. 

Address the triggers causing your porn use: It’s important for people to recognize the patterns of their porn habits. What time of day, for example, are you most likely to watch porn? What emotions and thoughts underlie their consumption? Recognizing triggers is the first step in moving toward change.

Seek couples therapy: Some couples benefit from seeking therapy to work on their relationship issues. This can be especially helpful if there are difficulties with communication and intimacy. Therapy will help both partners recognize the part they play in their relationship dynamic. It can also reinforce boundaries around porn and sex. 

Individual therapy: People with porn addiction can benefit from seeking individual support. Therapy may focus on changing negative thoughts, strengthening new coping skills, and improving overall self-esteem. If trauma coincides with porn addiction, working through that can also be valuable. 

In-person support groups: There are several support groups available for people wanting to recover from porn or sex addiction. 12-Step groups, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, provide peer-based guidance for recovery. In addition, many therapists hold local groups for porn addiction or other sexual concerns. 

Online support groups: There are also many online support groups where people can access guidance and connection worldwide. For example, NoFap offers facilitated online groups with ongoing accountability. There is also an active free Reddit group with over 1 million members. 

Lifestyle changes: It is important to make sustainable lifestyle changes to avoid slipping back into old behaviors. Most people will need to set technology boundaries for themselves when it comes to how they use their phones or computers. It’s also helpful to get active in other hobbies that feel enjoyable and productive.

How Loved Ones Can Be Supportive

Porn addiction can be devastating for partners. Some people internalize the issue and blame themselves, thinking that if they were “better,” their partner would not need to turn to porn. Others feel angry and vindictive, especially if they have set boundaries around this problem in the past. 

Don’t blame yourself: A porn addiction is not a reflection of your moral value or the quality of your relationship. Your partner is responsible for their own actions. Even if certain relationship issues are exacerbating porn habits, it is not fair to assume sole accountability.

Share your own feelings respectfully: It’s important to be honest with your partner about how their actions affect you. Try to share your concerns during a neutral time when you know that you can stay calm.

Be mindful of shame: Porn use can be quite shameful. That doesn’t mean you need to entirely filter yourself, but keep in mind that your partner probably wants to stop and feels embarrassed by their behavior. It’s important that you convey that you believe in them and know this can be worked through. 

Talk optimistically about a recovery plan: If you want to stay in this relationship, it’s important to collaborate on solutions together. Ask your partner what they’re willing to do to get help. If they aren’t willing to seek support at this time, consider which boundaries you want to set.

Have your own emotional outlet: It may be helpful to seek your own therapy or support group at this time. You need a place where you can openly share your feelings and needs. 

Revisit boundaries as needed: You’re allowed to have your own limits in a relationship. If your partner genuinely can’t respect those needs- or keeps lying to you- it’s important to reevaluate your intentions. 

Final Thoughts

Porn addiction can be difficult for individuals and their loved ones. Like all addictions, porn use can worsen progressively over time, and stress tends to exacerbate the issue. 

That said, help is available. If you are struggling, it’s important to be honest with yourself and reach out for support. 

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Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

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