Porn Addiction – Is It Real and What to Do About It?

Learn what porn addiction is, what are the signs, and how can you stop porn addiction once and for all.

an image of a keyboard with the word porn printed on it

Porn addiction is a debatable subject and not all experts agree that it is a real addiction. Still, there are an increasing number of people who are having trouble stopping watching porn. If you feel like you are unable to stop watching porn even when it has a negative impact on your relationships, career or any other aspect of your life you might have a problem.

Is porn addiction a real addiction?

Formally no. Porn addiction is not categorized as a real addiction. Being addicted to a behavior is called a “process addiction.” As of today, the only recognized process addiction is gambling addiction.

Porn addiction (and sex addiction and hypersexuality in general) is not recognized as a real addiction by Both the American Psychiatric Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In 2018 the World Health Organization added compulsive sexual behavior as a mental health disorder.

In real life, the difference between a compulsion and an addiction is not that important for the person who is dealing with the issue. If you’re having a compulsive need to watch porn that interferes with your life then you should know that help is available.

Is porn addictive? What does research say?

There is not clear answer yet. There is evidence that goes both ways, with some studies showing that porn can be addictive in a similar way to substance addiction and other research showing the exact opposite.

This 2015 paper for example, which reviewed the available neuroscientific literature on internet pornography addiction concluded that “Internet pornography addiction fits into the addiction framework and shares similar basic mechanisms with substance addiction”. In this 2017 study researchers did fMRI scans for men seeking treatment for problematic pornography use. The fMRI scans showed activity in the ventral striatum area of the brain. “The findings suggest similarities between problematic pornography use and addictions“ the authors concluded.

Another 2012 study concluded that behavioral addiction is real and is similar to substance addiction (like alcohol and drugs addiction)

On the other hand, other studies like this one found that biomarkers of addiction were not present with “porn addiction.”

Some of the researchers that claim that porn is not addictive point out that many of the studies that showed it is addictive were poorly designed.

The official stance of The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) is that “linking problems related to sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors to a porn/sexual addiction process cannot be advanced by AASECT as a standard of practice for sexuality education delivery, counseling or therapy.”

While research is inconclusive there is a growing number of people who are looking for help with porn addiction recovery, and an increasing number of therapists who are offering help for people who are dealing with compulsive sexual behaviors (such as compulsive porn viewing habits)

Signs and diagnosis

While there isn’t an agreed upon diagnosis protocol that all therapists agree on, there are still signs you should look out for.

  • You use porn to cope with personal difficulties like stress, anxiety, depression, sleeping problems or other mental health issues
  • You want to stop but you feel like you are unable to
  • You have constant compulsive thoughts about porn throughout the day
  • You feel guilty, frustrated or ashamed (not because of religious or moral conflicts)
  • Sex has become less satisfying and you might not be able to enjoy sex without watching porn
  • You develop tolerance to porn – you need to progress to more extreme hardcore porn to get the same levels of satisfaction
  • You started to experience relationship issues, either around your porn viewing habits or generally
  • You take risks to watch porn, such as viewing porn at work or in public places where there is a chance you’ll get caught
  • Porn negatively affects your personal responsibilities such as family, work or school
  • You continue to watch porn even though it have serious negative consequences, like fighting with your partner, neglecting your work, social life or family.
  • You think that porn has led to sexual dysfunctions like porn induced erectile dysfunction, porn induced premature ejaculation or performance anxiety
  • When you stop watching porn you experience withdrawal symptoms – you become agitated, upset and get angry easily
  • Porn interrupts with your day to day life
  • The time you spend watching porn constantly increases

It’s important to note that one of the leading underlying causes that make people seek help for porn addiction is inner moral or religious conflicts. For example, some Christians want to stop watching porn because it contradicts their religious belief.

Watching porn in itself is not a problem. If a person has a “perceived addiction” because of inner conflicts that make him feel guilty, some therapists will treat the negative feelings and not the porn viewing habits.

Causes and risk factors

There isn’t a defined list of causes or risk factors for porn addiction, however there are a few theories as to what can lead to this problem:

  • Other mental health issues – anxiety disorder, mood disorder and other substance abuse like drugs and alcohol, sexual dysfunction, and other problematic behaviors have been shown to be more common in men with problematic sexual behavior
  • Believing you have a problem – research suggest that thinking you have a problem is more significant than the actual amount of porn you’re watching, or the effect it has on your life
  • Genetics or biological causes – some believe that certain people have a higher risk of developing compulsive, addiction like behaviors such gambling addiction
  • Life circumstances – being socially isolated or failing in developing romantic relationships might put you at risk
  • Sexual reward stimuli – the theory is that an artificial stimuli like online pornography, can potentially activate our natural reward system at higher levels than what we historically encountered as our brains evolved, making it liable to switch into an addictive mode. Dopamine levels has an important role in this sexual reward stimuli theory.

Another thing to keep in mind is that privacy and ease of access have improved in recent years leading to a large increase in porn viewing.

How to stop porn addiction

There isn’t a clear guideline for the treatment of porn addiction or compulsive sexual behavioral. Therapists use different forms of therapy to help people who suffer from this condition.

Therapy

Different forms of therapy can help either treat the compulsive sexual behavior or treat the negative feelings that are wrongly associated with porn.

Therapy can also help treat mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder which are sometimes associated with porn addiction.

Some of the common therapy methods that can be used for porn addiction are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Group therapy and support groups (such as 12-steps recovery programs) treatment
  • Psychotherapy
  • Couples counseling

Click Here to Schedule an Online Sex Therapy Session With a Certified Sex Therapist

Mindfulness

There are a few mindfulness based techniques that can be learned and practiced alone or with the help of a therapist that can help.

A few case studies report good results in treating compulsive sexual behavior using mindfulness. Mindfulness based approaches include:

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Medications

There are no dedicated approved medications for porn addictions. Since watching porn might be an escape from dealing with other mental health issues like depression or anxiety, sometimes your doctor will prescribe medications (such as anti-depressants) to treat the underlying issue.

Effects and complications of porn addiction

Porn addiction can have serious negative effects on a person’s wellbeing. This can be true both if the addiction is “real” or if it is only a “perceived addiction.”

Feelings of guilt, shame and low self-esteem are common. Having a compulsive uncontrolled behavior can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Some experts think that one compulsive, addiction like behavior can lead to other damaging behaviors such as substance abuse.

This research suggests that frequent porn use can lower relationships quality and satisfaction. Other research showed that watching too much porn can also lead to lower sexual satisfaction.

Some believe that watching too much porn can lead to porn-induced erectile dysfunction. The most common explanation for this compliant is that unrealistic expectation can lead to performance anxiety. Masturbating too frequently can also lead to sexual exhaustion and lack of interest in sex that can make it hard to achieve an erection during sex.

Some complain that watching too much porn has caused them to lose interest in real life sex. And if you teach yourself to ejaculate quickly during masturbation a habit can form that might lead to premature ejaculation.

Summary

Whether porn addiction is a real addiction or not is yet to be decided. But the important thing is to realize is that if a certain behavior makes you feel distressed, you should seek for ways to remedy the situation. Help is available!

About Dr. Michael Stokes

Mental Health Counselor and Sex Therapist

Dr. Michael Stokes is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist in Rhode Island and a Licensed Professional Counselor in Connecticut who has a Doctorate in Professional Counseling and Supervision.

Dr. Stokes serves as a professional consultant for the Between Us Clinic. He is available for online teletherapy sessions. He also writes and reviews professional materials and articles.

In his private clinic, Dr. Stokes enjoys working with individuals and couples of all genders and sexual orientations who need additional support. He has years of experience providing sex therapy and can treat an array of sexual and intimacy disorders.