Pornography has been with us since the late 19th century, not long after the invention of film. Erotic art dates back even further —before the Common Era, ancient Mesopotamians created glyptic art portraying graphic depictions of the missionary position. Explicit content designed to stimulate sexual excitement has since become a mainstay of the media landscape, and it hasn’t shown any signs of dwindling demand.

But it wasn’t until relatively recently that porn began to be seen as a potential problem.

With 4G-connected smartphones in our pockets, we can stream hard-core, high-definition pornography to our screens 24/7. And that easy access, combined with numerous other factors, have led some consumers to report suffering from an addiction.

Although prominent psychologists argue that excessive porn consumption is a compulsion rather than an addiction, viewing habits can be highly problematic for some people. The inability to reign in rampant use can cause numerous interpersonal, physiological, and psychological problems that have a tangible negative impact on the consumer’s wellbeing.

In this article, we’ll lift the lid on this taboo topic by discussing the definition, causes, symptoms, and treatment options for porn addiction.

Is Porn Addiction Real?

While there’s little doubt that excessive porn consumption can become problematic, most psychiatric professionals don’t consider the phenomenon an addiction in the clinical sense.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA), the most well-regarded psychology body in the country, doesn’t recognize problematic pornographic use (PPU) as an addiction. Instead, its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which mental health professionals around America refer to every day, declares PPU a compulsive behavior.

The APA agrees that PPU meets at least two of the four criteria that define addiction:

  1. Strong cravings to consume porn at regular intervals and the inability to reduce consumption (lack of control).
  2. Porn can have negative impacts on work, school, or home life (social problems).

However, the APA doesn’t believe PPU meets the other two addiction criteria.

  1. An association with risk-taking behavior.
  2. The presence of tolerance or withdrawal symptoms.

Some psychologists argue PPU can be associated with risk-taking behavior when the afflicted watches pornography in inappropriate situations, such as in public or at work. Others believe consumers can build a tolerance to porn, causing them to seek out increasingly taboo content.

Nonetheless, other leading psychological bodies recognize pornography consumption as a compulsion rather than an addiction. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), for example, believes pornography use isn’t addictive, and that any argument otherwise is based on conservative societal norms.

Compulsion versus Addiction: What’s the Difference?

A compulsion is a repetitive behavior that doesn’t have a rational motivation. People engage in compulsive behavior to mitigate anxiety rather than to achieve a “fix” or “high.”

An addiction, on the other hand, must involve an inability to cease a behavior, despite the detrimental consequences. Addictions alter the brain’s biochemical balance by boosting dopamine, compelling the addict to continue the problematic behaviour. With prolonged consumption, the brain produces less dopamine in everyday life. Thus, the addict builds up a reliance on the substance or behavior to compensate for reduced dopamine levels.

Although sex and masturbation both produce high dopamine levels, neither has been found to reduce dopamine production overall. That’s a major reason why problematic pornography use isn’t considered an addiction, at least not in the clinical sense.

A 2015 study published on APA PsycNet found the self-diagnosis of a porn addiction causes more psychological distress than the addiction itself. These findings imply that people experience anxiety from the mere possibility that they could be addicted to porn.

The Argument for Problematic Pornography Use (PPU) Being an Addiction

The term “porn addiction” is still widely used, and some research suggests the phenomena isn’t all that unlike other well-documented addictions.

For example, the journal Behavioral Science published a 2015 study that used an electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor changes in brain activity when a self-confessed porn addict viewed erotic material. The EEG detected a reactive event within 300 milliseconds of the subject viewing pornography, a similar result to when a drug addict views substance-related paraphernalia. Thus, the researchers concluded porn addiction shares similar neurological mechanisms to drug addiction.

Behavioral science experts at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) argue any content capable of stimulating a person should be classified as having the potential for addiction. Examples include gambling, computer games, habitual internet use, and pornography.

Another NCBI study found that upon viewing pornography, males who reported PPU had neurological changes consistent with other recognized addictions. Interestingly, a control group of men who hadn’t reported PPU didn’t have these tell-tale biochemical reactions. Thus, the researchers concluded that some people are prone to develop an addiction to pornography in much the same way as others do with alcohol and illicit substances.

The Causes of Porn Addiction

As porn addiction is a poorly defined and somewhat taboo topic, there’s fierce debate over what causes the affliction.

Experts who believe problematic pornography use is a clinical addiction argue that it stems from various potential causes, including:

Sexual Dissatisfaction

Excessive porn consumption could stem from an unsatisfying sexual relationship. When a person isn’t achieving the desired stimulation from intercourse—or isn’t engaging in any intercourse at all—they may seek refuge in pornography as a sexual outlet. These regular viewing habits can transform into a full-blown addiction.

Poor Mental Health

Someone with underlying psychological issues might use pornography as an escape. Achieving an orgasm releases dopamine in the brain, which reduces anxiety and stress. Some people may use porn as a coping mechanism to mitigate other psychological illnesses. Prolonged use among people with severe psychiatric conditions could lead to an addiction.

Biological Predisposition

A genetic predisposition could make some people more susceptible to the stimuli contained in erotic content, in much the same way others are more likely to get addicted to drugs or alcohol. A predisposition to porn addiction would likely correspond to a propensity to suffer from sex addiction, also known as “hypersexuality disorder.”

Cultural Norms

Unhealthy societal views regarding gender roles could potentially make some people more inclined to view pornography in excess. For example, a male who holds chauvinistic views could be drawn towards pornography that portrays women as submissive and subservient.

The Symptoms of Porn Addiction

Regardless of whether porn addiction is a real addiction or not, plenty of people report ill effects from excessive consumption. Porn addiction affects both the addict and those around them, most notably their partner.

If you’re wondering whether your or your partner’s viewing habits are healthy or constitute problematic pornographic use, keep an eye out for the following symptoms.

Lack of Control

  • You find it difficult to stop watching pornography, even when you make a conscious effort to avoid erotic content.
  • Your partner promises they’ll cease watching pornography or cut down on their viewing habits but fails to do so.

Constant Cravings

  • You feel a nagging desire to watch pornography at random intervals throughout the day. If you haven’t watched porn for a while, the cravings will increase until you succumb to them. Watching porn feels like a fix that gives you a high.
  • Your partner makes excuses to get some alone time, and you suspect they use that time to indulge in private porn viewing sessions.

Lost Time

  • You spend hours each day watching porn, which cuts into the time allocated for household chores or study/work. You find you’re spending more and more time watching porn, even when you’ve got a long list of essential things to do.
  • Your partner seems short on time and has stopped helping out around the house.

Lost Money

  • You spend large sums of money on erotic subscription services, which has a tangible effect on your financial situation.
  • You notice your partner is spending vast sums of money on strange services that pop up on their bank statement (pornography vendors tend to be discreet when billing). When you question these unfamiliar transactions, your partner appears elusive or agitated.

Reduced Interest in Sex

  • You stop initiating sex with your partner and turn down their advances. You’d rather view pornography than be intimate with your partner.
  • Your partner seems uninterested in intimacy, preferring to spend an abnormal amount of time alone.

Unrealistic Expectations

  • You develop unrealistic expectations regarding how things should pan out in the bedroom. You try to coerce your partner into performing uncomfortable or demeaning acts that you’ve seen in pornography.
  • Your partner begins requesting increasingly risqué acts in the bedroom, and appears disappointed or frustrated if you refuse.

Porn in the Bedroom

  • You bring pornography into the bedroom and focus more on the content than your partner during intercourse. You need to watch porn to become adequately aroused before initiating intimacy.
  • Your partner insists on watching porn before or during sex.

Less Physical Attraction

  • You compare your partner to the models you see in porn and find them less attractive as a result. Excessive pornography use frequently leads to unrealistic expectations of beauty.
  • Your partner appears unimpressed by your physical form and makes derogatory comments about your appearance.

Physical Pain

  • Your genitals are constantly sore from excessive masturbation, or you develop aches in your wrist, back, or neck from prolonged computer use.
  • Your partner shows some or all of the above phsyical symptoms but tries to hide or downplay them.

Risky Viewing Habits

  • You watch pornography at work or in public, muting the volume and tilting your phone on an angle to prevent others from seeing the screen.
  • Your partner watches porn on their phone discreetly when you’re spending time together.

Shame

  • You feel bad about your viewing habits but find it impossible to stop. You feel an immediate sense of guilt or depression after concluding a lengthy masturbation session.
  • Your partner hides their porn-viewing habits from you out of shame.

Diagnosing these Symptoms

While moderate consumption is healthy and normal, porn can become problematic when the consumer experiences several of the above symptoms. If multiple points on this list apply to you, then it may be worth seeking professional intervention.

If you’re worried about your partner’s porn addiction, however, the first step should be starting an open and honest dialogue. Many of the partner symptoms outlined on this list could easily be attributed to other things, so it’s crucial to communicate your concerns and get to the bottom of the issue.

How to Treat a Porn Addiction

support group

Although it may seem daunting to break the cycle of prolonged porn use, it’s not impossible. There are several strategies, medications, and therapies you can use to kick your unhealthy porn habit for good—and some don’t even require professional intervention.

How to Treat a Porn Addiction on Your Own

It may take a lot of willpower, but beating a porn addiction on your own isn’t unheard of. There are various steps you can take to curb your habits without getting a doctor or therapist involved:

Destroy Your Porn

Much like an alcoholic pouring wine down the drain, the first step towards recovery is ridding yourself of any tempting erotic content.

Delete your digital porn collection from your hard drive and empty the recycling bin folder to ensure you can’t access it again. Next, remove all the pornographic bookmarks on your browser and delete all your accounts for adult streaming services. If you’ve got any old pornographic magazines or DVDs lying around, toss them in the bin.

Anti-Porn Software

Although not entirely foolproof, anti-porn software makes it difficult to access adult content online, which reduces the likelihood of a relapse. Install a program like NetNanny on both your computer and phone, and then get a trusted third party to safeguard the password.

Install the program on any future computers and phones, even if you think you’ve overcome the affliction.

Avoiding Triggers

Sexualized imagery can trigger impromptu pornography use, so it pays to reduce your exposure to quash your addiction.

Unsubscribe from any racy channels on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Avoid consuming news media that frequently features sexualized imagery.

Have a Plan-B

Masturbation is an entirely natural and healthy act. Regular ejaculation offers a range of health benefits for men, including reducing the risk of prostate cancer.

A person suffering from a porn addiction doesn’t need to abstain from masturbation altogether; they should only refrain from watching pornography during the process.

If you struggle to achieve an orgasm without pornography, identify non-X-rated material you find sexually arousing and use that instead. It could be the underwear section of the Sears catalog or a Hollywood film featuring your favorite actor/actress—it doesn’t matter, so long as it’s not porn.

Keep a Diary

Retaining a written record of your triumphs and tribulations will help keep you accountable in your quest.

Write down your most common triggers and how you overcame them. Make detailed notes on how porn addiction has adversely affected your life, and refer to them when you feel cravings kick in.

Treating a Porn Addiction Through Therapy

If your porn addiction is causing relationship woes or making you feel wracked with anxiety or guilt, the best course of action is to seek therapy.

A therapist will typically suggest one-on-one consultations or group therapy, perhaps with your partner involved if the relationship is at stake. Counseling can help you understand what caused the addiction to spiral out of control and define a list of actionable coping mechanisms.

However, be aware that every therapist holds unique personal views towards pornography and porn addiction. Some believe it’s a severe condition that requires immediate intervention, while others dismiss or downplay the symptoms. Gauge whether your preferred therapist will suit your specific situation and aligns with your values before committing to a session.

Also, be skeptical of any therapist that claims to be a specialist in treating porn addiction. The disorder isn’t formally recognized by leading psychological bodies; therefore, it’s not something a healthcare professional can specialize in—approach with caution.

Treating a Porn Addiction Through Support Groups

Addicts of all kinds find strength by sharing their experiences with others who suffer from the same affliction.

Support groups for sex addiction, pornography addiction, and hypersexuality disorder meet in-person throughout America—ask your doctor for a local recommendation.

Online support groups let porn addicts discuss issues anonymously, perfect for suffers who feel ashamed or embarrassed about the taboo condition. Reddit’s NoFap has a strong support network—the subreddit focuses on forgoing masturbation, but there’s a porn addiction element in there. Another option is DailyStrength.org, where porn/sex addicts around America speak freely about their struggles.

Treating a Porn Addiction Through a Doctor

If you suffer from pain in the genital region or have difficulty achieving orgasm, a doctor can provide treatment for these physiological conditions.

There aren’t any medications specifically designed to treat porn addiction. However, some medicines may help treat the underlying cause, thus mitigate cravings. Speak to a psychiatrist if you feel struggles with anxiety or depression might be responsible for your porn addiction.

Resources

If you or a loved one are struggling with porn addiction, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer

At RehabAid.com, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

We provide our readers with factual, evidence-based content concerning the causes and nature of addiction, as well as available treatment options. However, this informative content is intended for educational purposes only. It is by no means a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. With regard to any addiction-related health concerns, you should always seek the guidance of a qualified, registered physician who is licensed to practice medicine in your particular jurisdiction. You should never avoid or delay seeking professional health care advice or services based on information obtained from our website. Our authors, editors, medical reviewers, website developers, and parent company do not assume any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a result of the material presented on RehabAid.com