Pornography Addiction

One recent study defines porn as “written or pictorial [including video] material describing or showing sexually explicit images designed to elicit sexual arousal.”

It’s not tough to find. Its lure is strong. Frequent use of it can be a problem personally, socially, even professionally. Some experts say heavy use of pornography can negatively affect how our brains work.

If you’re a frequent user of porn -- as millions are -- you should be aware of the potential drawbacks for you and those around you.

Is Porn Addictive?

Researchers are debating if excessive use of pornography is an addiction in the scientific and medical sense of the word.

Porn addiction is not directly defined in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which doctors use to diagnose mental disorders. But a growing body of research suggests that heavy porn use might be a sign of addiction.

Some experts say that the same brain activity shown in drug or alcohol addiction -- when circuits in your brain associated with reward, motivation, and memory get turned on -- is in those who use pornography a lot. And some porn users do show symptoms of addiction, including:

  • Not being able to stay away from it consistently
  • Problems controlling their behavior
  • A craving for rewarding experiences
  • Being unable to see the relationship issues caused by heavy use

Other research disputes the idea that porn is related to addiction. Regardless, those who use pornography too much can end up with real, definable problems.

The Problem With Porn

Those who use pornography regularly have intense urges or cravings for sex. They turn to porn when they’re anxious. They also tend to struggle at work and at home. Some experts believe there’s an association between excessive use of porn and dissatisfaction with relationships.

Definitions about how much porn is too much -- how much is “excessive” -- vary. But most experts agree that if it interferes with your day-to-day activities, you could be watching too much. For example, if:

  • You stop doing things you really enjoy so that you can see more of it.
  • Your sex life starts to be unfulfilling.
  • You become less interested in social encounters.

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Breaking Porn’s Grasp

Those who feel their pornography habits are causing problems can get help.

Self-help approaches, motivational techniques, and a psychological treatment known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) have treated behavior that results from watching too much porn.

CBT is a type of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. You work with a mental health professional to identify problem areas in your life and learn ways to overcome them.

Support groups associated with organizations like Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sexaholics Anonymous can point you to mental health professionals trained in dealing with excessive porn use.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357) can point you to professionals in your area who can help.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 19, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Kraus, S. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, published online Sept. 8, 2017.

Kühn, S. JAMA Psychiatry, published online May 28, 2014.

American Psychological Association: “Is pornography addictive?”

Love, T. Behavioral Sciences, published online Sept. 18, 2015.

American Society of Addiction Medicine: “Definition of Addiction.”

Steele, V. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, published online July 16, 2013.

Voon, V. PLoS One, published online July 11, 2014.

Vaillancourt-Morel, M. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, January 2017.

Grant, J. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, September 2010.

Mayo Clinic: “Cognitive behavioral therapy.”

Sexaholics Anonymous: “Who Are We?”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.”

University of California, Santa Barbara: “Am I Watching Too Much Pornography?”

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