Porn Addiction

What Is a Porn Addiction?

Porn addiction is, in theory, when you can’t stop looking at porn, even if you want to. And the obsession gets to the point that it interferes with work, relationships, and other parts of daily life. It’s easy to understand how this could be a problem with the widespread availability of internet porn today. In 2019, for example, the popular site PornHub recorded 42 billion visits -- that’s 115 million a day.

Is Porn Addictive?

Scientists are debating if heavy use of pornography is an addiction in the medical sense of the word.

The World Health Organization added compulsive sexual behavior as a mental health disorder in 2018. And while it doesn’t single out a pornography (or any other) addiction, it does refer to repetitive sexual activities becoming a central focus of a person’s life to the point that they neglect their “health and personal care or other interests, activities, and responsibilities.”

And a study of men who sought treatment for problematic pornography use (PPU) showed that their brains did respond to sexual images.

That gives credence to experts who 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.

But porn addiction isn’t recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That’s the book doctors use to diagnose mental disorders.

And some study results dispute the idea that porn is related to addiction. One group of researchers found that watching porn didn’t activate the parts of the brain usually involved with addiction. In fact, brain activity in those areas decreased.

Other scientists point out that studies so far have either been poorly organized or have struggled with defining what exactly would make this an actual addiction. Plus, some say it’s difficult to get a handle on how widespread the problem is, in part, because few users think the habit is a problem.

Neither does the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. The group says there’s little proof that either sex addition or porn addition are problems. In a position statement on the topic, the group cautions against making consensual sexual behavior a disorder.

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Porn Addiction Signs

Whether it’s an addiction or not, 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 a link between heavy use of porn and dissatisfaction with relationships.

Definitions about how much porn is too much vary. But most experts agree that if it gets in the way of your day-to-day activities, you could be watching too much. For example, if:

  • Porn becomes a central part of your life. You stop doing things you really enjoy so that you can see more of it.
  • You neglect personal care.
  • You lose interest in other activities.
  • You become less interested in social encounters.
  • It damages your relationships.
  • You let go of other responsibilities.
  • It affects your job or schoolwork.
  • You’re looking at it or watching it in places that aren’t appropriate, like work or school.
  • Your sex life starts to be unfulfilling.
  • You have a craving for more.
  • You can’t stop looking at or watching porn, even when you try.
  • You can’t quit even though you don’t enjoy it as much.
  • You’ve been heavily looking at or watching porn for 6 months or more.

Porn Addiction Causes and Risk Factors

Because porn addiction is controversial in the medical/mental health community, there’s no a clear set of causes available. But there may be some clues in the causes of compulsive sexual behavior. Things that lead to porn addiction could include:

  • A brain chemical imbalance. Chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine control your moods. High levels are often tied to compulsive sexual behavior, like heavy porn use.
  • Brain pathway changes. If you do get addicted, it could change the way circuits in your brain work. An addiction means you’ll have to view porn over and over again to get the same level of enjoyment.
  • Brain disease. Conditions like epilepsy and dementia, and treatment for Parkinson’s with dopamine, can damage the part of your brain that controls sexual behavior.

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Things that could make porn addition more likely include:

  • Ease of access. Thanks to the internet, access to porn is a click away.
  • Privacy. Viewing porn in private is easier than ever. Compulsive behaviors thrive in secrecy.

Compulsive sexual behavior like porn addiction could also be more likely if you have:

  • Drug or alcohol and use problems, or family members who have them
  • Other mental health issues such as a mood disorder like depression or a gambling addiction
  • Family conflict
  • A history of physical or sexual abuse

Porn Addiction Treatment and Home Remedies

There is help if you feel your pornography habits are causing problems. The main type of treatment for compulsive sexual behavior is psychotherapy. You could try:

  • Cognitive behavioral  therapy  (CBT) a type of psychotherapy or talk therapy. You’ll work with a mental health professional to identify problem areas in your life and learn ways to overcome them.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy is a form of CBT that emphasizes accepting your thoughts and urges and a committing to actions that are more in line with other values.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy focuses on becoming more aware of unconscious thoughts and behaviors, learning about your motivations, and resolving conflicts.

Medications can help control brain chemicals linked to obsessive thoughts and actions. They include:

  • Antidepressants. Drugs that treat depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder may help.
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol). This medication is used to treat alcohol and opiate dependence. It blocks the part of your brain that gets pleasure from addictive behaviors.
  • Mood stabilizers. Used for conditions like bipolar disorder, they may reduce compulsive sexual urges.
  • Anti-androgens. These medications dull the effects of male sex hormones (androgens). They reduce men’s sexual urges.

You can also look into self-help and support group like Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sexaholics Anonymous. In addition to having people who understand what you’re going through, they can also point you to mental health professionals trained in dealing with excessive porn use.

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

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Porn Addiction Complications

Not getting help for a porn addiction could lead to problems like:

  • Guilt, shame, and low self-esteem
  • Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts
  • Neglecting your partner
  • Damaging relationships
  • Losing of focus at work
  • Job loss from watching internet porn at work
  • Debt from buying porn
  • Troubles with substance abuse
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella on July 19, 2020

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?”

Fight the New Drug: “Pornhub’s Annual Report: Can You Guess 2019’S Top Searched Porn Terms?”

Biological Psychology: “Modulation of late positive potentials by sexual images in problem users and controls inconsistent with “porn addiction.”

Current Sexual Health Reports: “The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model.”

Journal of Clinical Medicine: “Online Porn Addiction: What We Know and What We Don’t -- A Systematic Review.”

American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors & Therapists (AASECT): “AASECT Position on Sex Addiction.”

ICD-11 for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics: “6C72 Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder.”

Neuropsychopharmacology: “Can Pornography be Addictive? An fMRI Study of Men Seeking Treatment for Problematic Pornography Use.”

Mayo Clinic: “Compulsive sexual behavior.”

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