Porn Addiction: Causes, Effects, Risks and Treatment

Last Updated: January 20, 2021

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Porn addiction does seem like a strange topic to discuss. Nevertheless, it is something that has been consuming and ruining the lives of individuals all over the world. It is the uncontrollable urge to view pornography even if one does not want to. It becomes an obsession that interferes with one’s life, work, school, and relationships.

There are still many debates about the legitimacy of its being categorized as an addiction or whether pornography is addictive. In 2018, the World Health Organization recognized compulsive sexual behavior disorder as a mental health disorder, and it is included in the IDC-11 as an impulse control disorder. Read along further to find out all about pornography addiction, its causes, and effects, how to stop watching porn, how to stop porn addiction, and what are the treatment options.

Pornography Addiction: A Subset Of Sexual Addiction

Sex addiction, sometimes referred to as hypersexuality or hypersexual disorder, is defined as the compulsive need to have sexual activity despite the ensuing potential negative consequences. As both actions (sex and porn addiction), they can be called dual diagnosis, release the same pleasure chemicals into the brain, many are quick to lump pornography and sex addiction into the same mix. However, the two are differentiated because sex addiction requires a predilection towards intercourse while pornography merely implies the need to view explicit material. So, in other words, many sex addicts overuse pornography, but a porn addict often does not crave sex.

According to a study about how the brains of people suffering from porn addiction work, the results found that those people’s brains showed similar activity to those of drug addicts. Another research showed that addiction to pornography by male participants of married couples caused less satisfaction, whereas the opposite was true for female participants.

Porno Addiction Causes

There can be several factors that contribute to the development of a porn addict. These are categorized below:

Biological Factors

Some of the corresponding biological factors include the following:

  • Certain types of genes may cause a person to seek sensation and impulsivity.
  • A person may have the predisposition to have anxiety and depression, which can cause porno dependence.
  • Higher levels of sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen may cause a person to become inclined towards impulsivity and engage in excessive compulsive porn-watching.

Psychological Factors

The psychological factors that can become the cause of excessive porn-watching include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Personality disorders
  • Mental health disorders
  • Poor impulse control
  • Abuse or exposure to sexual content

Social Factors

Certain social factors can also become the cause as listed below:

  • Peer pressure, e.g., having a friend, group of friends, coworkers, or room partners indulging in excessive porn watching, can also become the cause.
  • Social isolation
  • Rejection in relationships and social circles
  • Sexual dissatisfaction from a relationship
  • Unhealthy cultural norms
the guy looks at adult content in the browser.

How Common is Porno Addiction?

Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it has been suggested that because so many people are using porn today, the pornography industry is making more money than all of the professional sports combined.

According to statistics:

  • 20% of men admit to accessing porn at work, and 13% of women admit to the same
  • 40 million US adults regularly visit porn sites
  • 10% of adults admit to watching pornography
  • 17% of women suffer from this addiction

According to the latest study published in the setting of the covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns, and social distancing has led to an increase in the viewing of pornography. One of the biggest websites of pornography, Pornhub, reported an 11% increase in its viewership in just one month from February 2020 to March 2020.

Porno Addiction Risk Groups

Although anyone can develop this dependence, certain risk factors can increase the chances of falling into this addiction. These are listed below:

  • Genetics play a role in increasing or decreasing the risk of being addicted to porn by altering the ways in which the brain and body perceive and experience something.
  • Having other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and other psychological disorders also increases the risk.
  • Going through some emotional trauma might increase the risk of this compulsive addictive behavior.
  • Environmental factors such as neglect or abuse during childhood can also translate to adopting this addiction later in life.
  • Early and inappropriate exposure to adult content may also increase the risk of being addicted to it.
  • Poor parenting and lack of supervision can also increase the risk.
  • The easy and widespread accessibility of pornography through the internet has greatly increased the risk of developing its dependence.
A man watches an adult video on a laptop.

Porno Addiction Signs

There are certain tell-tale signs through which one can determine whether someone is addicted to porn or not. These signs and symptoms of a porn addict are listed below:

  • The person cannot stop watching porn and continues to spend more and more time on the internet.
  • They want and crave more, which is evident from them avoiding discussions and company and going to their room to view pornography.
  • They seem to lose track of time and end up wasting time while accomplishing nothing.
  • They seem to lose interest in sex since they find their partners less attractive than actors they see in porn.
  • They develop unrealistic expectations from sex after watching porn and expect more from their partner, which might not be possible in real life.
  • They develop physical pain, which might be because of the posture they sit while viewing, or it could be headaches, neck and shoulder pains, and backaches.
  • They start losing money by buying higher quality subscriptions on pornography websites.
  • They are distracted from their friends, family, colleagues, and peers as their minds drift to porn while in their company.
  • They easily get angry and frustrated if they are unable to watch pornography.

Effects of Porno Addiction

The short and long-term effects of porn addiction are something that science is just beginning to discover as more and more research is geared towards this. At Cambridge, they studied the brains of 19 porn addicts versus a control group of people who say they are not addicted to porn, and they did a brain imaging study. The same kind of brain activity that is observed in alcoholics, drug addicts, and gambling addicts was also observed in the brain of porn addicts. The same pleasure and reward centers of their brains lit up during the imaging.

Wife Caught Husband Watching Pornographic Videos.

There are inherent dangers associated with this dependence, just like any other form of addiction, some of which are listed below:

  • Frequent porn viewing can lead to masturbation addiction and negatively affect their intimate relationships.
  • It can become difficult for the addict to become aroused without watching pornography.
  • It can cause a decline in sexual relationships and intimacy among couples.
  • It increases the risk of infidelity.
  • It may cause a relationship to end.
  • It can interfere with job and work responsibilities, and the persons might end up losing their jobs.
  • It can lead to financial problems because of lower productivity at work and using money to buy high-quality pornography content.
  • It can lower a person’s self-esteem.

Breaking Porno Addiction: How To Stop Watching Porn

Porn addiction, just as any other compulsive behavior, is not something that one can simply quit. Like most addiction types, it goes beyond mere habit and becomes a chemical dependence where there is a chemical process that goes on in the brain of a porn addict, in the pleasure and reward centers as porn is being watched.

Breaking this dependence is not easy, but there are ways to overcome it. The following video describes the importance of why it is necessary to stop viewing pornography.

All of the successful methods on how to stop watching porn require a painstaking, dedicated, and sustained effort on one’s part. Some of the best ways to overcome porn dependence are highlighted below.

Acknowledge the problem

First of all, one needs to acknowledge the problem before making any real effort towards overcoming it. If a person can’t admit a problem, then there is no way that one is going to actively seek out help or try to change the situation. So a crucial step in overcoming this compulsive behavior is admitting to oneself having a problem and that help is needed.

Avoid Excessive Privacy and Idleness

It is no brainer that the temptation to watch pornography comes when one is alone, and he has nothing else more pressing to do. Whenever these two conditions are met, the urge to watch pornography becomes so great that it may become irresistible. So, one way to alleviate this dependence is to avoid being alone or idle at all costs.

Engage in Meaningful Activities

Doing other fruitful and fulfilling things like exercising, volunteer work, gardening, etc., helps fill the emptiness that might be felt when one is going through porno addiction withdrawal. Making sure this withdrawal does not go out of hand is critical to making sure one doesn’t falter or fall completely back into the old habits.

Strengthen the Support Network

By strengthening the support network, one can spend more quality time with loved ones, family, and friends and be actively involved and present in building these relationships. One of the most effective ways of overcoming porn addiction or any other dependence is to tell the people close to one and those one can trust the problem. This makes a person accountable not only to oneself but to the loved ones, and this helps a lot in motivating them to quit and stay porn free.

One can also join support groups to interact with other addicts and share the stories and encourage one another. There are a lot of support groups and 12-step recovery programs around that one can attend. Therapy is also a great way to overcome this obsession. 

Self-education

If one is serious about overcoming this addiction, they need to get information from as many resources as possible. One needs to know what experts and people just like they have to say on the issue so they can be guided towards leaving this dependence.

Diverse people at support group.

Porno Addiction Treatment

There are many reasons people become addicted to porn. Sexual behavior is learned, and tastes are acquired; therefore, recovery requires learning about healthy relationships and healthy sexual relationships. There are certain treatment options to recover from this dependence; these are discussed below:

Counseling Sessions

A counselor can carry out productive counseling sessions with the addict to determine the underlying causes of the problem and teach the patient to tackle them. These counseling sessions could be individual or group sessions. Couple counseling sessions are especially beneficial in this regard.

Therapy

A few therapies are effective in treating this obsession:

  • Psychotherapy can help patients understand their relationship with pornography and develop strategies to cope with psychological stress and other triggers.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help patients understand their dependence and underlying causes so they can try to overcome them.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) help a patient become more mindful and accept it as a disorder in order to overcome it.

Medication

Usually, people addicted to porn also suffer from co-occurring conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD, and other compulsive disorders. Medications can be beneficial for these co-occurring conditions, which, in turn, will help overcome porn addiction.

Support Groups

There are several support groups where individuals who suffer from can come together and learn from each other’s experience and guidance. Such support groups help patients identify with others, which helps increase their motivation to overcome addiction to masturbation and watching porn.

Dealing With Porno Addiction Relapse

Research has found pornography works on the brain’s reward circuits like any other addiction, so during and after its treatment, there is always a chance of relapse. Prevention of pornography addiction relapse requires whole-person treatment, planning for a relapse, evaluation following relapse.

Planning for Relapse

Relapse does not mean failure. It means there is something more to be learned. At the beginning of recovery, go through all the possible reasons relapse could occur. A useful resource for recovery planning, going through questionnaires like a Wellness Recovery Action Plan with loved ones and a therapist can help identify triggers and create plans to avoid them or a plan to build substitute behaviors. For example, if being alone causes someone to want to view pornography, one way to prevent it from happening is by creating a plan of what to do if they are alone.

doctor helps a patient with relapse prevention.

Learn From a Relapse

When someone experiences a relapse, evaluate the circumstances surrounding the decline. Analyze the situation and figure out what went wrong, what was different, what was not planned for, and if it was an anticipated situation, why didn’t the plan work? After analyzing the situation, revise the plan. If someone is trying to break a pornography addiction on their own, perhaps it’s time for professional help. If someone wants to do it without a support network, perhaps it’s time for outside accountability. If someone has a therapist and progress is at a standstill, maybe a different therapist could help.

How to Stop Porn Addiction and Its Recovery

Porn viewing, once in a while, is not problematic. However, when it starts to take over one’s life, relationships, and work responsibilities, it becomes a disorder that needs to be treated. There are several tips and lifestyle changes that one can adopt to overcome this problem. However, if that fails, there are always professional rehabilitation treatment centers that can help addicts regain control of their lives back. Such rehabilitation centers employ various types of behavioral therapy and counseling that help addicts of porn and substance abuse overcome the addiction, teach them ways on how to stop porn addiction, and move towards a sober, normal, and productive life.

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Page Sources

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Published on: August 2nd, 2016

Updated on: January 20th, 2021

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.