Porn Addiction: Signs, Causes, & Treatment

Published on: 27 Jul 2017
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Updated on 4/28/21

The following is intended for readers 18+

While pornography isn’t a tactile substance, it can impact the brain’s behavior in a similar way to certain drugs, causing some people to become addicted to it. While the impact of porn addiction might not have the same physical dependency associated with drugs, tobacco and alcohol, it can still lead to destructive behavior for the addicted individual and those around them. So what exactly is pornography addiction and how do you overcome it?

What is Porn Addiction?

According to Relativity (formerly known as the Sexual Recovery Institute), someone who is addicted to porn spends at least 11 hours a week viewing it. Dr. Meaghan Rice is the peer consultant team lead at Talkspace. She explains that porn addiction is when people use porn impulsively, recklessly, without a sense of control and no regard given to the consequences associated with it.

“While I don’t think we develop a porn addiction overnight because it takes an extensive period of time to shift from a compulsion to an addiction, I do think that other people are more apt to notice it than we are ourselves,” Rice says. “They say that by the time people reach this place of addiction, their brain is lighting up in the same ways that it would for drug addiction, which only reinforces how easily it sticks when we get to this place.”

A 2015 study that examined the neuroscience of internet pornography addiction found “strong neuroscientific evidence for viewing internet-related behaviors, including (internet pornography) use, as potentially addictive, which should be taken into consideration when discussing the classification of internet pornography addiction).”

Signs of Porn Addiction?

Unlike addictions to substances, the physical effects of porn addiction aren’t initially pronounced. At first, porn addiction will cause impairments in functioning, especially with others. 

Rice explains that “ We might be able to see that someone [with porn addiction] has sexual dysfunction in their intimate relationships. The arousal and/or release they have with porn might begin to take precedence over human sexual contact. Additionally, the addicted individual might start to miss or overlook their responsibilities from work or school. It could even lead to an inability to maintain their work or school status.” 

Those with porn addiction will start to see heavy distractions as though their physical body is present, but their mind is completely disengaged. They can experience declines in athleticism, or a decline in health. Irritability, anxiety and depression all can happen as people ride the wave of addiction.

Research that profiles the use of pornography amongst adults describes three types of users: recreational (75.5%), highly distressed non-compulsive (12.7%), and compulsive (11.8%). 

While recreational users reported higher sexual satisfaction and lower sexual compulsivity, avoidance, and dysfunction, users with a compulsive profile presented lower sexual satisfaction and dysfunction and higher sexual compulsivity and avoidance.

It’s hard to say how many people are addicted to porn worldwide, since many who are might not be forthcoming. According to a 2017 survey of pornography users in Australia, only a small percentage of those surveyed (4 percent of men and 1 percent of women) described themselves as addicted, and only about half of those people reported that using pornography had had a bad effect on them.

In the U.S., there are believed to be about 200,000 porn addicts. 

Finding Help for Porn Addiction

While seeking treatment for a porn addiction might feel daunting, the good news is there are lots of options available. There’s plenty of therapists who specialize in sexual issues, with porn addiction being a specific subset. Additionally,  there are couples workshops available through couples therapy programs such as Lasting, which touch on how to deal with exaggerated uses of porn or provide psychotherapy resources to help individuals overcome their addiction. Finally, there’s the option of support groups both virtual and in-person. One way of connecting with others who struggle with similar challenges is through Meetup.com or other social search engines. 

“Getting connected to a larger sense of community with a combination of those who struggle with similar things and those who don’t can get us away from all the alone time that only reinforces why it makes sense to spend all of our time with porn rather than attempting to change a habit that no longer works for us,” says Rice.

Books on Porn Addiction

Rice recommends the book Your Brain on Porn by Gary Wilson. She explains how “I love his ability to talk about the neuroscience within an addicted brain, but also show evidence that supports how overcoming an addiction that once had a hold of us is one of the most powerful outcomes in the world.” 

How Therapy Can Help?

Typically, the beginning of the road that led to addiction is riddled in something that we haven’t worked through, says Rice.

 “With a strong sense of therapeutic rapport with a therapist, those struggling with porn addiction can find a different lens, perspective and belief about those things that led to addiction,” she says. “Eventually, the addiction itself loosens its grip to a certain degree. Less of a muddy root, and less of a need to cover it up with dysfunctional coping skills.”

There is no shame in asking for help; admitting that you have a problem is the first step. 

These days, finding the right therapist that specializes in addiction is easier than ever. If you’re struggling with porn addiction, and are looking for accessible treatment, consider trying Talkspace. With online therapy, you can consult a therapist from the comfort of your own home and attend therapy in the most private setting. Remember that asking for help is the first step.

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