Published On: April 24, 2022
Reviewed On: April 24, 2022
Updated On: October 27, 2023
Updated on 3/24/2022
It’s often thought that pornography use causes depression, but studies thus far have not found any conclusive evidence suggesting that pornography and depression relate.
While viewing pornography may not trigger depression, it could still impact you in other ways.
Everyone’s pornography usage differs, depending on your individual personality and own perceptions of pornography. For example, some may be able to enjoy occasional pornography consumption, while others may quickly fall into a cycle of addiction behavior. Those who feel a sense of shame or guilt after viewing pornography may face added stress and mental health struggles.
Let’s dive into what the research says about the real link between pornography and depression.
The short answer is no, there is no research that indicates pornography consumption causes or triggers depression.
Loneliness, on the other hand, may be a more pressing concern. One study, published in 2007 in the Journal of Sexual Addiction and Cumpulsivity, found that of the 400 people who filled out a questionnaire, those who watched internet pornography more often were more likely to feel lonely.
Depression may also be a greater concern if someone is feeling guilty, upset, or distressed in any way while watching pornography. For example, a 2018 study with a sample size of 1,638 participants found that individual differences between perception and use of pornography were significantly related to depression. In other words, it’s not the act of watching pornography that contributes to depressive symptoms but someone’s own reaction to the activity.
Furthermore, a recent international study led by Beáta Bőthe, a Hungarian researcher working at the Laboratory for the Study of Sexual Health, part of the Department of Psychology at Université de Montréal, argues that pornography use, in general, does not negatively impact your mental health or cause depression.
While it’s difficult to say for sure if people who are depressed are viewing porn more, it appears that people show more depressive symptoms when using pornography if they believe pornography is morally wrong. Results from a study published in 2017 suggest that someone who uses pornography and believes it’s morally wrong may suffer from overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, and negative emotion which contribute to an overall state of emotional turmoil or depression.
The researchers found that, for those who do not morally reject porn, only those viewing pornography most frequently were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. These findings suggest there is some merit to the idea that people, specifically cis men, who are depressed view more pornography as a coping mechanism, especially when they do not view it as immoral.
This may (or may not) come as a surprise but pornography use is widespread among adults, with some studies showing 70–90% of people viewing pornography in their lifetime. Among those who have used pornography, most of them have not experienced any negative consequences.
Based on Bőthe’s study, published this past April in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, there are three distinct profiles of pornography users:
It’s important to note that the amount of people with problematic pornography use are relatively low compared to the general population who view pornography.
Perhaps most alarming, however, is the number of children being exposed to porn. A study in the journal Pediatrics estimates that about 42% of children and young people between the ages of 10 and 17 have seen pornography online, with 27% reporting seeing porn intentionally. Seeing porn at such a young age can have lasting implications on how you think sex should look and feel, as well as perceptions of body image, and power dynamics.
While everyone’s experience with pornography will vary, here are a few signs that are common for people whose frequent use of pornographic sites is sustained and problematic:
According to scholars, it’s the feeling of being addicted to porn — the sense of not being in control — that causes many people to feel depressed about using pornography.
One 2015 study in Archives of Sexual Behavior examined the role that religious belief and moral disapproval of pornography use play in the experience of perceived addiction to internet pornography. The results from two studies with undergraduate samples indicate that religiosity and moral disapproval of pornography significantly predicted perceived addiction to internet pornography while being unrelated to actual levels of use among pornography consumers.
Put simply, if you start to notice you are viewing porn out of a psychological craving instead of the occasional enjoyment, it might be time to seek out professional help. It may also be time to seek out professional help if your or your partner’s porn usage is interfering in your relationship or keeping you from real intimacy.
Expert Insight“It’s important to remember that viewing pornography in and of itself is not a problem. At the same time, if you are noticing that your use of pornography is having a negative impact on your daily life, your relationships, or your feelings about your body image, it is important to consider getting support around these concerns from a licensed mental health professional who can help sort out these thoughts and feelings.”
There are a lot of great options if you are looking for support to address your dependence upon pornography or to determine if your porn use is connected to feelings of depression, including:
Based on the research and lack of evidence showing any direct link between pornography as the cause or trigger of depression, it seems this remains a myth spread to discourage the use of pornography because it’s viewed as bad or immoral. It could also simply be due to a lack of quality sex education and knowledge about how to use pornography in healthy ways.
Expert Insight“Given that there are so many judgements and preconceived ideas about pornography, it can be confusing to understand the thoughts and feelings that come up around pornography usage. It is important to understand your own values that may be contributing to how you experience pornography so you can better navigate your thoughts and feelings that come up when using pornography.”
That said, some people do in fact experience depressive symptoms as a result of using pornography due to a number of individual factors. There’s no hard and fast rule. If you notice porn viewing is making you feel depressed, worse about yourself, your relationship, or taking away the enjoyment of everyday life, that could be reason enough to take a break.
Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH, is a clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience as a therapist, clinical supervisor, and program director. She works to support quality clinical care at Talkspace. Her work as a clinician and trainer focuses on the mental health impact of body image concerns and eating disorders across the lifespan.