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How To Identify and Treat Pornography Addiction

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

April 8, 2019

Pornography is a huge industry. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that somewhere between 50 and 99 percent of men and 30 to 86 percent of women consume it in some fashion. Consuming this, like any other addictive substance, at an obsessive rate, can quickly turn into a problem.

What Is Porn Addiction?

Perhaps the best way to describe pornography addiction is to break it down, one definition at a time.

Pornography is defined as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement”; or “the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.” Addiction is defined as “a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble).”

Thus, a pornography addiction is a strong and harmful need to regularly engage with erotic materials in an effort to create a quick and intense emotional reaction.

Although not currently recognized as a true mental “disorder,” many people struggle with this addiction as it progresses from a healthy sexual behavior, transforming into an obsession that takes over their life.

The Progression Of A Pornography Addiction

Just as being addicted to alcohol, gambling, or any other substance or behavior happens over time and advances from one “stage” to the next, the same is true with regard to pornography addiction.

Here is how the general progression occurs when it comes to pornography addiction:

Repeated Interactions With Porn

The next step is where the addiction actually takes hold. You notice that you think about it more and engage with it more. It becomes more of a habit as you start interacting with it in some form, whether via print, pictures, or videos fairly regularly.

Early Exposure To Porn

For a porn addict, exposure typically began at a very young age. In fact, one study found that when children under the age of 14 were exposed to porn, they were involved in more deviant sexual practices, including rape. Additionally, the aforementioned University of Sydney study found that 43 percent of those surveyed began viewing porn as young as 11 years old.

Developing A Numbness To Porn

After repeatedly viewing intense pornography, you begin to develop a numbness to it. You notice that you don’t get as aroused as quickly or that you’re just not as interested as you once were. These are feelings that you crave or desire to have in your life again.

Expansion Of Pornographic Boundaries

After porn becomes a regular part of your life, you start to expand your boundaries, seeking out porn that you wouldn’t have ordinarily been interested in seeing; porn that’s maybe more graphic in nature or that would have originally been outside your comfort zone or interest.

Turning Pornographic Images Into Reality

Pornography addiction becomes truly dangerous when it progresses to the point that, in trying to regain the thrill it once gave you, you begin to act out pornographic scenarios in real life. Because many of them involve force, coercion, or acts that aren’t sexually healthy, this can result not only in unhealthy relations with others, but can even end up in criminal charges being filed against you.

So, how do you know if your pornography habit is a “harmful need”?

Signs You May Be Addicted To Pornography

If you’re questioning your pornography consumption and wondering if it has crossed the line from being healthy to an addiction, there are some signs that may signal that there’s a problem.

  • Physically – A pornography addiction can result in sexual dysfunctions, decreased genital sensitivity (from over-stimulating yourself), and excessive fatigue.
  • Psychologically – This type of addiction is often apparent by experiencing a lot of shame, being easily agitated, not feeling overly motivated, and poor self-esteem. You may also notice that you’re less interested in the physical act of sex, preferring to view port instead.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you determine whether porn addiction may be a concern for you:

  • Do you find that you think about porn the majority of the time?
  • Does your pornography habit make you feel powerless, as if you have no control over it?
  • Is your pornography habit starting to negatively impact your relationship?
  • Do you find that your partner often questions you about your obsessiveness toward porn?
  • Have you expanded your pornography preferences into areas you once thought were disgusting or “wrong”?
  • Do you prefer to spend your time alone, with porn, as opposed to being social or spending time with others?
  • Is your compulsion for porn making you create a sort of double life, a side of you that you don’t want others to know about?
  • Is porn affecting your work, either in lower work productivity or because you’re violating office policy by viewing it while on the job?
  • Have you noticed that what used to excite you pornographically no longer does?
  • Have you tried to walk away from it, yet find that you keep coming back for more?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s possible that you have a pornography addiction, which can negatively impact your life in a number of ways.

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Negative Effects Of A Pornography Addiction

Like any other addiction, being addicted to pornography can bring about many negative outcomes. Depending on the strength and length of time you’ve had your addiction, these outcomes can include:

  • Problems with intimacy or troubled relationships, sometimes ending in separation or divorce
  • Internal feelings of guilt about viewing the pornographic materials, experiencing shame if others were to find out
  • Trouble concentrating at work, resulting in lower quality of work and sometimes even job loss
  • Money problems, whether from job loss due to your addiction or by paying excessive amounts of your wages for pornographic materials
  • If the pornography addiction escalates or crosses criminal boundaries, there could be legal issues
  • Poorer physical health, as in not taking care of yourself physically due to the addiction or by catching a sexually transmitted disease (STD) if acting out sexually

All of these outcomes can have an adverse effect on your life, causing it to feel like you’re spiraling out of control. Because pornography addiction (sometimes referred to as sex addiction) isn’t recognized as a disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a resource used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health issues such as addictions, there are a lot of questions as to how it compares to the other addictions (disorders) that exist.

Research: How Pornography Compares To Other Addictions

For instance, one University of Cambridge study found that “pornography triggers brain activity in people with compulsive sexual behavior—known commonly as sex addiction—similar to that triggered by drugs in the brains of drug addicts.”

Thus, having an addiction to porn can be just as damaging and difficult to overcome as having an addiction to heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, or any other type of typically addictive drug.

An article published in Surgical Neurology International also discusses the effects that some forms of sexuality have on the brain. The study highlights many different studies that have found how it changes neurons and activates the reward centers of the brain, resulting in an addiction-type response.

However, due to the morality issues surrounding sex and sex topics as a whole, this type of addiction isn’t yet formally recognized. Sadly, this can make this particular addiction a little harder to treat.

Pornography And The Internet

Also, with pornography being so readily available thanks to the Internet and being able to access it on mobile devices—with some sources suggesting that more than one-third of the information online is pornographic—it can be a difficult addiction to overcome.

One study conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney found that, out of 800 people, 47 percent admitted that they consumed online porn somewhere between one-half and three hours every day. This type of behavior can create an even greater issue, and one that is often referred to as “Internet porn addiction.”

In this case, it’s like you are handling two separate yet equally powerful addictions—Internet addiction and porn addiction—with one continuously reinforcing and fueling the other.

The Internet is such an integral part of today’s society, with many of us having regular access to computers, tablets, and smartphones. Additionally, many of us are using these devices not just at home but at work and in school (where they’re often required).

The readily available nature of this content makes it that much more difficult to break away and eventually move beyond this type of addiction. It’s not as if you’re required to leave your home and purchase a magazine or DVD to obtain porn for consumption; you can access it easily and instantly.

Pornography Addiction Can Be Difficult To Treat

There are many other factors that make pornography difficult to treat beyond the ease of acquiring it on the Internet.

For instance, our brains are wired to seek out multiple sex partners; something that’s often referred to as “The Coolidge Effect.” Even if we don’t act on them, we crave that type of intimate contact with people we’ve never met.

Additionally, pornographic materials are often more elaborate or very different from true-life sexual scenarios. This enables a person to experience gratification by unnatural means, making this particular addiction harder to treat because you first have to separate fiction from reality.

You essentially have to relearn what is “normal” and what is not accepted in regard to sexual behaviors.

Pornography Addiction Help Begins Now

No matter where you are at this stage in your pornography addiction, know that help is available. There are many trained professionals who recognize this addiction, and are able to provide viable and effective treatment options.

To help you make your recovery process successful, remember these tips:

  • The first step to treating the pornography addiction is admitting that you have it.
  • Be totally open and honest so the therapist knows your exact thoughts and behaviors, thus being able to provide a more effective treatment plan.
  • Remember that the professional is not there to judge you, but to help you overcome your addiction so you can live a happier, healthier life.

To learn more about how we can help you overcome your pornography addiction, visit our Sex Addiction Treatment page. We will help you find the best treatment program to best suit your needs.

The Journal of Sex Research - The Use of Sexually Explicit Stimuli

University of Cambridge - Brain Activity in Sex Addiction Mirrors That of Drug Addiction

Surgical Neurology International - Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective

BBC - Web Porn: Just How Much Is There?

Psychology Today- - Internet Porn Addiction – Why Is Free Porn So Irresistible -

JNeuroSci - Dynamic Changes in Nucleus Accumbens Dopamine Efflux During the Coolidge Effect in Male Rats

American Psychology Association - Is pornography addictive?

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