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Porn Addiction: Causes, Signs,Treatments

For as long as pornography has existed, it has been controversial. Some individuals are simply not interested in it, and others find it offensive. On the other end of the spectrum, some consume porn regularly, and others only occasionally view it. 

The controversy surrounding pornography does not end there. When considering porn addiction, it is crucial to remember that the American Psychiatric Association does not officially recognize the term “porn addiction” as a diagnosis. 

However, some people may experience problems similar to those caused by other behavioral addictions if they have uncontrollable urges to watch pornography. To complicate matters further, because the APA does not recognize porn addiction or sex addiction, mental health providers cannot diagnose it using any specific criteria. 

This article will look at how to classify pornography addiction and discuss the difference between compulsion and addiction. After reading this, you should have a better idea of how to recognize addictive behaviors, how to reduce those behaviors, and when to seek further help from a medical professional. 

What Is a Pornography Addiction?

In theory, online porn addiction is when you simply cannot stop looking at pornography, even if you want to. As with any other addiction, it eventually gets to the point where you are consuming pornography to the extent that it affects your daily life, relationships, and even your work and career. 

It’s not hard to understand how pornography has become a widespread problem in our society. It is readily available, usually right at our fingertips. Almost everyone has a cell phone that they can keep fairly private, which makes it a problem that’s easy to hide from others. 

In 2019, the popular website Pornhub received 42 billion visits; that’s 115 million per day. Whether it’s an addiction, a compulsion, or something else, there’s no question that viewing pornography has become an American pastime. 

Is Pornography Actually Addictive?

Porn addiction is a sticky subject. Scientists, therapists, and medical professionals are debating whether heavy pornography use qualifies as an addiction, at least in terms of the medical definition of the word. 

The Case for Excessive Porn Use as an Addiction

Since there is such a harsh stigma attached to pornography viewing, people are hesitant to talk about it, let alone admit to anyone that they feel they are suffering from an addiction. Still, a 2002 Kinsey Institute survey found that 9 percent of people who view porn have tried to quit without success. 

In 2018, the World Health Organization classified compulsive sexual conduct as a mental health disorder. It also mentions that obsessive sexual behavior can take over a person’s life to the point where they disregard their “health and personal care or other interests, activities, and responsibilities.” However, it doesn’t directly mention pornography. 

Additionally, a study of males who sought help for problematic pornography use (PPU) discovered that on brain scans, their brains did indeed react to sexual imagery. 

All of this supports the claims of specialists who say that people who frequently use pornography exhibit the same brain activity as people with substance abuse or alcohol abuse disorder. In these situations, the circuits in your brain connected to a pattern of reward, motivation, and memory are activated. 

Why Some Experts Don’t See Compulsive Porn Consumption As Addiction

Categorizing excessive porn use is a topic of debate among professionals who have studied the matter. Many are not sure what the behavior is, especially concerning other addictions. 

While the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was being developed, experts developed a diagnostic addiction termed “hypersexual disorder,” which also featured a pornography subtype. However, reviewers ultimately concluded that there was insufficient proof to include hypersexual disorder or any of its subcategories in the DSM-5. 

Could obsessive pornography use be compared to an alcohol or drug addiction if it isn't a hypersexual disorder? Some neurologists believe so, but there are contradictory beliefs from others. Scientific evidence is inconclusive, which is why medical professionals are so skeptical about using terminology like “addiction” when discussing pornography use. 

What Is the Difference Between Addiction and Compulsion?

There is a fine line between addiction and compulsion. And this fine line makes many professionals in the psychiatric field question the legitimacy of an actual pornography addiction diagnosis.

Addiction

An addiction occurs when a person engages in behavior — such as drinking, doing drugs, or viewing pornography — and cannot stop despite negative consequences.

Addictions can be physical or psychological, but both types of addiction are very real and have dire consequences. 

Compulsion

Compulsions are different from addictions, but there are places where the two overlap. A compulsion is when a person engages in certain behaviors without rational motivation. The compulsions often arise to reduce stress or anxiety via stimuli that release dopamine in the brain. 

There is still a lot of controversy within the medical community about where addictions end and compulsions begin. In either case, both addiction and compulsion involve a lack of control. If watching pornography becomes a problem, no matter what you want to call it, there are ways to regain control of the situation. 

What Does Pornography Addiction Look Like?

Are you wondering if you might have an addiction, or at the very least an unhealthy compulsion regarding pornography? Like any addiction, there are some warning signs that you may have a problem. 

If you are trying to figure out whether or not your pornography habits have progressed to the level of addiction, you will want to ask yourself if any of the following warning signs apply to you.

1. You’ve Tried to Stop, But You Can’t

The most obvious sign of an addiction is wanting to stop the behavior but being unable to do it, no matter how hard you try or the consequences.

2. Your Interest in Sex IRL is Fading

If you find that sex in real life is less appealing to you than it used to be, this is an indication that you may be spending too much time viewing pornography. You may even feel that your significant other is less attractive than how you used to see them.

3. You’re Starting to Spend More and More Money on Pornography

Feeling the need to spend money on pornography that you consider higher quality than the free stuff is a sign of trouble ahead. If you continue going down that road, you may suffer financial hardships.

4. You Can’t Concentrate

As with most addictions, a compulsion to watch pornography is all-consuming. You might daydream about watching porn at inappropriate times, such as at work or out with friends. 

5. You’re Actually Experiencing Physical Pain

Those who have unhealthy obsessions with porn are often watching it in secret. This might involve bending over a tablet or hunching over a phone to watch internet pornography. Even excessive masturbation can cause physical ailments. The neck, shoulders, wrist, and back can develop pain from repetitive movement.

6. You Find Yourself Angry and Irritable

As with any other addiction, you may become irritable and annoyed when pornography is unavailable. It’s a big red flag if you are generally angrier and out of sorts whenever you aren’t watching. You might not initially even connect why you’re more easily aggravated, but others around you will likely notice a personality change.

7. Your Feelings of Attraction Have Changed

In addition to losing interest in sex, you may start to have different or waning feelings for your partner or loved one. The sexual images common in porn set unrealistic expectations that no partner can meet. This can be incredibly difficult for them, and they can be hurt and suffer low self-esteem. 

8. You Become More Demanding in the Bedroom

To get back some of the feelings you’ve lost or for your partner to meet your unrealistic expectations, you might become more demanding of your partner and your sex life. You may become easily frustrated sexually if your partner can’t live up to the imagery you are used to seeing in pornography, and your sexual satisfaction, as well as theirs, can suffer.

9. You’ve Lost Long Periods of Time

You may lose large amounts of time watching pornography, and you might not even realize how much time has passed. It might be typical for you to waste the day away and not accomplish much. In general, you may notice that you don’t have as much interest in doing other things, and you feel lazy or lethargic.

10. You Always Want More

No matter how long you watch or how much you consume, it never quite feels like enough. You may feel like you’re having legitimate cravings for viewing porn when it’s been a while since you have had the chance to watch. You might start sneaking away from your partner or family to watch and become defensive if anyone questions you.

What Causes Pornography Addiction?

There is no simple answer to this question. Interestingly, research suggests that when someone believes they are addicted to pornography, that belief is the cause of most of their distress. The very idea of the existence of pornography addiction could be the main cause of the anxiety many people feel when watching pornography. 

Despite this, experts who believe in the validity of pornography addiction argue that this is a much more complex issue with several potential causes. Some of these causes include:

  • Relationship problems: The use of porn can often function as an outlet for sexual dissatisfaction. 
  • Biological reasons: Believe it or not, there are certain biological factors, such as changes in brain chemistry when a person views pornography, that increases the risk of addiction.
  • Unrealistic and unhealthy cultural norms: Skewed ideas about how sex should look, how people should behave during sex, and the types of sex that people should enjoy, can cause some people to default to pornography to satisfy the sexual ideals that they have manifested in their heads. 
  • Mental Health Conditions: There could be underlying mental health conditions that could exacerbate pornography addiction. People sometimes use pornography as an escape from psychological distress.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Pornography Addiction? 

Though there is some debate regarding the legitimacy of pornography addiction, there are distinct paths to take to overcome dependence on porn. 

Pornography addiction is difficult to treat due to its affordability, availability, and anonymity. Unlike other addictions, a person does not need to get their fix from a person or store; in many cases, pornography is free of charge.

Pornography can also be tricky because its effects aren’t always immediately felt or noticed by loved ones. It’s easy to hide pornography addiction because it doesn’t always come with the financial struggles of other addictions.

Despite the difficulties, some proven methods work to combat the compulsion to view pornography:

1. Behavior Modification

Behavior modification helps patients replace and change negative behaviors. Research shows that behavior modification has long-lasting effects and can help people to achieve their therapeutic goals.

Depending on the person’s goals over time, they can learn to manage their porn-watching habits and maybe even stop altogether. An often used form of behavior modification is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

According to the American Psychological Association, CBT can be more effective than psychotherapy and medication. 

2. Support Groups and Other Connections 

One of the best resources out there is support groups. People with the same goal of overcoming a porn addiction or other related disorder can share their perspectives, experiences, and stories during peer gatherings. 

Group members can help each other on a nonprofessional, nonclinical basis. Everyone can recover from their disorders through an ongoing collective effort. 

Peer support services considerably boost participants’ self-efficacy, self-esteem, and personal views. Studies have shown that when people have access to others who are going through the same thing, there is a higher likelihood of success in overcoming addiction and dependence. 

3. Therapy

Talk therapy can be extremely effective for those who feel addicted to pornography. Addicted or not, talking to an objective party about your problems is always helpful in seeing the whole picture. 

One can often better understand their relationship with porn through counseling. Numerous psychotherapy modalities exist, including family, group, and individual counseling. 

A person seeking assistance from a mental health professional or psychiatric healthcare provider might learn to pinpoint the causes of their behaviors. Together, the patient and counselor can eventually develop plans to help overcome porn addiction.

Therapy is also beneficial for treating co-occurring illnesses like depression or anxiety.

4. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT is helpful because, in many cases, a preoccupation with pornography is masking an underlying issue. Indeed, pornography viewing itself is often not a disease or illness as it is a symptom of something completely different. 

MATs combine prescription medication with counseling or behavior modification therapy. Medication alone will not be a cure-all, but a comprehensive approach that includes some kind of therapy can yield successful results. 

5. Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment Programs

For those who feel they need more support than just weekly talk therapy or medication, there are entire programs designated for overcoming addiction. Though most programs are geared toward substance use disorders (drugs and alcohol), specialty tracks are set up for sex and pornography addiction.

In an inpatient program, commonly known as rehab, the person will live at a facility and get round-the-clock care. In an outpatient program, the person may have individual and group therapy as many as four to five times a week, often coupled with a medication protocol. 

Conclusion

The concept of pornography addiction is controversial. Some mental health professionals don’t believe it qualifies as an “addiction.” Still, excessive use of pornography can wreak havoc on a person’s lifestyle, relationships, family, and overall sexual health and well-being. 

It might be time to seek professional help in therapy, medication, or an addiction treatment program if you or someone you know exhibits the warning signs of pornography addiction. 

Sources:

Pornography Addiction: Why Pornography Is Addictive? | WebMD

How to Identify and Treat a Pornography Addiction | Healthline

Is Pornography Addictive? | American Psychological Association