Pornography has always been with us, and it’s always been controversial.
Some people aren’t interested in it, and some are deeply offended by it. Others partake of it occasionally, and others on a regular basis.
It all boils down to personal preference and personal choice.
It’s important to note that “porn addiction” isn’t an official diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). But experiencing an uncontrollable compulsion to view porn can be as problematic for some people as other behavioral addictions.
Since the existence of “porn addiction” is not recognized by the APA, no definitive diagnostic criteria guide mental health professionals in its diagnosis.
We’ll explore the difference between compulsion and addiction, and review how to:
- recognize habits which may be considered problematic
- reduce or eliminate unwanted behavior
- know when to talk to a mental health professional
Since people may be reluctant to talk about it, it’s difficult to know how many people enjoy porn on a regular basis, or how many find it impossible to resist.
A Kinsey Institute survey found that 9 percent of people who view porn have unsuccessfully tried to stop. This survey was taken in 2002.
Since then, it’s become much easier to access porn via the internet and streaming services.
This easy access makes it more difficult to stop if watching porn has become a problem.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a publication of the American Psychiatric Association, is used by healthcare professionals to help diagnosis mental disorders.
The DSM doesn’t recognize porn addiction as an official mental health diagnosis.
One 2015 review article concluded that internet pornography shares basic mechanisms with substance addiction.
Research comparing the brains of people who compulsively view porn to the brains of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol has produced mixed results.
Other researchers suggest it may be more of a compulsion than an addiction.
There’s a thin difference between compulsion and addiction. Those definitions are subject to change as we learn more, according to Go Ask Alice.
Compulsion vs. addiction
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors with no rational motivation, but are often engaged in to reduce anxiety. Addictions involve an inability to stop the behavior, despite negative consequences. Both involve a lack of control.
Either way, if watching porn becomes problematic, there are ways to try to regain control.
Simply viewing or enjoying porn doesn’t make you addicted to it, nor does it require fixing.
On the other hand, addictions are about lack of control — and that can cause significant problems.
Your viewing habits may be a cause for concern if you:
- find that the amount of time you spend watching porn keeps growing
- feel as though you need a porn “fix” — and that fix gives you a “high”
- feel guilty about the consequences of viewing porn
- spend hours on end perusing online porn sites, even if it means neglecting responsibilities or sleep
- insist that your romantic or sexual partner views porn or acts out porn fantasies even though they don’t want to
- are unable to enjoy sex without first viewing porn
- are unable to resist porn even though it’s disrupting your life
It’s hard to say why viewing porn can sometimes escalate into an out-of-control behavior.
You may start looking at porn because you like it, and watching it doesn’t seem to be a problem.
You may enjoy the rush it gives you and find yourself wanting that rush more often.
By then, it may not matter that these viewing habits are causing a problem or that you feel bad about it later. It’s that in-the-moment high you can’t resist.
If you try to stop, you may find that you simply can’t do it. That’s how behavioral addictions sneak up on people.
It may start during a period when you feel bored, lonely, anxious, or depressed. Like other behavioral addictions, it can happen to anyone.
You may be able to gain control over your porn viewing on your own.
Here are a few things you can try:
- Delete electronic porn and bookmarks on all your devices.
- Discard all your hard-copy porn.
- Have someone else install anti-porn software on your electronic devices without giving you the password.
- Have a plan — choose another activity or two that you can turn to when that powerful urge hits.
- When you want to view porn, remind yourself how it has affected your life — write it down if that helps.
- Consider if there are any triggers and try to avoid them.
- Partner up with someone else who will ask about your porn habit and hold you accountable.
- Keep a journal to track setbacks, reminders, and alternate activities that work.
If you can, consider seeing a therapist to discuss your concerns. They can come up with an individualized treatment plan to help you work through them.
If you believe you have a compulsion or addiction, it’s worth seeing a mental health professional for evaluation. This may be especially helpful if you also have anxiety, signs of depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Depending on how porn is impacting your life, your therapist may recommend individual, group, or family counseling.
Be wary of therapists who claim to “specialize” in diagnosis and treatment of pornography. It’s difficult to “specialize” in a disorder that lacks a professionally agreed upon definition or uniformly outlined diagnostic criteria.
Counseling sessions will help you understand what caused the compulsion in the first place. Your therapist can help you develop effective coping mechanisms to change your relationship with pornographic materials.
Many people find strength in talking to others who have firsthand experience with the same issue.
Ask a primary care physician, mental health professional, or local hospital for information on pornography or sexual addiction support groups.
Here are some other sources you may find helpful:
- DailyStrength.org: Sex/Pornography Addiction Support Group
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): National Helpline 1-800-662-4357
- American Psychological Association: Psychologist Locator
Treatment for behavioral addictions generally involves talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. But your doctor may recommend medication if you have co-existing conditions, such as depression or OCD.
Untreated, compulsions or addictions can become a destructive force in your life. Relationships, particularly romantic and sexual relationships, may be negatively impacted.
Porn addiction may lead to:
- poor relationship quality
- lower sexual satisfaction
- lower self-esteem
It can also lead to career or financial problems if you’re ignoring responsibilities or missing obligations, or viewing porn at work where you can be subject to disciplinary action.
Looking at porn isn’t always cause for concern.
It could be a case of curiosity, or the person may genuinely enjoy porn with no ill effects.
It may be a problem if you notice that your loved one:
- watches while at work or at other inappropriate places and times
- spends increasing amounts of time watching porn
- is unable to keep up with their social, occupational, or other important obligations
- is experiencing relationship difficulties
- has tried to cut back or stop, but can’t keep themselves away from it
If someone you care about shows signs of a compulsion or addiction, it may be time to open the lines of nonjudgmental communication.
Viewing porn once in a while — or even habitually — doesn’t mean you have a problem.
But if you’ve tried to stop and can’t, consider contacting a mental health professional experienced in treating compulsions, addictions, and sexual dysfunction.
A trained therapist can help you overcome unhealthy behaviors and improve your quality of life.