It’s commonly thought that viewing porn causes depression, but there’s little evidence that proves this is the case. Research doesn’t show that porn can trigger depression.
However, you may be affected in other ways — it all depends on your individual background and how you use porn.
While some might find it easy to enjoy porn in moderation, others might use it compulsively. Some might also feel guilt or shame afterward, which can take a toll on their emotional health.
Here’s what you need to know about the link between porn and depression.
There isn’t any evidence that using porn can cause or trigger depression.
Of the available research, one 2007 study concluded that people who watch porn more often are more likely to feel lonely.
However, the study was based on a survey of 400 people, and it was self-reported — meaning there’s a lot of room for error.
Another study, published in 2018, used a sample of 1,639 individuals to explore a link between depression, porn use, and folks’ individual definitions of porn.
The researchers found that some people feel guilty, upset, or otherwise distressed when viewing sexual content. These feelings could impact your overall emotional health.
But there isn’t any research that shows that consuming sexual content — porn or not — can directly trigger or cause depression.
Just as it’s difficult to determine whether porn use can cause depression, it’s hard to determine whether having depression can affect your individual porn use.
One 2017 study found that porn consumers are more likely to have depressive symptoms if they believe porn is morally wrong.
For those who don’t believe porn is morally wrong, however, the study found that high levels of depressive symptoms were only present in those who viewed porn at the highest frequency.
It also concluded that “depressed men likely view higher levels of pornography as a coping aid, especially when they do not view it as immoral.”
In other words, it concluded that depressed men might be more likely to view porn.
It’s worth noting that similar studies haven’t been conducted with women, nonbinary people, and gender non-conforming folks.
There are many myths surrounding porn, sex, and masturbation. This is, in part, because of the stigma associated with certain kinds of sexual behavior.
Just like the myth that masturbating makes you grow hair on the palms of your hands, some myths are spread to discourage people from participating in sexual behavior that’s seen as immoral.
Some people believe porn is bad, so it’s not surprising that some have linked it to poor mental health.
The idea might also come from stereotypes about porn — that it’s only ever consumed by people who are lonely and unsatisfied with their lives, and that happy couples never watch porn.
There’s also a belief among some people that porn consumption is always unhealthy or “addictive.”
A lack of quality sex education might also mean that many people are uninformed about what porn is and how to use it in a healthy way.
A 2015 study looked at the link between perceived porn addiction, religiosity, and moral disapproval of porn.
It found that people who are religiously or morally opposed to pornography are more likely to think they’re addicted to porn, regardless of how much porn they actually consume.
Another 2015 study, which had the same lead researcher as the one mentioned above, found that believing you have a porn addiction can cause depressive symptoms.
In other words, if you think you’re addicted to porn, you may be more likely to feel depressed.
Porn addiction, however, is a controversial concept.
It isn’t widely accepted that porn addiction is a real addiction. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) doesn’t consider it to be an addiction or mental health disorder.
Instead, it’s classed as a compulsion, along with other sex compulsions like compulsive masturbation.
Your viewing habits might be cause for concern if you:
- spend so much time watching porn that it affects your work, home, school, or social life
- watch porn not for pleasure, but to fulfill a “need” to watch, as if you’re getting a “fix”
- watch porn to comfort yourself emotionally
- feel guilty or distressed about watching porn
- struggle to resist the urge to watch porn
Therapy might be a good place to start if you think you’re having a problem with porn.
Your therapist will probably ask about your feelings surrounding porn, the function it serves, how often you use it, and how this use has affected your life.
You might also consider finding a local support group.
Ask your therapist or a doctor if they know of any sexual health support groups that focus on sex compulsions or out of control sexual behaviors in your area.
You could also look for online support groups if you can’t find any local in-person meetups.
The idea that using porn can trigger depression is widespread — but it isn’t founded in any scientific research. There are no studies that show that using porn can cause depression.
Some research has shown that you’re more likely to be depressed if you believe that you’re “addicted” to porn.
If your usage is causing you distress, you may find it helpful to talk to a therapist or join a local support group.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.