Problems Caused by Porn Addiction
In 2018, the World Health Organization classified compulsive sexual behavior as a mental health disorder, but there is still no centralized definition or even official recognition of porn addiction as a specific or separate condition. 2 That said, many experts agree that addiction to pornography follows the same guidelines as other behavioral addictions, in that watching porn is problematic when it causes an individual to:
- Neglect their physical or mental health
- Stop pursuing personal interests or activities
- Avoid responsibilities
People addicted to porn may also exhibit some pornography-specific issues, such as: 3
- Engaging in risky behavior to satisfy compulsion to view porn, such as watching videos at work
- Becoming less satisfied with real-world sexual encounters
- Viewing increasingly extreme pornography to generate the same levels of excitement and/or satisfaction
- Feeling frustrated by or ashamed of their viewing habits but still being unable to stop
What Is Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction is characterized by sexual thoughts, urges, and/or actions that cause an individual stress and interfere with daily life. 4 Often referred to by health care professionals as hyper-sexuality or compulsive sexual behavior, sexual addiction can be strictly based in fantasy or manifest as a variety of sexual activities involving various partners, objects, and situations.
Though sex addiction was left out of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it’s still a diagnosable condition using the criteria laid out under “other specific sexual dysfunction.” Much of that criteria echoes the same standards for diagnosing other behavioral addictions, such as: 5
- Intense, recurring sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors that disrupt daily life and personal/professional responsibilities
- Inability to control those fantasies, urges, or behaviors
- Sexual behavior that occurs in response to stress, anxiety, depression, or boredom
Exact statistics related to sexual addiction are scarce, but research indicates that as many as 8% of adults in the United States experience sexual behaviors and urges that cause them distress. 6
What Causes Sex Addiction?
There is no single cause of sex addiction. However, some experts think hypersexualized individuals may be using sex as a coping mechanism or source of distraction to deal with feelings of shame or sadness. 5
There is also speculation that sex addiction and hypersexualization may be relative, with the affected individuals believing their behavior to be problematic or even evil due to belief systems stemming from cultural, familial, and religious influences. For instance, someone taught as a child that masturbation or pornography is wrong may believe themselves to be a sex addict if they can’t control urges to masturbate or view porn.
Interestingly, nearly half of people self-identifying as hypersexual say they first began experiencing distressing sex-related urges, fantasies, and/or behaviors either in childhood or in adolescence. 7
Sex addiction treatment programs are available. If you or someone you love needs help treating a sex addiction, contacting a sex addiction hotline can help you find the best treatment program for you.
What Causes Porn Addiction?
Like sexual addiction, porn addiction is still a controversial condition without concrete diagnostic criteria, and there is no single root cause. Still, some mental health professionals believe porn addiction may be caused by issues tied to other types of compulsive behavior, such as: 2
- Chemical imbalances in the brain, specifically when there are higher than typical levels of mood chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine
- Changes in brain structures or pathways or the development of a brain disease the affects the part of the brain tied to sexual behavior
There are also a number of risk factors that may increase the likelihood of sexual addiction, including a history of physical or sexual abuse and co-occurring mental health issues.
How to Know If You Have a Porn Addiction
With over half of Americans viewing porn at least once in their lifetime and many people watching far more regularly, it’s clear that not all porn viewers see their habit as being problematic. But when a habit becomes a disruptive force, addiction may be in play.
Someone may have a porn addiction if they: 8
- Feel guilty they're watching porn or about how much porn they routinely view
- Stop feeling sexual satisfaction unless porn is somehow involved
- Want to stop viewing porn but can’t
- Spend hours searching out porn, to the detriment of other responsibilities like work, parenting, or school
How to Stop Porn Addiction
People eager to tackle problematic porn consumption can take steps to reduce exposure and mitigate risk factors. In addition to seeking professional treatment for underlying mental health concerns and other potential causes, coping mechanisms include: 8
- Throwing out physical porn, such as magazines
- Using anti-porn software to control electronic access
- Identifying and avoiding key triggers
- Finding alternative activities to engage in instead of porn if triggered
- Looking for ways to increase awareness and accountability, like journaling about urges and attending support group meetings
What Is the Best Porn Addiction Treatment?
Though the verdict is still out on whether porn addiction is a “true addiction,” treatment options are similar to those offered for other, officially recognized behavioral addictions, including: 9
- Psychotherapy, in particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy
- Medication, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and opioid antagonists
- Lifestyle changes, such as decreasing access to pornographic material and identifying and avoiding triggers like alcohol, stress, and boredom
- Support groups such as Sexual Addicts Anonymous and Porn Addicts Anonymous
Treatment recommendations often include a combination of the above options. Multipronged approaches are more likely to address all the aspects of a successful treatment plan, including support from professionals and loved ones, as well as accountability. If you or a loved one is ready to get help, there are hotlines for porn addiction as well.
How to Help Someone With a Porn Addiction
First, it’s important to remember that a loved one viewing porn is not automatically cause for concern. However, if a friend or family member shares that they’re struggling or exhibits the signs of a porn addiction shared above, the best place to start is with open, honest, and non-judgmental communication.
Individuals interested in treatment can be referred to their primary care physician for an initial evaluation or to a mental health provider.