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Pornography Addiction: Real or Myth

All kinds of people use the internet these days for purposes of sexual gratification. While men reportedly access sexually explicit material more, women apparently use it for sexually loaded interactions and cybersex.

There has been a surge recently, in the use and exchange of pornographic material, especially among young adult groups, with greater accessibility, availability, and anonymity (the triple A influence).

Not surprisingly, nearly 10% of adult internet users (9.6%) have reported online sexual addiction or porn addiction, as it is called. (Cooper A. et al.).

Surveys have also found that 70% of all adult content traffic occurs during 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., which is a typical working day timing and adult sites are the fourth most visited category while at work! While 5% of the workforce struggles with problems related to sexual compulsivity, 80% among them are men.

It isn’t difficult to conclude that problematic use of internet can lead to psychiatric distress and consequent psychological issues.

In a study conducted in Bangalore, India (Sharma M.K. et al.), it was found that nearly 0.2% of the sample (in the age range of 18-40 years) were addicted to porn use, pornographic addiction was positively correlated with psychological distress, and the participants screened for porn use addiction also expressed the need for change due to its dysfunctional effects.

The reasons for accessing pornography were cited as—

  • to relax (90%),

  • for entertainment (45%),

  • to learn about sexual activities (55%)

  • the partner not being around (60%).

It was also found that the most common concerns due to the impact of porn included

  • verbal abuse with spouse or family members,

  • cancelled trips,

  • missed social functions

  • dissatisfaction with work performance

  • non-payment of rent or bills.

What is Porn Addiction?

Porn Addiction, as described by various clinicians and researchers is supposed to refer to a person becoming dependent on pornography to the point that it begins interfering with their daily life, relationships, and ability to function.

Some signs that porn may be causing a problem can include

  • a less than satisfactory sex life,

  • relationship issues caused around porn viewing behaviour (a study among heterosexual male participants in couples found that, the use of pornography was associated with less sexual satisfaction, while the opposite was true for the female participants.) and

  • engaging in risky activities to view pornography, such as doing so at work.

  • begin to ignore other daily responsibilities to make time to view porn and may even increase viewing time to feel the same level of excitement or release.

  • begin feeling frustrated or irritated when unable to watch porn as per their will, or when denied the discretion.

There may be many more associated symptoms that can indicate a lack of control around porn use.

While porn addiction may be quite common a phenomenon, there is still a dearth of discourse around it, with only some whispers and hushes here and there, and no proper studies or intervention in the area.

Is Porn Addiction a real thing?

We must first note that viewing porn—even habitually— doesn’t mean one has a problem.

Firstly, what is an addiction to begin with?

It is more than just an intense interest in something; it is a medical condition that changes the brain and the body, and causes the person to feel compelled to continue using a substance or partaking in an activity, even when doing so may cause harm.

Most research into addiction suggests that it activates regions in the brain associated with motivation and reward. Specifically, addiction alters the body’s dopamine system.

Now, some studies suggest that people who sought treatment for problematic pornography use found changes in the participants’ brains that were consistent with addiction. The researchers found that the brains of the men with problematic pornography use reacted differently to erotic images — or the anticipation of them — than the brains of men without problematic pornography use.

But not all research supports the notion that pornography is addictive. A recent study found that, among participants who reported excessive or problematic viewing of visual sexual stimuli, the usual brain pathways of addiction were absent.

Pornography addiction—along with sex addiction however,—isn’t an official diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM). That means there’s no definitive porn addiction criteria to guide mental health professionals in diagnosing it.

Some research suggests that uncontrollable porn consumption may be more of a compulsion than an actual addiction. (Compulsions generally serve to relieve anxiety; addictions involve reward and achieving reward.).

The reason a lot of us are probably struggling with it can be due to many reasons, like how we are a porn-shaming society and blaming porn is an easy scapegoat.

The person who’s dealing with it may feel a sense of a loss of control, usually because there are other mental health-related issues going on (such as depression) that cause people to want to self-regulate or self-soothe with porn.”

The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) also argue that there is not enough evidence of either sex or pornography being addictive and that the idea of pornography addiction is rooted in outdated and potentially harmful cultural norms.

While the scientific community hasn't yet reached a consensus, it's safe to say that people who feel dependent/addicted to porn may go through a lot of psychological distress which warrants professional help.

Is there a solution?


Like with any personal struggle, opening up to your partner, select few friends or family (even though it can be difficult), can be a good start in overcoming a behaviour we hope to change—especially if it also affects parts of their wellbeing.

Approaching the situation from a place of love and support, rather than shame and judgment is important. A trained professional such as a counsellor or the help of a support group can be beneficial. Nobody has to do this alone.

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