Porn Addiction: a Digital Age Dilemma

Posted April 22, 2024 by Cristina Vrech

Cristina Vrech - Individual and couples therapist

Cristina Vrech

Founder and Director - Individual & Couple Therapist, Corporate Services

Co-founder and director of Leone Centre, Cristina Vrech, has 20+ years of experience in working and supporting people, 14+ years of extensive experience as a therapist and offers valuable knowledge to individuals and couples. Prior to being a therapist, she worked in the financial sector.

Cristina takes a down-to-earth and direct approach across the landscapes of relationships, communication, stress, infidelity, confidence, loneliness, addiction, separation and divorce, IVF, and anxiety.

Offering Online Counselling and in person counselling.

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Confronting Porn Addiction in the Digital Era

In our digital age, technology plays a crucial role in our daily interactions and how we access information. Whether sending money, ordering food, communicating with one another, learning new skills or seeing new places, we often use our phones, laptops, tablets or other internet-abled devices to get us there. Internet pornography is an unavoidable cog in this machine. As a general rule, profitable consumer goods are available online – and the porn industry is worth around £77 billion.

It is essential to recognise that pornography, masturbation and sex are not inherently harmful. Our formerly puritanical society holds some antiquated ideas around sex, which can stifle honest, open discussion about pornography and pleasure.

Porn addiction: Bald white man with beard lying on bed in dark room looking at smartphone with lit candle.
Porn addiction is a complex subject within the realm of addiction and disorders, in part because researchers are still in the early days of understanding pornography’s effects on the brain. On the one hand, many official organisations, such as the American Psychiatric Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, do not formally recognise it as an addiction. On the other hand, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has added compulsive sexual behaviour to its list of recognised disorders in recent years.

Porn addiction is commonly understood to be a behavioural addiction as opposed to a chemical one. Another example of a behavioural addiction is gambling.

Pornography addiction is a multifaceted issue which usually requires support from a specialist psychosexual therapist. A qualified, integrative psychosexual therapist can help to identify the reasons and triggers for the behaviour behind unhealthy pornography consumption levels and to develop healthier ways of managing emotions and urges.

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Woman with dark, straight hair sat on floor holding cushion and looking at smartphone. Image by DC Studio on Freepik.

Understanding Porn Addiction

Watching pornography, enjoying sexual activities and wanting intimacy and satisfaction are not inherently wrong. However, if it becomes an emotional dependence which feels out of control and interferes with other aspects of life, this could be a sign of addiction or problematic use.

Signs of pornography addiction include:

  • Using pornography excessively to the point where it is detrimental to life and relationships
  • Increasing amounts of time spent accessing and viewing pornography
  • Lying about the extent of pornography use
  • Needing to access more extreme types of pornography to be satisfied
  • Pornography use harms relationships
  • Sex becomes less satisfying
  • Behaviour escalates to seeking out online or in-person sexual encounters, for example, sex work or online chatrooms

The long-term effects of pornography addiction can be:

  • Inability to form and maintain functional romantic and social connections
  • Long-term sexual dysfunction, including difficulties with arousal and orgasm, erectile dysfunction and delayed or premature ejaculation
  • Relationship issues with romantic partners, friends and family
  • Isolation and intense feelings of depression and shame
  • Loss of interest in and withdrawal from activities which previously brought pleasure, such as socialising, hobbies, work and exercise
  • Issues in work
  • Legal issues

Causes of pornography addiction can vary, but some common causes include:

  • Stressful, abusive or traumatic experiences, particularly in childhood
  • Being exposed to sexual content early in life
  • Social isolation
  • An existing addiction or mental health issue (porn is often used as an escape from existing mental health difficulties, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD or mood and personality disorders)
  • Rejection from partners or desired sexual partners
  • Social media and peer influence
  • Easy access to pornography via the internet

Healing from any addiction can be difficult, and repeated frustrations with attempting to stop could worsen negative emotions such as shame and guilt. Psychosexual therapy can help to rebuild a healthy sense of self-esteem and sexuality, empowering people to regain control over their lives.

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Why is porn addiction damaging?

Pornography, for the most part, is not an accurate depiction of sex. In the same way that reality television is not an accurate representation of reality, pornography is a glamorized, often scripted, hypersexualized representation which rarely matches reality – and may not be enjoyable for the people involved if it did.

Pornography addiction, like other addictions, can make every aspect of life less enjoyable. Many people find themselves losing interest in everything that is not pornography.

Frequent or excessive use of pornography can also lead to a distorted view of sex, which can make connecting with another person sexually more complex and less pleasurable.

It can lead to increased isolation and neglecting other relationships and responsibilities, as many people with a pornography addiction spend hours watching porn.

It can lead to financial issues, as some find themselves prioritizing it over work or using work equipment to watch pornography.

It can also create trust issues, as attempts to hide the issue bring dishonesty into relationship dynamics.

Black man sat in armchair looking at laptop. Image by Freepik

Each individual’s relationship with porn depends on their attitude towards it, whether they view it as an accurate depiction of sexual relations, the type of porn they consume, and whether it leads to negative or positive emotions. As with any other potentially compulsive or addictive behaviours, the response to the stimuli will vary significantly from person to person. 

Living with pornography addiction can be lonely and difficult, as behaviour leads to shame and negative emotions, which are then dealt with through the same behaviour, creating a looping shame cycle. The key takeaway is that seeking qualified, non-judgmental support is vital if the behaviour is detrimental to well-being and quality of life.