Psychologists suggest pornography addiction is not real; Here is when it can be unhealthy
Watching erotic content and pornographic images is on the rise. In 2019, PornHub, one of the world's leading porn sites, received on average 115 million visits per day.
With all this readily-accessible on screen erotic content has got some folks thinking they're addicted to it. But is porn addiction real?
It can be seen that Pornography addiction is not recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a mental health problem or disorder, like addiction to drug or alcohol.
According to the DSM-5 (Manual of Mental Disorders - the world's authoritative guide on psychological disorders) pornography and sex addictions are not a psychological disorder. Some disorders the DSM-5 does recognize are addictions to gambling, alcohol, drugs, and most recently, online gaming.
The reason for this comes down to neurochemistry. While watching porn may activate similar pleasure circuits in the brain as, say, alcohol or heroine, most experts agree that doesn't mean you can become addicted to watching porn in the same way.
That is because addiction to substances, not only activates your brain's pleasure circuits, it actually changes your brain chemistry so that you can no longer release feel-good chemicals like dopamine as effectively without the help of the drug you are addicted to.
For instance, a study published in 2020 by the APA found that people's cultural, moral, or religious beliefs may lead them to believe they are addicted to pornography, even if they don't actually watch a lot of porn.
"If you think you are struggling with pornography, it is most likely that you are actually struggling with a conflict of your own personal values around your sexual behaviors, and not really the porn itself," says Prause.
How much porn is too much?
According to Prause, people who struggle with their pornography viewing almost always have an underlying disorder - most commonly depression - that requires treatment.
"By promoting 'pornography addiction,' research-backed treatments are delayed while people continue to suffer," says Prause.
Overall, what sex therapists see most often is a lack of other social and sexual connections and difficulties accessing other coping mechanisms.
How to stop watching porn, if you think you're watching too much
If you feel like you're watching too much, or if you're neglecting your work, relationships, or responsibilities to watch porn, you can take steps to remedy this:
a. Understand the impact on your life:
Be honest with yourself about how viewing pornography is affecting your life and address any negative consequences it is causing. If porn is affecting your relationship with your partner, having an open conversation about what you need more of in the relationship can help.
b. Sit with your fears about reducing your intake:
The thought of watching less porn may pose a challenge because there is probably a reason - whether it's an underlying medical condition or it's the only time you grant yourself permission to experience physical pleasure - why you're choosing to watch porn. Recognizing this reason and admitting why you're scared to watch less porn can be an important step in the healing process.
c. Formulate an action plan:
Make a plan to help you break out of old patterns and fill your life with more activities. This can include focusing more on other activities that give you pleasure such as hobbies, sports, and friendships.
d. Seek therapy: Seek help from a qualified sex therapist therapist or counselor. You can find one via the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. According to Prause, there is a research-backed form of therapy that can help if your porn habit is inconsistent with your values. Known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), it involves helping you identify your values and live in a more meaningful manner that is consistent with your belief system.
However, watching porn, masturbating, and exploring your sexuality can in fact be beneficial to your sex life.
"Women report overwhelmingly positive effects from viewing pornography, primarily as a method of increasing their sexual drive for a partner or experiencing sexual pleasure. When couples view pornography together they tend to report a more satisfying sex life," says Prause.