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Is Porn Addiction Real?

by Zachary Pottle |  ❘ 

Experts Seem To Disagree On Whether Or Not Porn Addiction Is “Real”

The world we live in is filled with screens. Whether it be a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer, access to the online world is as easy as a few clicks. While the internet may provide numerous benefits, it also means that accessing X-rated content is easier than ever. Accessing this content is so easy, in fact, that one of the world’s leading porn sites, PornHub, received an average of 115 million visits per day in 2019.

While accessing pornographic materials is not inherently harmful, many people find it hard to stop. Even still, the mental health community has yet to recognize porn addiction as a real, diagnosable mental health condition, like drug or alcohol addiction. This has led to an increased stigma surrounding the condition, and left many people to wonder, is porn addiction real?

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Is Porn Addiction Real?

To date, the American Psychological Association (APA) has not recognized porn addiction as a “real” psychological condition. Additionally, the Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5), the world’s leading guide on psychological disorders, asserts that pornography, as well as sex addictions, are not psychological disorders.

But does that mean porn isn’t addictive, and that people can’t become addicted to it? Absolutely not. Because the APA or DSM-5 has not “recognized” something does not mean that it isn’t real. As the scientific community continues to learn more about “obscure” or “taboo” addictions, the APA and DSM-5 will adjust their guides accordingly.

For example, unlike alcohol addiction, which was recognized by the APA and subsequently added to DSM-2 in 1968, gambling addiction, the only recognized behavioral addiction, wasn’t officially classified as an addiction until the late 1980s in DSM-3, where it was referred to as “pathological gambling.” Prior to its addition, it stood as a condition that psychologists couldn’t fully understand, and often attributed to personality disorders.

As psychologists’ understanding of pathological gambling continued to grow in the decades that followed, in 2013 it was renamed “gambling disorder” and moved to the Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders category, which includes alcohol and drug addictions.

The decision to move gambling disorder into this category highlights a new understanding of the commonalities between addiction and behavioral conditions like gambling disorder.

Additionally, in 2013 the APA listed internet gaming disorder as a “condition for further study,” meaning it was not an “official” disorder in the DSM-5, but one on which the APA needed more information. Following this, in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially voted to add “gaming disorder” as an official behavioral disorder.

All this is to say that our understanding of psychological disorders and addictions is always changing. What may be an “unrecognized” disorder or “condition for further study” today may be recognized tomorrow.

Why Pornography Is Addictive

Where pornography differs from other, recognized addictions is how it interacts with the brain. Experts believe that porn activates similar pleasure circuits in the brain as alcohol or Heroin. However, experts found it’s not this activation that causes someone to become addicted.

For example, in a substance like alcohol, while it does activate the same pleasure circuits as porn, alcohol also changes the chemistry of the brain. This is something that porn doesn’t do since it’s not a chemical substance. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be addictive.

Like many other things in our lives, people can develop compulsive, habitual, and obsessive connections to pornographic material, especially if porn is being used to alleviate anxiety or fulfill a sense of loneliness.

This compulsive, obsessive behavior can become even more addictive when you consider how and when most adults consume or engage in sexual activity: in private. Most adults in the United States report accessing pornographic material in private, secretive environments or without context. Furthermore, most of the US has little to no proper sex education, which can further compound feelings or attitudes toward sexual behaviors such as porn consumption such as shame or guilt.

For many, porn consumption may be a normal, otherwise healthy part of their lives. However, for others, it can be difficult to limit how much porn they consume. How much porn is too much, and how can you tell if you have an addiction to pornographic material?

How Much Is Too Much?

While compulsive porn consumption may not be a recognized condition, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a real issue that can carry serious, and oftentimes negative, consequences. With that said, it can be difficult to know where to draw the line on how much is too much, because this metric is different for everyone.

“When people consume pornography at the expense of personal relationships, risk of being terminated in the workplace, to the point where it negatively impacts their ability to engage in sex with partners, or as a way of dealing with problems such as loneliness, I think these are signs the behavior has ventured into unhealthy territory,” said Rory Reid, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a recent interview.

Like many other addictions, porn addiction can become severe and affect or interfere with your everyday life, relationships, work, finances, or other areas of your private life. Oftentimes, experts say that people who struggle to control their pornography consumption “almost always” have an underlying mental health disorder, most commonly depression, that requires treatment.

This co-occurring mental health condition can further complicate the difficulties of porn addiction and can cause a lack of social and sexual connections in someone’s personal life. Furthermore, it can cause difficulties when learning or accessing other coping mechanisms during treatment.

While Porn Addiction May Not Be Diagnosable, Treatment Options Do Exist

Like other behavioral health conditions, treatment for porn addiction must address both the addiction and the patterns of behaviors and thoughts that cause the addiction to progress. Many addiction experts agree that people who suffer from a porn addiction benefit from both medically assisted treatment (MAT) and psychosocial treatments like counseling.

Counseling can include a variety of treatment modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), support groups, and 12-step programs such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) or Porn Addicts Anonymous (PAA). All these treatment methods have also been shown to help recovering porn addicts identify possible triggers that may cause them to relapse.

In cases where addiction to pornographic material becomes severe and is accompanied by a co-occurring substance use disorder, more intensive treatment is required. For these cases, a dual diagnosis facility is recommended to help work through both conditions simultaneously.

Overcome Porn Addiction

Over 3 Million people have turned to BetterHelp for professional online therapy.

Take the quiz and get matched with a therapist.

  • Access to Therapy 24/7
  • Easy Online Scheduling
  • 20,000+ Licensed Therapists

Find a Therapist Now

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Get Help For Porn Addiction Today

If you or someone you know is struggling with a porn addiction, know that there is help available. While it may not be a diagnosable condition, there are programs and treatment options specifically designed to help those with an addiction to pornographic material. To get matched with a licensed therapist and learn more about what treatment methods are available, contact a therapist today.

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Zachary Pottle

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  • Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University and has over three years of journalistic experience. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.

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