Why Is Porn Addictive?

While pornography addiction is not yet a classifiable addiction, there is plenty research on the potential harms and side effects of pornography abuse.

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The Science Behind Porn Addiction

While it is still debated by researchers and specialists if pornography abuse can be classified as an addiction, what is known is that the abuse of pornography can lead to negative health outcomes and can be behaviorally addictive.

Humans are susceptible to forming addictions to substances or behaviors that stimulate the brain’s dopamine center, which causes intense feelings of pleasure. Like drugs, alcohol, video games, and sugar, pornography triggers a dopamine release in the brain. When someone has an orgasm, the body releases endorphins and there is a spike in dopamine levels, causing the person to experience feelings of pleasure similar to when someone uses drugs or alcohol.

A person can gain a tolerance for pornography just as they would to alcohol or drugs, meaning they will continue to need more stimulation over time to achieve the same level of pleasure. This constant need for more stimulation can make some people seek out potentially dangerous sexual acts in real life. 

Dopamine is not the only chemical in the brain affected by pornography. Other chemicals affected by pornography include norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin, endorphins, and serotonin. When activated by porn, the combination of these chemicals can cause issues, including shrinkage, cravings, and chemical bonding. Shrinking of the brain’s frontal lobe can happen when someone abuses drugs, alcohol, or pornography. The frontal lobe is responsible for making rational decisions, so when this shrinkage occurs, so does a person’s ability to make sound decisions.

Cravings happen when dopamine is triggered over and over again. Watching pornography can cause a surge in dopamine, which in turn causes a desire or appetite for more dopamine release. Chemical bonding develops when multiple chemicals are released in the brain. The bond created between the chemicals becomes substantial, and the need for the substance that produces this bond becomes more intense.

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Impacts Of Excessive Porn Use

Research suggests that excessive or long-term pornography use can lead to sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction and lower rates of sexual satisfaction with a partner. While pornography addiction may not lead to physical dependence the way drugs and alcohol do, the over arousal to the brain from excessive pornography use can still severely impact everyday functioning. When someone watches pornography excessively, dopamine becomes depleted. The brain will eventually shut down its dopamine release to protect itself from overstimulation.

Ultimately, pornography can change the way the brain functions. The brain will begin to rely on the very thing that gives it pleasure and stimulation. Like drugs or alcohol, the brain will become dependent on pornography, and sex or intimacy may no longer be pleasurable for the individual. While pornography is no longer viewed as a taboo subject for many, the overuse of pornography can blur the lines between what is and is not realistic in sex. This mentality can be harmful for many reasons as it can negatively impact interpersonal relationships and decrease one’s own enjoyment in physical connection.

Social Acceptance And Accessibility Of Porn

Another potential reason pornography abuse is so pervasive is because watching pornography is widely accepted in many cultures. Sex has been used in marketing campaigns for centuries, contributing to the normalization of sexualizing of women’s bodies. With these ideologies and marketing tactics, there is a cognitive dissonance for many individuals between what they are seeing on a screen and what is realistic in terms of sex and pleasure.

In addition to the acceptance of pornography, it is also widely accessible. The progression of technology and cellular devices has provided trouble-free access to pornography. People are now able to access pornography instantaneously, and many sites have limited age restrictions. With limited age restrictions, underage individuals can access many pornography sites. This is especially concerning as their brains are still developing, leaving them vulnerable to the adverse effects of sustained porn use.

Almost everyone in today’s society owns a smartphone, thus giving them effortless, anonymous, and often free access to pornography. Also, pornography is legal, so people tend to think, “It can’t be that bad if it’s legal.” For example, prescription pills are legal to use, in the right circumstances, but that does not negate any harmful consequences of abuse.

Moreover, The practice of masturbation is viewed as normal in many societies, and people usually incorporate pornography into these practices. Masturbation, in moderation, is a healthy practice that has multiple health benefits, including decreasing stress, improving sleep, and relieving menstrual cramps. However, these societal beliefs make it easy for people to justify pornography use even when it has crossed the line from use to abuse. 

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Seeking Help

There is no shame in seeking help. While porn abuse is not officially classified as an addiction, that does not mean that it cannot negatively affect your relationships, finances, and mental health. The good news is that there is hope for those who want to overcome pornography addiction. For example, brain function can be improved with retraining and reconditioning, and people can develop new and healthy coping skills.

Learn about your online therapy options for porn addiction today.

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Published:

Author

Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW

Photo of Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW

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