pornography-and-depression

Blog Mental Health

Pornography and Depression

written by Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist) Written by Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)
Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)

Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)

Melissa Dowd received her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Dominican University of CA and is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. In addition to her work as a clinical therapist, Melissa is passionate about promoting emotional wellness through leading workshops, guest appearances, and across social media platforms.

Read more posts by this author.

February 3, 2022 Read Time - 10 minutes

Pornography and Depression 

Is there a link between pornography and depression? Not a lot of research has been done on this topic. However, there is some evidence showing a correlation between the amount of pornography that somebody watches and the likelihood that they are depressed.

Let’s take a closer look at the potential connection between pornography and depression. 

Can Watching Porn Cause Depression?

Studies have not been able to prove that watching pornography causes depression. However, there does seem to be a correlation between perceived pornography addiction and poor mental health. 

It seems to be a chicken and the egg scenario in which we cannot distinguish which comes first: Does watching porn trigger depression, or are people who have depression more likely to watch porn? The science is unclear. 

One survey of more than 400 people showed that people who watch pornography daily are significantly more likely to have symptoms of severe depression than people who watch porn less than three times a week. However, it’s unclear whether pornography use started before or after the symptoms of depression. 

Pornography is sometimes used to cope with feelings of boredom, anger, fear, or sadness. Avoiding those feelings can, paradoxically, intensify them. 

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Do People with Depression Watch More Porn?

Some evidence shows that people with depression, particularly men, may watch more porn.

One study showed that depressed men who do not see pornography use as immoral are more likely to view high levels of porn as a coping mechanism.

The same study, performed by the American Sociological Associates states:

“Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses reveal that American men (not women) who believe viewing pornography is always immoral but watch it anyway are more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to others who do not report this incongruence.”

Watching pornography triggers the release of dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical in your brain. Over time, it may become harder for anything else to trigger dopamine and for some, watching porn may become the only thing that feels good anymore. 

Can Porn Addiction Cause Depression?

Porn addiction resembles substance use addictions and may contribute to “porn depression.” Like any addiction, pornography addiction can have many negative consequences in a person’s life, including ruining relationships or contributing to a job loss. The addiction itself or the resulting consequences may cause depression. 

What Is Porn Addiction?

What causes porn addiction, and what is it? Porn addiction may be as simple as any use of porn that causes a negative impact on a person’s life. It usually includes the continued use of porn despite the negative impacts and unpleasant feelings it causes. 

Porn addiction might also be considered the inability to stop watching porn, even if you want to or even if you have suffered consequences as severe as a job loss. 


Related Quiz: Am I Addicted to Porn?


Is Porn Addictive?

Not all people who watch pornography will become addicted to it. However, some people can become addicted to porn. 

Pornography addiction is similar to gambling addiction in how it affects your brain. The desire to watch porn can become all-consuming, even when it’s inappropriate, like at work or school. 

How Porn Affects the Brain  

Watching porn releases feel-good hormones in your brain like dopamine. Eventually, your brain gets used to that hit of dopamine and needs more and more stimulation to feel the “high” from the dopamine kicking in. 

One study showed that increased porn use lead to a “reduced responsiveness to still erotic photos.” Meaning the dopamine release from viewing still erotic photos was minimal or missing all together in those that watched many hours of porn.

The same study concluded that extensive porn watching is correlated with decreased grey matter in regions of the brain associated with reward sensitivity. That means it’s harder to feel any kind of pleasure. 

In the words of the lead researcher on this study, Simone Kühn, “Regular consumption of pornography more or less wears out your reward system.”

For many porn users, this may be why they find themselves watching porn more frequently or searching for more hardcore porn than when they first started watching, even if this means viewing content that does not align with their morals or is personally disturbing. Ultimately, this may lead to feelings of guilt, shame and depression.

Stats on Porn Use in the U.S.

Here are some interesting statistics about how much porn people in the United States watch on a regular basis:

  • 35% of internet downloads are pornographic
  • 25% of search engine requests are sex-related
  • 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites
  • One-third of porn users are women
  • 70% of 18 to 24-year-old men visit a porn site at least once a month
  • The most popular day of the week for viewing porn is Sunday
  • The most popular day of the year for viewing porn is Thanksgiving

Stats on Porn Addiction in the U.S.

There are approximately 200,000 porn addicts in the United States. The annual productivity loss from people watching porn at work is estimated to be $16.9 billion.

Am I Addicted to Porn?

How can you tell whether you’re addicted to porn?

There aren’t really any guidelines about how much porn is “too much.” It’s all about how you feel about it, how you react to it, and the larger role it plays in your life.

Somebody who watches porn every day might decide to stop watching it tomorrow and feel totally fine with that decision. Another person might feel their once-a-week porn habit is causing problems in their life and they can’t seem to stop, and that could be considered an addiction. 

The main questions to ask yourself are: is your use of pornography causing problems? Is it creating a rift in your personal relationships? Are you watching porn at work or school? If you feel negative effects from watching porn, yet you can’t seem to avoid watching it, then you might be addicted. 

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Signs and Symptoms of Pornography Addiction

Here are some signs and symptoms of pornography addiction:

  • Having trouble controlling porn use
  • Wanting to stop using porn and being unable to
  • Watching more porn than previously
  • Using porn when it’s risky (like at work or school)
  • Using porn despite negative effects on relationships or work

Effects of Porn Addiction

Porn addiction can cause a variety of effects, including:

  • Lower relationship quality
  • Harder for men to be aroused by anything other than porn
  • Decline in intimacy with a partner
  • Money problems or job loss
  • Higher likelihood of infidelity

Porn Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Mental health and porn go hand in hand. While it’s not yet known if watching pornography causes depression, porn addiction may be a symptom of depression or other mental health issues. 

While not a lot of studies have been done on the incidence of porn addiction and other disorders, 64% of people with compulsive sexual behavior and 38% of people with internet addiction have a co-occurring drug or alcohol use disorder at some point.

Additionally, many people who struggle with porn addiction have symptoms of depression or anxiety


Read: Social Media’s Effect on Mental Health


How to Stop Watching Porn

Fortunately, there are many successful ways to treat porn addiction. One of the most popular ways to stop porn addiction is through solution-focused therapy, which focuses on a person’s present and future circumstances to find appropriate solutions to their problems. 

Other types of therapy that can be helpful for porn addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), psychodynamic therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. 

Faith-based treatment, couple’s therapy, peer support, and 12-step groups can also help people struggling with porn addiction. 

Additionally, certain medications such as antidepressants have been shown to successfully treat porn addiction.

According to our medical director here at PlushCare:

“Early evidence suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychologist/therapist can be effective in treating compulsive sexual behavior. There is also limited research and case studies showing preliminary evidence that SSRIs (eg, citalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline) and opioid antagonists (eg, naltrexone) may reduce symptoms and behaviors of this condition.”

Dr Adonis Saremi M.D.

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  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  • Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

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Get Porn Addiction and Depression Help

Porn addiction recovery may sound daunting, but it is possible with the right resources. Online therapy can be a great first step in talking to somebody about your issue and working on a plan to overcome it. And these days, it’s easier than ever to find a therapist. 

At PlushCare, we’re proud to offer the best in online therapy services in California (more states coming soon). Just click here to get started and set up your virtual appointment today.

Porn addiction treatment may be as intense as going to a residential treatment facility (helpful if you’re struggling with arousal addiction withdrawal) or as relatively simple as using a porn addiction app.

It all depends on how much help you need and how bad you perceive your addiction to be. 

If you’re depressed, treating your depression first may help lessen your porn addiction. Getting help with depression may be as easy as talking to an online doctor about a prescription for an antidepressant.


Related: Get Mental Health Treatment Online


Are There Benefits to Watching Porn?

While it can be addictive for some people, there are a few positive effects of watching porn, including:

  • May increase sexual satisfaction (especially for women)
  • It’s a form of safe sexual arousal
  • Porn can help normalize desires
  • It can help you figure out what you like

Porn’s Effect on Relationships

While porn may be helpful for some couples in, porn addiction can cause a major rift in relationships. Porn addiction may cause job loss or lead to an increased likelihood of infidelity. Porn addiction can also make it more difficult to be turned on by your partner. 

If you’re in a relationship, it might be a good idea to talk to your partner about how your porn use affects them and how they feel it affects your relationship. 

Can Primary Care Physicians Treat Depression Caused by Porn Addiction?

While therapy may be an important part of overcoming a porn addiction, primary care physicians can prescribe antidepressants to treat porn addiction and depression.

If you don’t want to see your regular primary care doctor, an online doctor may be a great option.

While PlushCare doctors do not specialize in addiction treatment, they can treat depression and mild porn addiction.

During a video or phone appointment, one of our licensed, trusted doctors will work with you to diagnose and treat your condition. If they deem medication necessary, they can electronically send a prescription to your local pharmacy.

Getting started with PlushCare is easy. To schedule an appointment, simply click here. Take the first step to battling both your depression and your porn addiction today. Online appointments are convenient, discreet, and affordable.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Read More About Porn Addiction and Depression


Sources

Psychology Today. Can Pornography Trigger Depression? Accessed on December 3, 2020 at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inside-porn-addiction/201111/can-pornography-trigger-depression

Fight the New Drug. Why Watching Porn Can Make You Feel More Isolated, Depressed & Lonely. Accessed on December 3, 2020 at https://fightthenewdrug.org/porn-can-make-you-more-depressed-and-lonely/

Proven Men. Mental Health, Depression, Suicide, and Pornography. Accessed on December 3, 2020 at https://www.provenmen.org/mental-health-depression-suicide-pornography-2/

Sage Journals. Pornography Use and Depressive Symptoms: Examining the Role of Moral Incongruence. Accessed on December 3, 2020 at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2156869317728373

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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