How to Deal With a Porn Addiction
porn addiction

How to Deal With a Porn Addiction

When you think of addiction, you probably think of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. When you think of porn, you probably don’t think addiction. However, scientists have disproved the idea that addiction requires a physically consumed substance. As it turns out, you can be neurologically addicted to porn. While porn itself isn’t inherently bad, too much of it can alter the way your brain thinks about sex, love, and intimacy.

Porn addiction isn’t talked about as much as it should be and, when it is, that conversation is often focused on men. The truth is, men and women can become addicted to porn. It’s not an easy topic to address; there are numerous variables and not enough research to give us definitive answers. This guide is meant to serve as a resource for any woman who is dealing with porn addiction herself, or who has a partner who has become addicted to porn.

Women and Porn. What’s the Deal?

Here’s the deal: Most people watch porn. And, no, not just men. In fact, in 2015, Marie Claire surveyed over three thousand women to understand their porn habits. The results of the survey found that 31 percent of women watch porn every week, while 10 percent watch it daily. Ninety percent of women find their porn online and 62 percent watch it on their smartphones. While interesting, the following questions and related statistics speak directly to the overarching point—why women watch porn and how it affects (or doesn’t affect) their lives:

If you watch porn and enjoy it—why?

  • 73% It’s a quick road to an orgasm
  • 39% It gives me/us ideas for my own/our sex life
  • 36% It allows me to feel in control of my sexuality
  • 32% It’s part of a healthy sex life
  • 24% NBD. It’s just part of our culture
  • 23% It turns my partner(s) and me on equally
  • 17% It helps me understand my partner’s likes/dislikes

If you watch porn but feel conflicted about it—why?

  • 56% It turns me on, but I’m concerned about how the industry treats women and/or I feel it perpetuates negative stereotypes
  • 41% It’s something secretive I don’t want anyone to know about
  • 35% I like it, but men seem to conflate porn with real-life sex
  • 20% I’m embarrassed and feel ashamed afterward
  • 19% I don’t feel like I should “need” it
  • 2% I just watch to please my partner(s)

How has porn negatively influenced your sex life, dating, and relationships, if at all?

  • 76% It hasn’t
  • 16% My partner(s) seem to expect me to look a certain way that I can attribute to porn
  • 15% My partner(s) seem to expect certain acts that I’m not into but can attribute to porn
  • 6% My partner(s) seem to spend more time with porn than with me

This goes to show that stimulating sexual imagery can be a healthy part of your sex life—as long as the habit stays healthy.

How Much Porn is too Much Porn?

Porn is practically everywhere—you can stream it on your desktop, access it on your phone, order it on pay-per-view, and find it in magazines. Now that nearly everyone has access to the internet, porn isn’t that hard to come by. This can make it hard to distinguish when porn has become a neurological addiction and when it’s just “normal.”

Just as with any other type of addiction, porn addiction isn’t always cut and dry. While one person may view watching it daily as a problem, another may have a much higher threshold. The real determining factor is whether watching porn interferes with other aspects of your (or your partner’s life). When this happens, it’s a safe bet that there is either a porn addiction involved, or the risk of becoming addicted is high.

The line between porn addiction and “normal” use of porn isn’t clear. Even scientists aren’t entirely sure where that boundary is crossed. Though you can certainly recognize if you or your partner has the signs of a porn addiction, a professional (usually a therapist) can help identify if there is a problem and help you work through it.

The Science Behind Porn Addiction

It’s clear that some porn can be healthy—it can give you ideas, turn you on, and help you explore your sexuality alone or with a partner. While some experts believe that “too much” porn is an addiction, others believe that excessive porn consumption is more of a compulsion. The difference being, compulsion is an intense urge while addiction is a dependency.

What experts can agree on is that porn alters the way your brain works and can negatively impact your relationships and your life beyond the bedroom. Fight the New Drug, an organization that campaigns against porn use, puts it like this: “When porn enters the brain, it triggers the reward center to start pumping out dopamine, which sets off a cascade of chemicals including a protein called DeltaFosB. DeltaFosB’s regular job is to build new nerve pathways to mentally connect what someone is doing (i.e. consuming porn) to the pleasure he or she feels. Those strong new memories outcompete other connections in the brain, making it easier and easier to return to porn.”

While DeltaFosB is critical for learning any new skill, it can lead to addictive and/or compulsive behaviors. If enough builds up in the brain, it switches on genes that “create long-term cravings, driving the user back for more.” It doesn’t just go away when you stop watching porn, either. It can remain in your brain for months, keeping the craving strong even after you’ve stopped watching.

In a meta-analysis of 46 studies by the National Foundation for Family Research and Education at the University of Calgary, consistent exposure to pornography causes an increased risk of sexual deviancy, increased belief that women cause rape and rapists are normal, and was associated with negative attitudes regarding intimate relationships.

Additionally, a 2014 article published on the American Psychological Association website explored the topic even further, saying, “While many viewers of adult content don’t seem to suffer ill effects, porn can become problematic for others. The Kinsey Institute survey found nine percent of porn viewers said they had tried unsuccessfully to stop.

When pornography use becomes excessive, romantic relationships can suffer. Destin Stewart, PhD, and Dawn Szymanski, PhD, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, surveyed female college students and found that those who perceived their boyfriends’ porn use to be problematic experienced lower self-esteem, poorer relationship quality, and lower sexual satisfaction (Sex Roles, 2012).

But it’s not always that simple. In a 2013 study, researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of Missouri surveyed heterosexual couples who were married or living together and found that men’s use of porn was associated with lower sexual quality for both men and their partners. Female use of porn, however, was associated with improved sexual quality for women (Journal of Sex Research, 2013).”

Our brain—and our relationships—can be impacted by regular porn use, especially when that use becomes habitual and excessive. Again, that’s not to say porn itself, or the people in the industry, is bad. This also isn’t a religious cry for sexual purity. It’s simply a matter of science: when someone watches too much porn, his or her views on sexuality, intimacy, and love can be impacted. These changes aren’t isolated to the brain but, instead, can deeply affect the relationship someone who is addicted to porn has with themselves and current or future partners.

What are the signs of porn addiction?

An addiction to porn may not be as obvious as, say, an addiction to alcohol. While alcohol consumption tends to revolve around social activities (though it can certainly devolve into drinking alone or with secrecy), the nature of porn means it’s often consumed behind closed doors.

While some of the signs of porn addiction may seem extreme, not all people who are addicted to porn (or anything else, for that matter) will display all of the signs. According to Addiction.com, some of the signs of porn addiction include:

  • An inability to form lasting social and intimate romantic relationships
  • Intense feelings of depression, shame, and isolation
  • Disintegration of relationships with family, friends and romantic partners
  • Loss of many hours, sometimes entire days, to porn use
  • Loss of interest in non-porn activities such as work, school, socializing, family and exercise
  • Trouble at work or in school (including reprimands and/or dismissal) related to poor performance, misuse of company/school equipment and/or public use of porn
  • Financial issues
  • Legal issues (usually related to illegal porn use)
  • Porn use combined with drug/alcohol abuse
  • Physical injury caused by compulsive masturbation
  • Sexual dysfunction with real-world partners, including erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, and an inability to reach orgasm

Can a Porn Addiction be Treated?

With the revelation that you may be addicted to, well, anything, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of shame. There is a stigma around addiction and what it means about a person. When it comes to a porn addiction, the stigma is often far worse. Women are expected to be both sexually pure and, thanks to the porn industry, voluptuous with a ravenous sexual appetite. We’re supposed to be both the virgin and the porn star. Chaste but also “down for whatever.” And, you’ve all heard, “a lady in the street but a freak in the sheets.”

These ridiculous expectations can create an intense dichotomy, where women find themselves in limbo. Since porn addiction is largely seen as a problem only men deal with, women often feel like they “can’t” or “shouldn’t” be addicted to porn. They may feel that they’ll be judged, ridiculed, or shamed for being addicted to something as taboo (surprisingly so, since it’s so widespread) as porn.

Alternatively, if your partner is addicted to porn, this can cause another slew of difficult emotions to process. You may feel ashamed and embarrassed. You may even feel like you’re to blame if your partner withdraws physically or emotionally. The reality is that you aren’t at fault for a partner’s addiction to porn (or anything else). It can be hard to help someone else deal with addiction, especially if they don’t believe they have a problem, or if they don’t believe that porn addiction is real.

Thankfully, whether it’s you or your partner dealing with an addiction to porn, there are several options for seeking help.

  • Use Fortify:  Fortify is a platform designed specifically for helping people overcome porn addiction.
  • Talk to a therapist:  You, your partner, or both of you can benefit from talking to a therapist who can listen and offer helpful feedback.
  • Confide in a trusted friend: In addition to seeking professional help, talking openly about porn and how it’s controlling your life can help bring you peace. You may even find out that you’re not alone.

It’s important to know that people usually can’t beat porn addiction on their own. It’s scary but turning to a professional is generally the best option.

Featured image by Maria Badasian
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