Getting In Touch With Your Needs: Pornography And Depression

By Sarah Cocchimiglio

Updated November 07, 2019

Reviewer Carnell Colebrook-Claude , MA, NCC, BC-TMH, LPC (Clinical Track), LPCC, LCPC, LIMHP, LSOTP

Masturbating is a source of relief for many people, even though it's a rather taboo subject. While some people feel guilty about masturbation or try to hide it, it's a natural act. Everyone does it, even people who won't admit it, so you don't need to be ashamed of it.

In addition to relieving stress, masturbation releases endorphins and a rush of dopamine. These feel-good chemicals can be addictive, especially for those who are struggling with anxiety or depression, so masturbation can become addictive. It can also exacerbate existing symptoms of a mental health condition.

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Now let's be honest: People rarely talk openly about sex and mental health, especially in certain cultures or societal groups. Unfortunately, when topics are considered taboo, we tend to assume it's because those subjects are wildly inappropriate, unacceptable, or just bad. ("Bad" is a broad word, but you get the point.) If someone has never heard people talk about masturbation in an educational and healthy manner, they might judge it in a negative way despite the fact that it's a normal behavior. Moreover, individuals experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are often reluctant to talk about these struggles due to the stigma around these conditions.

Given these unfortunate realities, people can be afraid to ask for help when their pornography or masturbation habits are contributing to their mental health issues. Many people may find themselves stuck in a loop of masturbation, pornography and depression, all the while worrying about societal judgment. Being in touch with your sexuality is a journey, and it should be a source of pleasure and adventure. If that's not the case for you, you might need support to deal with these issues.

Learning Not to Feel Guilty

What turns one person on may disgust another. Learning what "works" for you is part of becoming a fully-functioning, healthy adult. To truly enjoy your sexuality, you need to be honest about your preferences with yourself and any sexual partners. Some people really enjoy watching pornography, but they feel guilty about it, so they keep it from their partner.

In some cases, their partners may not support or approve of their desires to watch pornography because it incites jealousy or feelings of inadequacy. If you're in a relationship with someone who doesn't appreciate or support your sexual needs, you may want to consider looking for someone who is a better match for you. On the other hand, your partner may be concerned about the effect pornography has on you. Talk to your partner, and try to understand their concerns. There are other valid concerns to consider, such as research showing how mainstream porn tends to increase support for violence against women, within both male and female viewers. Your partner may also be worried that pornography is contributing to your anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.


Pornography and Depression

Access to pornography has changed tremendously over the past few decades. Prior to the Internet and the smartphone, people typically had to leave their homes to purchase pornographic magazines or videos. Nowadays, you can find porn anywhere and anytime on your cell phone, tablet, or computer. What does this easy access mean? Well, for those who enjoy watching pornography, it makes things a lot easier.

As we mentioned earlier, watching porn is quite normal. If you're not familiar with pornography, you may be curious why so many people watch it. According to writers at, there are five primary reasons why individuals watch pornography, including:

  • Arousal: Well, this one makes sense. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow theorized that we as humans are motivated to have certain needs met and that issues may arise when that doesn't happen. One of those needs, of course, is sex. More likely than not, Maslow was referring to sex with someone else, not masturbation, but in general, humans need to experience arousal and its satisfying results.
  • Boredom: defines boredom as "...the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity." Although many people use pornography to unwind after a long day or to avoid boredom, it turns out that watching pornography does not help to decrease boredom. "It leaves a person unsatisfied and disengaged... [the] brain will become tired of seeing the same content, and a person will slowly start to crave more."
  • Loneliness: Similarly, some people use porn to escape reality or to cope with loneliness. However, continuously turning to porn to deal with loneliness may have an adverse effect because it reinforces isolation. Engaging with other people is a much more productive way of coping.
  • Education: As we discussed earlier, sex is a taboo subject that some people don't like to discuss. For this reason, many teenagers and young adults turn to pornography to learn about sex. Although watching porn may seem less embarrassing than asking someone for advice, it's not the most effective way to learn about sex. For the most part, pornographic scenes are not realistic and can easily lead to skewed expectations or unreasonable opinions about women. When these individuals do start having sex, this creates pressure to perform as though they're in a pornographic movie, which is neither fair nor realistic.
  • Peer Pressure: Research from Abeele, Campbell, Eggermont, and Roe (2014) explains that teenagers feel pressure to view online pornography to "achieve peer acceptance and to display or gain status." While adults may (or may not) experience similar pressure, the normalization of sexting and pornographic images on social media may have an impact on adult pornography habits.

The Link Between Pornography and Depression

Are you curious about the link between pornography and depression? According to Dr. Julia Cottle's article, "The Brains of Porn Addicts," problematic usage of pornography can both lead to depression and increase existing symptoms of depression. She explains that watching pornographic videos leads to the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine. Similar to illicit drug use, the release of dopamine "reinforces that behavior, making it more likely to occur" and possibly addictive. Therefore, if someone is using pornography to escape their depression, their usage will likely make things worse.

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Breaking It Down

While masturbation and porn usage have been publicly associated with erection problems and an increased risk of anxiety and other mental health problems, this is arguably society's way of demonizing the behavior. Our society has silently labeled anyone participating in non-hetero non-monogamous sex or pornography as deviants, but in reality our world has a vast range of normal sexual variation.

When you participate in something society deems "wrong," your body releases stress hormones, namely cortisol. This causes your arteries to constrict and in some cases may limit blood flow to what would otherwise become an erection. Furthermore, this experience may also contribute to the mental health issues society warned about in the first place. It's effectively a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Break the Cycle

You're struggling with depression, and you now know that porn is making it worse. What next?

  • Talk to your partner if you have one. You may also benefit from counseling, either alone or as a couple.
  • Join a support group. Peer support is incredibly uplifting, and surrounding yourself with like-minded people will help you feel safer, so you can open up about your feelings and issues.
  • Finally, consider taking up a productive hobby. The arts, for example, can be very therapeutic because they're a good visual and mental substitute for watching porn. They also come with the added benefit of increasing self-fulfillment and self-esteem. Alternatively, exercise can be a healthy outlet for your energy. Get fit while you occupy your mind and your time.

How BetterHelp Can Help

Although this can be a sensitive subject, a qualified therapist can help you talk about it and work through it. BetterHelp is an online platform that can connect you with a caring professional, so you can discuss any urges and concerns in the privacy of your own home, with complete anonymity and no judgment. Check out what people just like you are saying about their experiences with BetterHelp's licensed therapists.


Counselor Reviews

"Karen has helped me challenge some long-held beliefs - stories I had been telling myself about my life's experiences. Stories that had kept me stuck for decades. With her help, I've cleared the path and began to move forward with greater compassion for myself. I'm grateful to her for allowing me to see my lifelong experiences in a much more useful way and cannot recommend her highly enough!"

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"I have seen multiple counselors and never stuck with them for more than a month. Brian is the first counselor who has ever helped me get past some of my biggest roadblocks. I've never learned as much as I have before while working with him. I truly believe he's helped me make positive changes that I've been needing to make for so long, and I couldn't be more grateful or glad that I've found him on here and have had his help through the most trying time I've encountered thus far."


Understanding human sexuality and the urges that come with it can be a difficult journey, especially in a society that may frown upon topics like pornography and masturbation. Both can be a normal, healthy part of your sexual experience. However, if they're contributing to unhealthy habits or exacerbating mental health issues, you don't have to struggle alone. Reach out to a mental health professional, and move forward to a healthy life with self-acceptance and fulfilling relationships. Take the first step today.

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