Getting In Touch With Your Needs: Pornography And Depression
Updated September 22, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: 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.
Being aware of your body and what feels good to you is healthy, despite the often taboo nature of masturbation. Believe it or not, new studies have suggested that familiarity with your body and sexuality can be an asset in your relationships with others. More than just one new study can also confirm the importance of communication, especially when exploring sexuality and intimacy with your partner.
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, such as anxiety, depression, etc.
If you suspect that you might be struggling with addiction to masturbation, the inability to not watch porn, or that the consumption of pornography is an issue for you, continue reading to learn more information and critical resources for support.
The Taboo Association With Masturbation And Pornography
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, porn users 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. Moreover, if you are viewing higher levels of pornography that you think you should, you may also want to reach out for help.
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. This may be a factor in increasing your risk for depression. In other words, if you are viewing porn and having to keep it a secret, it may trigger depression, since you can’t be honest with your partner about it.
In some cases, the partners of people who watch porn may not support or approve of their partner’s desires to watch pornography because it incites jealousy or feelings of inadequacy. Just because a partner viewed pornography, this does not make anyone inadequate. 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. There is no solid link that porn causes depression, but it may be a factor. If your consumption of pornography is causing a change in your routine, you may want to think about talking to a mental health professional. You should also consider lowering your porn consumption, so you can get everything done that needs to be done in a day.
A Need For Higher Levels Of Support
When dealing with how you watch porn, a higher level of support from your significant other can make a difference. Because of how society tends to address issues like choosing to watch porn, there can already be feelings of nervousness and apprehension attached, even when they’re not necessary. If you view porn, try not to keep it from your partner.
Even if your partner disagrees with why or how you choose to watch porn, it is important for them to be there for you and hear you out. On a similar note, being mindful of your partner’s feedback, the latest news and studies about pornography, etc., will also make a positive difference. It is important that you are honest with yourself and your partner about viewing of pornography.
In the long run, conversations about the decision to watch porn will hopefully bring you and your significant other closer together.
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. Essentially, you can watch more porn, since it is available at your fingertips.
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 FightTheNewDrug.com, 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: FightTheNewDrug.org 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." This may be a reason why it is thought to trigger depression in some people.
- 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. Believe it or not, excessive porn addiction has also been linked to struggles with healthy sexual intimacy. This is why engaging with other people is a much more productive way of coping. Don’t increase the levels of pornography you are viewing when you are feeling lonely, as this may not be the answer.
- 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. This can lead a person to feel depressed, since they may not understand why they aren’t performing in a way that they noticed when they viewed porn.
- 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. It may cause someone to consume porn, so they can fit in.
The Link Between Pornography And Depression
Are you curious about the link between pornography and depression? The idea that porn can trigger depression is something that makes sense but should be explained further. While porn addiction and depression may seem completely alien from one another, they can be more connected than some people realize. Make no mistake: not every person who chooses to watch porn is suffering from depression; however, excessive pornography consumption can be an unhealthy coping mechanism that someone uses due to feelings of depression. While some people may use pornography as a coping mechanism, others do not. You should be aware of your porn consumption and why you are watching it.
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. In some cases, depressed men likely view pornography, but this may have a negative effect, if they are already experiencing depression.
The link between porn and depression can cause serious problems in the life of impacted individuals. There is also an idea that porn may even trigger depression. Porn addiction can have one negative impact after the other on sexual intimacy, sexual behavior, long term relationships, and more, especially if you are using porn as a coping strategy. Someone who struggles with porn addiction may also find themselves neglecting important parts of their life so they can watch porn. None of this is good; worse yet, the negative aftermath stemming from porn addiction can worsen already-existing depression. If you have a problem with porn, you should think about getting the help you need, so you can lessen any negative affects it is having on relationships and other aspects of your life.
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. Masturbation, in and of itself, is not problematic; it’s a very healthy and natural sexual behavior that each person should embrace for themselves.
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. This vilification of masturbation can lead to all kinds of easily preventable mental health issues; this is why breaking the negative cycle and getting to know your body and yourself without feelings of shame is so important.
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. Confronting a porn addiction, depressive symptoms, or other struggles can be tough; however, being honest with yourself allows you to take the next step and seek the necessary advice, diagnosis or treatment. Being addicted to porn doesn’t make you any less of a human being; it simply means that you have your own challenges, just like everyone else.
Breaking the cycle, no longer being addicted to porn, and overcoming depressive symptoms takes time and effort. By recognizing your struggle with porn and addiction, pornography users can then take the necessary next steps.
- Talk to your partner if you have one. You may also benefit from counseling, either alone or as a couple. When you struggle with a mental health issue like porn addiction, being honest with your partner and getting their support can make all the difference in the world. If you and your partner decide to seek counseling together, this can help with not only a porn addiction health issue, but counseling can also strengthen your relationship.
- 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. Working with support groups when you are struggling with a health issue like porn addiction can help you know that you are not alone. Being around others who are also battling the same health issue can provide insight into healthy techniques and coping mechanisms.
- 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. Working with a therapist is a great way to deal with struggles regarding post-traumatic stress disorder, porn and addiction, or another health issue altogether. Both dated research and new research confirm the many benefits that can come from taking therapy sessions on a consistent basis. New research suggests that working with a therapist can play a pivotal role in your mental health, outlook on life, and interpersonal relationships. If you are open to it, BetterHelp can make an immensely positive difference in your life.
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.
"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!"
"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.
As you work to overcome addiction to porn and depression, you should maintain a support system, even as you’re working with a mental health professional. Support groups of people who love you and have your best interests at heart is linked to not only battling depressive symptoms, but also in overcoming various challenges.
Despite the manner in which society often approaches porn addiction and related stories, being addicted to porn doesn’t make you any less worthy of support groups and professional help.
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.