How To Keep A Pornography Addiction From Taking Over Your Life

Updated June 2, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

For some individuals, the use of pornography can start to feel like an obsession or a compulsion. It may begin to take up more time than they would like and get in the way of other priorities. They may have difficulty limiting their usage to appropriate times and places. 

Seeking help may be challenging due to embarrassment, but if you’re worried that you could be developing a pornography addiction, you’re not alone. Many people experience concerns about their use of pornography, and there is help available, whether through support groups or counseling—both in person and online.

Therapy Can Help You Regain Control Over Your Pornography Use

Is Pornography Really Addictive?

There’s some disagreement in the mental health field about whether it makes sense to talk about “porn addiction.” The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the DSM-5) does not list pornography addiction as a mental illness. However, some researchers believe that problematic pornography use should be classified as a type of behavioral addiction similar to challenges like gambling and internet addictions.

Many people have different ideas about how much use of sexually explicit media is a problem. Research on undergraduates suggests that people with stronger religious beliefs may be more likely to feel that they’re addicted to pornography—no matter how much or little they’re actually using it. Some people may feel a sense of shame over even occasional viewing of porn, regarding themselves as addicted because they’re engaging in behavior they feel is wrong.

However, there is some evidence that prolonged, high-frequency use of pornography may involve brain changes similar to those observed in people who use addictive substances in excess. Areas of the prefrontal cortex that manage impulse control may shrink, while areas associated with pleasure and desire appear to develop a heightened sensitivity to sexually explicit images. Also, some people experience significant disruptions to their lives as a result of their pornography use.

Is It Bad For You?

Although some people have moral and ethical concerns about viewing sexually explicit media, it’s not clear that it’s always harmful from a mental health standpoint. Some people may find that they experience some positive effects from light or moderate use of pornography. These benefits may include improved sexual communication between partners, more openness to different types of sexual activity, and greater tolerance of other people’s sexual preferences. Some LGBTQ+ individuals may also find that pornography makes it easier to understand and accept their own sexual identity.

On the other hand, pornography consumption might also lead to some negative outcomes, particularly in people who have difficulty controlling their usage. For example, some research indicates that a high frequency of porn viewing might increase the likelihood of sexual dysfunction, such as lack of arousal or difficulty maintaining erections.

Other studies have reported links between repeated viewing of pornography and negative or even violent attitudes toward women. However, these results have been disputed by other researchers. There’s still a substantial amount of debate within the psychological community about the effects of viewing sexually explicit materials.

How Do You Know If You Have A Pornography Addiction?

We don’t currently have a broadly accepted diagnostic framework for pornography addiction. However, the following factors may be warning signs:

  • Using porn so frequently that you have little time for other activities

  • Feeling unable to stop watching pornography

  • Having repetitive thoughts about porn that make it hard to focus during daily life

  • Neglecting responsibilities, social functions, or time with loved ones to watch porn

  • Using porn in risky or inappropriate contexts, such as at work or in public places

  • Experiencing difficulty becoming aroused or enjoying sex without pornography

  • Having a lack of interest in other activities you normally enjoy

  • Experiencing relationship conflicts related to porn use

  • Feeling sadness and anxiety following porn use, but continuing anyway

  • Spending so much money on pornographic material that it’s difficult to afford other things

These can all be indicators that your use of pornography is interfering with other things in your life that matter to you. If you’re viewing porn so much that it’s causing you unhappiness and difficulty, yet you still find it hard to stop, it could be a sign that you could benefit from re-evaluating your use of pornography.  

What Can You Do?

The following approaches may help you get your use of porn under control and keep it from disrupting your life:

Restricting Access

The incredible ease of obtaining pornography may be part of the reason some people find it hard to cut back. Anyone with an internet connection can access an enormous variety of sexual images or videos with just a few clicks, which means that the desire to watch porn can often be acted on almost immediately.

By making pornography viewing more difficult for yourself, you may be able to interrupt this cycle. You can try taking out any sexually explicit material you’ve downloaded and throwing away any physical pornographic media. If your goal is to cut back but not necessarily to quit, you could move your digital material to a separate flash drive and store it someplace that’s inconvenient to access. Meanwhile, you can install porn-filtering software on your computer.

You might think that this would have little effect because it’s easy to get around self-imposed restrictions. However, sometimes adding a pause between desire and satisfaction can give you enough time to rethink what you’re doing and decide against it.

Communicate With Your Partner

Seeking help for pornography addiction may be more common among people who are in committed relationships. This might be because problems with a partner can serve as a signal of a concern to be addressed.

Sometimes these conflicts arise because one person is upset by the other’s porn use. In other cases, though, an individual may hide their use of sexually explicit media. Keeping this kind of secret from your partner might cause a sense of distance between you, which could get worse if you’re also less interested in sex or other kinds of physical and emotional intimacy. Your partner might feel neglected or hurt even though you intend no harm.

It may help to be honest with your partner about the difficulty you’re having with pornography use. This might help restore trust and communication in your relationship. It may also mean that your partner can offer you emotional support as you work to make positive changes.

Therapy Can Help You Regain Control Over Your Pornography Use

Practice Mindful Self-Acceptance

A pornography addiction sometimes comes with feelings of shame. Some research suggests that feelings of shame may decrease a person’s belief in their ability to change, which may make it harder to recover from behavioral addictions like excessive internet use.

Even though it may be challenging, you may find it helpful to accept and forgive yourself. Practices such as journaling, mindfulness meditation, and self-compassion might help you release negative ideas about yourself. This could make it easier to change your habits as you learn to feel more in control. Research suggests that self-acceptance may help with treating problematic pornography use.

Consult A Therapist

Some types of psychotherapy focus specifically on helping clients understand and change the habits of thought that drive unfulfilling behaviors. This kind of treatment may enable you to learn effective strategies for regulating your pornography use.

A 2022 study comparing different treatments for the compulsive use of pornography found that cognitive-behavioral therapy showed evidence of effectiveness.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of talking with a therapist about your pornography use, online therapy may be a more comfortable approach. You can choose between various methods for sessions, including text chat, voice calls, and videoconferencing, which might make it easier to open up. Many people find that connecting with a therapist remotely improves their comfort with the process.

CBT Can Help

Research shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy can be just as effective when delivered remotely as it is in person. One review concluded that the many studies on this approach offered “compelling support for the efficacy and effectiveness of online CBT.”


Pornography addiction is a controversial diagnosis among some mental health professionals, as it is not recognized in the DSM-5. However, difficulties controlling porn use can cause a variety of challenges. If you’re experiencing concerns about pornography usage, you are not alone. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience helping people with porn addiction. You can connect with a therapist from the comfort of your own home via phone, live chat, or videoconferencing. Take the first step toward freedom from excessive porn use and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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