Negative Pornography Effects & Studies: The Bad, In Marriage, And On The Brain

By Patricia Oelze|Updated April 13, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Nicole J. Johnson, LCSW

If I Watch Pornography, Is That Bad?

Porn. Despite being a taboo when it comes to discussion, most people watch it or have watched it. The internet is made up of porn, and people from all walks of life watch it. Sometimes, the person who you least expect may watch pornography. Those who claim they don't watch may be the biggest watchers of all.

Porn has always been controversial, and one of the bigger controversies is the claim that it's addictive. Porn addiction can lead to many negative effects, such as social isolation or a failed marriage. It's hard to find objective information about pornography; most websites that talk about the negative effects of porn are sites that may have a particular agenda against porn. In this article, we'll try to cover the subject as objectively as possible.

Porn Addiction

Let's tackle the concept of porn addiction. The science on what porn addiction is, how it affects people, and how to treat it is still out. However, it's safe to say that anything can be addicting. The Internet itself opens up a slippery slope to addiction. Some are addicted to reading Wikipedia articles all night. Others are addicted to checking their Facebook notifications. It's perfectly reasonable to believe that someone can be addicted to watching pornography videos to the point that it affects their life.

Symptoms

Obviously, someone who watches the occasional porn video is not addicted. Even a teenager who watches a lot may not be addicted, but instead, is using it as an outlet for their sexual frustrations. We are talking about an adult who is addicted to these videos to the point where it has a negative impact on their life.

Pornography addiction is not officially recognized, so the symptoms are hard to diagnose. However, behavioral addictions share many of the symptoms of pornography addiction, including:

  • Preoccupation. The person is always preoccupied with watching pornography.
  • Inability to control. Those who are addicted to porn have a hard time not watching it for a night.
  • Withdrawal. Those who watch porn may feel isolated from the world.
  • A person who is addicted to porn may prefer watching porn over having real sex. This can be problematic in marriages.
  • A person who is addicted to porn may be desensitized. They may crave videos that are increasingly hardcore and or unrealistic to satisfy their urges and even get themselves off.

Those who have porn addictions may have the hypersexual disorder, a disorder where one has excessive sexual fantasies and desires. They may use porn to help satisfy those desires.

Can It Be Diagnosed?

Porn addiction as a mental disorder has been debated. The American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) has said that there is little evidence that finds pornography addiction as a mental disorder.

It should be noted that behavioral disorders are still a new subject that is being studied, especially in the rise of the internet. For example, the DSM V only has one disorder on behavioral addictions, which involves gambling.

Some want to put internet addiction in general in the DSM and have porn addiction along with it. Some who work with the DSM also say there is hope that one day, porn addiction will be put in the DSM when there is enough evidence. They believe that while most who enjoy porn won't have an addiction to it, there are people who will become addicted, and they should be treated.

Some additions may be linked to the proposed idea of porn addiction. For instance, sexual behavior addiction, where you see sex as a reward, may be connected.

It does make sense that there is some truth to the idea of porn addiction. Your brain can see porn as a reward, and may want more of it. In the same way that food, TV, or video games can be addictive, pornography can be addictive as well. However, that does not mean that porn is necessarily bad. It means that some may exceed healthy boundaries around porn consumption.

Porn And Marriage

For some married couples, porn can be divisive. When anti-porn advocates talk about porn and marriage, they visualize a husband who does not love his wife and instead engages in porn rather than real sex. While this can happen, it is not always the case.

If I Watch Pornography, Is That Bad?

Sometimes, pornography can cause jealousy. For example, it may when a spouse sees their partner watching pornography and masturbating to another person. Although the person on screen is a porn actor/actress who the partner has a very small opportunity of engaging with, the spouse may feel self-conscious and/or insecure. These insecurities can be about their appearance and leave the spouse wondering if they are still loved by their partner.

Other marriage troubles can cause porn viewing. Usually, the couple already had marriage problems before the porn viewing happened. Arguments, a lack of sex, or separation can be just a few reasons. When determining if one has a porn addiction, all of these factors should be put into consideration.

However, some couples find that their marriage improves after watching porn, including watching it together. Some believe that there is no shame in enjoying pornography and that it can enhance their sex lives or serve as healthy adult entertainment. A couple can use pornography as inspiration to try out new sex moves or toys. They can watch porn to commentate on it. With that said, some couples may find that watching porn together breaks their marriage apart. It all depends on the couple, and you should respect each other's boundaries.

Pornography's Effects On The Brain

You may wonder if any studies have looked at the effects of pornography on the brain. With most of these studies, the results have been mixed. However, the effects of porn addiction may be the same as any other addiction.

Your brain releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical, as you watch porn. This gives you a rush, and those who are addicted want to feel that dopamine rush again. Repeated use can wear the brain out, and it takes more for the person to get the same feeling. This is how drug addictions work. Drugs give you that good feeling at first, and the rest of the addiction is chasing that good feeling even if the drug is not giving you that feeling anymore.

How Many Are Addicted?

There have been a few studies on who is addicted, but they've been a bit murky. Some studies have found that one percent of Internet users have a porn addiction, while 17 percent may not be addicted, but their porn consumption may still be problematic. For males in college, the studies get even more interesting. The results are wide, with 20-60 percent of college males being at risk for porn addiction. It makes sense why young men would watch porn excessively, and it's not known if this viewing carries on the further they get into adulthood.

Since there is no straight number as to what is normal porn consumption and what is not, these studies are unreliable.

How To Treat Porn Addiction

Treating an addiction that has not been diagnosed can be difficult. However, some methods may help.

Controlling Your Internet

Using Internet filters or monitoring your Internet use may be helpful when it comes to controlling porn addiction. An internet filter can reduce the amount of pornography someone views, thus helping them control their addiction. Make sure you have a filter that is hard to remove or bypass. You can even use browser extensions that block off certain sites.

Overall, the science on the potential negativity of pornography is still out. The subject is polarizing, as people have very different attitudes about porn. As such, it's difficult to find authentic and evidence-based studies on porn. This article, sadly, is not going to give you a definitive answer as to whether porn can be addictive, and if so, how much porn should be considered addictive.

Counseling

There are a growing number of studies pointing to online therapy as an effective form of treatment for those living with various types of addiction, including pornography or internet addiction. In a comprehensive report published in Clinical Psychology Review, researchers aggregated a number of studies examining the effects of online therapy on those living with addiction. The report notes that, compared with face-to-face counseling, online therapy helps individuals absorb and retain information learned in sessions. Researchers also mentioned the treatment gap that often exists with addictions, suggesting that online therapy is a way of helping more people, who may be hesitant to seek treatment in person. The review concluded that these online therapeutic interventions can create significant positive changes in individuals dealing with varied addictions.

As discussed above, online therapy can be a valuable tool if you want help working through a pornography addiction. If you’re uncomfortable discussing this issue in person, online therapy through BetterHelp is a discreet option. You can participate in therapy from the comfort of your home, without having to worry about going to an office or discussing your treatment with anyone but your therapist. Also, you’ll have the option of remaining anonymous—just select a “nickname” when you register, and your information will stay private, if you prefer. The mental health professionals at BetterHelp know how to help you or your partner when you’re dealing with an addiction to the internet or pornography. Read below for reviews of counselors, from those who have experienced similar issues in the past.

Counselor Reviews

“Pete has been such a big help in realizing my patterns and behaviors. He has challenged me in ways that other therapists have not, and he doesn’t stray away from uncomfortable conversations. I would 100% recommend Pete to anyone struggling with addiction, codependency, depression, or anxiety. I cannot thank him enough for the way he has helped me and made me think deeply and honestly.” 

“We have just completed our last session together and I was honestly happy but sad at the same time. Joy has not only been a great impact on my first year of motherhood, but has been an efficient, kind, and down to earth counsellor. I couldn’t have asked for a better counsellor during these past 2 months. I genuinely looked forward to our sessions together that we had weekly because she honestly felt like a friend. We were able to joke with each other when necessary as well as share common interests. She responded in such a timely manner and was there when I needed her the most. She did her best to accommodate me and my schedule to ensure that I got an appointment time that was best for me. She offered multiple resources for me, including articles, worksheets, and videos. Her efforts to help me overcome my anxieties and fears, as well as issues dealing with family members with addiction has been the help I've been longing for. Thank you, Joy.”

Conclusion

We don't know if pornography addiction is its disease or a symptom of internet addiction. We do know that there should be no shame in adults enjoying pornography produced with consenting adults. However, it's safe to say that you can be addicted to anything, and too much of anything can affect your life in negative ways if it is not identified and addressed properly.

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