The Effects Of Pornography On Marriage And The Brain

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Despite being taboo in some circles, many people from all walks of life have watched pornography at some point. The internet has led to a huge proliferation of pornography, with images and videos more convenient than ever. Porn remains controversial, and one of the bigger controversies is the claim that it's addictive. While porn can have benefits in terms of exploring one’s desires, porn addiction can have negative effects, such as social isolation or failed relationships.   

It can be challenging 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 it. In this article, we'll try to cover the subject as objectively as possible.

Is a pornography addiction negatively affecting your life?

Porn and marriage

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

Sometimes, pornography can cause jealousy. For example, it may lead to jealousy when a spouse sees their partner viewing images or videos of another person. Although the person on screen is likely an actor whom the person watching has little chance of meeting, their partner may feel self-conscious and/or insecure. These insecurities can be related to their appearance and leave them wondering if they are still loved and desired by their partner.

In some cases, marriage troubles can lead a person to view pornography and it can create unrealistic expectations about what sex looks like. Arguments, a lack of sex, or separation can be just a few reasons. 

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 might use pornography as inspiration to try out new sex positions or enhance their sex life in some other way.

Pornography's effects on the brain

Some studies have looked at the effects of pornography on the brain. In most of these studies, the results have been mixed. However, the effects of a porn addiction may be the same as those of any other addiction.

Your brain releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical, as you watch porn. This can give you a rush, and those who are addicted want to feel that dopamine rush again. Repeated use can wear the brain out, and it can take more stimulation 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.

Porn addiction symptoms

Someone who watches an occasional porn video may not be addicted. Even a person who watches frequently may not be addicted but instead might be using it as an outlet for their sexual frustrations. A person who is addicted to pornography usually watches these videos to the point where it has a negative impact on their life. 

Pornography addiction tends to have many of the symptoms of behavioral addictions, including:

  • Preoccupation. The person is often preoccupied with watching pornography.
  • Inability to control behavior. Those who are addicted to porn have a hard time not watching it.
  • Withdrawal. Those who watch porn may feel isolated from the world.
  • Lack of sex. A person who is addicted to porn may prefer watching porn over having real sex. This can be problematic in relationships.
  • Desensitization. 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.

Can it be diagnosed?

Porn addiction as a mental health disorder has been debated by researchers for some time. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) has stated that little evidence indicates pornography addiction is a mental health disorder.

Also, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) only has one disorder of behavioral addictions, which involves gambling. Some experts want to include internet addiction in general in the DSM-5 and have porn addiction along with it. Some who work with the DSM-5 also say there is hope that one day porn addiction will be included in the DSM-5 when there is enough evidence. 

Some experts refer to porn addiction as hypersexual disorder, a disorder where a person has obsessive sexual fantasies and desires. They may use porn to help satisfy those desires.

Regardless of whether it’s ultimately considered a disorder, porn addiction can have negative consequences on a person emotionally, and people experiencing this addiction deserve help without judgment.

Online counseling with BetterHelp

Online therapy can be a valuable tool if you want to help to work through a pornography addiction. If you’re uncomfortable discussing this concern in person, you might consider online therapy through BetterHelp. You can participate in therapy from the comfort of your home without having to worry about going to a therapist’s office. Also, you’ll have the option of remaining unknown, as you can select a nickname when you register. 

When it’s time for a session, you can communicate with your therapist via phone or video chat. Also, you can contact them with questions or concerns in between sessions via in-app messaging, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can.

The efficacy of online counseling 

A growing number of studies point to online therapy as an effective treatment for those living with various types of addiction, including pornography or internet addiction. In a comprehensive report published in Clinical Psychology Review, researchers looked at several studies examining online therapy's effects on those living with addiction. The report notes that, compared with in-person therapy, 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 could lead to significant positive changes in individuals experiencing various addictions.

Below are some reviews of people who have sought online counseling at BetterHelp.

Is a pornography addiction negatively affecting your life?

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.… 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 with addiction has been the help I've been longing for. Thank you, Joy.”


If you’re experiencing an addiction to pornography, you don’t have to face it alone. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience helping people overcome pornography addiction. Although addiction can be a sensitive topic, online therapy can provide a way to receive support and helpful tools without ever having to leave home. Take the first step toward freedom from addiction and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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