Pornography - not an easy subject to talk about. Can it be an Addiction?

Pornography - not an easy subject to talk about. Can it be an Addiction?

Pornography addiction

Part 1:  Setting the stage



The cost to society

Long ago, Internet pornography was one of the first big ‘Internet safety' talk-about topics, but since one does not read much about it in the popular press.


However, it doesn't mean these issues have vanished! In fact, substantial research shows that pornography is still very much ‘alive and well’ in our society.


The financial cost to business productivity in the United States is estimated to be around $17 billion annually. Still, the human toll, the effect on family and the youth, is far greater. 


As one psychologist wrote: ‘The digital revolution is being used by younger and younger children to dismantle the barriers that channel sexuality into family life.’


Pornography hurts.   It distorts reality and sexual attitudes. It leads to infidelity, marital dissatisfaction, separation, and even divorce.   In our two-part series on pornography addiction, we aim to shed light on this sensitive matter.


Can we really say pornography is an addiction?


Losing control over sexual behaviors


According to the DSM-5 (the manual for psychological disorders), pornography and sex addictions are not mental disorders or an 'addiction' per se.   The experts say one cannot become addicted to watching pornography like heroin or alcohol.   These substances change brain chemistry, whereas pornography doesn’t. 


So, what is going on instead?  


Researchers say that porn addiction is a more compulsive, obsessive, or habitual behavior. Therefore, one can call it a behavioral addiction.


People, therefore, refer to 'porn addiction' because you think you are addicted due to a substantial personal value conflict within you. Online pornography is particularly problematic as it is accessible, affordable, and the person can stay anonymous. 


Still, pornography addiction is genuine. Some users say the impulse of needing to watch pornography is just as real as having a drug or nicotine addiction. 


Pornography statistics

  • As you read this sentence, 372 people have been typing the word ‘adult’ into an Internet search engine.
  • Estimates say that about 25% of all Internet searches are related to pornography.
  • PornHub, a leading pornographic site, gets about 115 million daily hits.
  • Every day about 40 pornographic videos are being created in the United States, which accounts for 280 new releases per week.
  • About 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites, one-third of which are women.


Furthermore, viewing erotic content is on the rise. The sheer magnitude of what is available is merely one aspect of this issue that troubles society.


How does a porn addiction start?


A porn addiction starts when someone wants to fill a sexual or relational need. 


At first, porn is new and exciting. It meets emotional and physical needs without social- or relationship obligations.   The problem comes in when the person starts using it as a coping mechanism, and it is not about feeling good anymore but rather about feeling less.


How much is too much?


Extremely difficult to say


There is no clear turning point where one can say watching porn becomes problematic because it can vary between individuals. It is a bit like alcoholism. It is not what you drink or how much you drink, but rather about how drinking affects your life and those around you.


If your porn use is causing you to feel shame, depression, or anxiety, you probably are having an issue you need help with. 


Symptoms of pornography addiction can include:


  • Preoccupation to the point of obsession.
  • You can’t seem to quit.
  • Losing interest in all other social activities.
  • Cravings to watch pornography.
  • Feeling shame, guilt, and remorse.
  • Keep your porn use a secret from your romantic partner.
  • Engaging in risky behaviors that can jeopardize a social life or career.
  • Being emotionally distant from a romantic partner and unsatisfied with real-life sexual connections.
  • Social isolation.
  • Financial trouble or legal issues.


Can women have a pornography addiction?


Men are usually more visual, and women are more emotionally driven regarding pornography. Research shows that women use pornography but interact differently within relationships.  


Men are more likely to be exposed to pornography at an earlier age, use it alone, and masturbate while viewing the material. They think it is socially acceptable in a relationship.


Women tend to feel less so and are likely to consume pornography with a romantic partner or through a sex chat room, for example.   Women are also more likely to watch pornography together with a partner.   (Interestingly, women like erotic written material much more than men.)


Are women changing?


Some might claim that pornography is only 'fantasy' and is not part of the real world.   But then, how do we explain that women in Western cultures are now removing their pubic hair as part of their beauty routine?  


There is also a dramatic increase in labiaplasty (designer vaginas), and anal sex has become part of the heterosexual repertoire, even though it is painful for women.   Pornography is influencing current sexual norms. One study found that girls use pornography to learn what boys 'want.'  It is disturbing:  pornography is changing how girls understand healthy relationships, sex, body image, and consent.


Pornography in the workplace


  • A 2018 survey showed that 60% of respondents watch pornography regularly at work, and 10% view it
  • A recent Bloomberg article concluded that watching porn at the office is extremely common. 70% of all Internet pornographic traffic occurs between 9 am and 5 pm – which is well within business hours.  




Before the 70s, 'pornography' meant glossy magazines kept on high shelves and purchased on the sly. Today, less than half of all teens believe that porn is bad for society.  


Pornography addiction is real and endemic in the United States.   In the second part of this series, we will look at the effects of pornography and what we can do about it.