Pornography and Depression: What is the Connection?
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Some people believe there is a connection between depression and pornography viewing habits.
There is no research showing that watching porn causes depression. Furthermore, not everyone with depression watches porn.
However, some people with depression or other mental health disorders turn to porn to avoid their uncomfortable negative emotions.
Sometimes, these people watch so much porn that they develop compulsive viewing habits. They use porn as a tool for escaping their reality. They don’t need to watch porn but have an irresistible urge to do so.
In some cases, this develops into addiction. People with pornography addiction need to watch porn to feel pleasure. They might need it to perform sexually or feel numb from depression and use porn to experience something emotionally.
Can Pornography Cause Depression?
The simplest answer to this question is maybe, for some people.
One 2019 study that included men and women found that depression increased the risk of developing a problematic relationship with pornography.1
Another study conducted in 2017, including only male subjects, found that more frequent use (more than three times a week) reported higher rates of depression.2
Some people believe that a person’s opinion of pornography affects how likely they’ll feel depressed because of viewing it. For instance, if they believe porn is immoral, their risk of depression likely increases. This is because they believe they’re doing something wrong by watching it.
Link Between Porn and Depression
Pornography is watched by many different types of people.
Some people with depressive symptoms turn to porn for comfort or to meet their sexual needs without intimacy.
There is some evidence that people with depression have a higher incidence of watching porn.
For example, one 2017 study found that men with depression may use pornography as a coping aid.3 Additionally, an upcoming study suggests that male military veterans who experience depression have an increased risk of developing problematic pornography use.4
Someone with depression might struggle to connect with others. Depression can make it difficult to put effort and energy into relationships. In these cases, porn provides an outlet for sexuality without the complications and challenges of a relationship.
Others use porn to distract themselves from their depression. Just as someone might watch Netflix to “tune out,” some use porn because it lets them escape their uncomfortable feelings.
Why Some People With Depression Watch Porn
Not all people who watch porn experience depression, and not everyone with depression watches porn.
Depressed people watch porn to:
- Feel something other than emotional numbness
- Experience physical/emotional pleasure they can’t find elsewhere
- Ease boredom
- Substitute for intimacy
- Experience sexual release without commitment
- Escape their negative emotions
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Effects of Porn Consumption
How pornography affects someone depends on their opinion of the subject matter. People who believe porn is immoral are more likely to experience negative effects. These negative effects are reduced for those who don’t believe there’s anything wrong with watching porn.
In people who are negatively affected by porn, the effects tend to include:
- Sexual dissatisfaction
- Feelings of loneliness
- Relationship and intimacy problems
- Stunted natural sexual development (when viewing begins early in life)
- Potential increase in pregnancy and STDs
- Negative body image
- Potential increase in infidelity
- Normalization of violent or deviant sex acts
It’s also possible that viewing porn could make depression worse for some people.
Although it’s impossible to know if one causes the other, viewing internet pornography can interfere with someone’s attempt to manage depression. This is especially true if they use porn as a substitute for intimacy and healthy human connection or as an escape from their problems.
When to Seek Addiction Help
Knowing when to speak to a mental health professional or get treatment for problematic porn viewing habits can be tricky. What is considered problematic varies from person to person.
Some people seek treatment if they feel you’ve developed a compulsion for pornography consumption. Others have self-perceived problematic pornography. They’re troubled by their viewing habits.
Some signs that your porn viewing habits might be a problem include:
- Viewing habits interfere with your work, school, or relationships
- Viewing porn because you feel you “need” it
- Using porn to comfort yourself
- Feeling guilty or shameful about your viewing habits
- Struggling to reduce or eliminate porn viewing if you want to do so
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Is Treatment Available for Porn Addiction?
Yes. People struggling with their use of porn can benefit from support and treatment.
Addiction treatment works best when it’s custom-tailored for the individual. This often includes a combination of treatment approaches. Common treatment options for the problematic use of porn include:
This is one of the most-used approaches to treating porn addiction. It helps individuals identify and understand their triggers. Many individual therapy programs use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Addicted individuals meet with their peers and discuss their challenges and achievements. Group therapy helps people learn coping mechanisms and get the support needed to change their behavior.
Although there are no medications specifically designed to treat porn addiction, they can help to treat disorders that attribute to someone’s desire to use porn. For instance, medication can be used to treat anxiety or depression.
Many researchers believe there is a connection between depression and pornography. However, there is no consistent evidence that one causes the other. Some people with depression use pornography to help them escape or cope with difficult emotions.
Treatment is available if you’re bothered by your viewing habits or if pornography interferes with your life. Often, common addiction treatment approaches help people deal with problematic pornography viewing habits.
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- Borgogna, Nicholas Croft, et. al. “Is Scrupulosity behind the Relationship between Problematic Pornography Viewing and Depression, Anxiety, and Stress?” researchgate.net, 2019.
- Nin, Mo, et. al. “Current Situation of Pornography Use in Senior College Male Students and Its Correlation with Their Depression-Anxiety-Pressure.” Institute of Toxicology, College of Military Preventive Medicine,Third Military Medical University, 2017.
- Perry, Samuel L. “Pornography Use and Depressive Symptoms: Examining the Role of Moral Incongruence.” Society and Mental Health, 2017.
- Shirk, Steven D., et al. “Predicting Problematic Pornography Use among Male Returning US Veterans.” Addictive Behaviors, 2021.
- Dwulit, Aleksandra Diana and Piotr Rzymski. “Prevalence, Patterns and Self-Perceived Effects of Pornography Consumption in Polish University Students: A Cross-Sectional Study.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2019.
- Kohut, Taylor, and Aleksandar Štulhofer. “Is Pornography Use a Risk for Adolescent Well-Being? An Examination of Temporal Relationships in Two Independent Panel Samples.” PLOS ONE, 2018.