Am I addicted to pornography?

Porn addiction occurs when the person viewing pornography, with or without masturbating, loses control over whether or not he/she will engage in that behavior. Porn addicts look at and use porn compulsively, despite consequences that include:

  • An inability to form lasting social and intimate romantic relationships
  • Intense feelings of depression, shame and isolation
  • Disintegration of relationships with family, friends and romantic partners
  • Loss of many hours, sometimes entire days, to porn use
  • Loss of interest in non-porn activities such as work, school, socializing, family and exercise
  • Trouble at work or in school (including reprimands and/or dismissal) related to poor performance, misuse of company/school equipment and/or public use of porn
  • Financial issues
  • Legal issues (usually related to illegal porn use)
  • Porn use combined with drug/alcohol abuse
  • Physical injury caused by compulsive masturbation
  • Sexual dysfunction with real-world partners, including erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation and an inability to reach orgasm

Sometimes, porn addicts find themselves aroused by material that once didn’t interest them or that goes against their moral values. As such, they often experience great shame about what they’re doing; this in turn leads to a secretive, highly stressful double life. For many addicts, the stress is so extreme that it can affect their physical and emotional health.

Here are some ways porn addiction differs from sex addiction:

1. Sex addiction involves real people; Internet porn addiction involves a screen. Porn addicts are hooked on pixels/searching/constant visual novelty. In contrast, sex addicts are hooked on novel partners, voyeurism, frottage, flashing, risky sex, and so forth; porn may or may not supplement other behaviors.

2. Internet porn addiction is more akin to video-game addiction than sex addiction. It often does not spill over into other sexual activity. In fact, many heavy porn users cannot become aroused by real women—even women they find sexually attractive. Comparing a porn addict to a sex addict is like comparing a World of Warcraft enthusiast to a Las Vegas high roller.

3. Internet porn addicts often comment that they would like a steady girlfriend, or, if they have a mate, that they want to respond sexually to her. Sex addicts want a variety of partners. They are hooked on novel people rather than novel pixels.

4. Sexual performance woes are a common complaint among Internet porn addicts. We typically don’t hear about severe sexual performance problems among sex addicts.

5. Porn addiction appears to be increasing as access to high-speed porn during teen years increases, although some older guys also report developing the addiction after switching to high-speed Internet.

In sum, a sex addict’s pursuit of living people is over the top, while a porn addict is largely missing out on 3-D action. In effect, porn proves “sex negative” for many users. How could such a bizarre situation arise?

If you think you or someone you love is struggling with pornography addiction, ask yourself these questions to determine whether or not viewing porn has become a significant problem:2

  • Do you spend far more time viewing porn than you originally intended?
  • Are you unsuccessful in your efforts to stop or limit your consumption of pornography?
  • Has your time spent viewing pornography interfered with, or taken precedence over, other personal and professional commitments, hobbies, and relationships in your life?
  • Do you go out of your way to keep your pornography consumption a secret? (e.g. deleting your web browser history, lying about viewing porn)
  • Has viewing pornography caused significant problems in your intimate relationship(s)?
  • Do you experience a cycle of arousal and enjoyment before and during pornography consumption, followed by feelings of shame, guilt, and remorse after you have viewed pornography?
  • Do you spend a significant amount of time thinking about pornography, even when you are not watching it?
  • Has viewing pornography otherwise caused any other negative consequences in your personal or professional life (missed work, poor performance, neglected relationships, financial problems)?

What Causes Porn Addiction?

People who struggle with porn have often experienced some kind of early relational trauma: sexual abuse, neglect, physical, verbal or emotional abuse; or some unfortunate combination therein. The essence of this type of trauma is that the abuse is minimized, ignored, not acknowledged; thus some essential part of the child’s experience is denied, refused articulation, preserving severe pain in amber and tucking it out of sight—much like the hidden motives for the addiction itself later on.