When you look at the media, watch movies, or even listen to the lyrics to songs featuring drug addiction and alcoholism, these problems seem very severe. Popular media does not shy away from portraying the most aggressive and dismal aspects of addiction. 

According to the media, drug addiction and alcoholism are destructive disorders that are bound to lead those involved into violence or criminal behavior. Are we really expected to believe that pornography can cause this sort of behavior? Is it really possible to become addicted to pornography?

The answer to that question is a resounding yes. However, you need to understand that the reality of addiction is generally quite different than what the media would have you believe. Just like anything, the media sensationalizes things – both good and bad — to draw in your attention and produce a cathartic response.

That’s not to say that drug addiction isn’t dangerous. However, the majority of addictions are much less intense than the TV would have you believe This is even more true when you’re discussing something like pornography addiction.

What makes pornography addiction different than drug or alcohol addiction?

Chances are, no matter how serious it becomes, a porn addiction is not going to push somebody over the edge to the point where they become violent or criminal in order to get their hands on a sex tape. If somebody engages in behaviours like this in relation to their addiction to porn, chances are that they were violent or criminal to begin with.

Sure, a porn addict still needs to get their fix. But, as I’m sure you can imagine, a porn addict trying to get their fix of a good sex scene is a lot different than a heroin addict who will become violently ill if they don’t get their fix.

The sheer difference in intensity between these different types of addiction gives you some idea of why porn addiction is not often seen in the same light as a drug addiction. But, that’s not to say that pornography cannot be addicting. Anything can be. In fact, the fact that porn addictions are so much less dangerous and sensationalized than drug addiction ironically contributes to the likelihood of people becoming addicted to it in the first place.

If you’re reading this article, then you can understand why. The very title of this article suggests that you had some doubts regarding whether or not pornography could actually be addicting. Because people don’t seriously consider the possibility of porn causing an addiction, they are more likely to develop careless porn habits that can blossom into a fairly serious addiction.

Again, it’s extremely unlikely that porn addiction will cause people to sink into criminal behaviours or become violent (although people who are already criminally-minded or aggressive will have no problem breaking the law or using force to get their fix of porn). But, since the majority of people watching porn never stop to consider whether or not they’re becoming addicted, there is likely an epidemic of porn addiction that most people are completely unaware of.

How porn addiction affects the brain just like drug addiction

Alright, we just finished explaining how porn addiction is very different from drug addiction. Now, you’re going to learn the ways that porn addiction is actually quite similar. In fact, any sort of addiction functions quite similarly in the brain. The mechanisms that cause addiction can occur independently, regardless of what the object of your addiction is. You might be addicted to porn, sex, exercise, drugs, alcohol, or food. No matter what the case, the development of compulsive and habitual behaviours creates a set of very specific changes in the brain.

In the last few years advances in neuroscience have shown that addiction is not just a matter of changes substances create within your brain, but also the changes compulsive behaviour creates. Since 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has defined addiction as:

“...a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”

Addiction is characterised by being unable to stop, even when you’re suffering adverse consequences, and increasing dependency on the behaviour or substance that is giving you the ‘high’. Because your brain is not ‘hard-wired’ as was thought for many years, but is rather more plastic and adaptable to the ‘diet’ you ‘feed’ it, porn use can make real and lasting changes in the way your brain responds to sexual stimulation. This ‘soft-wiring’, called “neuroplasticity”, can make changes to the way your brain processes rewards when you view porn. Your brain is a complex system that can be trained to respond in different ways to ‘rewards’ for different habits. 

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If you repeatedly engage in harmful or destructive behavior, you will prime the neural circuitry in your brain to seek out that behaviour again. The more often that you compulsively re-engage in this behavior, the stronger the neural link will become and the more deeply entrenched your addiction will be.

Porn, masturbation, and dopamine

One of your key reward neurochemicals is dopamine – which triggers the sensation of pleasure you get when you do an activity you enjoy. 

It is released when you watch porn and masturbate. Our sex drive is governed by our reptilian cortex, a section of the brain that was developed long before our mammal brain took over with its executive functions. Any living organism is hardwired to reproduce. One of the reasons that sexual behaviour results in such a pleasurable climax is because this helps to motivate us to keep our species alive. Biologically, it makes sense to link the most physically pleasurable activity with the most physically important activity. To further ensure that we dedicate time and energy to reproduction, our brain also releases a huge surge of dopamine in response to having sex.

The sex impulse is a natural part of any sexual organism. In mammals, it evolved through a number of complicated structures in the brain and played out over the course of millions of years. 

Pornography, on the other hand, has been around for less than a century. Our reptilian brain can’t tell the difference between masturbating to porn and successfully courting a mate in the wild. Even prior to the development of porn, the brain could not differentiate between self pleasure and having sex. As such, it rewards both of these activities just the same, despite the fact that historically, fighting for a mate could cost you your life. 

The brain can handle the dopamine surge tired by having sex once in a while. However, overuse of porn, especially in the easily accessible hardcore form we’re now saturated with online, can cause your brain to become overstimulated and seriously impair the functioning of your dopamine reward system. 

When this happens your brain releases so much dopamine that the cells that receive it become flooded and unable to properly receive it. In self-defence, the receiving cell will drop some of its dopamine receptors to try and cope – which in turn reduces your capacity to process dopamine in the future. Eventually, your reward system can become so desensitized that even much more explicit porn is not enough to satisfy you anymore.

Researchers have also found that younger men are particularly at risk, as younger test subjects have “enhanced reward circuit activity” – making them more vulnerable to the high dopamine spikes that can lead to early sexual conditioning to porn as well as addiction. University of Cambridge neuroscientist Dr. Valerie Voon has discovered that compulsive porn users show sensitization – which is a hyper-reactivity to cues that lead to craving and using porn. This causes the user to become super sensitive to triggers that compel them to look at porn. This compulsion to engage in behaviour is one of the defining characteristics of addiction.

Voon also remarks - “There are clear differences in brain activity between patients who have compulsive sexual behaviour and healthy volunteers. These differences mirror those of drug addicts.” 

The bottom line is that, despite the protests from some quarters, some of whom may have an agenda in denying porn can become addictive, numerous studies show that, yes it can happen. Whether it is happening to you can be determined by a range of factors which we’ll explore next.

Am I addicted to porn?

If you are finding that your porn use has increased and you can’t stop even though you want to, then yes, you may be suffering from an addiction.

Nobody wants to admit that they have an addiction. However, those who do should be commended. It takes a great deal of strength to even consider the possibility that you have a habit that is out of your control. Only by acknowledging this habit can you hope to overcome it.

However, that’s easier said than done – especially when so few people are aware of the reality of porn addiction. You can’t rely on your friends telling you that your porn habits are getting out of control because they likely don’t know about them.

In either case, the best thing would be to study a list of signs and symptoms of porn addiction. If a number of these symptoms apply to you then you might want to seek help for addiction treatment.

Is porn addiction changing your social life?

Pornography addiction can lead to changes in your social life, whether this means influencing your friendships or your romantic relationships. It can even get in the way of your relationships with professionals and coworkers, especially if your habits are fairly intense. 

You might wonder how pornography addiction could impact your social life if the habit is generally tended to behind closed door

You may sometimes choose to avoid social gatherings so that you can watch porn and masturbate. Recognizing this behavior can be incredibly challenging.  The addicted mind doesn’t simply tell you, “hey, let’s skip dinner tonight so we can go get our fix.” 

Instead, it comes up with a completely different story that avoids you ending up in any situations where you’ll be unable to watch porn.: “Hm, I’m suddenly anxious. I best avoid any gatherings tonight.” Once you’ve set up the circumstances to masturbate, you may not even be consciously aware that this was a result of your addiction. 

These unconscious belief patterns play out repeatedly in our lives until we learn to identify them.

Is porn addiction affecting your sex or love life?

Porn addiction can create a number of problems in your sex life - regardless of whether you have a partner - as well as your love life. 

In terms of sexual health, porn addiction often leads to masturbation addiction. Masturbating too often or too vigorously can lead to chafing or bruising of the genitals.

Frequent porn use can also change a person’s sexual habits and expectations. It’s all-too-easy to set your sexual standards as high as those set in pornography. If you enter a relationship with someone who is uninterested in porn and therefore unable to achieve pornographic standards,, then you’ve already set yourself up to create comparisons and judgments, both of which are red flags in relationships. 

Is porn addiction affecting your mental health?

Much like any other type of addiction, porn addiction can cause some nasty changes to your mental health. You might find that you’re thinking about porn all the time, especially if you’re set up in a boring classroom.

These thoughts might provide temporary relief but they can take away your focus from the present moment.

Much like drug addicts need their fix to remain healthy and happy, someone with a pon addiction might need their fix lest they become anxious and irritable.

Conclusion

If you or a loved one are struggling with a porn addiction, don’t worry. There are solutions available. Learning how to manage this condition is not that hard after coming to terms with it. The hardest part is accepting the problem; once you do that then you can begin to heal right away.