How can mindfulness meditation help treat porn addiction?

One of the most effective ways of overcoming a compulsion or addiction is by using mindfulness meditation. In this section we’ll discuss what mindfulness is, and how it can help you to create new and healthy habits as you quit using porn.

Addictions of any kind lead to changes in your brain. As we’ve talked about, your brain is not a rigid system, but something that is far more malleable and able to change, based on information it receives over time. This includes areas like your environment, what you think about, the physical activities you undertake, and many more. The ability your brain has to change is called neuroplasticity. In a nutshell: “Neuroplasticity is the lifelong ability of the brain to reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences.” (YPOB)

Neuroplasticity is an ongoing process that can affect many areas of your brain and occurs on multiple levels. Below is an excerpt from the website “Your Brain on Porn” about  to help you understand what mechanisms are at play, and how this is related to addiction:

Brain plasticity occurs on multiple levels and includes:


The above mechanisms are at work during brain development, learning, memory formation, and the development of addiction. Neuroplasticity works in two directions: it can weaken or delete old connections as well as strengthen or create new connections. In a very simplified model, the major addiction-related brain changes include:


As you can see, there can be several factors at play during an addiction that may impact your brain and how it changes itself. This can be unnerving to realize, however while it’s true that changes can be made in the brain by an addiction or compulsive habit, it’s also true that new changes can be made when you regularly engage in other, healthier habits.

This is where mindfulness meditation comes into play – because it’s been shown by neuroscience to have the ability to make positive changes in the brains of people suffering from difficulties such as – anxiety, depression, chronic pain and addiction (as well as many others).

How does Mindfulness affect the brain?

There have been numerous studies that show that with a regular practice of mindfulness, significant improvements can be made in various structures of the brain. During one study participants took an eight-week course in mindfulness which led to changes in the amygdala. Magnetic Resonance Imaging or ‘MRI’ scans showed that the amygdala – which is the area of the brain that houses our primal ‘fight or flight’ center - began to shrink. In addition, another area of the brain – the pre-frontal cortex – got thicker. The amygdala governs emotions like stress and fear, and the prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making, concentration and awareness (Ireland, 2014).

The study also showed a lessening of the area which sends off ‘danger’ signals, and a thickening of the area which helps to process information and heighten concentration. The way these two regions interacted with each other also changed. Connections between the fear-response center and the rest of the brain got weaker, while connections from the prefrontal cortex got stronger.

Other studies have shown that mindfulness is also effective at helping people cope with physical pain. Advanced practitioners in mindfulness reported feeling pain on a less intense level than those who do not practice. What is remarkable is that MRI scans showed that their brains were not actually registering less pain. It appears as though what happened was the mindfulness practitioner was able to change their relationship to pain, by lessening strong sensations of aversion. (Zeidan. F, 2012)

When it comes to porn addiction specifically, “Your Brain on Porn” has identified that:

“Just 11 hours of learning a meditation technique induces positive structural changes in brain connectivity by boosting efficiency in a part of the brain that helps a person regulate behavior in accordance with their goals...Meditation has [also] been shown to increase dopamine levels by an average of 65%. Addictions cause desensitization or chronically low dopamine signaling.” (YPOB, Meditation)

These areas of research are very encouraging when it comes to porn addiction. Increasing your dopamine levels by using a healthy tool such as mindfulness, alongside the other changes in the brain that mindfulness can bring, can help to mitigate much of the damage done by porn addiction.

So, what is Mindfulness?

In their groundbreaking book “The Mindful way Through Depression” the authors describe mindfulness as:

“...the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to things as they are.” 

They go on to explain that mindfulness encompasses three main characteristics. It is:

Essentially, mindfulness helps to put you into the present-moment and teaches you how to find greater self-acceptance. This is important because it helps you to switch into the mode of ‘being’ rather than ‘thinking’, and it also helps you to become far more aware of your internal experiences that lead you to crave porn and to take part in your addiction.

Mindfulness is also a great stress reliever, and can help to keep you calm, tackle issues such as insomnia and help you to manage depressive symptoms that may be related to your porn use.

There are many different ways for you to practice mindfulness, and these can include focusing on your breath, paying close attention to different parts of your body, and taking part in activities such as doing the dishes or going for a walk – while paying close attention to the activity. Almost any activity can be done mindfully once you have learned the art of paying focused attention.

Brainbuddy offers you exercises and challenges that will show you different ways to practice mindfulness. You can also access guided meditations online from a variety of sources. Regularly practicing mindfulness, especially when you are craving porn or dealing with symptoms related to withdrawal, can greatly help you to manage your reboot, so should form a core part of your strategy to quit porn. In the next question we’ll discuss further ways you can support yourself as you quit porn.

Ireland, T. (2014, 06 12). What Does Mindfulness Meditation do to Your Brain? Retrieved 04 28, 2018, from Scientific American: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/

YPOB. (n.d.). Meditation. Retrieved 04 28, 2018, from Your Brain on Porn: https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/tools-meditation

YPOB. (n.d.). Unwiring & Rewiring Your Brain: Sensitization and Hypofrontality. Retrieved 04 28, 2018, from Your Brain on Porn: https://yourbrainonporn.com/rewire-your-brain-using-ocd-neuroscience

Williams, M. e. (2007). The Mindful Way Through Depression. New York: Guildford Press.

Zeidan. F, e. a. (2012). Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: Evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain. Neuroscience Letters, Volume 520, Issue 2 , 165-173.