Is Porn Really Addictive?

Being addicted to porn is a contentious issue, which is why the topic is rarely discussed. Most people know about the problems related to alcohol, tobacco and drugs, however, very little is said about the risks associated with exposure to porn.

Therapists who treat porn addicts say they behave just like any other addicts. One of the key features of addiction, they say, is the development of a tolerance to the addictive substance. In the way that drug addicts need increasingly larger doses to get high, people who develop an addiction spend increasing amounts of time using pornography and often progress to more extreme material to feel the same level of excitement they first experienced.

Porn addiction, like other substances or “things” that people can become addicted to, can be understood through principles of “operant conditioning.” This is where a certain behaviour, for example watching porn, is rewarded, which in turn makes you want to do it again and again. Viewing porn can be especially rewarding because the hit taps into one of our basic instincts – sex. Therefore, it is very easy to become addicted to porn, it is accessing a human natural drive. For a large number of people, porn is also much easier to obtain than going out and finding a partner to fulfil this drive.


Signs of Pornography Addiction

How would you know if porn use is harmful to you (or someone you know)? The following are signs that a person’s use may be problematic:

  • The use of pornography feels out of control. You are unable to limit the use of porn or can’t stop using it.
  • The use of pornography has negative consequences in their lives. For example, a desire to participate in increasingly risky behaviours that may cause themselves or others physical or emotional harm. The use of porn may also negatively impact your studies or work performance, or place you at risk of consequences if caught.
  • A feeling of excitement and stimulation before and during use, followed by shame, guilt, remorse or depression.
  • The time spent watching pornography increases to the point of taking precedent over other responsibilities, hobbies or relationships.
  • An individual makes sure they hide use of porn from others, frequently deleting the internet browsing history, or lie about their use of porn.
  • Spending large amounts of time thinking about pornography when not using it, as well as taking time to plan when they will use it again.
  • Pornography use or other sexual behaviours cause problems in intimate relationships.

Any of the signs above could indicate an individual’s pornography use is a problem.

The Effects of Addiction to Pornography

  • Obsession with sexual thoughts throughout the day.
  • Guilt, shame, confusion.
  • Doubt about stopping, or cycles of stopping/restarting.
  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Inability to become aroused.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Impotence (inability to form or maintain an erection).
  • Premature ejaculation.
  • Not wanting to seek person-to-person sexual contact.
  • Limited patience for sexual contact (e.g., wanting to have sex right away)
  • Decline in romantic or sexual interactions with partner.
  • Increasing need for more aggression or dominance.
  • Emotional detachment.


The negative effects of online pornography are becoming more apparent in today’s society, however not everyone realizes that one age group is specifically at risk.

Teenagers are the largest consumers of Internet Pornography with 93% of boys and 62% of girls viewing porn before the age of 18 (Covenant Eyes 2016) and addiction is a real danger. The exact effects of pornography on young people is a contentious topic, as few studies exist which focus solely on the issue. The main reason for the lack of research is the reluctance of many teens to talk about their sexual habits combined with the ethical predicament involved with the undertaking of studies involving young people and exposure to porn.  The studies which have taken place have pointed to the potential for serious risk.

Unfortunately for teenagers, schools and colleges do not address the issue and there are virtually no resources dedicated to preventing or even addressing this problem.

Adolescent curiosity about sexuality is a normal and a healthy aspect of human development, however when a teenager is subjected to an arousing image, the adrenal gland secretes epinephrine into the bloodstream, where it proceeds to the brain and locks the image in - “what has been seen cannot be unseen”. Once this has occurred, the simple thought of the image can trigger a feeling of arousal. Most people will still be able to recall the first pornographic image they encountered as a child or teenager. Other body chemicals, such as serotonin, adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine also are at play, creating a euphoric state in the user. Teens who experience this biochemical thrill will, not surprisingly, want to experience it again. Easy accessibility has turned the Internet into a different type of drug dealer. and it has become the place to get a free fix for a new breed of addicts.

Viewing pornography can have negative consequences on teenagers in later life, affecting both their psychological and physical wellbeing. These may include:

  • Increase in high-risk behaviours.
  • Skewed view of the real world.
  • Unable to build healthy relationships.
  • Think that sexual violence is acceptable.
  • Increase in aggression towards partners.