Is your use of porn out of control?

Some people can watch porn and not have any negative consequences on other parts of their lives. Porn for them is recreational and not obsessional and addictive. For others, porn is an obsessive activity that restricts enjoyment in other parts of their lives and causes emotional damage. The key when assessing if you have a problem or not is to be honest with yourself about your behaviour and to conduct a thorough self-survey.

The following questions can help to evaluate whether you have a problem:

  • Do you believe that using porn will make life more bearable?
  • Do you feel desperation, anxiety or irritability with no access to porn?
  • Have you watched porn in inappropriate places?
  • Do you watch porn longer than intended?
  • Do you worry about your body image after watching porn?
  • Have you ever had a meaningful relationship compromised by your porn habit?
  • Can you easily stop or do you feel compelled to watch when you would rather not?
  • Does the prospect of having ‘real sex’ seem unappealing?
  • Has your sleep been affected by the amount of porn you have watched?
  • Do you need more and more diversity in what you watch in order to achieve the same level of physical and emotional relief?
  • Are your thoughts chaotic and unmanageable because of your porn usage?

Answering yes to at least three of these questions might imply that you have developed problem behaviour. 

Porn can offer an apparent escape from incessant interpersonal pressures of work or worries about the health and welfare of family and friends. With porn activity, there is no one to talk back or to argue with. It is an ultimate form of controlling behaviour in search of emotional regulation. Users feel safe as no one is asking questions, placing demands or wanting any bigger decision to be made other than which form of porn to watch. The short term payoff can be a feel-good factor since the brain gets overwhelmed with dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for emotion, motivation and feelings of pleasure. The reward centres of the brain light up and demands more and more of the stimulus. The longer term damage, however, could be a constricted ability to process difficult feelings without resorting to addictive behaviour.

Porn could be seen as becoming a problem when other parts of your life begin to suffer from the slavish attachment to pleasure. People who have identified it as a problem often refer to the ability to forget about their troubles when starting to use porn. Addiction can be viewed as the search for emotional satisfaction and a sense of peace, security and fulfilment. The concept of tolerance is mostly associated with chemical dependency, but it can also be associated with porn when used more rapidly, with increased obsession and an accompanying loss of self-control.

The over stimulation of the reward system in the brain with dopamine produces euphoric responses and can potentially lead to users repeating the rewarding behaviour again and again. This is when addiction takes hold and leads some clinicians to refer to the process as a brain disease. When caught in the grip of addiction, there can also be a feeling that you have to do it even when you don’t really want to. This form of increased desensitisation can lead to a greater demand for more and more stimulation. The same type of porn becomes boring and there is an urgent search for more excitement, ecstasy and fantasy.

Therapy is a place where you can discuss difficult feelings within a safe, private and confidential environment. It can offer you the opportunity to investigate your attachment and relationship styles and assess your life choices with a different perspective. Porn use does not have to be pathologised as it can be a lifestyle choice for some without adverse effects. However, obsessive behaviour can often be masking underlying past trauma, untreated bereavement or unprocessed anger or sadness. This is when porn use can be damaging to one’s emotional health. There might be distrust of others and, therefore, it might feel risky to depend on others for relationships. A therapist is trained to work with such distrust and will be able to provide the foundation for you to feel safe and at ease. The process of therapy could be viewed as a shift from pleasure seeking behaviour towards relationship seeking, where reality is embraced rather than avoided.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.… Read more

Written by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

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