By Edmund Murphy

Last updated: 27 January 2024 & medically reviewed by Morgan Blair

Porn addiction is a growing problem for people across America. It can be difficult to know when watching porn has turned into an addiction and many people struggle with finding treatment due to the stigma associated with the condition. 

Porn Addiction Treatment

Is porn addiction diagnosable?

Many doctors and psychologists consider porn addiction to be an extension of hypersexual disorder, a term used to cover all sexual-related behavioral addictions like excessive masturbation

Studies suggest that the prevalence of hypersexual disorders in the US is between 3 and 6% of the population.[1] The accuracy of this figure may be skewed by the lack of direct classification of what constitutes hypersexuality, as most branches of the disorder are not recognized as disorders or addictions by the DSM-5. This means that there is much speculation among professionals around the validity of diagnosing someone with a porn addiction

The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) suggests that there is not enough evidence to support the idea that sexual activities including pornography can be addictive.[2] They argue that the notion of porn addiction and hypersexuality are in fact based on outdated social bias and harmful cultural norms. 

Due to the controversial nature of diagnosing hypersexual disorders like porn addiction, clear diagnostic criteria and causes of the condition are difficult to quantify. However, continuous research and testimonies are giving addiction treatment providers clearer insight into what constitutes a porn addiction, helping them to develop effective treatment modalities.

In a 2017 study of brainwave patterns in men who looked for treatment for problematic porn use, researchers found the subjects displayed brain activity concurrent with addiction when exposed to explicit sexual images.[3] Studies such as these suggest that sex and porn addictions are indeed legitimate conditions that may require dedicated treatment to overcome. 

What causes porn addiction?

As with other behavioral and substance use disorders, several areas are believed to be directly linked to a person’s likelihood of developing a porn addiction. These include:

Genetics - Research into genetics has identified a direct correlation between the likelihood of addiction developing and the presence of specific genes passed down from parents.

Environment - Living, working, or having grown up in an environment of increased exposure to addiction increases the risk of developing a behavioral addiction.

Childhood - How exposed a child is to problematic behavior and traumatic childhood experiences can influence addiction.

Mental health - Co-occurring mental health and behavioral disorders are common, with mental health issues often leading to problematic behavior such as porn addiction, and vice versa.

Stopping porn addiction on your own

It is possible for people to control or even stop their engagement with porn on their own. However, a person’s ability to stop watching porn depends on the severity of their addiction to it as well as the presence of any other co-occurring disorders that may exacerbate their need for porn. 

If your relationship with porn is not one of addiction but you still feel you would like to gain control over it; these steps may help you:[4]

1. Monitor your triggers and interactions with porn

In order to recognize the severity of your porn addiction, it is important to take note of how often you engage with it and what causes you to want to use it. Keep a journal or diary of how often you use porn and what emotional state you were in right before you did and how you reacted to that emotional state. This technique is part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and allows you to take an objective look at your behavioral and emotional impulses and how they lead to wanting to use pornography. 

2. Place porn blockers on your devices

As with other addictions that center around online activity such as gambling or social media addiction, setting restrictions on your electronic devices can help control how much porn you can access. While placing blockers isn’t guaranteed to reduce how much porn you watch, being faced with an additional layer of accountability before using porn may help you to question why you are wanting to use porn at that moment.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for help

Managing addiction of any kind alone is often an incredibly difficult, if not impossible task. But letting those who are closest to you know you are suffering from porn addiction is often not an appealing prospect. This is often due to embarrassment, guilt, shame, or a combination of these as well as reluctance to admit you have a problem. However, having people close to you who you can lean on to support you through porn addiction recovery can be one of the most vital aspects of combating it. 

If you are not ready to let those close to you know about your porn addiction, there are several support groups and online treatment options that can offer support from strangers who are in the same position as you, which can alleviate some concerns.

4. Find a distraction

Most people start using porn as a form of sexual release, or simply to engage in sexual activity in a safe and comfortable way. However, over time people often start to use porn to fill gaps in other parts of life; such as part of their morning rituals, to relieve boredom, or to relieve stress.

If you have gotten into a pattern of using pornography as a means of moderating common feelings such as stress or boredom, then it is probably time to find something else. Finding a new hobby, practicing other activities when the urge to engage with porn arises, or increasing exercise are all ways to be healthier with your attitudes towards porn.

If porn has become an alternative to sexual stimulation, it may be time to talk to a professional about your relationship with sex and your relationships.

5. Try Mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness is a term that gets thrown around freely in recent years and many of us have become detached from the actual meaning of practicing mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness techniques is an essential component of many therapeutic interventions such as CBT. Mindfulness techniques can help you identify, challenge, and change negative thought patterns. By embracing some of these meditative practices, people can realign their thought processes toward problematic behaviors such as porn addiction.

Treatment for porn addiction

While the conjecture over whether porn addiction is a diagnosable and treatable condition there are still many addiction treatment providers who provide care for the situation. Treatment for porn addiction often includes therapy, support groups, holistic approaches, and in some cases medication. 

Therapy for porn addiction

Talking therapies are the cornerstone of most forms of addiction treatment programs and the same is true with porn addiction. Most forms of talking therapy will aim to address a person’s emotional relationship with pornography; how they feel in the moments before using porn, how they feel immediately after, and how they feel after any prolonged period of abstinence from it. The goal is to help the afflicted person realign their emotional thought processes toward pornography as well as look at the deeper causes of it.

There are many forms of therapies that can be practiced with an addiction counselor or psychologist, such as:

Support groups for porn addiction

There are support groups across the country that are available to help individuals with addictions, including pornography. Most of these use the 12-Step recovery method first developed by Alcoholics Anonymous while others, such as SMART Recovery, use their own recovery modalities. 

If you are unsure where to find a support network for sexual or porn addiction near you, speak to your care physician or mental health professional, or check these resources:

Sex Addicts Anonymous - SAA

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): National Helpline 1-800-662-4357

AASECT offers a list of certified sex therapists and counselors who endorse sex-positive treatment and research-based support.

Medication for porn addiction

Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications that are designed solely to treat porn or other sexual addictions. Research into off-label use of some medications has shown some effectiveness in treating porn addiction, though there is a lack of clinical trials to support this research. 

Hypersexuality and porn addictions often co-occur with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders which can be treated with antidepressants. Taking antidepressants such as Zoloft or Lexapro can help reduce sexual cravings, though this may simply subdue the condition without fixing the source of the disorder.

When to see a doctor or therapist about porn addiction

If you are concerned about your porn use but are unsure if you have an addiction then there are some signs that can indicate whether it’s time to seek treatment or advice.

Speak to your doctor or a mental health professional if you start to experience the following:

  • An increase in sexual dysfunction in real-life situations

  • You begin to experience issues controlling other impulses, such as gambling or substance use

  • You develop mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, or existing conditions worsen

  • You feel the need to look at porn in risky situations, such as at work or in social situations

  • You experience withdrawal symptoms after a prolonged absence from porn.

These are just some signs of porn addiction and some people may not experience all of them. Speaking to your doctor, a mental health professional or an addiction specialist can help you understand your treatment options and what the first steps are to recovering from porn addiction.