By Edmund Murphy

Last updated: 28 May 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon

Porn addiction is currently not classified as a recognized mental health disorder by the DSM-5. However, many psychologists and therapists contest this as unhealthy behaviors toward porn show many of the hallmarks of addiction, including withdrawal symptoms.

Key takeaways:

  • Those who have a relationship with porn that outweighs other parts of their lives or that they cannot control may be considered to have an addiction to it.

  • One of the criteria for measuring a substance addiction or behavioral addiction is feeling withdrawal symptoms when the stimulus is taken away or use stops suddenly.

  • For most people, watching porn or viewing pornographic material is not harmful and can be part of daily life. For some though, porn can become affect the brain’s chemical dopamine balance and lead to harmful behaviors toward sex. 

Porn Addiction Withdrawal

Is porn addiction withdrawal real?

For some people, watching pornographic material is a harmless form of gratification that can relieve sexual frustration or be a fun addition to a healthy sex life. For others, it can become a dependence that forms part of an overlying mental health condition or sexual dysfunction.

Watching porn, whether masturbating to it or not, affects the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine. This can lead to people chasing the sensation that porn gives them and not being able to find the same level of pleasure with other activities or interests.

Those who have a relationship with porn that outweighs other parts of their lives or that they cannot control may be considered to have an addiction to it. While porn addiction, like other forms of sexual addiction, is not clinically recognized as a condition, many medical professionals class compulsive behavior and dependence on it as containing the criteria for addiction.

One of the criteria for measuring a substance addiction or behavioral addiction is feeling withdrawal symptoms when the stimulus is taken away or use stops suddenly. Porn withdrawal symptoms present much the same way when use stops, often categorized by an underlying issue such as cravings or behavioral changes.

Porn addiction withdrawal symptoms

These are the most widely reported withdrawal symptoms experienced by those with porn addiction.

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Stress

  • Sexual aggression

  • Feelings of loneliness

  • uncomfortable emotions

  • Mood swings

  • Relationship issues

  • Loss of libido

  • Restlessness/trouble sleeping

  • Panic attacks

  • Lethargy toward real life

Is watching porn bad for you?

For most people, watching porn or viewing pornographic material is not harmful and can be part of daily life. For some though, porn can become affect the brain’s chemical dopamine balance and lead to harmful behaviors towards sex. 

A study by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge found that people with compulsive sexual behaviors, such as those found in people with porn dependence, displayed similar brain activity to those with substance use disorders when shown pornographic images.[1] 

Another study outlined in the journal JAMA Psychiatry showed that regular porn viewers displayed reduced function in areas of the brain that were more active in those who didn’t engage with porn.[2] The report did suggest that these results may be linked to preexisting mental health conditions and could potentially be exacerbated by sustained interaction with porn. 

These reports highlight the argument that porn holds the potential to alter behavior, increase compulsive tendencies, and display the attributes associated with addiction. Addiction can be devastating and can significantly change a person’s life in negative ways. Excessively watching porn to the point where the individual gives up other activities or requires pornographic images to feel normal can lead to their lives becoming unstable and can damage relationships. 

When should you stop watching porn?

For those who watch porn regularly; these are some porn addiction signs you should look out for when wondering if you have a problem:

Withdrawal symptoms when not watching porn - If you feel uncomfortable when not watching porn or struggle to focus on daily tasks, then you may have a problem with it. Though it is difficult to stop watching porn once dependence has formed, it is essential to ensure mental and physical health is not damaged.  

Behavioral changes - Your attitude towards people, activities, and responsibilities changes, often leading to watching porn becoming more important than engaging with the outside world.

Changes in sexual activity/libido - Your sex drive becomes lower and there is less impetus to engage with sexual partners in favor of watching porn. 

Distorted ideas of sex - Mainstream pornography displays a fantasy image of sex, which can be potentially harmful. Over-consuming pornography can increase aggression during sex (especially in males), loss of mutual respect for sexual partners, and unhealthy conceptions of approaching sexual partners.[1]

Body dysmorphia - Not only does porn affect how we view sexual relationships, but it also warps our view of what is ‘attractive’. Pornstars are notoriously desirable to look at and do not, by and large, represent the general population. This can lead to feeling negative about other people’s appearances and your own. It may also cause erectile dysfunction in men and an inability to perform regular sexual intercourse without the presence of explicit material.[3]

Can you get help for porn addiction withdrawal?

It is possible to have a healthy relationship with pornography, but once a dependence or addiction has formed it can be difficult to view it without feeling the same impulses or behaviors again.

If a porn habit has developed to the point where withdrawal symptoms present themselves, when not engaging with it, it is time to seek professional help. While it may not be recognized in the DSM-5, there are many mental health professionals who can help with treatment for porn addiction.

Therapists are trained to identify the underlying causes of pornography addiction, examine the behaviors and triggers that lead to compulsion and addiction, and develop toolkits to deal with impulses and understand why addictions present themselves. They can help individuals reduce or stop watching porn and offer a confidential space so people can discuss their porn addictions without feeling judgment or guilt.

If you are worried about the level of porn you watch or think you may be displaying porn addiction withdrawal symptoms, then look for an addiction specialist or treatment center today. Help is a call away.