How to tell if you have a porn addiction: 11 warning signs

For many, Pornography can be a healthy part of a person's sex life. However, for others, it can become a debilitating compulsion or addiction. If you are worried about your relationship with porn or are concerned about a loved one, then here are some indicators that may suggest a porn addiction.

Why is porn addictive?

After Google, YouTube, and Facebook, porn ranks as the highest internet search term with over 2.8 billion searches per year.[1] With its high level of exposure and availability, it is hard these days to be able to avoid porn's presence on the internet. 

It has also become more socially acceptable to watch porn than it was 50 years ago, and it can be part of a healthy sex life for most people. However, for some, it can become a debilitating behavioral addiction that affects many facets of daily life. 

Porn engages with the pleasure and reward center of the brain, activating the neurotransmitters that regulate mood and happiness; namely dopamine and serotonin. When someone enjoys pornography, whether they engage with it physically or not, on a regular basis their brains begin to generate more of the chemical dopamine. This then leads to the brain being unable to produce enough of the chemical on its own and becoming dependent on porn to create pleasurable feelings. 

Dependence is the route of addiction and as the negative consequences of porn dependence mount up the more severe the addiction becomes.

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Warning signs that your porn habit may be an addiction

Below are 11 indicators that your or a loved one's porn use has become unhealthy and may be leading to addiction, if not there already. It is important to note that having a single identifier does not mean that someone definitely has a porn addiction. It may also be that the signs pointing to porn addiction are actually the result of something else. If you are worried about your porn use or that of a partner, family member, or friend then it is important to speak to a therapist or medical professional.

The below porn addiction symptoms are correlated from the criteria for addiction as outlined in the DSM-5. for Do not attempt to self-diagnose as this can lead to seeking incorrect treatment. 

1. Hiding habits from loved ones

Like with most forms of addiction, secrecy and reclusive behavior is a common indicator of addiction. Many people feel like they will be judged for their habits and will often be embarrassed to approach anyone about them for help, even close loved ones. 

Those who suffer from porn addiction will also often need to engage with it throughout the day, often in settings where doing so is not socially tolerated. This can lead to people sneaking off from work or social events in order to watch porn and may become agitated when questioned about what they are doing.

2. Sexual dysfunction

Perhaps one of the most noticeable signs of porn addiction is the physical and psychological effect it has on sexual performance. As the reward felt from engaging with pornography begins to rewire the brain's pleasure responses, the ability to become aroused by a sexual partner may become impaired. This can lead to people only being able to become sexually aroused with the stimulus of porn and can greatly affect a healthy sexual relationship.

3. Your porn use is increasing

With substance use disorders like heroin addiction or alcoholism, the need to use increasingly large amounts of the substance to feel its effects is a key indicator of addiction. The same is also true of hypersexual disorders like porn addiction. 

It doesn’t matter whether the person masturbates when they watch porn, even just an increased need to view explicit sexual content in order to feel gratification is a sign of addiction.

4. Guilt and shame

A lot of people use porn as a way of escaping from the realities of everyday life. It can paint a sexual phantasy and help people find a level of comfort by removing themselves from the real world. The flip side of this is that when the person has to reengage with reality they may feel guilt about the content they have watched. 

This again propagates the secretive nature of porn addiction, as individuals feel shame about their sexual interests and that other people will judge them. This means that many people with porn addictions won’t seek treatment in order to avoid facing their guilt.

5. Becoming angry or irritable

As addiction rewires the brain's pleasure and reward system, it can make a person irritable or angry if they are unable to engage with a substance or stimulus. This means a person with a porn addiction may become quicker to anger in social situations or if they are forced into a setting where they can’t view pornography.

6. Problems at home or work

As the previous indicators suggest, problems in one's home life or work often occur when a sexual compulsion or addiction has taken hold. It can cause strains in relationships such as with partners or family or can lead to a person being less focused and productive at work. Being unable to maintain daily functions or relationships due to porn addiction can be extremely damaging and can lead to unemployment and loved ones becoming estranged.

7. Financial issues

While pornographic material is widely available on the internet at no cost, that does not mean that people with porn addictions are able to sustain their process disorder cheaply. 

As people become more and more entrenched in their porn addiction, there is often increased need for more diverse and often more explicit material to maintain the pleasure/reward payoff. This can lead to people engaging with paid-for subscriptions to porn sites that offer harder content, paying for cam-girl subscriptions (such as OnlyFans), and engaging in real-world pornography such as sex shows or hiring sex workers. This can lead to financial issues as well as further deception around what money is being spent on.

8. Denial and blame

Denying that you have a problem is a common warning sign of porn addiction. The person suffering from hypersexual porn use may not believe they have an issue, even if it is affecting personal relationships and their day-to-day lives. It can also often lead to blame being directed at a sexual partner for their increased porn intake.

9. Loss of attraction for your partner

Porn is well known to sensationalize sex and can warp perceptions of what sex should be for those who have an addiction to it. This can lead to a loss of attraction for their partner, as they may not perform certain sexual acts or dress provocatively for them, thus increasing their need for sexual gratification through porn.

10. Inability to feel pleasure

Anhedonia is the clinical term for when a person has lost the ability to feel pleasure in things they once did. This can include hobbies, exercise, conversations, people, or even something simple like a pleasant sunset. 

Anhedonia is common amongst those with substance use disorders and behavioral disorders alike. As the brain becomes rewired to feel pleasure and reward from one stimulus, in this case pornography, it is unable to produce adequate amounts of pleasure-giving chemicals (dopamine and serotonin) from other activities. This causes the affected person to become increasingly dependent on the substance or behavior to feel good, often leading to a serious neglect of other parts of life.

11. Feeling withdrawal when not watching porn

Withdrawal is one of the most common factors that indicate addiction. Withdrawal occurs when substance use stops suddenly or if a behavior such as watching porn is removed abruptly. Withdrawal symptoms occur because the brain has become dependent on the stimulus to function, which can cause physical and psychological side effects when the stimulus is removed that can be painful or distressing. Read our guide to find out more about porn addiction withdrawal symptoms.

Pornography addiction: is there hope?

If you feel like you are experiencing any of the above or can see some of these traits in a loved one, then it is likely you have a porn addiction or are at the very least becoming dependent on pornography. But fear not, hope is not lost if you have a porn addiction as there is treatment and therapy available that can help.

While The American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not recognize porn addiction, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), many mental health experts and clinicians advocate for its inclusion in the next edition. This is because the behavioral changes that present themselves when someone has a process disorder with pornography are the same as those with substance use disorders. 

Thankfully, as more and more medical experts are recognizing porn addiction, the sophistication and availability of treatment is growing. Behavioral therapies such as Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT), counseling, and hypnotherapy are just some of the treatment options being used to help those with a porn use disorder. 

If you are not ready to meet other people and openly discuss your pornography addiction, confidential online therapy portals such as Talkspace can offer a discreet platform to talk to someone and find out if you need help.

While admitting that you have a problem with pornography may feel daunting or embarrassing, professionals are there to help and can offer the comfort and compassion needed to get treatment. It is also advised to seek the help of a loved one or friend who you can rely on to be supportive and understanding and who can be there to help you through the process of porn addiction recovery. Visit our rehab directory today to find out what help for porn addiction is available in your area.