5 Ways a Porn Habit Can Harm Your Mental Health

Fight the New Drug
6 min readMay 29, 2023

Porn is so widely accepted as a “normal” habit or go-to for passing time, but what isn’t as widely known are the negative effects that result from the isolating habit.

People who habitually watch porn probably know the feeling: loneliness or incompleteness, losing interest in the things once loved, and feeling generally hopeless.

The porn industry would like its consumers to believe its product will make anyone happy, satisfied, and well-versed in the world of sex and romance, but it actually can significantly rob consumers of intimacy, love, and genuine connection.

Here are five real ways porn can harm your mental health.

Escalating depression

A number of peer-reviewed studies have found a link between pornography consumption and mental health outcomes like depression,[1] anxiety,[2] loneliness,[3] lower life satisfaction,[4] and poorer self-esteem and overall mental health.[5]

These studies have found that these links are particularly strong when pornography is consumed to try to escape negative emotions, and also when pornography consumption becomes heavy and compulsive.

When porn promises instant gratification, it’s difficult to keep the big picture in mind but keep fighting. Get professional mental health if you’re struggling with poor mental health, and opt for healthy things like joining a community or taking up a productive hobby.

Increased isolation

Think porn will make you feel more connected to people? Think about this.

Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with people struggling with unwanted porn habits for the last 30 years, explains that, “Anytime [a person] spends much time with the usual pornography usage cycle, it can’t help but be a depressing, demeaning, self-loathing kind of experience.”[6]

The worse people feel about themselves, the more they seek comfort wherever they can get it. Normally, they would be able to rely on the people closest to them to help them through their difficult times — a partner, friend, or family member. But many porn consumers aren’t exactly excited to tell anyone about their porn habits, least of all their partner. So they turn to the easiest source of “comfort” available: more porn.

As some porn consumers find themselves further down this cycle, an isolating porn habit can lead them to skip out on interacting with friends, participating in hobbies, or connecting with the people in their lives.[7][8]

Harmed relationships

Some consumers can become so emotionally and physically reliant on porn to feel anything good that they may start to prefer watching porn to participating in real-life sexual experiences, which can understandably seriously harm their relationships.[9][10]

Studies have also found that when people engage in an ongoing pattern of “self-concealment,” which is when they do things they’re not proud of and keep them a secret, it can not only hurt their relationships and leave them feeling lonely, but can also make them more vulnerable to mental health issues.[11][12][13]

Lack of intimacy

Although it’s fairly common for consumers to use porn as an escape mechanism or self-soothing technique, research indicates that those who consumed pornography to avoid uncomfortable emotions had some of the lowest reports of emotional and mental wellbeing.[14]

Another study examined the relationship between the frequency of online pornography consumption and mental health problems, particularly in the context of “experiential avoidance” or trying to avoid negative emotions. The study found that frequent pornography consumption was significantly related to greater depression, anxiety, and stress as well as poorer social functioning.[15]

And in yet another study, researchers at Columbia University, Yale University, and UCLA, found a link between compulsive pornography consumption and poorer mental health, low self-esteem, and poor attachment in relationships. The authors concluded,

“In this paper, we propose that pornography use has the potential to become addictive and might be conceptualized as a behavioral addiction… individuals who scored higher on the Problematic Pornography Use Scale reported poorer mental health and self-esteem, and more insecure close relationships than those who scored lower, illustrating the negative emotional correlates of problematic pornography use.”[16]

Loveless industry

Porn portrays people as little more than objects with the sole purpose of giving the consumer pleasure.

The kind of “intimacy” porn offers is nothing more than sexual stimulation. Real human connection offers so much more. Real connection — whether with friends, family, or a romantic partner — is about what we give, not just what we get. It’s other-centered, not self-centered. Connection is understanding someone at a level porn never attempts. It’s seeing yourself through another’s eyes, and caring about others and for yourself.

It’s the opposite of loneliness. It’s love.

Whether you’re in a relationship or not, you can avoid the negative mental health outcomes by avoiding porn. Experiencing heartbreak from real relationships can be worth it, but heartbreak from porn never is.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope — sign up today.

*Fight the New Drug may receive financial support from purchases made using affiliate links.

Citations

  1. Harper, C., & Hodgins, D. C. (2016). Examining Correlates of Problematic Internet Pornography Use Among University Students. Journal of behavioral addictions, 5(2), 179–191. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.5.2016.022
  2. Wordecha, M., Wilk, M., Kowalewska, E., Skorko, M., Łapiński, A., & Gola, M. (2018). ‘Pornographic binges’ as a key characteristic of males seeking treatment for compulsive sexual behaviors: Qualitative and quantitative 10-week-long diary assessment. Journal of behavioral addictions, 7(2), 433–444. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.33
  3. Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B. (2018). Pornography Use and Loneliness: A Bidirectional Recursive Model and Pilot Investigation. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 44(2), 127–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2017.1321601
  4. Willoughby, B. J., Young-Petersen, B., & Leonhardt, N. D. (2018). Exploring trajectories of pornography use through adolescence and emerging adulthood.55(3), 297–309. doi:10.1080/00224499.2017.1368977
  5. Koletić G. (2017). Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents’ attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies. Journal of adolescence, 57, 119–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.006
  6. Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.
  7. Volkow, N. D., Koob, G. F., & Mclellan, A. T. (2016). Neurobiological Advances From The Brain Disease Model Of Addiction. New England Journal Of Medicine, 374, 363–371. doi:10.1056/Nejmra1511480
  8. Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017
  9. Sun, C., Miezan, E., Lee, N., & Shim, J. W. (2015). Korean Men’s pornography use, their interest in extreme pornography, and dyadic sexual relationships.27(1), 16–35. doi:10.1080/19317611.2014.927048
  10. Rasmussen, K. (2016). A historical and empirical review of pornography and romantic relationships: Implications for family researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173–191. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141
  11. Laird, R. D., Marrero, M. D., Melching, J. A., and Kuhn, E. S. (2013). Information Management Strategies in Early Adolescence: Developmental Change in Use and Transactional Associations with Psychological Adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 49(5), 928–937. doi:10.1037/a0028845
  12. Luoma, J. B., et. al. (2013). Self-Stigma in Substance Abuse: Development of a New Measure. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 35, 223–234. doi:10.1007/s10862–012–9323–4
  13. Rotenberg, K. J., Bharathi, C., Davies, H., and Finch, T. (2013). Bulimic Symptoms and the Social Withdrawal Syndrome. Eating Behaviors, 14, 281–284. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2013.05.003
  14. Brown, C. C., Durtschi, J. A., Carroll, J. S., & Willoughby, B. J. (2017). Understanding and predicting classes of college students who use pornography. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 114–121.
  15. Levin, M. E., Lillis, J., & Hayes, S. C. (2012) When is Online Pornography Viewing Problematic Among College Males? Examining the Moderating Role of Experiential Avoidance. Journal Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 19 (3), 168–180.
  16. Kor, A., Zilcha-Mano, S., Fogel, Y. A., Mikulincer, M., Reid, R. C., & Potenza, M. N. (2014). Psychometric development of the Problematic Pornography Use Scale. Addictive behaviors, 39(5), 861–868. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2014.01.027

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Fight the New Drug

Fight the New Drug exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects.