Cover photo by Sergey Zolkin. 6 minute read.

Have you noticed how “addiction” has become a controversial word in our culture?

Even in the scientific community, researchers aren’t always in agreement about how exactly to tell when something is an addiction. (We’ll have a lot more to say about those controversies later.) However, it’s important to recognize that porn is nearly universally accepted in the academic world as being a compulsive sexual behavior, with more and more evidence backing the fact that it affects the brain in a similar way to drugs.

We don’t claim to be able to diagnose anybody on whether or not they are obsessed with, compulsively consuming, or addicted to porn. However, compulsive porn consumption is, without question, a growing problem in our society and more and more evidence is emerging about the addictive nature of pornography.

One of these already-proven findings is that frequent porn use rewires a consumer’s brain and areas of the brain that are involved in processing reward and motivation, and in craving and anticipating rewards. This is bad news for those who find themselves viewing porn and not being able to quit, even when they want to stop more than anything.

Not everyone who watches porn is an addict

It’s important to remember that not everyone who watches pornography will become immediately enslaved for life.

Sometimes we hear from parents who worry their child will become an addict after being exposed a few times. Too often, as fear and shame enters the parent-child relationship, it can make the problem worse by creating distance and isolation, and complicating feelings that already exist. While we have always made it our mission to educate on the harmful effects of pornography, we have also maintained that those who fall into porn are not “bad” people.

The desire to watch porn arises, in part, from simply being a sexual human being. It’s true that science and research are showing the harms of viewing pornography, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically ruin their lives and turn every person who watches into a hopeless porn junkie.

How do I know if I’m an addict?

We created five questions that any porn consumer could ask them self. Even if you feel like porn isn’t an addiction for you, it can still cause you to have unhealthy views of people, love, and relationships.

Think about the questions below as you think about your own situation—or others you know:

  1. Is your porn consumption escalating or feeling out of control?
    When porn addicts look at porn, they find themselves progressively looking for more images, more often, and more hardcore material. If you find yourself in the process of viewing something arousing, then becoming bored and moving on to something else again, and again, and again, then that is a sign that your porn consumption is escalating. If you find yourself looking at harder material than when you first started, this is a sign as well.
  2. Do you have trouble controlling the amount of time you spend looking at porn?
    When you look at porn, do you end up viewing for much longer than you originally intended? Those who are addicted to pornography have a hard time controlling their urges to look at porn and find themselves buried for large chunks of time. If watching porn makes you late for school, work, or other activities, this is a big sign of growing compulsion.
  3. Do you think about watching porn even when you’re not looking at it?
    The definition of compulsion is that you find yourself preoccupied with something that you feel you must do. In most cases, painful emotions such as depression or anxiety set in if these compulsions are not satisfied. Pornography is a memory based drug and can be almost impossible to completely get out of your mind. Porn addicts sometimes find themselves constantly thinking of when they last viewed porn and how they are going to view porn next.
  4. Do you feel guilt, shame, remorse, cloudiness, anxiety, or depression after looking at porn?
    Be in tune with yourself and follow your vibes. If you get any of the above negative feelings after looking at porn, it’s a solid bet that you feel you have a problem or that you know it is not a healthy behavior. Positive activities are almost always reinforced with positive feelings. If you find yourself feeling cloudy or down after using porn but keep doing it anyway, it may be time to think about change.
  5. Have you promised yourself or others that you’ll never look at porn again, only to keep watching?
    If you’ve ever told yourself you were done watching porn and promised to never look at it again, only to end up viewing it just a short while later down the road, then you might have a compulsive/addictive pattern on your hands. Addicts have a hard time keeping promises of sobriety to others, but especially to themselves. If you have told yourself or others, “I could stop if I wanted to,” but quickly found out otherwise, it might be time to get some help.

We’re raising these questions to help contribute to a thoughtful conversation about addiction. Because of how much we know about the harms of pornography, it can be easy to get so freaked out about the problem that the conversation gets filled with fear and shame. As we’ve been saying, this can make it really difficult for people trying to break free from pornography.

Related: Shame Made My Struggle With Porn Much Worse, Not Better

We are not here to make it seem like everyone who watches porn is immediately going to fall into depression or automatically start neglecting their relationships. Many people who are trying to break free from pornography still do everything they can to take care of loved ones and live productive lives. Being educated on the harmful effects of pornography on the brain, relationships, and society is the first step, making your own decision on the issue is the next.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with an obsession or addiction to pornography, you are not alone. Check out our friends at Fortify, a recovery program that will allow you take a step toward freedom. Anyone 20 years and younger can apply for a free scholarship to the program, and it is an inexpensive fee for anyone 21 and older. There is hope—sign up today and start getting the help you need at your own pace.

What YOU Can Do

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