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Can Watching a Lot of Porn Worsen Existing Mental Health Issues?

Research indicates that having a frequent, isolating porn habit can increase a consumer’s vulnerability to mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

By October 4, 2021No Comments
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This article contains affiliate links. Fight the New Drug may receive financial support from purchases made using affiliate links.

Mental health issues are a hot topic in our generation as people are finally getting comfortable with talking about them.

You might be wondering what exactly classifies someone as having a mental health problem, and how it’s diagnosed. Typically, mental illness is defined as a disorder that affects your mood, thinking, and or behavior.

Depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addictive behaviors are all prime examples of mental health issues. For most people, it’s completely normal to have mental health concerns from time to time.

Related: 5 Ways Your Porn Habit May Be Harming Your Mental Health

For everyone, it’s perfectly healthy to regularly get mental health check-ups like every other health check-up you might get.

Approximately one in five people experience mental illness in a given year, and it’s becoming more common as the signs are more widely recognized.

Pornography can be a factor in mental health issues

While this may come off as shocking to some, consuming porn can take you to a whole different world—not only physically, but mentally.

As humans, we are biologically wired for connection and real-life connections with real people. Watching porn does the complete opposite—removing the consumer from their real-life world—leading to disconnection and driving a wedge between the consumer and their other relationships. Social isolation starts small, but it’s possible that it can lead to and fuel various forms of addiction and fuel existing depression.

In other words, research has indicated that having a frequent, isolating porn habit can increase a consumer’s vulnerability to mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Related: Why Increased Traffic To Porn Sites During The COVID-19 Crisis Is Problematic, And What We Can Do About It

Does porn trigger depression or vice versa?

Recently, we received a message from a supporter who told us how porn affected his mental health and depressive state. To him, porn “was a drug” that he couldn’t escape from. It took him many tries to quit and it not only gave him a false and short-lived sense of pleasure, but it triggered real feelings of depression, disconnection, and shame. In his words, porn made him feel less human. Sound familiar?

So, what happened when he tried to give porn up for good? He noticed his depression noticeably lessened and happiness, joy, and connection started to take place. Life became more enjoyable and he felt more connected to the people around him. Now, we’re not saying that his depression was solely caused by porn, only that using porn as an escape did not help his mental state.

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In all honesty, anytime anyone spends a lot of time with the usual pornography consumption cycle, it can often turn into a depressing, demeaning, self-loathing, and lonely kind of experience. Not only for the person watching porn, but it even affects the relationships and the ones you care about.

Studies have 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.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/a0028845COPY 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/s10862-012-9323-4COPY 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.2013.05.003COPY 

Could it be true that porn triggers depression or is it the other way around? The answer isn’t clear. What we do know is this: the more people feel bad about themselves, the more they seek comfort wherever they can get it. And if they’re already caught up with a secret porn habit, it’s likely they will turn to more porn.

It’s difficult to say what exactly comes first, the porn problem or the depression itself, but in this particular scenario, it goes together.

Related: Can Porn Change The Way You Experience Healthy Human Connections?

In fact, a number of peer-reviewed studies have found a link between pornography consumption and mental health outcomes like depression,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/10.1556/2006.5.2016.022COPY  anxiety,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/10.1556/2006.7.2018.33COPY  loneliness,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.2017.1321601COPY  lower life satisfaction,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:10.1080/00224499.2017.1368977COPY  and poorer self-esteem and overall mental health.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.2017.04.006COPY  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.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.19(3), 168-180. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.657150COPY  According to another study performed in the United States, researchers found a significant bi-directional association between pornography and loneliness, prompting them to conclude:

“Results revealed that the association between loneliness and viewing pornography was positive and significant…those who viewed pornography were more likely to experience loneliness, and those who were experiencing loneliness were more likely to view pornography. These findings are consistent with research linking pornography use to negative affect.”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, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2017.1321601COPY 

Related: How Porn Can Impact Mental Health And Fuel Loneliness

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.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.COPY  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.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.COPY 

Similarities between porn struggles and mental health issues

Did you know that watching a lot of porn can possibly trigger similar symptoms as a mental health disorder?

Struggling with mental health issues and struggling with porn have more similarities than you’d think. Let’s take a look into a few similarities, side effects, and symptoms associated with both mental health issues and an obsession with or addiction to porn:

Related: How Porn Can Negatively Impact Love and Intimacy

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Is struggling with an unwanted porn habit really that big of a deal?

It was for actor and former NFL player, Terry Crews. His story is just one of many and the truth is, he ended up going to rehab for what he described as his addiction. Not only did it mess up his life and marriage, but he says it also messed up the relationships around him.

Related: Is Watching Porn Part Of A Healthy Self-Care Routine?

Terry Crews first revealed his porn addiction and struggle on Facebook in 2014. With millions of views and over 11,000 comments later, many people thanked him for his honesty while opening up about their own personal struggles. His struggle has continued to reach and impact more people to seek help like he had, and he was a guest on our podcast “Consider Before Consuming” in 2020 to talk about his personal fight for love.

Mental health and porn are linked

People often don’t get the mental health services they need today because they don’t know where to start. The same thing goes for those who struggle with porn, even if their habit has started impacting their life in a very real and negative way. The good news is there’s hope, and there’s help.

We fight to raise awareness of the harmful effects of porn, including its connections with mental health issues.

Related: If You’re Stressed, Bored, Or Lonely, Is Watching Porn A Healthy Escape?

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Whether you know someone that’s struggling, or you yourself are personally fighting for freedom, we encourage you to confide in someone you feel safe with.

Whether it’s a close friend, a trusted adult, or support group, there is nothing is more rewarding than taking the first step in your journey toward freedom, whatever that looks like.

The NAMI Helpline is available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST to answer your general questions about mental health issues and treatment options. You can get information on mental health services in your area and learn how to help a loved one find treatment.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

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.

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