How Pornography and Depression are Linked

  Tuesday, April 27, 2021
  Depression  
Contributed by Emily Ruiz, MA

All the lights are off in the house except the soft glow of an internet browser, highlighting the user's face. It is a comforting glow to some as they watch pornographic content to escape the hardships of life. This enticing light and content create a deeper wound than one would expect if you have an addiction. 

Some speculate that there is a link between pornographic addiction and depression. The psychological term that explains the connection is called comorbidity. Comorbidity is defined as the presence of two or more illnesses. Depression is a lonely and isolating illness that can create dangerous behaviors like gambling, alcohol, drug usage, or porn addiction. 

There is no universal definition for porn and people's associations to it. Some define porn through links that show people having sex; others can be live chats with a sex worker or a mix of it all. Porn, like anything else, becomes an addiction when it is an integral aspect of one's day-to-day life. It becomes an obsession, eating away at the viewer when they watch the multitude of content to stream or log in to their favorite cam-girl. It can be the equivalent of a kid in a candy shop. 

With so many options, you can spend countless hours looking at content or absent-mindedly scrolling until you find the perfect video to watch. Porn can become a dark rabbit hole. Once an addictive habit begins, the content will only become more graphic, violent, and out of the norm.

Porn addiction falls under the same premise as any other addiction. The person having sexual pleasure from porn creates positive emotions and memories. It creates a reward system that if someone partakes in the addiction then they will receive good feelings. This behavior makes a person feel good, when someone has depression, they think that they need anything to take the pain away as depression can be difficult to handle efficiently. Depression can make it seem like there is no way to get out, and porn is the equivalent of providing a rope. The individual with depression doesn't know that the cord doesn't go anywhere but slowly lowers you into the pit of depression.

What is the relationship between porn and depression?

Depression is not caused by one aspect of life. Depression can come from genetics or events. It can increase heavily by factors such as pornographic content, mainly if the individual is religious. Some speculate that there is a level of shame and guilt from viewing adult content. 

In the 2019 study by Maddock et al., they investigated the link between religious versus non-religious study participants and their viewpoint on pornographic content. Surprisingly, there is no link between religious versus non-religious and porn habits, but they found a relationship between male and female viewers; both indicated that they had higher levels of depression within six months of intensive pornographic viewing.

Additionally, in the 2019 study by Borgogna, Duncan, and McDermott; the researchers analyzed scrupulosity. Scrupulosity is defined as religious guilt and shame as a symptom of OCD. They discovered that the second most common mental illness in pornographic usage was depression behind problematic porn viewing.

It appears that depression and pornography are interconnected with one another. Still, if one were to identify the chicken versus the egg, depression would be characterized as the chicken. Depression is an isolating illness that makes you want to get away from the world and not connect with others. Porn creates a false haven for those who have depression because it creates an image of community and safety, but pornographic content is limitless so the user can become addicted quickly if not careful. 

The aspect of porn is not a new concept. There have been nude videos that have been dated in the late 1800s, but with the emergence of technology, the saying "if you thought it, there is probably a porn video about it" may not be far from the truth. Over 10 billion porn videos and more are being created every day on open and private paid databases. 

In reading Forbes's detailed 2019 report, they discovered that PornHub, a technological giant in the pornographic industry, found that users search PornHub 115 million times a day with a yearly total of 42 billion (Silver). Additionally, they discovered that Pornhub had 7 million new videos uploaded in one year. 

With this magnitude of pornography at a quick type away, it can become very alluring to someone who is lonely and there is an appeal in being anonymous by creating a mask for the individual with depression. In an earlier 2011 article by Akin and Iskender, they discovered an internet addiction directly connects with depression. With the deep stigma regarding pornographic viewing, participants may have identified a more encompassing identifier such as internet addiction versus a pornographic addiction.

Why do I want to watch pornographic content?

There are different theories as to why people become addicted to pornographic content. In the 2019 study, Alarcon et al. researchers discuss how accessibility is one of the main motivations for viewing porn. Additionally, depending on the program, it can be a free form of entertainment and creates a level of anonymity that creates a mask for people to wear. Porn addiction taints how people, especially younger individuals, view healthy relationships and sexual encounters. Individuals who watch porn will have unrealistically high expectations for sexual encounters that will not exist. Intimacy is about being vulnerable with someone with all of your flaws and being in the presence of your partner’s flaws while being perfectly fine in the process.

According to the study by Bothe et al., people can become introduced to pornography for various reasons, from sexual tension, or being able to instantaneously relieve themselves. Watching porn can help distract one from the more powerful feelings, we will define this instance as emotional procrastination.

In regards to emotional procrastination, porn maximizes depression in individuals because depression enjoys isolation. With pornographic content, you do not need to connect with anyone to receive sexual gratification as porn provides it without intimacy. 

Men and women can become porn addicted as the brain becomes addicted to endorphins. Endorphins are created after orgasms, and it makes us feel happy and numbs any pain that the individual carries. This is a reason people can become addicted to pornography or sex as they use the release of an orgasm to cope with some of the aspects of their life that do not provide satisfaction. 

Endorphins are not the only chemical that is released with an orgasm. There is a flood of chemicals that create a euphoric experience; such as the release of serotonin (the happy chemical which is what depression is craving), oxytocin (cuddle hormone that helps bond people) and prolactin. The pituitary gland creates prolactin, and when you release too much, you decrease estrogen and testosterone levels. This is one of the reasons why people’s sexual satisfaction decreases as they are releasing these chemicals when they are by themselves. 

This "smoothie" of hormones and chemicals creates damaging effects to the user as they begin to bond with porn instead of their romantic partners. Also, an excess of serotonin can create too much excitement, and in your brain's terms, this means you should be on high alert. An excess of serotonin is what can lead to another mental health illness-anxiety.

There are some good aspects of watching porn, like self-discovery or inspiration with a partner. In Wier's article, they studied that women watch porn with their partners to help spice up intimacy. The levels of intimacy increase when watching porn with a partner. With all things people can become addicted to, it all depends on the level of use for the object. In moderation, porn can be a resource to some but it becomes deadly when it is viewed by one person who has addictive tendencies.

Pornographic content is helpful in gaining control as there is a direct correlation to the videos watched with the gratification of an orgasm. In the American Psychological Association by Kristen Wier, they determined that the more porn a person watches, the less sexual satisfaction they will receive. One of the reasons this might be is that with porn, the sex worker can be seen as more of a character with poor dialogue or not even showing their face or identity. This dehumanizes the aspect of sexual intercourse. When an individual has sex with a person, they see the flaws and a more "real" experience that is less alluring if they have become used to the act portrayed in pornographic content.

It can become dangerous when watching porn becomes habitual and necessary for the user. You can become addicted to a false reality of love and love-making. Additionally, your tastes might become more extreme and possibly harmful for the individuals in the adult content. 

In the 2020  article by Vice, they released that Pornhub took down millions of videos that were created by unverified users instead of their affiliate sites. The reasoning is to decrease sex trafficking, revenge porn (videos taken without consent), and child sexual abuse. In the report regarding the citing of Pornhub's decision, the site was discovered to have 118 cases of child pornography. 

Porn is an addiction that will not be leaving anytime soon and a relatively new subject for researchers, as they begin to understand the consequences of pornographic consumption and its association with mental illnesses. Researchers, Egan and Parmer, speculate that men have a more challenging time discerning a time to stop the adult content typically have an addictive personality and might indicate that they have a compulsive disorder.

How do I know when my porn viewing is a problem?

Pornographic addiction is very similar to regular addictions as the comfort of the screen can only go so far. Alarcon et al.detail that addiction leads to a dark pathway. Each new discovery becomes more extreme than the last. The same applies to pornographic addictions as individuals who identify themselves as addicted to porn have described themselves as hypersexual and other characteristics listed below: 

  • Aggression during or when wanting sex
  • Possible Infidelity 
  • Narcissism
  • Feeling of emptiness after viewing
  • Decrease of satisfaction with a sexual partner
  • Lack of control- a mentality of "one more video"
  • Loss in time
  • Distraction
  • No interest in sex if you are sexually active
  • More extreme needs in sexual experiences and disappointment if demands are not met.

Where do I go to seek help for my porn addiction and depression?

With addictions, you are never alone in stopping and getting your life back. There are multiple resources to assist in stopping your addiction. We would recommend a variety of the resources provided to receive a higher level of success:

  • Porn Addiction Therapy- In-Person or Online.
  • Behavior Modification Therapy- In-Person or Online.
  • Group Therapy- you can also receive assistance through support groups that focus on porn addiction or other sexual behavior groups- In-Person or Online.
  • Hypnosis
  • Medication
  • Journaling 
  • Finding different ways to use the energy you have given to the habit, such as finding a new hobby or something that provides a distraction for the addiction. 

While depression and pornography aren't directly linked, we believe that pornography results in higher levels of depression or become a catalyst for depression in individuals. As stated before, all things in moderations are fine to enjoy, but when you realize a large proportion of your time is being utilized by watching adult content, it may be time to reach out for help.

Porn addiction affects 200,000 Americans, affecting men and women. There is no shame in having a porn addiction. Addictions happen as a coping mechanism to avoid some of the more challenging aspects of one's life. True bravery is recognizing an aspect of your life and want to create a positive change. 

Life is more than viewing it through a screen. Practice intimacy and vulnerability with friends, family, and lovers to begin to get your life on track for this change. It is essential to be kind to yourself, and addiction was one of the ways you processed hurt or an aspect of yourself you have yet to love. 

About Emily Ruiz, MA

Emily Ruiz is a contributor of JournalOwl with a passion for spreading mental health awareness. She believes that mental health topics are instrumental in creating change. She enjoys writing about PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other arrays of topics by adding an emotional feel to her writing.

Before joining the JournalOwl team, Emily received her Masters in Communication with a focus in healthcare advocacy at East Carolina University in North Carolina. She has assisted organizations teaching social skills to children who are autistic and ADHD and teaching mindfulness to teenagers with BPD and who are high-risk self-harm and suicide. Emily created a training module for a non-profit equestrian therapy, Difference instead of Disability, for her independent study during her master’s program.

Emily and her husband are North Carolina natives who enjoy traveling, exploring, and general shenanigans with one another. They foster and rescue animals in their free time. She enjoys riding horses, theatre, and reading.

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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