Porn Addiction versus Sex Addiction Part 1

porn addiction

In my line of work, I see a lot of people who are addicted to a lot of things—alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, food, work, etc.  Interestingly enough, I also see a lot of people who I believe are addicted to pornography and/or sex.  I believe that people can get addicted to both—even though for the time being, there is no official DSM-5 diagnosis for either….yet.  But if you’ve ever lived with someone who has a porn addiction or sex addiction, you probably agree that both are legitimate..

My hope over the next 2 weeks is to explain the difference between porn addiction and sex addiction, and to give you a clear understanding of why both are very real, and devastating to those that both impact.

What is Porn Addiction?

Porn addiction is a type of sex addiction—but not all sex addicts are porn addicts.

In a 2009 survey by the Barna Group, it was revealed that 2/3 of adult men view pornography at least once a month.  That means somewhere between 60-70% of all men view porn EVERY MONTH.  Before you go “It’s only porn”, I want you to think about what can happen when viewing porn is taken to an extreme.

I am someone who can have a glass of wine every once in a while with dinner.  I don’t crave it, I don’t miss it, and I don’t abuse it.  However, I know a handful of people in my life who cannot have wine (or any kind of alcohol for that matter).  Some of them are actively in recovery, and some have just avoided alcohol because they know it’s a slippery slope for them.  For them, having a glass of wine at dinner means not stopping with just one glass.

Pornography use is very similar in that way.  For some people, it’s an occasional thing that they do.  Maybe they don’t miss it or crave it.  Maybe it doesn’t interfere with anything in their lives.  But for others, viewing porn opens up Pandora’s Box.

Some people are just genetically or biologically disposed to have more addictive personalities.  These individuals may not just get addicted to porn but may have other addictions as well.

Just like any other addiction, porn becomes an addiction when it impacts an individual’s positive life functioning.  For starters, it can create obsessive thoughts and compulsions with masturbating.  I’ve had clients who have failed out of college and lost jobs because they view porn while they should be working.  I’ve also witnessed instances where people stop caring for their hygiene, stop eating and isolate because of porn.  Sometimes there are withdrawal symptoms when the individual tries to stop or decrease viewing porn.  Porn can also be used to mask feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, or loneliness (self-medicating).

How Porn Addiction Impacts Relationships

It’s not unusual for some people to feel controlled by porn.  This even means at the expense of their relationships.

Porn addiction can negatively impact romantic relationships.  Porn creates an unrealistic expectation of what sex and intimacy should be.  Sometimes actual sex becomes a letdown because it’s not exciting enough compared to what the individual views online.  Sometimes the individual may not even get aroused by their partner because of this (also called building up tolerance).  For women, it also creates an unrealistic standard that their partners expect them to live up to with body image, looks, and sexual performance.

Pornography can cause huge issues in marriages.  When your spouse would rather view porn instead of pursuing an intimate relationship with you, it can definitely create feelings of resentment and inadequacy.  Porn also creates a lot of secrecy and sometimes sneaky behavior.

What Causes Porn Addiction?

Viewing pornography causes an individual to experience a hit of the chemical Dopamine in their brain (the “feel good” chemical).  It makes us feel happy and experience pleasure.  So watching porn can cause our brains to crave more hits of Dopamine, and then the vicious cycle begins.  It is a conditioned response.

According to the website expastors.com, children are typically first exposed to porn around the age of 11.  When a child is exposed to porn at such an early age, it teaches them an incorrect idea about sex in general.  Children who are exposed to porn early are more likely to get addicted at a younger age.

88% of porn contains scenes of physical aggression, and 49% contains verbal aggression, according to PsychGuides.  Imagine what this teaches children and teenagers as far as what to expect with sex.  Viewing porn can also lead to unhealthy dating relationships, high-risk behaviors, and normalizing sexual violence.

Men are 543% more likely to look at porn than women.  This can be explained by the fact that men are more visually stimulated than women often are.  However, 17% of women report being addicted to porn in a German study in 2017.  This has actually risen very quickly in the past few decades.  Pornography is so readily available at the tips of our fingertips that even those that are just a little curious can be sucked in within a few seconds.

Treatment for Porn Addiction

If you are struggling with porn addiction, you are not alone.  There are many ways to get help.  The first thing I would recommend would be to gain some accountability.  Whether this is with someone you know (a friend, pastor, or even your spouse) it’s important to have someone hold you accountable.

Download something like Covenant Eyes, or put parental controls on all of your electronics.  Let someone else choose the password for you.  This will make it more difficult to impulsively seek porn out.

Join a 12-Step group like Celebrate Recovery, or Sex Addicts Anonymous.  These groups provide even more accountability and help you learn ways to cope with the addiction in a healthier way.

Consider starting individual or marriage counseling.  Counseling can give you tools to help you gain positive coping skills and reframe addictive thoughts.  It can also help you rebuild intimacy with your partner.

Finally, there are inpatient treatment facilities that can help you address your addiction and learn a different way of living.

Come back next week as I talk about sex addiction—what it is, and what it isn’t.

Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW

*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling in Carmel, Indiana. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.