Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Porn Addiction

Pornography use is a widespread means of dealing with one's sexual drives. More than 90 percent of young men report watching porn videos with some regularity, particularly in the United States. Many of these videos depict acts that they might never engage in themselves—in other words, erotic fantasies.

On Pornhub, the world’s largest porn website, alone, well over 90 billion videos are viewed daily by more than 64 million visitors, 26 percent of them female. Although viewing erotica is nearly ubiquitous among males, some men and women regard watching internet porn as pathological and believe that time spent doing so may be a sign of “porn addiction,” although such a diagnosis is rejected by many psychologists, as are treatment approaches based on addiction models.

The Debate over Porn

Many individuals worry that their own or a partner's use of porn is pathological, but neither porn addiction nor sex addiction is a recognized disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, however, now includes Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder, for which clinicians report that compulsive use of pornography is the leading concern of diagnosed patients. But that guide states that personal distress over sex acts such as porn use based on one's own moral judgments isn’t sufficient to diagnose a disorder. So if someone believes that masturbation to porn is immoral, yet they do it anyway, most clinicians agree that in itself is not a sign of a mental health disorder.

Is it normal to use porn?

In surveys, virtually all men admit to having used pornography at some point in their lives, and nearly as many acknowledge using it within the last six months. Such results indicate that, whatever critics believe about the dangers or downsides of porn use, for individuals or relationships, those risks may be exaggerated.

Should parents be concerned about their children’s porn use?

The widespread access to and use of pornography among adolescents indicates that it is not at all unusual for a given teen to use porn. However, parents, educators, and psychologists alike have expressed concern about porn serving as de facto sexual education for many young people, because of its unrealistic depictions of sexual activity.

article continues after advertisement

Pornography and Relationships

nd3000/Shutterstock

There is no question that porn use can create distress for individuals or couples. Porn is a common source of conflict in relationships, research finds, primarily when one partner has been hiding their use knowing that the other would disapprove or consider it to be an act of infidelity. Joint counseling can help partners understand each other’s sexual interests and negotiate what is and is not acceptable in their relationship going forward. But it is more likely, many psychologists believe, that disputes about porn use will be found to be driven by other more critical underlying sexual or relationship issues that need to be addressed.

Why does pornography cause problems in some relationships?

Research finds a correlation between porn use and the likelihood of future breakups, but the effect is not necessarily based on the use of porn itself but whether a partner disapproves of it. Psychologists urge partners to discuss potentially divisive issues like porn use before getting married to avoid potentially devastating disputes in the future.

What does porn use reveal about a relationship?

Many therapists agree that couples’ disputes about porn are generally about deeper issues. A partner may assume the other knows they disapprove of porn use but may never have openly discussed it, or other core values. Or someone may believe porn use is a sign that a partner has withdrawn from the relationship, but that concern tends to be based on an accumulation of signals.

Essential Reads

Recent Posts