Getting Off on Porn: How Much Is Too Much?

Can you be addicted to porn?

Posted Mar 23, 2018

Pornography use makes up approximately 13% of total Internet traffic (Ogas & Gaddam, 2011), which is, well, a lot. Most of us have watched online porn at some point; many are regular users.

So, let’s be frank, you probably watch pornography on occasion, too.

The dramatic uptake of digital technologies in recent years has led to massive increases in online pornography use. The accessibility, affordability, and anonymity are features that make it so easy to consume porn (Daneback et al., 2012). Websites provide immediate access to images, shorts, and full-length videos, usually free of charge.

Viewing porn is one of those behaviors that so many people engage in, but few discuss openly. There is still so much shame associated with it, and many oppose its use altogether.

Most people are able to regulate their use fairly well, perhaps turning to it on occasion, when they are alone or with a sexual partner.

But there are some who experience what is euphemistically called “problematic use.”  Problematic use of online pornography involves:

  • A feeling that one lacks control over use.
  • Problems caused in one’s life from use.
  • Feeling bad about one’s use.
  • Feeling as if one’s use requires professional intervention.

There’s debate in the field about whether an individual can truly be "addicted." Porn use does not operate like a true addiction, which reflects tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal. But it can feel like an addiction, and it’s the subjective sense of an addiction that is important here.

Warren Wong/Unsplash
Source: Warren Wong/Unsplash

The hallmark of problematic use is quite literally whether it is causing distress. If you have a ready and willing sexual partner but are turning consistently to porn instead, this may be a problem. If you find that you are seeking ever more intense levels of stimulation, more edgy stuff, and are getting bored with the usual fare, use might be problematic. Are you spending a lot of time searching for content for a sexual interest that can only be found online? Are you using porn compulsively when you are supposed to be doing something else altogether?

There are very few good studies that assess prevalence well. One exception is a study by Ross and colleagues in Sweden of 1,913 Internet users. The researchers found that 5% of women and 13% of men reported some problematic Internet sexual use, and 2% of women and 5% of men reported “serious problems.” They were asked:

  • Has sexually-related Internet use caused problems for you?
  • Do you have difficulties controlling your sexually-related Internet use?
  • I feel bad about my sexually-related Internet use. (Agree or disagree)
  • I feel that I have become addicted to the Internet for love and sexual purposes. (Agree or disagree)
  • If there was a treatment for sexually-related Internet problems, would you seek it?
rawpixel/Unsplash
Source: rawpixel/Unsplash

Those who gave higher ratings across these items were those who were finding their porn use problematic.

So, technically, porn use likely is not addictive, but it can feel like it. If you are experiencing any of these issues and they are causing distress, seek help. 

References

Daneback, K., Månsson, S., Ross, M. W., & Markham, C. M. (2012). The Internet as a source of information about sexuality. Sex Education, 12, 583-598.

Ross, M. W., Månsson, S., & Daneback, K. (2012). Prevalence, severity, and correlates of problematic sexual Internet use in Swedish men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 459-466.