While most people do not see porn as an “addiction” the escalation of the behaviour has a very real potential to cause you physical, mental, social, or financial harm. Unfortunately, the behaviour can and does escalate and these escalations can have catastrophic side effects to relationships and even your freedom if left untreated.

While neither the DSM-5 nor the ICD-11 classify porn as a mental disorder or addiction, however we can and do recognise that there are a number of dysfunctional side effects or behaviours of the condition that can contribute or require mental health guidance and care from a professional therapist.

For the purposes of maintaining the colloquial terminology, we will continue with “porn addiction” and interchangeably use more appropriate terms like intimacy, anxiety, depression, self-soothing behaviours where appropriate.

Porn addictions are highly stigmatised by society and can carry one of the deepest burdens of guilt and shame which adds fuel the fire.

These behaviours thus often go “hidden” or undetected for a long time, even inside long-established relationships.

People struggling with pornography fixations can find themselves living a “double life” and pulling away from significant life events which consequently can create other emotional fallouts such as stress, mood swings, depression¬†or anxiety.

These behaviours may often be linked to intimacy-related issues or the inability to communicate or connect on interpersonal levels with a romantic partner. Porn fantasy can offer some people an “escape” from having to confront the unpredictability of real-life interpersonal relationships where rejection, judgement or past trauma can trigger emotionally painful events. In some cases, the side effect is that porn is simply being used to avoid certain situations.

While the “need for porn” in many cases is escape oriented, the brain still “activates” all of the same (Serotonin and dopamine) chemical responses found in drug addiction. The side effects of porn can vary from person to person the following outline may provide you with some insights into porn addiction and some scenarios where formal treatment may be required.

Pornography leverages off a number of elements that resonate deep within our fantasy psyche. Porn, in essence, roleplays the many fantasies that so few people get to enact in real life.

With fantasy and escape the otherwise natural sexual urges, however, these behaviours simultaneously exist in a society with dramatically contrasting viewpoints of the topic of porn. Societal imposed taboos contribute to repel people from pornography or draw people toward it, creating a perfect contention environment in which many disordered behaviours have the potential to establish a real foothold.

This contrast of desires vs reality in the context of modern lifestyles is echoed in the case studies of Christian communities (where porn is very often viewed as an inherent threat to fidelity, sanctity of marriages or the stability of relationships). Proven Men Ministries and held a nationally represented segment of nearly 400 self-identified Christian men to establish data on the extent of porn proliferation.

The stats for Christian men between 18 and 30 years old are particularly interesting:

  • 77 % view at pornography monthly.
  • 36 % view pornography daily.
  • 32 % admit they are addicted to porn (and a further 12 % think they might be).

The stats for middle-aged Christian men (ages 31 to 49):

  • 77 % view at porn while at their place of work.
  • 64 % view porn at least monthly.
  • 18 % admit they are addicted to porn (and a further 8 % think they might be).

A number of these studies demonstrated that estimates of porn use to be prolific in over 64% of self-identified Christian men openly admitted to watching porn at least monthly (much the same statistic as non-Christian men, indicating that religious morality had very little to do with the compulsion). Yet why would 64% of Christian men surveyed have to admit to viewing porn in secret and continue to run the risk of viewing pornography in their daily lives (some even at work) where the risk potential is to marital / relationships or job security?

Any addiction based behaviour is identified when any activity is pursued compulsively even in the face of harm to oneself or the people around you this could well include personal relationships, work relationship etc.

As porn exists in a deeply private fantasy-driven realm for individuals it is the classic “escape” that so many people drawn to porn find refuge from their otherwise mundane or routine driven existence. When porn overtakes into an addiction real life begins to take a back seat as riskier behaviours begin to emerge. Obsessive thoughts and behaviours begin to displace relationships and negatively harming or impacting real life in terms of work or other relationships.

When porn addiction takes over, people start to avoid their lives in favour of their routine escapes to their porn fantasy worlds. The fantasy begins to overtake the importance of their reality and consequentially impacts their overall wellbeing as they feel further disconnected from their reality. This cycle can often result in other “addictions” creeping into the gambit of destructive behaviours often co-occurring or symptomatic behaviours such as substance use disorders, eating disorders, depression chronic stress and anxiety are associated with porn addictions and intimacy disorders as it becomes hard to mask the underlying need to escape to porn and other mechanisms of escape maladapt in response.

Obvious side effects of porn addiction include people being unable to stop using porn despite repeated attempts to do so. One of the notable side effects includes experiencing “cravings” to view porn, typically “wanting to leave” everyday scenarios to satisfy a porn craving previously outlined in the “escape” scenario very common to addictions.

Often people with porn addictions may at times get angry or hostile, or even just irritable when they are asked to stop porn or forced to endure events/situations where porn viewing may not be suitable available. Another marked side effect of porn addiction includes attempts to “hide” the fact that one uses porn from loved ones either the frequency or the fact entirely, this, in turn, creates the sense of living a “double” or “secret” life that is directly attributed to obsessive porn use.

Addictions are most apparent when people continue to use porn even when it is having a negative impact on critical things like work, personal well-being and relationships. One of the more insidious side effects is “losing time” as people with porn addictions get so caught up in the behaviours that they let the rest of their lives fade away and miss life events, opportunities etc while as they are caught up satisfying porn fixes.

Porn addiction is most often classified by psychologists as an intimacy disorder. In many cases of porn addiction, there is an underlying need or missing desire to be loved but in real relationships yet not able to establish these connected relationships in real life leaving a sense of “missing purpose”. Often childhood abandonment or neglect issues play out various maladapted adult responses to real relationships especially with regards to the opposite sex. Due to the complexities in real sex lives and relationships, porn serves as an escape to an uncomplicated fantasy world where these desires can be met to some degree of satisfaction without having to deal with another person.

Experts say frequent watching of pornography can de-sensitise men and make them less likely to get aroused in the bedroom. Males in their late teens and early 20s who watch explicit material could suffer the kind of problems middle-aged men suffer.

With any case of classifiable addiction, there is a distinct sense of personal powerlessness or an inability to stop the behaviour for any length of time. This often results in people spending too much time or money or both on pornography or at least more than they intended to spend. This powerlessness is also often accompanied by a resounding sense of guilt associated with the failure to stop viewing porn.

The last telltale sign and side effect is the escalation of more and more explicit porn material to get the same “satisfaction” or “thrills” in other words the key side effect is building a deeper tolerance to more extreme porn acts or scenes. This progression is by far where the addiction becomes most problematic. In the realm of fantasy, there are no limits as to where the imagination and fantasy can lead and the progression onto more extreme forms of pornography.

Possibly one of the most taboo and publicised topics in porn addiction is related to that of compulsive use of child pornography. So much so, that a porn addiction of this nature could have the dire effect of landing a transgressor with a lengthy jail sentence, and yet, there is still a demand for it.

We have established that as far as addictive behaviours go there is an escalation and tolerance and powerlessness is in play. Certainly at this progressive point is where it is highly recommended to seek professional treatment and guidance. People addicted to these extreme formats of porn also experience the side effects outlined above in their most severe extent.

While so many people think that watching a bit of porn is relatively benign. On the more extreme cases of pornography addiction includes rape, simulated rape, mutilation, “snuff videos”, shock videos, death, asphyxiation, abuse, dehumanisation and of course the duly vilified child pornography.

It stands within a logical reason that these addictions are kept as such closely guarded secrets that they most often only exist in the underworld of addiction and the internet and compound the internal dynamics of extreme fantasy the powerlessness, guilt leading the extreme double-secret lives because of these feelings and urges taking control.

This is unquestionably the realm of requiring immediate professional help.

While it is so easy to dive into the child protector role and vilify child porn addicts, we do also know that these are extremes and in so many cases of convicted child molesters the origin of maladapted behaviours has started off with a person who has been abused themselves as a child or suffered similar psychological extremes and traumas in their upbringing. This is the function of specialised therapy that had a dedicated focus on CPTSD or Complex Trauma resolution.

In cases where there is a crime, such as with child pornography, murder or rape etc. Please note that a therapist is obligated to report criminal events to the authorities.

When does porn addiction treatment become necessary?

As with most addictions, there is a fine line that differs with each person where the substance or the behaviour can be classed as addiction and even more so whether or not the condition requires¬†professional help or not. It’s at this point where professional help is necessary if nothing more than to simply assess the extent of the problem.

Unintended yet repeated events are the most indicative of the problem that requires third-party guidance as this kind of addiction cycle doesn’t simply resolve itself over time. However, embarrassing it may seem to be at the time certified counsellors have heard it all before. Therapists are trained not only in confidentiality but mostly dealing with the underlying problems that are causing the failure to stop porn.

When neglecting work and family, other opportunities in life or social events to view porn is also a prominent indication that a therapist needs to be consulted. People that require professional help for porn have an increasing sense of anxiety, stress, irritation or loss when they are deprived of their routine porn viewing sessions.

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