Are Depression and Porn Addiction Linked?

Mar 16, 2024

Pornography consumption and depression have a complex relationship. There is a lot of nuance in understanding the potential connection between the two. Some people that suffer from depression will use pornography as a way to distract themselves from their symptoms. However, research suggests that pornography abuse can exacerbate depression, per the Addiction Center.

Can watching porn cause depression?

There is not a simple answer to this question. Recent research has suggested viewing pornography is also linked to depression per PsychCentral. Overall, studies on the link between the two are limited, inconclusive and conflicting.

A 2019 study by Maddock and colleagues found that porn consumption increased the risk of depression in adults. However, the rise was dependent on whether the viewer considered pron “problematic” (PsychCentral).

Another study conducted by Mattebo et al., 2018 found that there may be an association between adolescents watching porn and depression. Although, these findings are limited because porn is only one of many variables that affect the mental health of young people.

These findings are not conclusive enough to say that watching porn causes depression. More research is needed to show causation. 

Porn's Impact on Depression

Research has been limited in showing that porn triggers depression in people.
According to Verywell Mind, there is a causal link between the body’s chemistry and a malfunctioning reward system that occurs with any addiction. Furthermore, there are indirect influences on depression caused by feelings of shame and guilt.

Relationship problems and loneliness are a few more issues when viewing a lot of pornographic content. According to the AASECT, people may experience negative physical, spiritual or psychological consequences related to their sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors such as watching porn. Even though research has not shown that watching porn causes depression, there can be some negative feelings about one’s self after pornography use.

Pornography's Effect on Mood

A couple of studies by Levin & colleagues and Camilleri & colleagues have found that the more porn that someone watches, the more likely they are to experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress and social problems. 

According to FightTheNewDrug, people who habitually watch porn feel lonely and incomplete. They often lose interest in things that they once loved. In 2018, psychologist Mark Butler and colleagues conducted a study on the link between pornography and loneliness. The results showed that people who viewed pornography were more likely to experience loneliness, and lonely people were more likely to view pornography (Psychology Today).

How viewing porn affects your mood depends a lot on one’s moral stance of pornography. A study by Perry found that American men who believed porn was immoral but watched it anyway were more likely to experience depressive symptoms than men who did not have this moral conflict (Psycom).

Can Depression Lead to Pornography Use?

According to Psycom, research does not suggest that depression itself causes people to watch a lot of porn. In fact, it is more common that depression decreases feelings of sexual urges.

On the other hand, a 2019 study found evidence that depression was a strong predictor of problematic porn usage for both men and women. Researchers explained that people use porn to escape unpleasant emotions they already have.

Once again, there is a lot of nuance when trying to find a correlation.

Dopamine's Role In Depression And Porn Abuse

An orgasm triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine, but people with porn addictions develop a tolerance for it similar to a drug addiction. Furthermore, an orgasm gives a surge of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is decreased in those with depression when compared to others. This can lead to a need to consume more and more porn in order to produce those pleasurable feelings but ultimately can make depression worse (Verywell Mind). People become addicted to the rush of dopamine that they are receiving after an orgasm.

What Does Treatment Look Like?

Porn addiction is inherently challenging to treat due to its accessibility, affordability, and anonymity per the Addiction Center. However, there are a few ways to treat the behavioral disorder.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also known as supportive talk therapy, can help a patient understand their relationship with porn. Over time, a health specialist and patient can identify how to treat their addiction. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of behavioral modification that is widely used in addiction treatment. Using CBT helps find connections between their thoughts, feelings and action while increasing awareness of how these things impact recovery.

Support Groups

Support groups can be an excellent resource for those struggling with pornography addiction. Studies show that peer support services significantly improve participants’ self-efficacy, personal views and feelings about themselves.

These are just a few of many potential treatment options for someone with a porn addiction. Different treatment options are more effective than others depending on the person.

Pornography Addiction help and resources

If you think you or someone you know has a pornography problem, there are treatment options to help you. Birches Health has personalized treatment plans that are very affordable. Email hello@bircheshealth.com or call (833) 483-3838 to get started by taking our free assessment. 

Sources:

The Connection Between Pornography And Depression 

Can Watching Porn Cause Depression? 

What Is the Relationship Among Religiosity, Self-Perceived Problematic Pornography Use, and Depression Over Time? 

The Link Between Pornography and Depression

How Watching Porn Can Impact Mental Health

When is Online Pornography Viewing Problematic Among College Males? Examining the Moderating Role of Experiential Avoidance

Compulsive Internet Pornography Use and Mental Health: A Cross-Sectional Study in a Sample of University Students in the United States

Pornography And Depression: The Connection, Explained

AASECT

The Link Between Pornography and Loneliness | Psychology Today

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