Why do people get addicted to Porn and how to overcome it?

As a clinical psychologist, I am often asked if pornography addiction is real, and if it can be treated. The answer to both question is “yes”. Addiction can occur in a wide range of circumstances, and pornography is now more readily available than ever. As porn triggers an emotional response on such a fundamental, visceral level, porn addiction is a real, and growing, phenomenon. Thankfully, with understanding and commitment, it can be successfully treated.

All addictions ultimately spring from difficulties in emotional regulation. Often, when we experience difficult emotions, we turn to behaviours that distract us from dealing with feelings that we would prefer not to acknowledge. For some people, pornography seems to drag them out of their current emotional state to experience a different set of feelings, while, for others, addiction can take the form of alcohol, drugs, or overeating. This different set of feelings suppresses their actual emotional problems, giving them a temporary fix that provides a short-term distraction and sense of relief. Typically, porn addicts are people who never learned how to manage difficult emotions in their early lives. Without the skills they need to deal with them, they have grown up to be adults who are vulnerable to developing unhealthy coping mechanisms. Over time, they can develop the habit of turning to porn every time they experience negative feelings of any sort. Gradually, they can find themselves engaging with pornography when they experience even minor negative feelings that are part of their everyday lives, such as boredom or stress. Porn, even if they are not using it every day, can become their go-to coping mechanism for when life seems hard.

What are the Problems Associated with Porn Addiction?

Porn addicts typically engage with pornography to such an extent that it can impact on their quality of life very seriously. They often spend more and more time watching pornography as their addiction becomes increasingly entrenched. This can mean that they have less time to spend at work, with their families and loved ones, or for engaging in other activities. Moreover, many porn addicts are deeply ashamed of their addiction and try to hide it from their friends and family. The resulting secrecy, shame, and self-recrimination lead to even deeper feelings of negativity, and can further reinforce their habit.

Another problem with porn addiction is the fact that it tends to escalate. People tend to start engaging with relatively mild pornography and, as they become used to this material, to move on to progressively more extreme material. As they gradually become desensitised to even very violent or extreme pornography, they may feel the need to access increasingly damaging material in order to obtain the sense of release they seek, while becoming desensitised to behaviours that would be very dangerous if they transitioned to real life.

In addition, a pornography addiction can quickly become very expensive. In my clinical practice, I have often met people who tell me that their addiction has led, over time, to their spending vast sums of money on access to pornography. In some cases, they have been spending so much that there is not enough money left for their living expenses. In the worst cases, they literally feel as though they simply cannot control how much they are spending on their habit.

Can Porn Addiction be Treated?

Not only can porn addiction be treated, but it must. Like any addiction, it has the potential to seriously damage your quality of life and capacity to form positive relationships, while also masking underlying emotional issues that need to be addressed.

Overcoming a porn addiction starts with becoming keenly aware of your feelings. Note what you are feeling every time you experience the urge to use pornography. If you are addicted, reaching for porn has probably become a default behaviour in a range of circumstances. Start by delaying this instinctive reaction to stress at least for a few minutes, and examine how this makes you feel. Try to identify and name your emotions, and explore how they are impacting on you physically. Does the emotion have physical consequences for your stomach, chest or solar plexus, for example? Deep breathing exercises for at least 2 minutes at a time may help you to process what you are feeling. Try to use these exercises as you experience the trigger emotion, allow yourself to feel it, and let it pass. Every time you overcome the urge to use pornography as a crutch, you are becoming more skilled at dealing with your difficult emotions rather than pushing them aside.

Reach out for Help

As with any addiction, people who are addicted to pornography need support and human contact. My advice is that, if you have this problem, you seek out support people with whom you can discuss your addiction openly, in a way that will help you to acknowledge that you have a problem, and to focus on your recovery. A support group or group therapy can be a wonderful outlet and source of support for many, while one to one therapy can provide guidance and support as you move beyond addiction and towards a situation in which you are better able to manage difficult emotions and your reactions to them.

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