Exploring The Link Between Pornography and Depression

Exploring The Link Between Pornography and Depression

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Pornography and Depression


According to the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), pornography can neither be classified as an addiction nor as a mental health condition. However, people have tried to link it with several addictions and mental health conditions over the years – some have even tried to link it with depression.


While others are convinced that the former leads to the latter, others swear that the reverse is true. But is there any merit to any of these claims? Well, that’s what we want to explore today.


Is there a link between pornography and depression?


So far, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that pornography leads to depression. However, the American Association of Sexuality Educator, Counsellor, and Therapists (AASECT) does acknowledge that people’s sexual urges, thoughts, and behaviors can result in negative consequences.


This is further supported by a 2019 study that found that excessive consumption of pornography increases the risk of depression in both men and women. This was particularly the case among those that feel that their pornography use is problematic, and was causing side effects. Ultimately, it was found that the likelihood of someone using pornography and being depressed largely depended on how long and how often they were using it.


During the study, both male and female participants who used pornography for 3 months beyond the set baseline exhibited symptoms of depression at 6 months. However, this is not the only study that links excessive pornography use to depression – a 2017 study on male senior college students did it too.


Out of the 582 men surveyed for the study, 14.6% of those who used pornography more than 3 times a week experienced depression. On the other hand, only 2.8% of those who used ponography less than once a week experienced depression. Moreover, those who started using pornography in primary school were more likely to be depressed than those who started in junior middle school, high school, or university.


Even after adjusting for other factors like physical activity and sleep times, the study still found that higher frequencies of pornography use were positively related to high levels of depression and other negative emotions. Interestingly, there are also recent studies that object to this narrative, one of which is a 2020 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.


As part of the study, scientists gathered 3 samples (14,006, 483, 672) from general sites and a pornography site, and analyzed their profiles. Eventually, it was found that high-frequency pornography use isn’t always problematic and that it isn’t a bullet-proof indication of your susceptibility to depression and other negative emotions.


Interestingly, the study showed that most people who use pornographic materials (over 90%) have experienced no negative consequences. While 68% to73% of the sample size were actually low-frequency users, 19%to 29% were high-frequency users who haven’t experienced negative effects – only 3% to 8% were high-frequency users that have suffered because of it.

Does pornography cause depression?


While we currently don’t have conclusive evidence that depression leads to pornorgraphy use, there are some studies that suggest this. For instance, a 2017 study published by the American Sociology Association found that depressed men may use pornography as a coping mechanism, especially if they didn’t view it as immoral.


On the other hand, those who view pornography as immoral may develop depressive symptoms as a result of using it, even at low frequencies. Another study that explored the effect of depression on pornography use was a 2021 one spearheaded by Steven D. Shirk. This particular study concentrated on male US veterans, gathering data from 172 of them.


It was found that young male military veterans had higher chances of developing problematic pornography use. In fact, the younger the veterans were and the lower their educational attainment, the higher their problematic pornography use was. Beyond that, the data suggested that these high scores were positively related to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, impulsivity, and insomnia.


Over the years, there has also been some research linking loneliness and internet pornography use. However, it will still take more research to establish if depression truly leads to pornography use.

Pornography and Mental Health


As we have said before, pornography has been linked to several conditions over the years. These include:


  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Neuroticism
  • Narcissism
  • Reduced sexual, relationship, and life satisfaction


Signs of problematic pornography use:


Most of the studies that link pornography to depression particularly mention problematic use as either a cause or result. As such, it is important to be able to identify when your pornographic use has entered the realm of being problematic. Some of the signs to look out for include:


  • Feeling uncomfortable about your pornography use
  • Increased strain on your relationships due to the ponography use
  • Increased sensitivity towards boredom
  • Decreased levels of self-esteem
  • Insecurities about your body image
  • Depression symptoms
  • Propensity to forgo socialization in order to isolate and use pornography
  • Increasing dissatisfaction with your partner’s appearance
  • Preoccupation with sexual thoughts throughout the day
  • A propensity to take risks in order to watch pornography i.e watching it at work
  • Increased objectification of others


Ultimately, if you realize that you seek out pornography not for occasional pleasure but rather as a psychological craving, it is time to look for help. This is a major sign that your pornography use is starting to interfere with your day-to-day life.


How to get better


If you feel like your pornography use is getting out of hand or is causing negative effects like depression, here are some things you can do:


  • Seek out therapy
  • Identify when your impulse/depression levels are high and implement healthy interventions to keep yourself from going down the rabbit hole. You could meditate, exercise, or go to therapy instead.
  • Check whether you are making progress by tracking your daily habits and seeing how much you have improved. You could even use Apps to track your digital behavior
  • Keep an eye out for signs of undiagnosed depression or ADHD so that you can avoid further negative consequences
  • Consider sex addiction rehab

Treatments your therapist can recommend for Pornography and Depression


If you exhibit signs of severe addiction to pornography and depression, your therapist may recommend you join an inpatient rehabilitation center. Such programs usually last 28 to 90 days and are designed to reduce distractions from the outside world. Whether you go for a residential or outpatient plan though, the treatment options are usually the same. They include:

Individual therapy for Pornography and Depression


This is usually the first course of treatment. It’s a great way to become aware of triggers and find healthy ways to deal with them. It usually relies on cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapeutic approaches.


Group Therapy for Pornography and Depression


This involves meeting other people struggling with pornography and learning coping mechanisms from them. It is also a great way to get support and a sense of community from those facing similar challenges to you on a day-to-day basis.


Medication together with the therapy for Pornography and Depression


If you have an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, your therapist may recommend medication to go hand-in-hand with your therapy.

References: Pornography and Depression

  1. American Psychiatry Association . Manual Diagnóstico y Estadístico de los Trastornos Mentales. 5th ed. Panamericana; Madrid, España: 2014. pp. 585–589. []
  2. Elmquist J., Shorey R.C., Anderson S., Stuart G.L. A preliminary investigation of the relationship between early maladaptive schemas and compulsive sexual behaviors in a substance-dependent population. J. Subst. Use. 2016;21:349–354. doi: 10.3109/14659891.2015.1029021. []
  3. Davis R.A. A cognitive-behavioral model of pathological Internet use and Porn Addiction Side Effects. Comput. Hum. Behav. 2001;17:187–195. doi: 10.1016/S0747-5632(00)00041-8. []
  4. Janssen E., Carpenter D., Graham C.A. Selecting films for sex research: Gender differences in erotic film preference. Arch. Sex. Behav. 2003;32:243–251. doi: 10.1023/A:1023413617648. []

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Pornography and Depression
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Pornography and Depression
According to the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), pornography can neither be classified as an addiction nor as a mental health condition. However, people have tried to link it with several addictions and mental health conditions over the years - some have even tried to link it with depression.
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