Do you feel like porn has taken over your life? Do you feel addicted, like you can’t go a day without looking at it? Do you need it so badly that you watch it at inappropriate times—at school or at work? Compulsive porn consumption can rob you of precious time with friends and family, drain your finances, severely impact your performance at work or in school, and damage both your mental and physical health.
If you feel like watching porn is getting out of control for you, take a deep breath. Don’t panic. There is hope. Many people struggle with this same issue, many people recover, and there are many more people ready and willing to support you in a journey toward recovery. For more info about porn addiction and a few steps you can take today, keep reading.
The Truth About Porn “Addiction”
Porn addiction is not actually considered a disorder according to the DSM-V, but the World Health Organization has added Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder to its International Classification of Diseases, and that includes excessive porn use. Along those lines, scientists say that what “may be perceived as an addiction to porn may be a manifestation of depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.” And that’s good news for you! If you can figure out the underlying cause of your excessive porn use, you can work to treat it in a way that goes deeper than just adding more filters to your internet browser.
Experts also say that “compulsive pornography use can have a broad range of mental health consequences, including anxiety and depression,” along with a misperception of self-worth, seeing other people as objects, and difficulty accepting reality vs. an “unreal” setting in which everything exists for your pleasure. That means it’s essential that you do seek help. With support you can heal and prevent further damage to your mental health, your life, and your relationships.
4 Steps to Recovery from Compulsive Porn Use
While pornography addiction isn’t exactly like other addictions, it can still leave you feeling enslaved to the behavior or habit of watching porn. If you’re ready to admit that it’s time for a change, start with the following steps toward recovery:
1. Seek professional help. If you think you have a pornography addiction, it is almost certainly a symptom of a larger mental health issue. Depression, anxiety, and even ADHD have been linked to excessive use of porn and masturbation, which makes perfect sense. Both activities can lead to the production of dopamine or serotonin in your brain, and if you have an underlying mental health diagnosis, your brain could be seeking every opportunity to get the chemicals it desperately needs. Find a licensed therapist who has experience talking with patients about porn, and let them help you find a way forward.
2. Identify replacement activities. If becoming preoccupied with and constantly seeking out pornography is your brain’s way of regulating dopamine and serotonin, research other ways you can achieve that. Your doctor may prescribe medication, if it turns out that you have an underlying disorder. You can also try things like exercise (it really works), getting enough sleep (just try it), deep breathing, music, sunshine/Vitamin D, etc. When you start feeling the urge to turn to pornography, replace that behavior with one of these.
3. Mind your surroundings. When, where, and how do you usually watch or feel like watching porn? Try rearranging your life so that your usual habits are interrupted. If you find yourself watching it in the bathroom at school, be careful… getting caught could have serious consequences. Try leaving your phone at your desk or in your locker when you need to go. You can also try leaving your phone or computer in another room when you go to bed in the evenings, making it more difficult for you to access pornography. And remember, watching pornography in public places like school, work, or public transportation is risky behavior with potential legal ramifications. Bring a book with you everywhere, and when you’re tempted to look at porn on your phone, try reading instead.
4. Learn to confront your “shame gremlins.” Feeling shame is central in the discussions and research on porn addiction, and as Brené Brown says, shame only needs three things to make it grow: “secrecy, silence, and judgment.” Where can you root those things out of your life?
Take Responsibility, But Go Easy on Yourself
With more and more research positing that having a compulsive relationship with porn does not qualify as an actual addiction, the responsibility for this recurring behavior is actually on you. It’s not exactly true to say, “but I can’t help it. I can’t stop.” You can. You alone can confront the ways in which obsession with pornography is impacting your life. You alone can seek to change the behavior. You alone can ask for help. Now is the time to take that responsibility seriously and speak with a mental health professional about how you can work on this.
That said, judging yourself and falling into a shame spiral won’t help! The truth is we all struggle with making sure our lives, thoughts, and behaviors are healthy. We all seek pleasure or relief from things that are probably masking the core issue. Whether our coping mechanism is food, exercise, sex & masturbation, drugs & alcohol, bubble baths or video games… all of them have the potential to become compulsive, and therefore uncontrollable and unhealthy behaviors that distract us from the reason we needed to cope in the first place.
Discover the Core Issue
What is it about your life that isn’t fully satisfying you? What is the source of the stress, anxiety, or depression that leads you to seek instant gratification? Who would you be if pornography suddenly disappeared from your life? Do you believe that you have inherent value outside of a sexual context? Does it feel like there is a hole inside your heart or mind that would be left empty without pornography? What is it that has driven you to consume porn so much that you fear it’s a problem? When you really take a moment to focus and consider who you are, do you like yourself?
Pornography Addiction: Is There Hope?
Let’s talk about what it would look like for you to see yourself as a beautiful, wonderful person, created to love and be loved, and born to reflect all that is good on this earth. Jesus doesn’t see a porn addict when He looks at you. No. He sees a brother, a sister, a unique person who deserves all the love and health in the world, and He’d sit down next to you at the lunch table today without judgment. Just check out the stories about who he hung out with and see for yourself. Take that unconditional love and acceptance and use it to drive you forward on a path for healing. If you are feeling convicted to make a change, you are not alone…God is right there with you and can give you the strength you need. If you want to talk to someone about porn or about your identity in Christ, you can chat with a Hope Coach who will connect you with resources to assist you. Remember, you are never alone–don’t be afraid to reach out.
For more on the very controversial topic of pornography use read, "Am I a bad person for watching porn?"