Pornography and Depression

Pornography use can have a corrosive effect on both the user and on other people in the user’s life

  • Are you concerned that you or your partner is using pornography?
  • Do you worry that your partner is becoming more interested in pornography then he, or she, is in their real sexual relationship with you?

It is common that finding out that your partner is using pornography has a bad effect on your mood and self-esteem. 

An anonymous client says: I have no one to talk to about this, and it is causing me a lot of distress. My husband has had an internet pornography addiction for 7 years. I have confronted him about it, he always says he won’t do it again.  Then I discover he is still looking at porn.  He has been to counsellors and says he’s fixed it, but he never does. When I first discovered it, I was upset.  It made me doubt myself.  I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I feel betrayed, depressed.  It has had a bad effect on my confidence and self-esteem.

Pornography use can make users, and the partners of users, depressed

Conversations about pornography, sex and masturbation have always been taboo.  It is difficult to have a frank or open conversation about sex and pornography.  Pornography use tends to be a private matter. It isn’t something the user expects to talk about, and it is hard for a partner to know how to speak about it. 

Research suggests that pornography has a real impact on our brains and changes our brain responses. Some people find that having used pornography; it is difficult for them to find ordinary sex stimulating.  So, our sexual responses are impacted.  This may lead to erectile dysfunction in men, and problems having orgasm.  Both of which lower mood and in turn make us more depressed.

Pornography use can escalate

What starts as a simple search in a web browser changes as we discover new options online. Someone might start off finding nudity stimulating, but then turn to wanting to watch sexual acts which are more degrading.  The way we consume pornography in turn influences the way we start to think about what is normal.  A partner may start to recognise that our sexual tastes are changing. 

  • It is like we are having an affair, only instead of another person being involved, we are privately pursuing a relationship with our own sexual fantasies.

Many people may find themselves stuck in a loop of watching pornography and masturbating.  After the brief high, one of the common outcomes is that our mood becomes depressed.

There is no need to feel guilty about wanting to look at pornography or wanting to masturbate, both impulses are normal.  But we have all developed our own responses and attitudes to sex and pornography.  The way we have been brought up, the kind of attitudes we experienced towards sex in our own families and homes will influence the way we think these things.

Pornography, generally being a secret activity, can make us feel shame, and over time the shame starts to trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.  We start to feel ashamed and depressed about ourselves for having used pornography.

Is pornography an addiction?

The measure of whether something is an addiction is often in relation to how unmanageable other parts of our life become.  When pornography is involved users become more secretive. They have to always be careful to delete internet searches.  The more energy that goes into managing pornography use, to managing maintaining secrecy, the less energy is available for ordinary creative living. 

Pornography impacts our capacity to be genuinely spontaneous

In these kinds of ways, it is like an addiction.  The best solution is to find a way of breaking the intense relationship you have with pornography.  Psychotherapy is helpful because it is a private and confidential relationship in which these private areas of our lives can be spoken about without risk.  When we break the cycle of secrecy and shame we break the habit.

  • All addictions, be they pornography, drink, sex, drugs or gambling tend to show themselves in the way they create unmanageability in other areas of our lives. 

In addiction we use one thing, in this case pornography, to manage another thing; complicated and difficult emotions.  The more we use them the more our mood dips.  Pornography may briefly give us an escape from our unhappy feelings, but over time it makes us feel worse and more depressed.  It is a downward spiral.  Generally the way out is through breaking the habit and breaking the secret world of shame.

Why do people watch pornography?

Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs) suggested that we all have certain needs, and that when these needs are not met problems arise. Sex is one such need.

  • To deal with boredom: but watching pornography only gives a brief respite from boredom.  It does not help to decrease boredom. Instead we are drawn to search for more and more varied subject matter.
  • To avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness; using porn as an escape, as a way of coping with loneliness. But a consequence of using pornography is that it increases isolation.

Being involved and relating more to other people tends to be better for us. We are social beings.

Adolescents look to pornography to satisfy their sexual curiosity and energy. Pornography is an unrealistic and unhelpful way to find out about sex.  It creates unhelpful expectations.  Most people do not want to have sex like actors in pornographic films do.  

There is a scene in Taxi Driver when Travis Buckle takes a woman on a date to watch a pornographic film.  She becomes upset and leaves the cinema.  Buckle is surprised, he thought this is just what couples do.

If we expect our partners to want to do the kinds of things we have seen in porn, we will most likely upset and offend our partners.  Our relationships will fail.  Our partners will feel bad about themselves and we will feel bad about what we have done.  This is all part of the depressing downward spiral that goes with porn use.

Links Between Pornography and Depression

According to neuroscience, problematic usage of pornography can lead to depression and increase existing symptoms of depression.

Watching pornographic videos releases neurotransmitters like dopamine. This reinforces the behaviour and makes it more likely that we will repeat it.  So, if you are using pornography as a way to escape your depressed feelings you will likely make things worse.

Masturbation and porn tend to be taboo subjects

The more we engage with things that have a taboo feel to them the more we become stressed, which in turn develops into feelings like anxiety and depression.  Over exposure to pornography can have a negative effect on our capacity to find ordinary sex satisfying.

Breaking the cycle of pornography and depression – Talking it Out

If you’re struggling with depression, and you know that porn is making it worse, what should you do to break the cycle? 

  • You could start by talking to a close confidant.  Talk to your partner. If you feel you need more privacy you may find psychotherapy or counselling helps.
  • There are also support groups, 12 step groups. Finding a way to open up about your feelings and issues generally helps
  • Addictions tend to be linked with depressed mood, anxiety and depression.
  • Most of the stress arises from how pornography interacts with our relationships.

A lot of marriages suffer when one partner (as in the case mentioned earlier) finds out that their partner has been using pornography. 

This sets of problems within the marriage that leads to further breakdowns of trust and communication.  Things that tend to make us feel more depressed about ourselves. It has a bad effect on us when we find out that our partner is using pornography and is pursuing a source of sexual satisfaction that doesn’t involve us.

Pornography usage in itself may not be a problem, the problem comes as a consequence of using pornography too much, in particular when it interferes with our capacity to relate sexually to our partners in an ordinary way.  Or when our sexual satisfaction becomes overly influenced by pornographic fantasy.

Because pornography tends to bring on feelings of shame, it makes it hard to talk about. As with many problems, bringing them to light, talking about them, can be the beginning of breaking the cycle.  Psychotherapy is a good place to start talking.

Contact Me

I have twenty years of experience of working with people, many of whom have struggled to stop using pornography. People who have needed to deal with their feelings of depression and low mood, feelings that have been acquired through use of pornography.

Giving yourself the chance to speak in a confidential setting may prove helpful, it may be the beginning of starting to work out doing something that tends to make you feel worse about yourself.

It may give you the chance to develop new and important insights into yourself.  This in turn may help you to develop greater confidence and emotional stability.

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.