Viewing erotic content like porn and pornographic images is on the rise. In 2019, alone, one of the world's leading porn sites, PornHub, received on average 115 million visits per day.
All that free, readily-accessible on screen erotic content has got some folks thinking they're addicted to it. But is porn addiction real?
Is pornography addictive?
Pornography addiction is not recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a mental health problem or disorder, like drug or alcohol addiction.
Moreover, according to the DSM-5 (Manual of Mental Disorders — the world's authoritative guide on psychological disorders) pornography and sex addictions are not a psychological disorder. Some disorders the DSM-5 does recognize are addictions to gambling, alcohol, drugs, and most recently, online gaming.
The reason for this comes down to neurochemistry. While watching porn may activate similar pleasure circuits in the brain as, say, alcohol or heroine, most experts agree that doesn't mean you can become addicted to watching porn in the same way.
That's because addiction to substances, for example, not only activates your brain's pleasure circuits, it actually changes your brain chemistry so that you can no longer release feel-good chemicals like dopamine as effectively without the help of the drug you're addicted to.
And as far as researchers can tell, this is not the case for porn addiction. So what's going on instead? The more likely scenario is that porn addiction is more closely related to a type of compulsive, obsessive, or habitual behavior than substance abuse or addiction.
In fact, people develop compulsive, obsessive, and habitual connections to many things in their lives, especially if those things alleviate anxiety or fulfill a sense of longing or loneliness.
There's also the fact of the matter that — much like the rest of sexuality — enjoying erotic content is often done in secret and without context. In fact, most of the US has no or purposefully incorrect sexuality education — especially for young adults. This creates an environment for folks to misunderstand the erotic entertainment they are enjoying.
Therefore, what people refer to as porn addiction is essentially a conflict of values that's leading you to think you're addicted.
For instance, a large 2020 study published by the APA found that people's cultural, moral, or religious beliefs may lead them to believe they are addicted to pornography, even if they don't actually watch a lot of porn.
So If you think you are struggling with pornography, it is most likely that you are actually struggling with a conflict of your own personal values around your sexual behaviors, and not really the porn itself.