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A psychological perspective on porn dependency


*Please note that this content is age sensitive and it is advised to consult with an adult should you find yourself on this page.

Yes, you read correctly, we need to talk about porn. No one does, and that is part of the problem. A dependency to pornography, like any other dependency has its origins in the amygdala. This is where addiction receptors create neural pathways that become dysfunctional. Porn like any other dependency can be viewed as an unhealthy coping mechanism to an underlying psychological distress.


Why do people get dependent:


Porn dependency is an illness just as alcoholism and targets the pleasure/reward circuitry. Dopamine is one of the chemicals that is released by neurotransmitters in the brain to make a person feel good, just like a drug, porn heightens the release of this chemical and the person becomes dependent to get that good feeling. The neural pathway is triggered by certain words or acronyms which enhance this dependency loop and makes this pathway stronger.


Porn becomes more complicated when the language used in porn is associated with everyday language, object or places. This verbal or non-verbal association inevitably will trigger certain responses in people dependent on porn. Just like any dependency has triggers, individuals dependent on porn also experience this. This makes it even more difficult for them to function in society. The distressing emotions that they experience cannot be switched off. It needs to be carefully processed and worked through in order to ‘reset’ the language to original content.



Reasons why people use porn:

· Monogamous couples looking to enhance their relationship

· People living in remote areas, where they are isolated

· People wanting to satisfy their fantasies


Pornography is a coping mechanism that some people use if they are depressed, anxious or lonely. It becomes a problem when it is accompanied by compulsivity and when the user no longer has control over the dependency. When the individual is unable to function optimally in a personal or professional space, it leads to emotional distress.


Positive psychological effects of porn use:

· Beneficial to sexual health as it may help individuals discover their likes and dislikes, normalize some of their sexual needs and create opportunities for sexual partners to explore.

Negative psychological effects of porn use:

· May reduce cognitive functioning as it can completely occupy an individual's thoughts and negatively impact concentration and memory.


· May lead to exacerbation of existing psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety.

· It blurs the line between reality and fantasy to an extent that the individual may find it difficult to discern what is real and what is not.


· Psychological loop of emotional gratification becomes exhausted and the individual is reduced to poor self-worth.


· Self esteem and self confidence may become severely affected as there is a poverty of social skills.


· Social norms and etiquette might be absent and one may start to self-isolate, thereby perpetuating the cycle of depression and loneliness.


When and why you should see help:

· May cause major problems in a person’s personal or professional life.

· It often becomes an obsessive thought that leads to compulsive behavioural traits.

· Leads to impulsivity and the person experiences feelings of guilt, depression or anxiety.

· May intensify pre-existing depressive or anxiety symptoms as well as reinforce low self-esteem.


As with any dependency this is an unhealthy coping mechanism as it is not real or tangible. Often the person feels such guilt, anxiety and depression because they find it difficult to break the psychological loop of dependency. The more they think of not doing it, the more they do it.


People facing this dependency are disadvantaged by society because of the shame associated with it. It therefore becomes difficult to address such societal issues without offending people.


People dependent on pornography, very often do not have the support or understanding of their family or friends and are seen as different. This makes it more difficult for them to seek psychological interventions and assistance with the underlying factors. Porn is a symptom/coping mechanism of a more intense underlying psychological issue. It is easy to discriminate against people with this dependency but like any other mental health condition, this stigma becomes a defense mechanism for most people. If they are not associated with this type of distressing thoughts, then they are ‘better’ than other people. This is the mindset of society. If we can understand that alcoholism or gambling is an illness, why then do we not associate it with pornography. In actuality any dependency is associated with an individual’s inability to cope with distressing emotions, it is only a language of communication to express inner turmoil.




Nalinee Rughoo

Clinical Psychologist

Psych Central Menlyn





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