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Porn Addiction
Symptoms and Signs

What is Porn Addiction?

Pornography addiction is both a process addiction and a form of sex addiction.

The symptoms of sex addiction include:

  • A pattern unmanageable sexual related behavior
  • Negative consequences due to sexual behavior
  • Inability to cease behavior despite negative consequences
  • Engaging in self-destructive or high-risk behavior
  • Ongoing desire to stop or cut down sexual behavior and inability to do so
  • Sexual obsession as a primary coping skill
  • Needing more sexual experiences as current level of activity becomes insufficient
  • Severe mood changes around sexual behavior
  • Inordinate amounts of time spent in obtaining sex or recovering from sexual encounters
  • Neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behavior

Pornography addiction is diagnosed when an individual engages in the overuse or abuse of pornography to the extent that they experience negative consequences. It is not formally written up as its’ own separate disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, it may fall under impulse control disorder and it can be defined as a psychological addiction. Pornography addiction is marked by a dependence upon pornography characterized by compulsive reading of pornography, obsessive viewing or thinking about pornography and other sexual themes to the detriment of other areas of an individual’s life.

Although not currently in the DSM IV, criteria has been outlined patterned after the DSM criteria for alcohol and substance abuse and dependence. This article cites Goodman (1990), who on compared the DSM criteria, lists for various addictive disorders and derived these general characteristics:

  • Recurrent failure to resist impulses to engage in a specified behavior
  • Increasing sense of tension immediately prior to initiating the behavior
  • Pleasure or relief at the time of engaging in the behavior

At least five of the following:

  • Frequent preoccupation with the behavior or with activity that is preparatory to the behavior
  • Frequent engaging in the behavior to a greater extent or over a longer period than intended
  • Repeated efforts to reduce, control, or stop the behavior
  • A great deal of time spent in activities necessary for the behavior, engaging in the behavior, or recovering from its effects
  • Frequent engaging in the behavior when expected to fulfill occupational, academic, domestic or social obligations
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of the behavior
  • Continuation of the behavior despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, financial, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by the behavior
  • Tolerance: need to increase the intensity or frequency of the behavior in order to achieve the desired effect, or diminished effect with continued behavior of the same intensity
  • Restlessness or irritability if unable to engage in the behavior
  • Some symptoms of the disturbance have persisted for at least one month, or have occurred repeatedly over a longer period of time

Causes of Pornography Addiction

Dr. Patrick Carnes*, a pioneer in sexual addiction research, has outlined four core beliefs common in most sexual addicts. They usually result from growing up in a dysfunctional, especially one with rigid rules, little warmth and affirmation, abandonment, and sexual or emotional abuse. The core beliefs are the following:

  1. I am basically a bad, unworthy person
  2. No one would love me as I am
  3. My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others
  4. Sex is my most important need

The root of sexual addiction usually begins in childhood. Carnes writes, “When a child’s exploration of sexuality goes beyond discovery to routine self-comforting because of the lack of human care, there is potential for addiction. Sex becomes confused with comforting and nurturing. For example, a lonely and abused 13 year old finds comfort in masturbation and pornography. More and more, he or she uses that for solace. As years go by, the type of sexual acting out may change. It can involve promiscuity, affairs, visiting massage parlors or prostitutes, and even viewing child pornography.”


Effective treatment for pornography addiction at a treatment center includes therapy, 12 step support groups such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, education and medication when needed for co-occurring anxiety or depression.

* Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, 2nd ed. (Hazelden, 1992), pp. 69-72

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