Is there a link between the use of pornography and depression?
The increasing rate of online pornography has contributed to the growth of availability and consumption of sexually explicit material. Individuals may experience adverse psychological and physical symptoms related to their sexual thoughts and behaviours, like the use of pornography, but there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that the use of pornography can lead to depression. Depression is a mood disorder that can be characterized by persistent low mood, sadness and loss of interest and may impact someones ability to keep up with their day to day depending on the severity of it.
There are several factors that also seem to affect the potential link between depression and pornography use. These are how often someone uses pornography, for how long and what their moral views on pornography are. A 2017 study examining male students suggested that the more often and the longer they had been using pornography was linked to higher depression. A 2019 study by Borgogna and his colleagues attempted to assess the link between scrupulosity, problematic pornography consumption, depression, anxiety, and stress. The study examined the online survey responses of 507 women and 250 men and suggested that pornography may be used to escape negative emotions, and that depression may raise the risk of the problematic consumption of pornography. Furthermore, individuals that morally disprove of sexually explicit materials may perceive their relationship with pornography as bad and experience feelings of shame which can in turn lead to low mood. A 2015 study on undergraduate students examined how religious beliefs and moral disproval of pornography use affect the perception of online porn addiction. The study suggested that religiosity and moral disproval were better predictors of someone deeming their pornography use as addiction to online porn than the actual level of use. Although there have been studies to suggest a link between pornography use and depression, evidence to suggest that pornography may be a trigger for depression is scarce. However, viewing one’s pornography use as immoral or bad does seem to affect the individual more than the consumption itself.
Can depression lead to problematic pornography use?
There is currently no evidence to suggest that depression can lead to problematic pornography use. However some studies have suggested that individuals, especially men, were more likely to engage with pornography when they have depression. A 2017 study suggested that men with depression may use pornography as a coping mechanism. Other research also proposed that depression may negatively impact how someone perceives their consumption pornography.
What is problematic pornography use?
The use of pornography, frequency, length of time used, and type of material is different for each individual and so we can not provide set guidelines as to what constitutes “normal” pornography use. The important distinction between occasional use of pornography and compulsive use does not therefore involve the length and frequency of use but is related to control and distress. Whether you feel that you are in control of the behaviour and whether the behaviour causes you any distress. For example, if someone is unable to stop using pornography even though they would like to, have tried, and are distressed by this behaviour it may be cause for concern, even if they don’t use pornography very often, when comparing to the norm. Nevertheless, someone may use pornography daily and not be distressed by their behaviour nor deem it as a problem. It is therefore important for the individual to feel in control of their use of pornography, what they view, how often and where they are watching. As aforementioned there is no universal definition for what constitutes problematic pornography use as it is individual to everyone and based on their own definition of what is normal and problematic to them. However, there may be behaviours to look out for that may suggest that the consumption of pornography may be problematic or compulsive, such as, choosing porn over socialising, increased isolation, losing track of time whilst viewing pornography, feelings of guilt following the consumption of pornography, difficulty completing important tasks and keeping up with day-to-day life in order to view porn and avoiding physical relationships with someone new or physical contact with your partner. Symptoms of anxiety and depression may be experienced when the use of pornography feels compulsive, interferes with day-to-day life and causes distress. Problematic use of pornography has been linked to loneliness, anxiety and a decrease in life, sexual and relationship satisfaction.
What are the signs of problematic porn use?
As aforementioned each individual’s experience of pornography is different but there seem to be a few common indicators of problematic porn use. These may be increased levels of hypersexuality, low mood, decreased levels of self-esteem, feelings of distress regarding pornography, body image concerns and difficulties in relationships. Hence if someone notices that their use of porn is impacting their life negatively it may be important to seek out the help of a professional.
There is help available if you think that your use of pornography is impacting your life or causing distress, or if you think you may be experiencing depression. You can talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Therapy can help you better understand your relationship to pornography use and its impact on your relationships, social life and self-esteem. It can also aid in developing new coping mechanisms if pornography has been used to cope with adverse feelings or events in the past. There are also many effective therapies and treatment options to help with depression. The NHS also offers an online self-assessment test for depression that you can access through their website if this is something that is worrying you. Treatment options can include online or in person one to one therapy, online or in person support groups or self-help materials.
To conclude there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that the use of pornography can cause depression nor that people with depression can develop problematic pornography use. However, if you are distressed by your use of pornography it may be important to seek out help.