Pornography Addiction and How to Fight It

Pornography Addiction

If we are going to tackle the problem of pornography, we have to realize just how addictive it is.  About 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed “porn addicts.”  This is defined by spending 11 hours or more per week looking at pornography.  If your teen is viewing this much pornography, they need help from a professional.  I would suggest taking them to see a counselor.

Viewing pornography activates the same brain regions that are activated when a person craves drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and nicotine.[1]  This means that consistent pornography use can be as addictive as drug use; the habit is just as strong and just as hard to break.  Consequently, pornography must be quit cold turkey. 

The children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” speaks to this notion.  The book says if you give a mouse a cookie, the mouse then requests a straw (to drink the milk).  After you give him the straw, he then wants a mirror (to avoid a milk mustache), afterwards, he then needs scissors and then a broom.  The point of the story is to be grateful for what you have and the point is driven home by using the foil of the mouse who always wants more. 

This is pornography.  By its very nature it always wants more.  It is never satisfied.  The more you give into the craving, the bigger the craving gets.  “In a simple scenario, the brains says, “I saw porn. I masturbated. It felt good. In the future, let’s do it again. Really, I need this again. I’m not sure I’m getting what I need. How about a little more?” Mix in the anxiety and excitement of using the forbidden, the fear of being caught, and even secrecy, and the brain learns even faster during these intense emotional bursts. With each repetition the brain receives powerful cocktails of signals and hormones that ensure future cravings.”[2] 

Like all highly addictive drugs, the more you use it the more you want it.  Viewing pornography does not satiate the desire – it only increases it.  Muscle memory is the phenomenon where through repeated action your muscles can learn to do a skill without you thinking about it.  A professional basketball player can drain 3 pointers without thinking about it because they have done it so much.  A chef can dice a carrot without even looking.  And what happens with the muscles happens with the brain. 

The more one looks at pornography the brain remembers that habit and it becomes more engrained in the brain.  Neural pathways are being formed and reinforced and grow stronger with prolonged pornography use.  Pornography is not something you slowly lessen it is something you must quit completely.  Also, the earlier you quit, the better.  The bonds of the neurotransmitters get stronger and stronger the more you look.

How do you know if you are addicted? 

The Cyber Pornography Use Inventory was created to measure how addicted a person might be to pornography.  Here are 6 of the questions from the survey.  If a person answers true to any of the questions this indicates a problem might be present.[3]

  1. I believe I am addicted to Internet pornography (Compulsivity)
  2. Even when I do not want to use pornography, I feel drawn to it (Compulsivity).
  3. I feel unable to stop my use of online pornography (Compulsivity).
  4. At times, I try to arrange my schedule so that I will be able to alone in order to view pornography (Access Efforts).
  5. I’ve refused to go out with friends or attend certain social functions to have the opportunity to view pornography (Access Efforts).
  6. I have put off important priorities to view pornography (Access Efforts).

If you answer true to any of these, that does not necessarily mean that you are an “addict” in the clinical sense.  It does however indicate that you have looked at pornography enough that neural pathways have formed and been strengthened from repeated use and it will be hard to stop.  A great tool I have found online that incorporates these questions is found here <https://sossafetymagazine.com/health-and-well-being/quiz-are-you-addicted-to-porn/>

Another very easy way to know if a teen has a serious problem with pornography is to see if they can go without looking at it for 14 days. [4]  If a teen is addicted (not in the clinical sense, but in the “oh man you got serious issues” type of way) their brain will go through withdrawal and will be screaming at them to get its fix.

The Three “A”s of Addiction

If you want to stop you have to know about the 3 “A”s that drive addiction:  Anonymity, Accessibility, and Affordability. [5]  Addiction is like a 3-legged stool and if you want to break the addiction you must tackle the legs holding it up.  

Anonymity – Viewing pornography has become a completely anonymous endeavor.  A person can look at it without anyone else ever knowing.  When things are done in secret, there is no accountability and temptation becomes much stronger.  For a person who wants to break the habit, there are two ways to bring this anonymous behavior into the light.  1)  Accountability partner –  Find someone you trust such as a friend, mentor, or minister and tell them your struggle.  Have them check in with you and see how you are doing.  It is best to find someone who is not struggling with pornography.  If your teen is looking for a partner it is probably best it is not a parent.  If you are a parent have a partner besides your spouse.  Covenant Eyes has a great free ebook on Accountability partners I encourage you to check out.  https://www.covenanteyes.com/accountability-partner-ebook/

Accountability partners is a voluntary relationship and the weakness is a person can lie to their partner.  This is why accountability software is a must.  I believe every home and every device in America should have accountability and filtering software on their devices.  Just look up “Internet filtering software” or “Internet Accountability software” and you will find a plethora of choices. 

These services are able to block questionable content and also send reports to designated people.  These reports include a person’s internet usage and flags questionable websites that were accessed.  While I am a big fan of Accountability Software, no software will be perfect and it is not full proof.  Talking with your teen, building a relationship of trust, and keeping open and honest communication is the best way to help fight any problem.

Accessibility –  To access pornography a person used to have to go into a store and buy a magazine.  It was difficult and could be embarrassing.  Now it can accessed by anyone with a computer or smart phone.  In fact 70% of teens who look at pornography are using a smartphone or tablet to do it.[6]  It is very hard to limit access to the internet, but there is some very easy things parents can do to limit access for their teens.

Location of smart devices – Make sure computers and smart TVs are in common areas.  They are much more of a temptation when they are in locations people can access without anyone knowing.  I’m against teens taking their phones in their bedrooms for the same reasons.

Cellphone restrictions – Cellphones should be taken up at night and put in the parent’s bedroom.  Many experts agree that putting the phone away one hour before bed is a great habit to get into.[7]  Looking at your smartphone at night is not a good idea for many reasons.  Using smartphones right before bed causes you to take longer to fall asleep, messes with your circadian rhythm, suppresses your melatonin secretion, decreases your REM sleep, and causes you to feel more tired and less alert when you wake up.[8] 

This is a good rule not just for teens but for adults also.  But also, as a person gets more tired they are more likely to make bad decisions and give into temptations.  It is best to take the phones up, get better sleep, and not worry about making a bad choice. 

Affordability – Pornography is not only easy to access and you can do it anonymously, but also it you can look without it costing any money.  The most recent studies state that 90% of all pornography that is looked at online is for free.  This one is hard to fight against!  One of the best ways parents can attack this is through consequences.  Parents need to have open and honest conversations with their teens about the dangers of pornography and set ground rules at the beginning.  There are several “digital contracts” available online. 

A digital contract is a list of expectations a parent has with their teen.  When a teen gets their Driver’s License or first car parents usually sit down with their teen and talk with them.  They discuss how the teen needs to be responsible and the expectations the parent has when the teen is operating the car.  When a teen gets a cellphone, it is just as big of a responsibility and can cause just as much damage.  I would suggest going to Digital Kids Initiative done by CPYU and downloading a copy of their digital contract < https://digitalkidsinitiative.com/resources/handouts/ >. 

Once you talk about expectations let them know the punishment or consequence for breaking the contract or rules.  While they can still look at pornography for free, you can raise the price for getting caught at looking.  I know several parents tell their kids if the kids come to them first and admit a problem they will not be punished.  This encourages openness and honesty in the relationship and is something to consider also. 


[1] Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of internet pornography addiction: A Review and update. Behavioral Sciences, (5), 388-423.

[2] The Porn Circuit, https://learn.covenanteyes.com/porn-circuit/, 6.

[3]  Grubbs, J.B., Volk, F., Exline, J.J., & Pargament  K.I. (2015). Internet pornography use:  Perceived addiction, psychological distress, and the validation of a brief measure. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 41(1), 83-106.

[4] Mark Laaser, Personal interview, January 2013. Dr. Laaser, M.Div., Ph.D., is the founder and president of Faithful and True and the author of Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, The Seven Desires of Every Heart and other books.

[5] The 3 “A’s” taken from Mark Kastleman, The Drug of the New Millennium (Orem, UT: Power Thinking Publishing, 2007).  Mark adds a fourth A, “aggressive”

[6] https://readwrite.com/2013/12/23/most-porn-in-the-united-states-viewed-on-mobile-devices/

[7] https://health.clevelandclinic.org/put-the-phone-away-3-reasons-why-looking-at-it-before-bed-is-a-bad-habit/

[8] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prescriptions-life/201804/6-ways-night-time-phone-use-destroys-your-sleep

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