The consequences of pornography addiction


Melissa Killeen

As a recovery coach I deal with the consequences of addiction on a daily basis. Often times the consequences of a pornography addiction are covered up by the impact of substance addictions. It is important to identify these different addictions, so the recovery can begin. Easier said than done. The ravages of behavioral addictions so closely resemble the destruction caused by substance abuse that it often takes a long time to discern. Often times, a behavioral addiction comes forth when recovery is achieved from the substance abuse…and then the game of “whack-a-mole” between the substance and the behavioral addiction becomes more evident.

A Cambridge University study used brain scans to research pornography addiction in 2014. This is the first study using the new fMRI in a series of studies with pornography addicts. An earlier fMRI study with drug addicts and alcoholics had similar results. This 2014 Cambridge study found that pornography addicts fit in to an addiction model of wanting “it” more, but not liking “it” more. Many can agree that this is what they feel as well when they are under the influence.

Once any addiction sets in, the user has a new set of problems because addiction damages the part of the brain that helps you think things through to make good choices, the area of the brain that sets limits, the frontal lobe.  For more than 10 years, studies have shown that drug addictions can cause the brain’s frontal lobes to shrink. The “frontal lobe” is the part of the brain that controls the decision making to stop addictive behavior. Recent studies have found that it’s not just drugs or alcohol that cause this frontal lobe damage. The same problems show up with behavioral addictions, such as overeating, Internet addictions, and sexual compulsion.

Besides the consequence of damage to the frontal lobe, there are other very serious consequences from compulsively viewing sexually explicit materials. As follows are some of these consequences.

The consequences of prolonged pornography use

  • Sexual dysfunction: Sexual addiction, porn addiction in particular, can lead to various forms of sexual dysfunction. One major study found that 60% of the research subjects, with an average age of 25, had difficulty achieving arousal and erections with real partners, yet could achieve arousal or erections with porn. Men with high rates of pornography use expressed diminished enjoyment in the enactment of sexually intimate behaviors compared to men with lower rates of pornography use. When someone reports they view a lot of pornography, they also report that they don’t enjoy sexually intimate times with their real life partner. Women, on the other hand, reported they needed to view pornography in order to stimulate their arousal with a partner.
  • Distorted views about intimate relationships: Some young men substitute the enjoyment they receive from viewing pornography for the enjoyment they could find in developing a relationship that would lead to a partnership in marriage. A Greek researcher, Artemis Tsitsika, in 2009 found that among Greek adolescents, exposure to pornography fosters ‘‘unrealistic attitudes about sex and misleading attitudes toward relationships’’. Jill Manning, a researcher from Brigham Young University reports that pornography consumption can reduce the happiness and stability associated within existing marriages. Manning, points to a number of factors that link pornography with marital instability, such as decreased sexual satisfaction and intimacy within marriage. Thus, the man or woman who spends 90 percent of their sexual life viewing and masturbating to a constantly changing stream of porn images is, over time, likely to find a real-world partner less sexually stimulating. In addition, Manning’s research has revealed that there is a perception brought forth by the partners of porn addicts that sees pornography consumption as a form of infidelity.
  • Legal issues:Some men and women engage in illegal sexual activities to heighten the pornographic experience. Any possible sexual contact, including hiring prostitutes or being hired as a prostitute, engaging in exhibitionism or voyeurism, or looking at illegal forms of pornography has an outlet connected directly to internet pornography web sites. Oftentimes, the addiction has seduced these users of illegal services or explicit material to such a point that the consequences were over looked and diminished in pursuit of a bigger high. When these individuals are arrested, they are shocked to realize where their addiction has led them. Child pornography convictions today, can mean that a person can spend from 15 years to a life-time of being on a sex offender list, which restricts where you can live and where you can work.
  • Difficulty balancing work or school: When a porn addict is completely focused on sexual fantasies and activities, his or her performance at work or in school inevitably suffers. Pornography use increases the amount of non-relational, isolated and solitary dedication to a computer. Focusing on porn in an office with the door closed impacts the workers performance. Isolating impacts the ability to work as a team member. Withdrawing from relationships during college, the time that long term relationships are established, is self-sabotage. Many porn addicts face reprimands or dismissal as a result. They may also face consequences for acting out sexually while at work or in school while using company-issued or school-issued digital devices.
  • Negative Self Esteem: Pornography use has been shown to have a negative impact on the self-esteem of women and men. Physical insecurities related to sexual performance and body image have been reported by both young men and women in a Swedish study from 2010Female consumers of pornography experienced feelings of inadequacyand lower self-esteem compared to women who did not use pornography. Dawn Szymanski, from the University of Tennessee, completed a study in 2012, where women reported their male partner’s frequency of pornography use negatively impacted their relationship quality. Perceptions reported by these women were that they experienced feeling of being “less than” the performers portrayed on the porn sites, and their sexual desirability and performance was not adequately bringing their partners to satisfaction. The feelings of low self-esteem partially had an effect on the relationship between them. Finally, results revealed that relationship length was directly linked between the partner’s problematic pornography use and sexual satisfaction. There was significant dissatisfaction in the quality of the relationship the longer the relationship with the porn addict lasted.
  • Financial Issues:Pornography is more affordable than ever. Porn Internet sites are often free, and GPS based hookup apps are either free or very inexpensive. But this addiction can get very expensive the more involved an addict becomes. Have you ever wondered how pornographers that charge for their material stay in business when there’s so much porn available for free? As Wendy Seltzer, an attorney and fellow at the Yale Law School, explained, the answer is actually pretty simple: once porn users get hooked, they’ll want more and more. “Seeing [free porn] just whets their appetite for more,” Seltzer said. “Once they get through what’s available for free, they’ll move into the paid services.” In a 2012 survey of 1,500 guys, 56% said their tastes in porn had become “increasingly extreme or deviant.” Because porn users’ brains quickly become accustomed to the porn they’ve already seen, in other words: porn addiction escalates. In-person meetings resulting from Internet connections can be costly, considering the money spent on travel, hotel rooms, meals, and gifts. For those who only act out online, paying for membership fees and by-the-minute charges for live video feeds can add up quickly. It is not unusual for sex addicts, in a moment of determination to end the addiction, to cancel their Internet memberships and delete all of their downloaded porn and sexual contacts. Then, within a few days, they will relapse and spend more money to sign back on.
  • Impact on partners of pornography addicts: Partners of porn addicts feel deep embarrassment or hurt because of their partner’s conduct. Partners fear the addict will leave them if they confront the addict’s behavior. Many partners express a sense of responsibility and/or feelings of betrayal or abandonment over their partner’s behavior. So much so they will lie and cover up the actions of the addict, or engage in sex with their addict partner as a means of maintaining peace. Often times, they engage in sexual behavior that they find uncomfortable, unwanted or physically dangerous. Partners will attempt to control the porn addict’s behavior by throwing out a pornography collection or verbally harassing them. Partners of porn addicts think they are unattractive, they question their emotions or their sanity. Partners engage in thoughts of suicide or use drugs or alcohol to cover up their feelings of despair. It is easiest to blame others – friends, colleague, parents, job, society, or religion – for their partner’s addictive behavior. A discussion on how this addiction effects the children of a porn addict is, perhaps, another blog altogether. Yet consistently, pornography addicts attribute the first introduction of pornography through discovering a porn collection or a pornographic web site maintained by a parent, family member or an adult care giver.
  • Porn can lead to violence: Research has also found that watching degrading pornography increases an addicts’ likelihood of objectifying, using dominating and harassing behavior toward women. This also leaves the addict feeling less compassion for victims of sexually violent crimes (there was an Italian rape conviction in 1998 that was overturned because the victim wore tight jeans). Porn addicts will express attitudes supporting violence towards women, which is especially scary since those who support sexual violence are more likely to commit some kind of violence in real life. Obviously not everyone who looks at porn is going to turn into a rapist; but the reality is that studies have shown that even casual pornography use has the power to start changing ideas and attitudes, and changes to behavior often aren’t far behind.

The really scary part is the more porn a person looks at, the more severe the damage to their brain becomes and the more difficult it is to break free. But there’s good news too: neuroplasticity works both ways. That means that the damage to the brain can be undone when someone gets away from unhealthy behaviors.

In next week’s blog, I will explore what life is like when you are free from a pornography addiction.

References used in this blog:

Donald Hilton, Jr, MD.  Pornography addiction – a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity Socioaffective Neuroscience and psychology Journal.  Volume 3 (2013) Accessed at:

Artemis Tsitsika, Elena Critselis, Amalia Louizou1, Mari Janikian, Aliki Freskou, Evgenia Marangou, Georgios Kormas, and Dimitrios A. Kafetzis (2011) Determinants of Internet Addiction among Adolescents: A Case-Control Study.  The Scientific World Journal (2011) 11, 866–874. TSW Child Health & Human DevelopmentISSN 1537-744X; DOI 10.1100/tsw.2011.85

Jill Manning (2006). The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research of Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention Volume 13, Issue 2-3, 2006 DOI: 10.1080/10720160600870711 Accessed at:

Stewart, D. N.,* & Szymanski, D. M. (2012). Young adult women’s reports of their male romantic partner’s pornography use as a correlate of their psychological distress, relationship quality, and sexual satisfaction. Sex Roles, 67, 257-271. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0164-0 Accessed at: and at:

Robert Weiss, (2014) recognizing the Consequences of Sexual Addiction, Accessed at:

Lofgren-Mårtenson L, Månsson SA (2010) Lust, love, and life: a qualitative study of Swedish adolescents’ perceptions and experiences with pornography. Journal of Sex Research. 2010 Nov; 47(6):568-79. doi: 10.1080/ Accessed at:

And the web sites:


This entry was posted in Addiction, Recovery Coaching, Sex Addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.