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Pornography use has skyrocketed in recent years with the internet making sexual content more accessible than ever. The prevalence of pornography use in the United States varies across different studies. According to recent research, the prevalence of pornography use is relatively high, especially in men, with estimates ranging from around 60% to 98%, compared to women, with estimates ranging from around 30% to 90%. One study shows that 58% of Americans have watched pornography at least once in their lifetime, and 27% watched it in the previous year. Additionally, some estimates show that between 5 to 8% of the adult American population is addicted to pornography. But for some people, viewing pornography can become an unhealthy addiction that disrupts their lives. Two recent research articles reviewed the evidence on the impacts of problematic pornography use.

The first study was a literature review published in 2023 that looked at multiple research papers on pornography addiction. It found that boredom, seeking pleasure, and learning new sexual behaviors are common motivations for frequent porn use. But over time, many people develop a compulsive addiction and have trouble controlling their viewing. This pornography addiction can negatively affect mental health, relationships, work performance, and normal sexual functioning. Frequent porn consumers are more likely to experience issues like depression, anxiety, erectile dysfunction, and lack of interest in sex with a partner. The review concluded that pornography addiction can profoundly disrupt many aspects of a person's life. However, occasional, non-compulsive porn use is probably harmless for most adults.

The second study published in 2022 was a qualitative research paper that interviewed 23 men seeking treatment for problematic pornography use. It found that most men developed an addiction to masturbating to online porn, often for hours at a time multiple days per week. This addiction commonly began in early adulthood and persisted for years, becoming an entrenched lifestyle pattern. The men frequently used porn to cope with stress, boredom, or negative moods. Over time, they needed more extreme sexual content to get aroused. Most experienced loss of control, relationship problems, reduced productivity, and erectile dysfunction.

The researchers concluded that pornography addiction was a suitable model for understanding these men's behavior and symptoms. Their intensive porn use fulfilled the criteria for behavioral addiction, including building up tolerance, trouble stopping, continuing despite problems, and spending too much time on it. The addiction developed gradually but eventually caused substantial life dysfunction for these men.

Combined, these two studies provide strong evidence that problematic pornography use resembles an addiction for some individuals. The addiction stems from using sexually explicit material to cope with emotional issues or boredom. Over time, people need more extreme content and have trouble controlling viewing. This compulsive pornography use can profoundly impact mental and sexual health, relationships, and work. Occasional porn use is likely harmless, but frequent use can become addictive and destructive. More research is still needed, but limiting or avoiding compulsive pornography use may be wise for mental health.

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  • Blinka L, Ševčíková A, Dreier M, Škařupová K, Wölfling K. Online Sex Addiction: A Qualitative Analysis of Symptoms in Treatment-Seeking Men. Front Psychiatry. 2022 Jul 7;13:907549. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.907549. PMID: 35873234; PMCID: PMC9302710.